Friday, February 21, 2014

share my sweets

serious eats is one of my favorite food sites. i love all the taste tests, kenji's intensely detailed food lab, city features, staff picks, etc. so i was especially excited when they added a sweets section--SWEETS! and doubly excited when they started "share your sweets", which allows readers to share their sweets for each week's theme. back when it started in 2011, i didn't have this blog yet, so i felt a little sheepish submitting photos with no personal links to the recipes (didn't stop me from sending in two):
but NOW i'm making a "debut" of sorts with my "that's bananas!" post. a little dated but still a solid entry and terrific recipe worth sharing. check it out! number eleven on the slideshow. FAMOUS! :D

Friday, February 14, 2014

mangia! an italian dinner in vermont

last weekend the brooklyn peech clan drove up to vermont for jho's birthday getaway: sixteen adults and one baby in a giant house for two nights. weekend activities included snowboarding (for most), hot tubbing, sledding, playing in the snow, playing with fire ::cough cough:: jade ::cough::, taboo, and of course chowing down. there were potato chips for days in all sorts of flavors--ketchup, jalapeƱo, cheesy garlic name a few--ramen bowls, jet-puffed marshmallows, some pepperidge farm cookie action, and green seedless grapes..yknow, to keep things healthy (that's a little bit of food math for you).

to take advantage of the accommodations, and because most people would be busy hitting the slopes saturday, i volunteered to cook dinner for everyone (with the help of some trusty sous chefs). since cooking for such a large group can be rather daunting, especially doing so in an unfamiliar kitchen, i planned a menu of things that could be prepped ahead of time and leave little to do day of. this naturally fell into an italian-american theme: spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, roasted veggies. let's put the diets on hold and embrace the carbs.

[despite all the planning and prep, i completely forgot to get pictures of the final meal ::wah wah:: so you'll have to settle for random pictures throughout~]

a couple days before the trip i made the meatballs, tomato sauce, and lasagna. it was quite the undertaking; my fridge and freezer weren't quite prepared, but we made it work. i took a chance with recipes that i've never tried before, but they seemed straightforward enough that the risk seemed worth it.

i started by making the tomato sauce which was super easy with only three ingredients: canned whole san marzano tomatoes, butter, and onions. once that cooked and cooled, i jarred it up and stored it in the fridge. next up were the meatballs. these were made up of a trio of meats--pork, veal, beef--and a mixture of spices and herbs, which made them incredibly juicy and flavorful. smooshing all the ingredients together was super satisfying (as long as you suppress the raw-meat-contamination thoughts) and so was shaping them with a big ice cream scooper. uniformity! once those were all scooped and lined up on trays, i wrapped them up and popped them in freezer. i would defrost them in the fridge in vt and then for dinner pan-sear, bake, and finish them in the sauce. the most time-consuming of the dishes was the lasagna, mostly because of the various components that went into it: spinach, mushroom duxelle, and a cheesy cream sauce. the recipe came from seriouseats' kenji, who is notorious for working the crap out of and perfecting his recipes; this usually means a lot of tedious steps, but luckily this one was relatively painless. once everything was layered up, into the freezer it went with the trays of meatballs. all that was left to prep were the vegetables: chopped up broccoli, trimmed brussels sprouts, and made a champagne vinaigrette for the salad. come saturday, i only needed to focus on making sure everything cooked in time without having to spend hours during the day getting everything ready. 

for the most part, the dinner turned out great. courses and timing were a little off since everything needed to be finished in the oven, of which we only had one, but the food was good and plentiful, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. making things ahead of time totally paid off; i didn't turn into a complete stress case, and everyone was super appreciative (and full) :D

no good dinner comes without sweets, so we had birthday cupcakes with italian meringue buttercream and italian rainbow cookies. for the cupcakes, i made two kinds: funfetti with vanilla buttercream and sprinkles and yellow cake with chocolate buttercream, all decorated with pictures honoring the birthday boy, of course~ (the cupcakes ended up a little denser than i'd like, which i was disappointed by because when i tried one right after cooling it was super light and fluffy. booo. i'll have to remedy that next time...maybe i'm overworking the batter?) 
 the rainbow cookies were a total hit and fun to make: one batter--split and dyed into three colors and stacked--two jams (apricot and my homemade blackberry), and a semisweet chocolate coating. pretty and addictive, my favorite combo ;)
so, would i plan, prep, and cook another meal for 16 people? sure, why not! :D

Sunday, February 2, 2014

montreal: eat to stay warm

last weekend i was in montreal in some of the coldest temperatures i've ever faced. ~hello, polar vortex~ in addition to plenty of layers and limited outside exposure, below-zero temperatures call for maximum comfort food (which apparently is meat-centric in this case). lucky for me, with sean living in montreal for the past few months he has found a number of really delicious, reliable, and affordable food places. so here's where and what we ate:

- station w: this is a fairly new cafe that opened in verdun over the summer. it has free wifi, individual and communal tables, and a simple menu of coffees and grilled cheeses (along with a few basic pastries and sides in the display case). we had two lattes and the raclette with cranberries and caramelized onions. good quality bread for the sandwiches, and the sweetness from the cranberries and onions balanced out the fattiness of the cheese and buttered bread.
- boustan: we went to this lebanese restaurant after watching a comedy show in downtown montreal. it definitely appeals to the late-night crowd; the place was packed with people at 1030pm on a thursday, and we even ran into one of the comedians we saw earlier. thanks to some inside information, we ordered the creation ("the ultimate pita"), which includes lettuce, eggplant, pickled turnips, garlic potatoes, chicken, and garlic sauce. SO good. i wanted to go back at the end of the weekend.
- omnivorea middle eastern restaurant serving up a variety of kaftas. the sandwiches were slimmer than the ones at boustan but featured more distinct flavor combinations. we had the cauliflower soup, bombay kafta (chicken, pineapple chutney, sumac onions, red cabbage), beirut kafta (beef, hummus, sumac onions, tahini cabbage). both were good, but we preferred the beirut--beefy and simple. i guess we're more traditional when it comes to middle eastern wraps.

- patati patata: apparently two kaftas at omnivore weren't enough, so we walked a couple blocks to patati patata for some poutine and two sliders. this place is super small, but we were lucky enough to score a table in the back. i've mentioned their poutine in a previous post, and it still ranks high for me; the gravy is flavorful yet light, and the fries are the perfect texture--not too soft and just crisp enough. i could do without the olives, but they're easily picked off ;) the sliders are customizable and just the right size. i topped mine with lettuce, red onions, pickles, and mixed hot peppers. sean kept it simpler with cheese and red onions--he didn't realize that 'cornichons' were pickles, so i gave him one of mine. sharing is caring <3
- la cornetteria: the cronut craze did not bypass quebec, and we were treated to a canadian 'cronut' (or cronetto) at la cornetteria. no crazy lines, and they were still baking trays of fresh cronettos when we were there (ricotta-flavored). we ordered two lattes, a custard cronetto, and a nutella cornetti (italian croissant). the cronetto was sweet and nicely layered with a healthy amount of custard. a bit of a sugar rush for breakfast, but at least we followed it up with a stroll through marche jean talon and bought some produce ;P
- antep kabab: to balance out some of the sweetness from the morning, we had lunch at antep kabab, a turkish restaurant near concordia university. similar to boustan, this is a no-frills place serving quick and simple food. we split the grilled chicken sandwich, which was incredibly moist and maintained a nice char-grilled flavor.
- blackstrap bbq: this bbq place opened up over the summer in verdun and seems to always be packed. there are communal tables and seats at the counters, but it seems orders to go are also quite popular. we chose a couple seats at the counter, so we could watch the kitchen. there's a small selection of local beers and standard bbq menu with one quebecois addition--poutine. we ordered the brisket platter which is served with coleslaw, bread, and side of poutine (paid extra for that...). the brisket was delicious--montrealers really know their smoked meats--but the poutine was the star. crispy yet soft fries, rich gravy, and squeaky, melty cheese curds. MMM!

by the end of my visit, i had my fill of middle eastern sandwiches and excellent poutine. not to mention the sugar overload from la cronetteria and homemade chocolate chip cookies. oo, and let's not forget all the lattes and home-brewed fancy coffees! the combination of all those things for sure helped me survive the bitter cold. now if only i could figure out how to avoid the inevitable blobbiness of all that food...