November 14, 2009

Super Rich Mac and Cheese

Let me tell you a story. A few weeks ago, my friend Lara and I set out to cook something simple and delicious. Immediately mac and cheese came to mind. Of course--mac and cheese, comforting and easy. Except only the EZ is easy. We were deceived. Mac and cheese, unlike the Annie's packaged version that so many college students (including myself) depend on for their survival during desperate times, is not simple at all. No, it is actually kind of...complicated?

Shoddy attempt at breadcrumbs, but everything else looks yum.

Ok the whole thing isn't complicated. Lara might say the cheese grating part is since she spent the better part of 30 minutes grating two blocks of Cheddar and Pecorino Romano into shreds. But we mainly ran into trouble when, after heating butter with flour, we added the heated milk and it congealed into a hot brown mess. I thought we had failed, but ALAS! that was just a natural step on the way to cream-land. The moral is, don't despair. Cream sauce is made out of unhealthy amounts of unhealthy things and for a moment there, it might also look unhealthy. But keep stirring, and it will be delicious in the end. And unhealthy.

Everything is better with bacon.

In the end, it turned out pretty well. The combination of cheese was very good--definitely rich but in exactly the way we wanted it to be. And of course we added bacon just because. We thought we would never be able to finish the whole thing, but with the trusty aid of my roommate and another friend we finished a whole casserole dish of very rich mac and cheese. We must have done something right...

We adapted a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from Martha Stewart. We used Pecorino Romano instead of Gruyere because it was cheaper, and shell pasta because we couldn't find elbow macaroni. We also added bacon. We didn't exactly follow procedure with the breadcrumbs so that may be why it looks weird. Here is the original recipe:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.<

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.


Pinche Taqueria

Pinche is where it's at. I would say I've been eating there an average of once a week, now that my internship puts me at less than five blocks away from the Nolita location and I am always hungry when I leave. From work, I walk right past La Esquina and snicker at all the people eating inside who think they are having the best tacos, not from taste, but from hype. I was once one of those people. Now I know that, yes the tortas are pretty great there, and I enjoy myself a good ol' cup of black beans topped with salsa and queso fresca for $2 once in a while, but if I'm jonesing for some authentic tacos of the Mexican-by-way-of-SoCal variety (which is practically comfort food for me as you know), I will go to Pinche.

Pinche's tacos are the perfect size and composition--a small tortilla topped with meat, onions, cilantro and a little guacamole. Guacamole isn't typical but Pinche's doesn't offend me--it is light and airy and has the acidity of a fresh squeezed lime slice. Don't worry, if you want more, there is a whole bowl of limes at the counter. Pinche also has a never-ending supply of red and green salsa for the taking. The price isn't bad either. The best tacos I've had in LA (see my post on Yuca's here) are $2.00--I'll pay an extra 50 cents each to have a taste of home transplanted into New York.

Carnitas on the left, fish on the right

My go-to is the carnitas taco--shredded braised pork that is moist and mostly soft save for the few bits of crunchy skin that add a welcome texture. Lately I've also been a big fan of the fish taco, which is perfectly cooked--the breading holds the filet together but isn't tough to bite into--and garnished with the house guac, cabbage and the obligatory white sauce.

I also love how kitschy the place is, yet it still somehow feels welcoming. Another plus: I don't feel weird eating there alone. Actually, its quite relaxing. Especially since they serve five different varieties of  Mexican beer...

What can I say, I love this place. I also find it telling that an old friend whom I hadn't seen too long of a time walked into Pinche while I was there just the other day. It was perhaps the most appropriate place to run into someone who shares my strong affinity for SoCal tacos.

Pinche is the real deal.

Pinche Taqueria
227 Mott St. & 333 Lafayette St.

Lot's more posts to catch up on...keep checking in

October 18, 2009

Pio Pio

I've recently been holed up in my room nursing a bad cold, but I feel bad for not posting in over a week so I'm going to do the noble/lazy thing and link to a review I wrote for my school's official blog.

Check out Pio Pio, it's a great Peruvian rotisserie chicken joint on the upper, upper west side.


Pio Pio has multiple locations throughout NYC



October 7, 2009


It's getting chilly! Which means I'm entering my soup phase...I swear somtimes I will have soup for lunch and dinner several times a week when it's cold outside. There are a few great markets around Morningside Heights which make this possible. But I just got a wonderful package in the mail from my mom with an immersion blender in it--which means I can finally make my own soups! And dips, and smoothies, and...I'm so excited! I have no microwave, no cuisinart, no toaster oven, but I do have an immersion blender? One step at a time until I get out of college kitchens...

One of the soup varieties I love in fall and winter weather is ramen. There are tons of ramen shops popping up all over the city, all competing for title of most authentic or richest, porkiest broth. I'll have to try a ton more to be a true judge, but I like to think I know when something tastes really good, good enough to blog about at least. Minca was really good.

Minca is an intimate place with an open kitchen on the Lower East Side--it kind of feels like you're eating out of someone's home. The menu is pretty straightforward, with some appetizers and then an abundance of ramen choices, centered on different kinds of broth and noodles. I like the fact that you can make youre own combinations, though at the same time I'd like to be able to trust in the restuarant's combination and go an authentic route. The choice was easy for me--bring on the pork! But for those who want something lighter, there are chicken based broths, or vegetarian options. You can also choose a miso or soy-based broth as well--basically, any kind of ramen you want, you can get.

I chose the basic pork broth ramen, which comes with slices of pork, fermented egg, nori, and slices of wild mushrooms. When it arrived the bowl smelled so rich and earthy.

The broth had all those components that a nice strong pork broth should--the saltiness and the rich, meaty tinge to it. I like my ramen to be like an asian beef stew. This ramen was also distinctly garlic and onion flavored, which I liked. The mushrooms were also really nice because they not only added flavor but a crunchy texture which complimented the soft noodles.

I also ordered a side of kimchee, half of which I ended up pouring into my soup. I've had kimchee ramen before and loved it, but I wanted to try the ramen as is beforehand and add it in to my liking. I was tempted to order a spicy version of my ramen but I withheld, because I didn't know just how spicy it would be. I'm glad I did because then I was able to add my own amount of spice with the kimchee--with the pickled cabbage flavor as well. It was a great combo.

My friend ordered the spicy basic ramen, which was also really good, but a little too spicy to eat a whole bowl of that night. It just depends on my mood. Her ramen came with corn, which was an interesting addition I hadn't seen before. But it was a welcome addition.

My meal seemed steep at $9.50 for the ramen and a bowl of kimchee for $4.50, but since the bowls are HUGE (you could easily share one), I only ate half and took the rest home. So in reality, two full meals for $7 each isn't that bad.

All in all Minca is a great ramen find.

536 East 5th Street
Between Ave A and B
NYC 10009

(Another location with the same menu, called Kambi, is located at 351 East 14th St, between 1st and 2nd Ave.)



October 1, 2009

Billy's Bakery

The other day my friend James took me to Billy's Bakery after we visited some galleries in Chelsea. Damn James! Now I will never be able to resist a giant slice of cake in the middle of the day next time I'm down there (which is often for an art history major).

The bakery is a slice of small town charm transported to the middle of New York. It feels like you've stepped into another world--a great world that smells like butter and frosting and cake batter! It's got a charming vintage feel, with floral wall paper and old signs hung on the yellow brick walls.

I ordered a slice of carrot cake before I noticed there was a cupcake version...whoops. It was a huge slice!

But so delicious. The cake was really moist and the frosting not overly sweet or cream cheese-y. They also sell these small bottles of local Ronnybrook milk in whole, skim, or chocolate. And it comes with a good deal: a slice + a bottle of milk for $6. The same goes for the cupcakes for $4.

James got a vanilla cupcake with buttermilk frosting. It was beautiful!

I like these cupcakes much better than Magnolia's (gasp!). Theirs are just way too sweet and buttery, and I can barely even finish a single one. Billy's cupcakes balance the sweetness well, with just the right amount of comfort but not to the point where you're regretting indulging after you take the first bite.

Next time I want to order a cake or some sweets for a birthday or another occaision, I'm definitely going to order from Billy's.

Billy's Bakery
184 Ninth Avenue (Chelsea)
75 Franklin Street (Tribeca)


September 28, 2009

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Breast

I am still learning how to grocery shop. Shopping for one is the hardest thing ever; something I was planning on cooking tomorrow always goes bad yesterday. Most of the time when I look into the depths of my fridge to find a magical combination of ingredients that will allow me to make something edible other than packaged risotto (they do have good ones, by the way...I've just eaten way to much of it), I cave and end up not cooking at all.

But sometimes, the food gods look down upon you and you just happen to have all the ingredients just staring at you in the face, shouting "combine me into something delicious, please!!" Well, I just happened to have a chicken breast, some pesto, and some prosciutto lying around.

This recipe is so easy. There are only three ingredients involved, assuming you don't make your own pesto (I'm asking for a food processor for Christmas). And I swear it tasted better than it looks in this photograph...I have yet to master food photography..

That's the breast cut in half--you want the prosciutto to be slightly crispy on the outside, the chicken to be moist, and the pesto to ooze out of the center.

Take your boneless skinless chicken breast, and slice it sideways through the center, but not all the way through, so it's like an open book. Spoon some pesto into the crevice, a good amount but not too much that it all squeezes out when you close the chicken. Season the breast with salt and pepper and whatever other fresh herbs you like. Lay several pieces of prosciutto down vertically next to one another, so their sides are slightly overlapping. Lay the breast down on top of the prosciutto and wrap the prosciutto around the breast. The ends of the prosciutto should meet and seal around the chicken.

Heat some oil in a pan over medium head and place the breast in the pan, browning on each side, 3-4 min. Make sure to place the side with the prosciutto ends down first, so that it seals quickly. Ideally use a pan that is safe in the oven also--I dont have this so I just transferred the chicken to a baking pan lined with aluminum foil, making sure to keep some oil on the breast. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for 15-20 min or until chicken is cooked through. If you do have a temperature thermometer, the chicken should be 160 deg F in the middle.

Let set for a minute or two before cutting so the juices don't run out. This can be prepared many different ways, I just made it this way because it's what I had handy. A good alternative would be a Florentine version with a spinach and ricotta stuffing. Or you don't have to stuff the chicken at all. If I did it over again, I would either use less prosciutto or have it sliced thinner. For some reason the guy at the grocery store had no idea what I meant when I asked for prosciutto and then proceeded to slice it pretty thick. Several very thin slices will cook nicer than a few thicker ones.

I have a lot of posts to catch up on, including Billy's bakery in Chelsea and some yummy ramen in the Lower East Side. Soon!


September 21, 2009

Providence Chocolates

Right before I came back to school my parents celebrated their 29th Wedding anniversary at Michael Cimarusti's two-star Michelin restaurant Providence. I've never been but my parents have and they rave about it--just a fantastic dining experience every time. They brought home a box of chocolates that were too beautiful not to share. My sister and I devoured them too fast for how pretty they were, but I managed to snap a few pictures first.

Even the box was beautiful:

And the 12 mini works of art:
The flavors were very unconventional and exciting. Some of my favorite chocolates are those with tea-infused ganache--flavors like jasmine, earl gray and darjeeling work so well with dark chocolate--but these pushed the boundaries a little bit more. My favorites were the chocolates that incorporated spices (we know this works from Mexican staples like molé), like the Dark Chocolate Baharat with cinnamon, pepper and chilies (bottom right corner) or the Milk Chocolate Coffee Urfa with Turkish urfa chili (bottom left corner). Some of the fruitier chocolates were interesting as well, even though they're not usually my preference--there was a Kalamansi (tropical lime) Mint White Chocolate (top row, second from left), and an Apricot Saffron White Chocolate (top left corner), both great combos.

I have to apologize for this post being merely mouthwatering eye-candy without any immediate satisfaction of being able to order it/going there to eat (Michelin star = $$$), but keep a look out for similar flavor combos next time you're fiending for chocolate.