February 12, 2016

A savoury valentine’s day treat: heart-shaped pretzels

pretzels

 

Here’s a secret: out of all the U.S. holidays, I think I might actually like Valentine’s Day best. Not so much because of all the fancy date-night associations– in fact, every New Yorker knows that it’s the worst day of the year to go out for dinner– but because so many cute cards, sweets, cheesy messages, and shop window displays come out of it! If you see my pinterest board entitled, ‘MUAH’ (see here), you will see how much of  sucker I am for this stuff.

This year, instead of the usual Valentine’s Day confections, I thought that it would be a nice change to make something savoury for my office. Hence, these heart-shaped pretzels, which were surprisingly easy to make! Below is the recipe that I used.

Heart-shaped pretzels: (makes about 10)

*Recipe altered from twopeasandtheirpod.com

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. yeast (or 1 packet of 2 1/4 oz. active dry yeast)
  • 4 tbsp. canola oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 10 cups water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tbsp. cold water
  • coarse kosher salt

1.) Proof the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer by adding the yeast, 1 1/2 cups water and sugar together. Cover with a towel and let it stand for 5-10 minutes until bubbles form.

2.) Add 3 tbsp. of oil and salt. Using the dough hook, add in the flour a cup at a time on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 4 minutes. Alternatively, if you don’t have a stand mixer you can also do this by hand, the old-fashioned way!

3.) Remove the dough from the bowl and pour remaining 1 tbsp. oil into the same bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it back into the bowl. Turn to coat with oil. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm place (like a low-heated oven) for 1 hour or until it doubles in size.

4.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit/ 218 degrees Celsius. In a large pot bring the 10 cups of water and baking soda to a boil.

5.) Using a knife, dough cutter, or pizza cutter, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll one piece into a large rope, twist the middle into a loop, and join the ends together to form a heart. You can also be creative. Repeat with remaining pieces. Boil the pretzels, two at a time in the water solution for 45 seconds. Drain with a slotted spoon and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

5.) Once all boiled, beat together egg and 1 tbsp. water and brush over the tops. Generously sprinkle with salt. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

**For a sweet (and decidedly non-German) option you can brush the finished pretzels with melted butter while still warm and dip them into a sugar and cinnamon mixture (1/3 cups sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon combined).

I ended up making both the savoury and sweet kinds. My office loved them and I hope you do too! They were really simple to make and a great idea to do with kids.

 

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December 1, 2015

Scenes from my week

image4{Why not make a turkey cookie?}

This past week was Thanksgiving weekend and so entailed a lot of eating, spending time with some visiting relatives, and…more eating! I also finally made it to the Holiday Train Show at the Bronx Botanical Gardens, which I’ve been meaning to go to for years. It was definitely worth the trip. The whole display in the greenhouse made me feel like I had stepped into some cosmopolitan fairyland, and once the sun set the lights made everything come alive so much more. I cannot recommend it enough! Here are some photos:

image2   {A view from the place where I spent Thanksgiving}

image6 {The Train Show}

image5 {Famous Manhattan landmarks}

image7{Me, leaning in to get a closer look}

image8 {Because I couldn’t resist!}

image1{A red sky at night over the lower east side}

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November 18, 2015

Scenes from my week

image4{Molly and me in Central Park}

Temperatures are falling rapidly in New York, but luckily there have been enough sunny days to still make walking around the city a beautiful experience. Highlights from my week include taking this adorable dachshund out for a stroll on Sunday (with some chili-infused hot chocolate in hand), showing a master ceramist around the city and the museum I work for, and seeing the Philippine Gold show at the Asia Society. Below are some photos!

image1{Dr. Kaneta Masanao is an eighth-generation Hagi ceramist whose works were just on display at the Armory show. His works can be found in prominent collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, among others. Basically, he’s a really big deal, and it was a huge honour for me to take him through the storage facility of our museum to look at pre-modern Japanese ceramics. Afterwards, we went to the Picasso exhibition at MoMA, which he liked seeing for inspiration. Here he is, admiring a sculpture of a cat.}

image2{Part of Dr. Kaneta’s exhibition at the Armory}

image5

{A beautiful work by him that I can’t believe I get to keep!}

image1{A pre-colonial era gold chain from the Philippines in the Asia Society’s show, Philippine Gold. It weighs about 5 kg (10 lbs) because it contains another gold chain within the four-walled, outer chain.}

image7{The Boxer Codex: a Spanish manuscript written c.1590 about the various Asian peoples that the Spanish encountered during their expeditions. Here are two couples from the Philippines, attired in their ethnic garbs. You can see how much gold they’re wearing, which goes with the purpose of this exhibition.}

image2 copy{What Central Park is looking like these days!}

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November 11, 2015

Asianifying fall vegetables (part 2): kabocha & chicken stew

 

kabochachicken

 

Okay. This one is a bit of a cheat. In continuing my series, “Asianifying fall vegetables in the U.S.,” I should, in theory, be choosing vegetables that do not typically feature in Asian cuisines. However, this is not the case in today’s recipe, since kabocha is a type of small pumpkin that is used in a variety of East Asian culinary practices. The reason why I decided to try it was because of the interesting nature of the recipe book it came from. Nikkei Cuisine: Japanese Food the South American Way, by Luiz Hara, is an attempt to clarify and explain the legitimacy of Japanese cooking as interpreted by members of the Japanese diaspora. Hara is one such member, having grown up in Brazil before moving to London to become an influential food blogger (while working in finance) and, eventually, a chef.

That being said, this recipe is what I would classify as restaurant-level one, given that it took what seemed like an eternity to make and contains detailed instructions such as “caramelise [the] konbu strips to garnish” and “Bevel the edges of each [pumpkin] slice” (i.e. scrape the pumpkin skin off the edges.) Still, it made for a delicious soup erring on the unexpectedly sweet side, which was nicely off-set by the savoury chicken element. I would make it again, but next time I would break up the preparation in a way that wouldn’t require me to do everything in one session, since there is quite a bit of steeping  and waiting involved. My recommendation is to prepare the dashi and ensuing kabocha soup well-ahead of time. The chicken can be done shortly before serving. For this reason, I’ve taken the liberty of separating this recipe into steps so that you can do “Step 1” in advance, and save “Step 2” for later.

From Luiz Hara: One of the simplest meat recipes in this book, this is a delicate but flavoursome dish with three main components–chicken, dashi stock, and kabocha pumpkin. For this dish to work, all three should be fresh and of the highest quality. If the budget stretches, I recommend corn-fed, preferably free-range chicken, and the dashi should be primary, crystal-clear and freshly made. This is an elegant chicken dish that is sure to impress.

Serves 4

-1 litre (4 cups) Primary dashi

-1/2 small kabocha pumpkin

-100 ml (1/2 cup) mirin

-1 1/2 tbsp. caster (superfine) sugar

-5 cm (2 in.) piece of konbu

-5 tbsp. light soy sauce

-4 corn-fed chicken thighs, skin on, bone in

-1 tsp. sansho pepper, to garnish

-1 tsp. toasted white sesame seeds, to garnish

-2 tbsp. caramelised konbu seaweed, to garnish

[Step 1.]

Prepare the primary dashi; this dish is all about the quality of the dashi and the chicken.

Start by preparing the kabocha pumpkin. First, cut the kabocha in half and remove the seeds. Then cut each half in half again: the quarters will have a thicker top part and a thinner bottom part. Then cut each quarter in half again so that you have eight pieces of roughly the same weight and size, for even cooking. Bevel the edges of each slice using a potato peeler (I do this to stop the sharp edges from breaking off into the dashi and making it cloudy, which would also spoil the presentation.) Finally, tap the heel of the knife blade into the kabocha‘s skin to cut small nicks into it, so when the kabocha cooks and the flesh expands, the harder skin will be able to expand with it and the slice will not crumble.

Put the kabocha in a medium pan, skin side down. Add the dashi, mirin, sugar, and konbu piece. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat so the kabocha gently simmers. Cook until the kabocha is just cooked through but firm, about 7 minutes; test for doneness by sticking a toothpick through it. Do not overcook at this stage, as the kabocha will be cooked again. When the kabocha is ready, turn off the heat and add the soy sauce. Let the kabocha steep in its cooking liquor for at least 1 hour (more is fine, even a few hours but don’t refrigerate.)

[Step 2.]

Carefully remove the kabocha from its liquor, setting it aside but reserving the liquid in the pan.

Next, preheat a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. When the pan is very hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and brown for a minute or so. Turn the pieces of chicken over and brown the other side for 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the pan of cooking liquor and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, so the liquid simmers gently, and continue to cook for 12 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan and keep it warm.

Now, return the kabocha pieces to the cooking liquid, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently for a couple of minutes to heat the pumpkin through.

To plate, place one chicken thigh in a shallow serving bowl followed by two pieces of kabocha pumpkin alongside, then add a ladleful of the cooking broth. Finish off with a sprinkle of sansho pepper, the toasted sesame seeds and a few strands of caramelised konbu over the chicken. Serve immediately.

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November 4, 2015

Book Review

foodrules

After reading Ann Reavis’ Italian Food Rules, a book that aims to explain many of the differences between Italian-American cooking and authentic Italian cuisine, I was curious to see whether the ‘rules’ presented in the book matched up with those of an actual Italian person who’s been well-exposed to Italian-American food. Enter Mario.

Mario Merone is originally from Ariano Irpino in the southern Italian region of Campania and has worked as a playwright, actor, director, and drama teacher all over Italy and other parts of Europe. In 2013 he moved to New York to pursue his dream of joining an American theatre company. Like many actors, Mario works part-time as a waiter—in his case at Piccolo Café, an Italian-American café and restaurant with a location near my apartment, which I like to frequent especially when I’m trying to get some reading done. Its tiny, narrow interior limits the number of customers, which makes for a quiet and intimate atmosphere, and the wait staff has always been kind enough to charge my phone and seat me next to the heater in the winter.

With his first-hand knowledge of culinary interpretations in both Italy and the U.S., Mario very kindly accepted my request to evaluate some of the ‘rules’ listed in Reavis’ book and either confirm or correct them. He credits his grandmother for first introducing him to Italian cooking and inciting his culinary interests thereafter:

I love food and I love to cook. My culinary experience began at my grandmother’s house in 1980. Even though I was only a year old, I started to taste the delicious food made by Nonna Carolina, and day by day, she taught me the secrets of what tasted good.

1.) Italians only drink tea when they are sick (they much prefer coffee). 

False. Coffee is the number one choice, but a lot of people also drink tea even when they’re not sick.

2.) Don’t dip bread in olive oil. Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar is not served automatically in Italian restaurants. 

Partially false. In Italy, bread alone is served automatically in restaurants, but without the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. However, they can provide those condiments upon request, and then you can dip your bread into them.

3.) No pizza for lunch. Pizza is meant to be eaten for dinner, with friends (as opposed to a family outing), after 9 PM, and at a pizzeria. One should also eat pizza with a knife and fork, unless you are a guy and in Naples.

False. You can have pizza for lunch and/or for dinner with your family or friends, at any time (not just after 9 PM). Usually, pizza is served already cut into slices so that you can use your hands and enjoy the delicious taste. But you are also welcome to use a knife and fork if you’d like!

4.) Don’t put ice cubes in beverages. This is because Italians believe that icy cold beverages are bad for your digestion. They can even cause congestione, an abdominal cramp, that can kill you. Italy is a land of simple drinks–wine, beer, water, none of which require ice.

False, mainly for the wrong reason. Putting ice in beverages isn’t common in Italy, but the reason is because ice changes the real flavour of the beverages. People like to keep the taste undiluted.

5.) Spaghetti is not served with meatballs. That is an American thing.

True. “Spaghetti with meatballs??? Are you kidding me??” That was my first reaction…

6.) Don’t eat eggs in the morning. Eggs are not part of an Italian breakfast, as usually people opt for a cappuccino and a pastry. They might even stretch to some fruit or yoghurt. But no eggs.

True.

7.) Italians don’t drink orange juice in the morning because they believe it is too acidic and bad for your digestion. 

False. We drink fresh orange juice in the morning. I’m one of them.

8.) Bistecca alla Fiorentina should only be eaten rare.

Following the tradition, yes, but it’s up to you. There is no prohibition to ask for Bistecca alla Fiorentina cooked ‘medium.’

9.) Different dishes are meant to be served on different dishes. For instance, a dish of potatoes is served separately from a dish of meat. The different foods therefore don’t touch each other. 

False, because it depends on the food combination. For example, you are not supposed to serve something like tomato sauce with potatoes on the same dish.

10.) Don’t use bottled “Italian salad dressing.” Real Italians dress their salad simply: olive oil, red wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and pepper are added sequentially to the salad. These ingredients are not shaken into a vinaigrette and added all at once. Vinaigrette is a French invention.

True.

11.) Don’t dip biscotti in coffee. The only drink biscotti should be dipped into is Vin Santo or vino santo

True. But you can dip biscotti into a cappuccino, latte or caffe llatte. By the way, I saw someone once who dipped biscotti into coffee, and he’s still alive…

12.) An actual panino is a small roll (not sliced bread) containing two to three ingredients. Most panini are not usually heated under a panino press, as they are in the U.S., and butter is never used on them either. 

False. We serve them using sliced bread, too. We also heat them under a panino press. But it’s true that we don’t use butter. Ever.

13.) Eating melons without prosciutto is considered somewhat dangerous to Italians. The logic is that if a ‘cold’ food like melon is eaten without a ‘hot,’ balancing food, like a salty meat, the body will be ‘chilled,’ which leads to the dreaded congestione

False.

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For a complete list of Piccolo Café locations, see here

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October 4, 2015

Can I have that with rice? Asian-ifying Fall Vegetables in the U.S.

veggies

For many people, a multi-coloured butternut squash and cranberry quinoa salad topped with parsley would be a sight to instantly whet their appetites. Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. While I enjoy having a full salad every now and then, at home, I largely think about the vegetables in my fridge in terms of how I can best pair them with my bowl of rice. The problem is that in my on-going attempts to eat in-season, using locally sourced vegetables from the farmer’s market as much as possible, I find myself frequently wondering what to do with certain vegetables that I didn’t grow up eating, such as kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts.

Fortunately for me, there is a search tool called the Internet, which allows me to find what other people have done to Asian-ify their autumn veggies. Today I came across a recipe for a Brussels sprouts dish, which I really liked and would make again.

Brussels sprouts with sesame, miso, and garlic (makes 2 servings)

*Original recipe in Japanese, found on www.cookpad.com/jp

  • 5-6 individual Brussels sprouts
  • 100 ml. water
  • 1 tsp. shirodashi (a type of soup stock)
  • ½ tsp. light soy sauce
  • 1 tbs. sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp. miso
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. grated garlic

1.) Cut the Brussels sprouts vertically into fourths. Heat the water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, then add the Brussels sprouts. Boil for two minutes over high heat, then strain.

2.) Transfer the Brussels sprouts into a bowl of cold water and let it soak for 5 minutes.

3.) Reserve a third of the sesame seeds. In a mortar and pestle, combine and grind all the rest of the ingredients. Once the mixture is ground into a fine paste, add the remaining sesame seeds and stir.

4.) Take the Brussels sprouts out of the water and pat dry. Combine it with the mixture. Because the leaves of Brussels sprouts tend to overlap one another, rub the paste in between the crevasses gently so as not to destroy the Brussels sprouts’ shape.

Served with miso soup and rice, this is my idea of a satisfying, home-cooked meal in the Fall!

sprouts

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