Friday, May 28, 2010

Piece Montée a.k.a. Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake and it was fantastic. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri. We were required to make the pate a choux, the crème patissiere, and the glaze used to mount/decorate it. I had contemplated this project since encountering one at a lavish wedding a few years ago and had chickened out, so it was great to be faced with it.

My pate a choux wasn't the smoothest but it all puffed. I marveled at the fact you could smooth out the batter with a wet finger without creating a mess. I always thought pate a choux was a temperamental thing to make...apparently not! I also was thrilled that my pastry cream once again was smooth. The cornstarch sped up the thickening process but left hint of flavor. In the future I will probably stick to the pastry cream recipe from making Tiramisu as I didn't particularly enjoy the taste/texture of cornstarch. I ended up mixing most of the pastry cream with homemade marmalade, which still stuns me in its simplicity and flavor. For this batch of marmalade, I added 2 tablespoons of ginger to the last three minutes of the third blanching and more vanilla bean paste for some punch. It made the cream reminiscent of a creamsicle. Yum.

Piping the cream into the puffs was a challenge... I didn't have a good feel for when they were full and one exploded like an overstuffed Pacman (see below). Caramel is risky and mine probably could've been a little less done but it was still tasty. The main issue was the HEAT and required speed when assembling the tower. Dealing with those aspects will definitely require some work but I think I'm up for the challenge once the weather cools off again.  

This probably sounds crazy but other than the difficulty of assembling the tower, I found this challenge much easier than expected. I'm unsure if it was pure luck, really good recipe selections or my growth as a baker but I was very happy with my result, especially for a first try. I did everything over the course of 2-3 nights without any real difficulties. The result was the perfect treat for Gossip Girl's season finale, especially as some of the characters left for a Parisian summer. Thanks to Cat for a great challenge and to Meg for sharing the treat and show.

Detailed instructions and the recipes can be found here. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Feta Pasta

Inspired by the delicious roasted asparagus earlier this month and this Smitten Kitchen recipe for Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta I bookmarked ages ago and didn't bother rereading, I put together a colorful, spring pasta dish with Roasted Asparagus, Lemon and Feta.

Roasting the asparagus takes time but it does such a great job sharpening its natural sweetness that I think it is worth the effort. The asparagus provides an excellent counterpoint to the lemon and feta's tanginess - right when they seemed almost too much its sweetness kicked in. I found the balance of flavors very satisfying, even though I forgot to add the shrimp I meant to toss in for some protein.

This dish was sunny, bright and made me smile with each bite. If you're in a hurry, you can definitely blanch the asparagus by cooking it with the pasta for the last few minutes of its cooking time instead of roasting it. The result will likely be pretty similar.

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon Feta Pasta
(3-4 Servings)

1/2 Pound Pasta (I used whole wheat penne)
1 Pound Asparagus
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 Medium Lemon, zested and juiced (if you want less tang, use less juice)
1/4 to 1/2 C. Crumbled Feta

1. Put on a pot of water, bringing it to a boil. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet or two with foil (for easy clean-up).
2. Wash asparagus, snap it off where it breaks naturally to remove woody ends, then cut into thirds. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on sheets and roast in oven for 12-15 minutes.
3. Once the water comes to a boil cook pasta according to the package's directions. When it is finished reserve 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
4. While the pasta and asparagus cook, zest the lemon and juice it into a large bowl. Add the crumbled feta. 
5. Remove asparagus from oven to cool slightly.
6. Add pasta water and pasta to the bowl containing the lemon/feta mixture. Add asparagus. Toss to combine and enjoy. The pasta water, lemon juice and feta will make a light "sauce."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LUCKYRICE Grand Feast and Kyotofu

Way back on May 2 I volunteered to help stuff gift bags for LUCKYRICE's Grand Feast and ended up with the privilege of attending. The restaurant line up was amazing and the dishes they served, though I didn't manage to try them all, were a great taste of Asia. My favorites tastes were the crispy, rich Manchurian Cauliflower Indian-Chinese Style from Dévi's Chef Hemant Mathur, the creamy, salty melt-in-my mouth Grilled Wagyu/Congee/Sweet Soy from morimoto and the crisp, clean Spice Crusted Steak, South Indian Rice Salad, Horseradish and Yogurt from Tabla's Chef Floyd Cardoz. I also loved The Summit Bar's cinnamon-y Charmane Star beverage.

Being shy I wasn't too aggressive with my photos but I did capture one of the media highlights: Chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Daniel Boulud joking around behind the morimoto station. I also was very excited to talk briefly with Chef Cardoz as I'm a big fan of Tabla (I raved about my first visit of two here). It was a swoon-worthy night made even better by getting to wear cocktail attire and experiencing the amazing view from the Mandarin Oriental's 36th Floor. Thanks so much to Courtney for the opportunity. :)

Afterward Meg and I decided we needed dessert in spite of having many savory bites at the event... I just can't resist ending the event on a sweet note. Miraculously I remembered Kyotofu, a Japanese dessert bar and bakery in the area that would keep us in theme. As you might imagine most of the menu items involve tofu though while eating them that is the last thing on your mind.

As with most places in New York, Kyotofu is small and true to stereotype it has a very modern, white aesthetic with hints of bright light that make it inviting rather than sterile. It was quite busy for 9:30-10 on a Saturday night, especially when a bomb threat was occurring just down the street. The service was pretty slow but it was just nice to be off of our heels.

To start we tried ordering some of their chocolate soy milk soft serve only to be told it was take-out only. Fortunately the waiter realized he had crushed my hopes and dreams and surprised us with a cup. It was creamy, cool and just sweet -- the perfect thing while waiting for our real dessert: white sesame cake with a banana filling, banana sorbet on the side and shiro-an cream. The cake was soft and light with a delicate sesame flavor that could be overpowered by the bananas if you didn't scoop carefully. My favorite part was the Shiro-An Cream, which I thought was a vanilla bean paste based on the black flecks but it was actually a paste of sweetened white beans.

After running into friends of Meg's we got to sample another of Kyotofu's beautifully presented desserts as well: a super rich, miso brownie set in an exotic miso caramel. The brownie was dense, rich and perfectly chocolate; I couldn't taste the miso so it must have just added the brownie's consistency. I would definitely return to Kyotofu if I were in the area. Everything, except the service, hit the sweet spot just right.

Location: 705 Ninth Avenue (between 48th and 49th Streets)
Hours: Sunday 12p - 12:30a, Tuesday and Wednesday 12p - 12:30a , Thursday-Saturday 12p - 1:30 a
Cost: $$

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pasta with Ramps

When spring hits the city ramps are one of the first items to arrive at the Greenmarket. I always have ignored ramps as I didn't know how to prepare them but this year I saw too many posts and was too eager for fresh, local, spring food not to try them. As I enjoy the straightforwardness of Sally Schneider's recipes, which tend to be rich and healthy, I made with her Pasta with Ramps.

While simple this recipe took some time to prepare. My ramp bulbs took much longer than 10-15 minutes to soften perhaps because they were gargantuan? This pasta dish felt very earthy, appropriate given that ramps are found through foraging. The cooked down ramps and ramp oil lend a raw, strong flavor that lingers on the palate long after eating. It was interesting but I'm not going to lie my favorite aspect was the Parmesan Reggiano Cheese and memories of being kid.

As a child I spent a lot of time in our backyard playing in my "Australian Indian Fort" making up stories and "meals" with sand, dirt, leaves, water and wild onions, which the taste of ramps brought to mind. The fort was a makeshift teepee formed from screened porch sides leftover from a Florida Room conversion and a wooden crossbar. I carefully wrote out its name in my favorite turquoise and fuschia crayons on the crossbar and passed all sunny days there (and all rainy ones playing dress up and "imagine" in the basement). It was a simple, good time...

While I didn't love ramps I was pleased to recall my time in the fort (thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the fort and good memories of childhood!).

The cut off root ends looked like headless octopuses!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchiladas and Chili Coconut Lime Mango "Salad"

Our hosts for this month for the Daring Cooks Challenge, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on and written by Robb Walsh. 

This challenge was the first time I had seen stacked enchiladas and the presentation really appealed to me, so I was excited even though I NEVER order enchiladas. I'm more of a guacuamole salad, tostada, fajita, quesadilla or beans and rice girl (not all of that at once though I swear).

I planned ahead to serve these on Cinco de Mayo and did the work over several days, which was great as making your own enchilada sauce is time consuming. Roasting and peeling the peppers was the hardest part (after tracking them and the tomatillos down in Chelsea Market's Manhattan Fruit Exchange); it required a lot of patience and more time than the rest of the sauce's preparation. My hands were tingly the next day after handling the peppers so long, which amused me and reminded me of the hard work I had done. 

I followed the recipe pretty exactly making only two changes: I skipped the homemade tortillas (though I hope to make them soon) and improvised on the grilled chicken by sauteing on the stove top to caramelize some flavor into it and then put the breasts in the oven to finish. The resulting stacks were very filling, savory and spicy. They even reheated fairly well.

I'm pleased to say the challenge fully met my expectations, although I could have been less timid with the sauce's salt and less aggressive with its reduction. I loved how fresh and spicy the sauce was...completely worth the tingles and time. I'd make it again if there were a request and/or occasion. The work makes this not an every day recipe for me.

The Chili Coconut Lime Mango "Salad" I threw together for the side on the other hand I hope to eat all the time! It was super easy and I really liked the coconut's crunch, lime's tanginess, chili powder's earthiness alongside the sweet mango. It may have been a bit much orange on the plate in combination with the cheese topped enchiladas but it was worth it.

Chili Coconut Lime Mango "Salad"
Serves 4
6 Mangoes, Cubed* (approximately 4 cups)
Juice of 1 Small Lime
1 Tsp. Chili Powder
2 Tbsp. Coconut, Unsweetened (I had this kind from Whole Foods)
1 Tsp. Agave Nectar**

Cube mangoes and place in a medium bowl. Juice/squeeze the lime over mangos and toss to coat them. Measure and add the additional ingredients. Toss again to combine the flavors and serve.

* I used baby mango so I likely needed more than you would with regular ones.
**My mangoes weren't the ripest so I added this. It probably wouldn't be necessary with ones in perfect condition. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Using Up Miso Butter: A Radish, Miso Butter and Egg Roll-Up

I tried sauteing some thinly sliced heirloom radishes from the Greenmarket in the leftover miso butter to use it up, which should have been a great plan... Only the miso butter gummed up on the bottom of the pan and started to turn a nice charcoal. Fortunately the caramelized radishes were salvageable.

I pulled out a new pan, spritzed it with Trader Joe's Canola Oil and was good to go with the second half. Once the new radishes were hot I added them to the other radishes in the container with the leftover miso butter, a much better idea. It melted by the time my egg swirled with a little cream was done cooking into a little pillow (the pan was perhaps too hot).

I piled everything onto a Trader Joe's Whole Grain Tortilla, super soft and slightly sweet, and had a very tasty dinner than cleaned out several things on their way out in the fridge.I really like how the miso paste confuses my taste buds into thinking of cheese. I think it might work as a sandwich spread used sparingly, but I probably should compare the nutrition facts to other options before I try it.

Oh and if you aren't a fan of radishes and their bite but want to learn to eat them sauteing might be a good start! It really mellows out their sharpness.

How pretty were these? I had to have them! The lighting in my kitchen doesn't accurately reveal the colors but they were red, eggplant purple, fuchsia, yellow and white!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg and Miso Butter

Meg and I tried this variation on David Chang's Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg and Miso Butter for Gossip Girl Monday. It screamed Sarah ... Asian inspiration! Seasonal Vegetable! Delicious Egg Yolk coating the whole dish! And the presentation was lovely. I knew it had to be my first asparagus dish of the season and it was.

It's quite simple to prepare but requires a bit of inactive cooking time between the butter coming to room temperature and the asparagus roasting, so it isn't quick. The egg and butter are flavorful, creamy accompaniments to the roasted asparagus making for a rich, unique dish. But I have to admit I would have been just as happy eating the roasted asparagus on its own. Our pencil thin stalks were tender, slightly caramelized perfection thanks to Meg's excellent salting, oiling and roasting. For me, the sauce obscured this simple pleasure rather than complimenting it.

I won't be making this again but use your own judgment. If you are passionate about Miso this may be great for you! I've never been entirely sold on the soup and hadn't tried Miso Paste before. It was salty, intriguing and reminded Meg and I of Handisnacks Cheese, which shamefully was not such a bad thing. Any ideas for how to use of the remainder of the package?

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Ever since Leslie raved about brunch at Westville last year I wanted to go. Then this fall Gary said it was one of his favorites too and I started trying to convince someone to try it with me. Until last Friday it hadn't worked out... After seeing Twilight Visions: Surrealism, Photography, and Paris at the International Center on Photography Leslie agreed to revisit the East Village location.

The line outside concerned me as I was starved, but we lucked out and were able to grab 2 bar seats right away. The decor is simple and appealing - white walls with a smattering of nostalgic signs and dark, rustic yet sleek wood tables. The staff is efficient as is the kitchen and everyone is very nice; we didn't drink at the bar and no one scowled, a rarity.

We both ordered their specialty - the market, which is your choice of 4 market veggies from approximately 25 choices that vary daily ($13). We ordered Grilled Fennel with Parmesan, Artichoke Hearts with Parmesan, Broccoli Rabe with Cherry Tomatoes and Parmesan, Fried Plantains with Cotija Cheese, Green Peas with Shallots and Bacon, Heart of Palm Salad, Lemon Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan and Sweet Potato Fries. The trend of Parmesan cheese was unintentional!

The Heart of Palm Salad was our agreed upon favorite - the super soft, tangy heart of palm contrasted well with the celery and red pepper's crunch and natural sweetness. I also loved the Artichoke Hearts, which were nicely caramelized, tangy and a touch sweet, the very crisp skinny Sweet Potato Fries and the lightly sauteed Green Peas that kept a bit of their crunch. All the preparations were simple, deceptively so I'm sure, and let the fresh vegetables shine, which makes for a very tasty, filling and healthy meal.

Westville is definitely worth a visit but be warned that they don't accept reservations.

Location: 173 Avenue A (at 11th Street)
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30 a-11 p, Sat-Sun 10 a-11 p.
Cost: $$