Friday, May 25, 2018


One of the things I've always wanted to do was cook from a cookbook cover to cover. (Well, as much as possible considering dietary and kitchen restrictions, some self-imposed.) I imagine this started back when I read Julie & Julia (well before the movie came out), and just thought that was such a great way to learn and challenge yourself. I also love buying cookbooks, and we haven't made 95% of the recipes in the ones on our shelves, so it's sort of a practical mission as well. I'm not disciplined enough or singularly focused enough to want to go page by page on a weekly basis or daily basis, so I imagine any cookbook challenge I do will take a while (and a few may even run simultaneously), but I think it's a good way to use what we have and continually try new things.

We started with the first recipe in the Jerusalem cookbook last year, and now that we're finally getting settled in our new home, it was time to move on to the second - Na'ama's fattoush. I tried to stick closely to the recipe, but there were a couple of things I didn't measure. The ingredients we used were:

- 1 cup whole milk yogurt ($1.25)
- 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp 2% milk ($0.28)
- 2 pitas ($0.70)
- 3 tomatoes ($1.19)
- 4 mini cucumbers ($1.33)
- 6 scallions ($0.52)
- a handful of fresh mint (about 1/2 a package) ($0.85)
- a bunch of fresh parsley ($0.40)
- 5 radishes ($0.50)
- large spoonful of minced garlic ($0.10)
- about 1/4 cup olive oil ($0.30)
- about 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar ($0.10)
- juice of 2 lemons ($0.98)
- salt and pepper ($0.05)
- sumac to garnish ($0.10)

The salad came out to about $8.65 (not helped by the fact that lemons are not cheap right now and I wanted to use real lemon juice because it was a salad), but considering how much it made, it really wasn't a bad total for dinner, even after adding the two panko chicken tenders we ate it with.

The first step had to be done hours in advance (probably 4-5 hours in our case), which was to mix together the yogurt and the milk and then leave it in the fridge. The result was supposed to have bubbles on the top after a few hours, but I don't know if I did it right, because there were bubbles on the top as soon as I was done mixing. The goal was to be like buttermilk, but less sour, but since we don't really ever taste buttermilk on its own, we had no idea whether that was really the case. We used it anyway, since it tasted like yogurt and yogurt dressings are good.

When it was actually time to make dinner, the first thing I did was chop up the pita and pop it in the oven on a dry baking sheet at 350 degrees for a little over 10 minutes. You're supposed to use stale pita in this recipe, but I'm not a big fan of leaving bread out to get stale (bugs...), and we just bought the pita the day before, so this seemed the most efficient way of drying it out.

The next and most time-consuming step was all the vegetable prep: dice tomatoes, dice cucumbers, thinly slice radishes, thinly slice scallions, coarsely chop parsley and mint. The recipe itself actually said to put the pita in first, followed by the yogurt dressing, followed by all the other ingredients, but since we're still working on our kitchen arrangements, we didn't yet have the counter space for that. I wasn't really sure what the difference was, since the pita, yogurt, and vegetables were to go into the bowl in quick succession anyway, so into the bowl went all the vegetables as I chopped, followed by the pita pieces and the yogurt dressing, and then all the other seasoning/dressing ingredients like the olive oil and vinegar.

As we mixed it up, it just seemed to be really heavy on the liquids, definitely more than the stylized photo in the cookbook. That seemed like more vegetables than dressing, and ours seemed like yogurt everywhere in an overwhelming amount. It didn't really look pretty, but when we tasted it, it tasted good so that was fine. Appearance isn't everything. We left it for about 10 minutes for the flavors to meld and hopefully for the dressing to thicken up (it only did a little bit), and then spooned it into bowls with the sumac on top.

The salad was light and refreshing, had a good amount of flavor, and worked well with the chicken we ate it with. While we both liked this salad and thought it was tasty, it probably won't enter our regular rotation. If we're in the mood for a salad of this type, sure, we'd make it again, but it's not going to be top of mind most likely when we're making our meal plans. I think to keep track of what we've made for this cookbook project, it might be helpful to rank what we've made in order by how much we liked it, so right now, here they are:

Jerusalem Cookbook Project Rankings:
1. Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs
2. Na'ama's fattoush

Monday, May 21, 2018

3 Seed Beet Crackers

We picked up these 3 seed beet crackers from Trader Joe's months ago, but only got around to finishing them this month. We love beets, so we were excited to try them (when we finally got around to it after moving). When we first ate them though, our first thought was that we wouldn't have really known they were beet crackers if not for the name, as they just tasted like small tortilla chips.

We were expecting crackers with earthy beet flavors, but that's probably because we didn't read the ingredients that carefully. The first ingredient was white corn, and the crackers also had black sesame seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, and a couple of seasonings. Beets were the third ingredient, but even then it was only beet powder, which we usually see mostly as a coloring. No wonder they tasted a bit like tortilla chips. They weren't bad, but we were expecting something more distinctive since they were supposedly made with beets. They were just good crackers/chips, and worked well with the hummus we ate them with.

Buy again? Maybe, maybe not. We don't really remember how the price lined up against different TJ's (or other) crackers we like, so it would really depend on that more than anything. They're fine, but nothing so unique-tasting that we absolutely have to get them again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Waffle House

Three years ago today, we were off on our Southern road trip heading for Savannah. When we last wrote about this trip, we had just visited Nando's for the first time, indulging in some delicious grilled chicken before hitting the road and driving for hours. We stopped briefly in Richmond, Virginia to do some sightseeing, but otherwise our next real stop wasn't until Rocky Mount, North Carolina for a late dinner.

Waffle House is a true American institution. They're cheap, they're open all night, they have a lot of choices on the menu, and the food hits the spot. Even though they're now as far north as Pennsylvania and Delaware (still not close enough to us), I pretty much still associate them with the South. So there was no question that on our Savannah road trip, we would try to fit in at least one visit to Waffle House.

My first trip to Waffle House was in college. We were on a road trip to Myrtle Beach and after a long night of driving, we stopped off at Waffle House for breakfast. It was exactly what we needed to refuel for the rest of our drive (although I passed out from food coma shortly thereafter since I drove all night), and I've associated good memories with them ever since. Somehow, even though he had been to the South many more times than I had, A had never stopped at a Waffle House before. I was happy that around the time we chose to stop for dinner in North Carolina, there was a Waffle House right near the interstate. Perfect road trip stop.

We both opted to order off the special $5 meals menu which not only covered your choice of breakfast, lunch, or dinner (from a list of 15), but also included a drink. A opted for coffee to help him stay awake until we got to our stopover in Fayetteville (about 90 minutes further), and I went for a sweet tea-lemonade mix. We were in the South after all.

Since it was A's first time at Waffle House, he chose to go with the double classic waffle. He topped it with butter and syrup. The waffles were creamy and sweet, and the butter and syrup combined to make a really tasty concoction that was salty, sweet, and extra creamy. A had never put butter on his waffles before, but it just seemed like the right thing to do. It was great, but he's thinking that he might only do that while at other Waffle House locations and not a regular basis. The coffee certainly helped him get to the next hotel, but it wasn't anything special. For the most part, it tasted just like regular diner coffee.

I'm not much of a breakfast person (although the sausage, egg, and cheese grits bowl and biscuit were tempting), so I picked the Texas sausage melt which came with hash browns. Each of the Waffle House Texas melts came with meat (sausage patty in this case), double cheese, and grilled onions on Texas toast. This was simple, but so, so good after a long day of driving. This ended up being our only Waffle House visit on our road trip, but it made us really happy. It's definitely a Southern road trip must for us!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

52W Challenge: Salt

This is the last post from the 2017 challenge for the 52 week cooking challenge. In my last post about why I quit, I mentioned I was starting to twist whatever I was making into a theme to check the boxes, and there is probably no better example than this challenge right here. I wrote this back in November when we made the soup, but had been waiting to post it until I finished all the challenges in between, which as you know never happened. This was from Week 41 since I was jumping around, but going forward I'll just note any posts with themes from the challenge with 52W Challenge in the title instead of the week number since I'm no longer following along, officially or unofficially.

The Week 41 challenge was all about salt. The challenge was supposed to be about using salt in cooking, which is something we do all the time but rarely with salt as the focus. They had a bunch of suggestions, like encasing food in salt or doing a brine or curing. I didn't really have any interest in those types of projects at the time I was going to do the challenge, and the only thing I could think of was seasoning some vegetables with onion salt, not exactly much of a "challenge." Since I'm not officially participating, I decided to switch it around. How could I get the flavor of salt without using any actual salt itself?

Around that time, my grandparents had split a giant winter melon that had grown in someone's backyard into three sections, and I had to figure out what to do with a third of a winter melon. (Yes, the winter melon in the photo below is about a third of a single melon.) The easiest thing to do with winter melon is soup, so we decided to make a soup without using salt. Instead, we would use chicken bouillon to make chicken broth and also incorporate some chopped ham.

The soup ingredients were simple: half of the winter melon, a pound of carrots, a bowl of shiitake mushrooms (plus the soaking water), about 3 big scoops of bouillon, that entire ham steak, and a little white pepper, plus some more water to make broth. No salt itself.

The steps for making the soup were:

1. Prep: Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water for about 20 minutes or until soft, and then remove mushrooms from water but save the water. Squeeze excess water from mushrooms and chop into slices. Peel and chop carrots.

2. Add carrots and mushrooms to large soup pot. Add the mushroom soaking water plus however much water you think you need for soup broth. (Didn't measure, but we ended up removing at least a few ladles full later because we had too much water.) Bring to boil.

3. While waiting for water to boil, prep winter melon. Scoop out seeds and peel, then chop into smaller chunks. Chop up ham.

4. Once water is boiling, add winter melon, bouillon, and ham. Season with white pepper and stir everything together well. Bring back to boil over medium heat, and then lower to simmer. Simmer half-covered for about half an hour.

This was a very simple soup to make, and we based it on the soups that a lot of Chinatown restaurants serve before meals. We didn't plan to eat the entire pot of soup in one night but we did, mostly because it isn't exceptionally filling with just winter melon and carrots and mushrooms in it. It had so much more flavor than we were expecting it to, and it definitely tasted like there was salt added even though there technically wasn't. Probably wasn't what this challenge was intended to be about, but works for me. Would definitely make this again.

Monday, May 7, 2018

196 Weeks

The title of this post when I originally started it was going to be 208 Weeks, because I never had any intention of quitting the 52 week challenge, especially not mid-year. I'm a completionist by nature, and the idea of stopping, even if I was finding some of the challenges more of a chore than fun, in the middle of my fourth year wasn't really on my radar. But with all the craziness happening at the end of last year (getting a new place, doing renovations, trying to start clearing out our pantry, etc), I just never seemed to find the time to fit in some of the challenge meals, and started to find myself really uninspired to make the time. After hopelessly falling weeks behind, I decided to just call it. There was no way I'd finish before 2018 rolled around, and I hadn't even finished all the posts for the ones I did do. I was a little disappointed since I only had 12 weeks to go to make it to 208 (there's that completionist side of me), but 12 weeks is a whole quarter of the year, so it really wouldn't have been a small thing.

Week 22's Thai challenge where I just remade larb because I wanted it and wasn't really inspired at the time to make something new instead

So, why was I increasingly uninspired? A bunch of reasons, and I don't think it was any one thing in particular. Some of the themes were starting to feel a little broad/vague. They could literally be anything, not really much of a challenge. (For example, one of the ones I never got to in 2017 was meal prep. How is that any different from a normal day/week?) Other themes seemed to repeat things from previous years, and sure, I could make something different, but I felt bored. I wasn't inspired by some of the other themes and just couldn't find anything I wanted to make. Eventually, it just felt more like a chore, and I felt like I was trying to manipulate anything into the themes just to check them off, kind of the opposite of the spirit of the challenge.

Week 6's Italian challenge, one of my favorite new recipes of the year

I considered just stopping 2017 since I was so far behind, and starting clean in 2018, but by the time I looked at 2018's themes a few weeks in, I saw a bunch of repeats (like inspired by books, which was 2015, week 10 and hard enough to figure out the first time) or things I didn't really care to do (like new to you, which considering my 1000+ recipe collection could be basically ... anything). My current plan, now that we're finally getting settled in our new place, is to try to use the challenge list for periodic inspiration - maybe do something new, explore some new area, develop some new skill, all the reasons I started doing the challenge in the first place. Basically, skipping themes like "showing off" but maybe checking back in for something like Portuguese or Balkan.

Week 32's salad challenge, which could have been almost anything, but which I used as the start to a new challenge, cooking from the Jerusalem cookbook

At the end of every challenge year, I usually posted a recap of the challenges for the year, so here they are for 2017, the last time I'll do this (at least for now). For the ones I never got around to posting about, I added a photo since I don't think I'll ever get to those posts unless I remake something. And yes, I skipped around. Those aren't typos.

Week 1 - screw-ups revisited (baked mozzarella sticks)
Week 2 - rice (shiitake fried rice)
Week 3 - made healthy (sweet potato shepherd's pie)
Week 4 - chowder (sweet potato chowder)
Week 5 - Tex-Mex (sweet potato Tex-Mex skillet)
Week 6 - Italian (sausage and chestnut pasta)
Week 7 - black and white (oden with black rice)
Week 8 - spice blends (doro wat)
Week 9 - one pot (sausage and vegetable pasta)
Week 10 - Middle East (Iraqi eggs in meat sauce with quinoa salad and rice)
Week 11 - pies (leek, bacon, and cheese tart)
Week 12 - dorm food (ramen)
Week 13 - Escoffier (chicken and green beans with mustard sauce)
Week 14 - Southern (salmon, grits, and collards)
Week 15 - British (baked Scotch eggs)
Week 16 - vacation food (peri peri chicken with peas and cole slaw)
Week 17 - cafeteria food (pepper jack grilled cheese with tots and salad)
Week 18 - stir fry (black bean chicken)
Week 19 - tea (ochazuke)
Week 20 - 5 ingredients or less (bacon, leeks, mushrooms and cheese scramble)
Week 21 - presentation (cloud eggs with roasted potato salad and hash)
Week 22 - Thai (larb gai)
Week 23 - on a stick (chicken satay)
Week 24 - baking (smoked salmon and tots casserole)
Week 25 - California cuisine (braised corn)
Week 26 - berries (tomato salad)
Week 27 - garlic (cheesy garlic bread)
Week 28 - vanilla (banana bread)
Week 29 - dim sum (dumplings)
Week 30 - charcuterie (summer sausage, cheese, and jam board)
Week 31 - inspired by magic (Mexican bean salad)
Week 32 - salad (roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs salad)
Week 33 - midnight snacks (quesadillas)
Week 34 - batter (almond cake)
Week 35 - American Midwest (tot hot dish)
Week 36 - stacked (zucchini pancakes)
Week 37 - tailgating (chicken chili)

Week 40 - Oktoberfest (bratwurst with German-style potatoes and cucumber salad)

Week 41 - salt (winter melon soup)
Week 42 - casseroles (chicken enchiladas with hatch chile cream sauce)

Looking forward to new challenges in the kitchen, from Reddit or elsewhere!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

M's Favorite Food Memories of 2017

Somehow it's already May, and we still haven't posted our favorite food memories from last year. We originally planned to do it by Chinese New Year, and then wanted to finish them before we moved, but things got so busy and so hectic (multiple all-nighters level of busy), much more than we anticipated despite knowing we had 12 years of stuff to move, and we never got to it. A lot of our stuff is still in boxes, and we still don't have a complete living room, but we don't want to neglect this blog forever. So this post is long overdue, but before summer officially kicks off, here are my favorite food memories from 2017. We ate a lot of good food in 2017, both at home in NYC and on our trips to LA, Seattle, and Vancouver. In (sort of) alphabetical order, here are my 10 favorite food memories of 2017.

1. Eatsa (NYC)

I went to Eatsa for the first time early in 2017 (we posted about it) and returned several more times over the course of the year. (It probably would have been many more if I had still worked in a Midtown office.) Eatsa revolutionized the eating scene in two different ways: the ordering process (automat-style from a kiosk/phone app without any human interaction) and making healthy quinoa bowls affordable (pretty much everything was under $10). In the end, the price may be part of what did them in, since quinoa isn't cheap, and they closed all their non-SF stores in October. (The cynical part of me still wonders if all the stores were just a test run for their tech.) I'll always be sad that I can never have another no worry curry (what ended up being my favorite) bowl again, with its tasty quinoa, spaghetti squash, apple-cabbage slaw, pickled onions, red Thai curry sauce, and more, but all the tasty bowls are a happy memory of 2017.

2. Bollo de pescado from Ecuadorian Delights at the Queens International Night Market (NYC)

I love going to the Queens International Night Market (which has already started up for 2018 before I finished this post). In 2017, we made two visits and sampled Burmese, Guyanese, Antiguan, Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Persian, Nigerian, and Filipino cuisine. There really isn't anywhere else in the city where you can do all that in a short period of time and at affordable prices. My favorite thing at the night market last year was the bollo de pescado from Ecuadorian Delights, a green plantain tamale with tuna and peanut sauce wrapped up in banana leaves and topped with pickled onions. It was so delicious, and tasted like something that was just made in someone's home kitchen. We got it on both visits because we liked it so much, meaning we were too full to try their hallaca or corviche, and now I have no idea where to go to get any of those.

3. Corn ice cream taco from Empellon (NYC)

We went to the Midtown Empellon to celebrate my birthday, and one of the desserts that we heard a lot about before our visit was the corn ice cream taco. I figured it would be good, but I wasn't prepared for the explosion of corn flavor in every bite. Corn and ice cream are a great combination, one of my favorites, with some sweetness, saltiness, and savory flavor all in one bite. It wasn't a big dessert, so we were also able to get the avocado dessert and a seasonal apple dessert sampler, but it was probably my favorite dessert of the year.

4. Acai and pitaya bowls from Fruit Wonders (Palm Springs, CA)

Our big trip last year was to California, and we spent a few relaxing days in Palm Springs. It was really hot during the day, and the perfect way to cool down was a visit to Fruit Wonders. We got an açaí bowl the first time and a pitaya bowl the second, and both were really good. Sweet smoothies with granola, hemp seeds, oatmeal, blueberries, bananas, strawberries, kiwi, coconut, and agave. We'd been wanting to try açaí bowls for a while, but this was our first time, and we were hooked thanks to Fruit Wonders.

5. Los Tacos No. 1 (NYC)

Los Tacos No. 1 has been open in Chelsea Market for years, but they finally opened a second location, right near Times Square, last summer. Their tacos are some of the best in the city, and this new location was so much closer to us. We went there a lot since their opening, getting tacos, quesadillas, mulas, and nopal plates topped with (most commonly) pollo asado or adobada. Even with all the new spots in Hell's Kitchen/Midtown West over the past year, its arrival was the most exciting thing that happened for us. One of my few regrets before we moved was that I didn't manage to go there even more.

6. Salmon oshi sushi from Miku (Vancouver, BC)

We had a lot of things on our Vancouver to-try list for our few days there, and one of the must-dos was aburi oshi sushi, a special type of sushi that is not very common around here, pressed and flame-seared. We went to Miku, an expensive restaurant on the downtown waterfront, and sat at the bar for a light meal just so we could try the sushi. The salmon was BC wild sockeye salmon, and it was topped with jalapeño and Miku sauce. This was unlike any other sushi we'd had before. It basically melted in your mouth, and was so full of flavor. Pretty much a perfect bite of sushi, and I still dream about it.

7. The famous chicken for two from The NoMad (NYC)

We went to The Nomad for A's birthday, and we were finally able to try their famous whole-roasted chicken for two. We weren't sure if it would live up to the incredible hype, but it definitely did. They bring the chicken out to you once it's done, but then bring it to the back and plate it. You get a large piece of white meat chicken, so juicy and tender, with foie gras, black truffle, and brioche bread crumbs under the skin, on a plate with potato puree and leeks, and then you get the dark meat in a small bowl like a stew. It was amazing, and its stellar reputation is well-earned.

8. Cheddar garlic roll from Piroshky Piroshky (Seattle, WA)

I'm not big on waiting in line for food, but we waited for Piroshky Piroshky. We had tried their salmon pate piroshky years ago when a relative gave one to us to try, so we got that again along with some other stuff that looked good. While the salmon one was as good as we remembered, what we really loved was the cheddar garlic roll. Layers of perfectly chewy pastry with cheddar cheese, garlic, and scallions, it was a combination of some of my favorite things. We went back again on the day we left to get some more, because it was just that good.

9. Sisig tacos from various spots around NYC

We don't have any Filipino restaurants in our neighborhood (last year or now), so before last year, we only ended up getting Filipino food once in a (very long) while. Last summer, we got some sisig tacos at a street fair, and that ended up kicking off an unplanned summer of Filipino food exploration. We got so much Filipino food last summer, everything from halo halo to sisig bangus to chicken adobo to buko pandan, but of course, more sisig tacos all over the place. They may not be traditional Filipino cuisine, but they're fun to eat and delicious.

10. Sockeye salmon sashimi from Sushi Itoga (Vancouver, BC)

Last but certainly not least, the sockeye salmon sashimi from Sushi Itoga in Vancouver. Sushi Itoga was another one of those must-try things I put on our Vancouver list. It was a small spot where you ordered sushi at the counter, and then they brought it to your table. Even better, it was incredibly affordable. We got six rolls, a plate of sashimi, seaweed salad, and the included miso soup and tea for like US $35. Even better than the price was the quality. That sashimi was so fresh, and it was so soft that it really just melted in our mouths. (I realize I said the same thing about Miku, but it's true.) We went there on our last day in Vancouver, and we were talking about the sashimi the entire way back to Seattle on the train.

There you have it, my favorite food memories of 2017. Somehow it took over four months to put it into words, but it's finally done!