Saturday, December 31, 2011

Reflections of 2011

It's been one crazy year. So many great meals had locally and while traveling. I have to say that it's been grand and thanks to everyone that shared these moments with me. Instead of the regular best of list. I just wanted to list out the things that stood out the most. They may or may not be the best. But they certainly are the things that touched me the most.

I have to start with my best memory from this year: my wedding. Lots of great food and drinks spent with friends and family most dear to me.

This year has also been a beginning of many challenges in cooking. I'm really trying to push myself to higher goals. The first meal that was really challenging was the Chinese feast for my family.
The second challenge were soup dumplings. Though I'm still working on the recipe, my first try was pretty successful.
And more recently, I really impressed myself with my Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve meal. Seven different seafood dish. Some raw, some slightly cooked, and some fully cooked. A meal that progressed well and looked gorgeous! The flavors were more that what I expected.
As for restaurant meals, there were so many to look back on. I went to really high end places and hole in the wall. It's the ones that surprise me and keep me wanting more that I reflect back on. First up, Danny Brown in Queens. Lovely neighborhood place offering up high end dishes. Casual atmosphere that's sophisticated and clean. This place really impressed me.
The second restaurant that impressed me was Resto and their large format meal. Usually, large format means one large animal that roasted and placed on the table for enjoying. Instead, they went the extra step and made composed dishes of the pig that we chose. Every dish was fantastic. I don't do repeated large format meals. But for Resto, I would.
And lastly, one of the best or even the best restaurant meal I had in 2011 was L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. The food not only looked amazing but the flavors were amazing. Inventive, creative, beautiful, and delicious. You have to go to experience it yourself. Oh and sit at the bar. You'll enjoy looking into the kitchen.
And I'd like to end my reflections of 2011 post with a few vivid food memories from my travels. First up, Lama Island in Hong Kong. Some of the freshest seafood ever. Straight from the market and onto the plate. Amazing food, amazing views, wonderful experience.
On that same trip, I went to India and experienced some amazing foods. Lots of new flavors and cooking styles. We went out a lot and also enjoyed some food at home. My favorite had to be the crab curry at my uncle's home. I was one of the first ones sitting and the last one standing. I just loved it.
My third vivid memory involves my relaxing vacation in Atlanta, Georgia. Though I didn't go out much and spent most of my days at the pool, I was fed well. Very well. I can still taste the mushroom brandy sauce on that steak. Oh man, that sauce. Having a chef in the family is a good thing. A very good thing indeed.
And lastly, on my most recent trip to Germany, I couldn't forget about that schweinaxe (roasted pork knuckle) at Eisgrub Brau in Mainz. The crispy skin and tender meat paired very well with the pints of beer we ordered. It was gluttony at its finest hour.

What a wonderful year of traveling, eating, and new experiences. I hope the next year will be just as great or even better!

Have a very happy and healthy new year! Cheers!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Baking: Apple Coffee Cake

Sometimes what I bake is dictated by what I have in the kitchen that needs to be used before it spoils. This time the extra ingredient was sour cream. I was tired to thinking of Mexican food when it comes to extra sour cream. Instead of nachos or quesadillas, I opted to bake. I've heard that sour cream makes very moist cakes. So lucky for me, I was looking through a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine and came across a coffee cake recipe. What was even more intriguing was that it also including apples.

The first step is to make the streusel topping with flour, salt, brown sugar, and butter. Using a food processor makes this step easier. Toss in the cubes of cold butter with the fry ingredients. Pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Remove and set aside.

Next, I needed to measure out my other ingredients, including some diced granny smith apple.
And that sour cream.
And here are some beaten eggs.
In a stand up mixer, combines the dry ingredients with the butter until mixed. Again, it should resemble coarse meal.
Then add the eggs and sour cream to incorporate evenly.
Lastly, add the apples and mix.
Scoop the batter into individual muffin tins lined with paper. Then top with the prepped streusel.
Here's a closer look at an individual prepped crumb cake with streusal topping. Then into a preheated oven at 350oF for about 30 minutes.
The cake should have risen and the streusal topping melted. The smell should sweet and spicy. Insides, the cake is super moist from the sour cream and the apples add not only nice texture but also a slight tart. It's a nice balance with the sweet topping.
I really enjoyed this recipe and wouldn't hesitate to make it again. It was easy and tasted good.

My recipe was adapted to Food & Wine Magazine's:

Apple Crumb Coffee Cakes
Contributed by Spike Gjerde

* SERVINGS: Makes 18 muffins

1. 1 cup all-purpose flour
2. 1/2 cup light brown sugar
3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
4. 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Crumb Cake
1. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2. 1 cup granulated sugar
3. 1 teaspoon salt
4. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6. 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
7. 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8. 3/4 cup sour cream
9. 1 large egg, beaten
10. 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely diced

1. MAKE THE STREUSEL Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour with the brown sugar and salt. Add the butter pieces and mix at medium-low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal; continue mixing the streusel until very small clumps form. Transfer the streusel to a large plate and refrigerate until it is well chilled, about 10 minutes.
2. MAKE THE CRUMB CAKES Line 18 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners. Spray the liners with vegetable oil cooking spray. In the mixer bowl, combine the flour with the granulated sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add the butter pieces and beat at low speed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the sour cream and beaten egg and beat until the batter is smooth. Add the diced apple and beat just until incorporated.
3. Fill the muffin cups halfway with the crumb cake batter. Press the streusel into clumps and sprinkle on top. Bake the crumb cakes in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until risen, golden and springy to the touch; rotate the pans halfway through baking. Let the crumb cakes cool slightly before serving.

Make Ahead The crumb cakes can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container. Rewarm before serving.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Baking: Smores Bars

This holiday season, I've been trying to bake a bit more. I'm definitely trying to move out of my comfort zone and attempt new recipes. I've been making a lot of cookies and cakes recently but there are so many other delicious baked goods out there. So when I saw a recipe for Smores Bars recently, I was immediately hooked. These graham cracker, brownie, and marshmallow desserts would please almost anyone.

The first thing that I needed to do is wrap a pan with foil. This helps remove the bars from the pan later.

And now the crust. Take some graham crackers and pulse it in a food processor until it forms fine crumbs.

Like so.
Then add melted butter to make a nice rich crust that will form when pressed.
Take the crumbs and press them into the pan in an even layer. I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup to help even things out.
And then the brownies. I melted some chocolate and butter over a double boiler until smooth.
To the melted chocolate, I added the rest of the ingredients and mixed them in well.
Then I poured the brownie batter on top of the graham cracker crumbs. Now into the preheated 350oF oven for about 30 minutes. The brownie layer should be soft and moist while the graham cracker layer should be buttery and crumbly.
And now the last step: the marshmallows. I used 1 bag of small/mini marshmallows.
I added the fluffed sugary puffs on top of the brownies in a single layer. Then into the oven under the broiler. But don't walk away! They'll brown up in seconds.
Remove from the oven when use marshmallow has charred just slightly.
Let the whole pan cool down to room temperature. Then lift the baked good out of the pan using the foil. Slice into individual bars and serve!
I really enjoyed the flavor combination of this smores bar recipe. The crunch and butteryness of the graham crackers. The brownies are soft and chocolatey while the marshmallows are soft, sticky, and sweet. The only change I would make is to the brownie layer. I would like more chocolate brownie to marshmallow and graham cracker. I think the balance of the flavors would work better that way.

My recipe is adapted from this Serious Eats recipe:

S'mores Brownie Bars
Notes: Marshmallows can be very sticky. For the neatest bars, use a clean, sharp knife to cut the bars, rinsing and wiping the knife thoroughly between cuts.

* 1 cup graham cracker crumbs (made from 10 rectangular crackers)
* 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
* 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
* Salt
* 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
* 2 large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
* 3 cups mini-marshmallows

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Cut two 16-inch pieces of foil and line an 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to hang over sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Break graham crackers into small pieces and pulse in food processor until they become fine crumbs. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to crumbs and pulse to combine. Press into bottom of prepared pan.
3. Melt chocolate and remaining 8 tablespoons butter in medium bowl in microwave, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds to stir with rubber spatula. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
4. With a wooden spoon, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.
5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not over-bake. Transfer to cooling rack and top with marshmallows.
6. Adjust oven rack to upper third position and heat broiler. Broil until marshmallows are golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour. Using foil sling, transfer directly to wire rack and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Dinner 2012

In recent years, I have spent my Christmas nights in NJ for a party. It's usually about 40-50 people all friends from another time. The menu is always Indian and the desserts sweet.

We start off the night with some drinks and light appetizers. Here are some mini samosas stuffed with beef. The wrapper was crisp and thin while the meat inside was tender and spiced.

I'm not sure what this little pattie was but it wasn't impressive.

The same goes for this pattie. I couldn't taste the different between the two.
The chicken lollipops were better. Tender, juicy, and flavorful.
Some green chutney and a brown sauce was available for more flavor.
For dinner, we had a buffet of both vegetarian and meat dishes. I took a sampling of each one. There was okra, hakka noodles, fried shrimp, biryani, white rice, fried korma paneer, naan, and more chicken.
And for dessert, there were trays and trays of sweets. Somehow it turned out to be a competition. One that I didn't know about until I finished making the cake. Hmm...

There were lots of cookies to enjoy.
And bakhlava with the tradition pistachios and honey in flaky phyllo dough.
An apple streudel was a welcomed fruit based dessert.
And a prune pie that place second in the contest. Shenanigans!
Some more cookies. These are nut based.
Ms. Pastry Chef outdone herself with this cheesecake. Dense and decadent, this cheesecake is truly a NY cheesecake.
She also made a praline cake which was almonds bonanza! But she kept it light and fluffy. I think this should have won the competition, hands down.
However, the winner instead were oreo truffles! Shenanigans! Don't get me wrong, I like oreo truffles as well. But when you just smash up a premade dessert to make another dessert, does that even count? Shenanigans!
A carrot cake for those looking for something "healthier".
A random cake from Wegman's supermarket. Not in the competition.
A tray of cookies, some gingerbread, some sugar.
And my entry which was a triple chocolate cake with white chocolate cream cheese filling, milk chocolate cake, and dark chocolate ganache. Those balls on top are chocolate covered cereal puffs.
A bowl of tiramisu for those who like boozing it up with some coffee.
And even more cookies!
There was also some egg nog but it was finished before the dessert competition started. Oops! We love our liquor.

Happy Holidays!