Yikes, has it really been 3 months since I last blogged?! I'm sorry to the very few that actually follow... I've been quite busy with school and work and other stuff. However, I do have a treat for the eyes!

This past weekend hubs and I went to New Orleans with a group of friends. The mission of the trip: hit up all the good foodie spots. And boy did we do some damage... to the size of our stomachs, that is.

First, we went right across the street to Mother's. The line was ridiculous, and for each day that we were there, the lines were ridiculous. But we thought the food was only "okay"... so don't base your New Orleans foodie experience on Mother's if this is the only place you visit.





We had the jambalaya, gumbo and three different po boys -- fried shrimp, fried soft shell crab and fried oysters. The gumbo was delicious; this was the first time we've ever had it, and it was really good. A little bit watered down, and more soupy than stewy, but still very good. The jambalaya, on the other hand wasn't good. It wasn't what we thought a jamabalaya should taste like -- too sour and ketchupy. The other thing we didn't enjoy was the oyster po boy -- very fishy and seafoody. The shrimp and soft shell crab, however, were very, very good and fresh tasting. So just stay away from the jambalaya and oyster po boy and you should be good!

Next stop -- CAFE DU MONDE. What's a trip to New Orleans without some beignets, right?



I don't think I need to say anything further right? For those that don't know, a beignet is LIKE a doughnut, but TOTALLY different. It's chewy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, sweetened with powdered sugar, but not super sweet. It really is the perfect sweet treat.

Deanie's Seafood is up next. It wasn't on a list of MUSTS for us originally; we had really wanted to goto Willie Mae's, but it was quite far from the French Quarter, so after a little search on Yelp, we were directed to Deanie's, which is on Iberville and Bourbon, so perfect for us since we wanted to hang out on Bourbon after dinner.

First, chargrilled oysters. My god. I will NEVER have oysters ANY OTHER WAY. Deanie's does their chargrilled oysters with a lot of cheese and butter. I'm normally squeamish about too much cheese, but this was JUST right. And the perfect french bread to sop up all that fatty goodness.

Next, BBQ Shrimp. This is not the typical barbecue. It's spicy and not at all sweet or sour like most bbq food. I can't even explain it... this was so good that our table felt like they needed a bowl of rice to go with it! And again, that bread... soooo good to sop up the sauce. This was the bbq shrimp for one... can't imagine how big the for two would be.

And finally, crawfish etouffee. This is when I fell in love with it. Etouffee is almost like a gumbo, yet not. And I don't know what the difference is except that etouffees taste just a tad bit better. Trust me on this one! This is definitely comfort food at it's best. I think I would look forward to getting sick of this is what I get to eat.

We also had a Half Seafood Platter, which was a medly of fried shrimp, fish, french fries and crawfish dressing balls. It wasn't "special" so I didn't take a picture of it. And when they say Half Seafood Platter, they really mean family size. It was ginormous!

Lastly, we didn't have room for it, but our friends at another table did. They ordered the Gold Brick Sundae, which is ice cream covered in gold brick chocolate over a brownie with whipped cream. I can't imagine how fattening this is. Or I can but just don't want to think about it.

Stay tuned for the next New Orleans post!

Links to this post
Yes, it is finally my week! And with this heat, boy am I glad I picked something that didn't really require much baking.

I love hazelnuts. The taste, the smell... just love everything about it. Toasting the hazelnuts made my house very hot yet very fragrant... and made the heat just that much bearable.

Hazelnut Truffles (page 218-219 from Sweet Melissa's book)

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups of blanched hazelnuts or filberts
14 ounces of best-quality semisweet (58%) chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico)

Instructions:
• Spread the hazelnuts out on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.


• Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put in a large bowl.

• In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the heavy cream to scalding, or until the cream is steaming and tiny bubbles have formed along the edges. Do not boil. Immediately pour over the chocolate to cover. Set aside for 5 minutes.



• Place 1 1/2 cups of hazelnuts in a resealable plastic bag, seal tightly and tap the nuts with a rolling pin until they are finely crushed.
• Whisk the chocolate cream mixture until smooth. Stir in the liqueur and the crushed hazelnuts until blended.

• Refrigerate until the truffle base is firm enough to scoop, at least 2 hours.
Place the remaining 2 cups of hazelnuts in another resealable plastic bag, seal tightly and tap the nuts with the rolling pin until they are finely crushed. Transfer the crushed nuts to a shallow soup bowl.
• Roll each truffle in the chopped hazelnuts to cover.


The truffles are best eaten at room temperature. They keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Now, the changes that I made:

• First, I halved the recipe.
• I used semisweet chips so saved myself some chopping time.
• Instead of hazelnut liqueur, I used hazelnut spread. I really didn't want to buy a whole big bottle of Frangelico just for this, so I used about 1/3 cups of hazelnut spread and incorporated it while I was whisking the chocolate spread when it was still warm.


I have to say, these were really, really, unbelievably good. So much like the Ferrer Rocher chocolates that I think I can wrap them up in gold paper and give it away as a gift! I will definitely be making these in the future, as well as trying other flavors.
Links to this post
I want to preface this by asking - why do we have Restaurant Week? Isn't the whole point so that people can taste test restaurants they normally wouldn't, for one reason or another? And wouldn't you, as a restaurant, want to put your best foot forward in this case, so that you can gain another longtime customer?

I had a horrible, HORRIBLE experience at the Smith & Wollensky location in Midtown on 3rd Avenue. Now mind you, we've been to some quality steakhouses - Peter Luger's, Morton's, Quality Meats, The Palm, just to name a few. And yes, I AM name dropping, just to prove my point. NEVER have we ever been so disrespected nor served such disgusting fare as we had at S&W. NEVER. And to top it off, my review of the place was subsequently ridiculed by possibly one of their staff. How's that for constructive criticism?

Let me rewind. I will be posting snippets of my Yelp review since I'm a bit tired of telling and retelling this story.

On Sunday July 19th, we arrived at S&W for our Restaurant Week dinner. Walking in, we were greeted by a guy with a clipboard and instructed to go upstairs. We went up, and stood there like morons for a good 5-10 minutes before someone noticed us. He led us to our table, which was right smack in the middle of the dining room. There was a lot of natural light, which I definitely appreciated, since most steakhouses tend to dim their lights for ambiance or effect.

We were greeted by a John Goodman look-alike waiter. Gave us a bunch of menus and then not more than 5 seconds later asked us what we wanted to drink... dude, we didn't even have time to get to the beverage page?!?! So we just said water for now, and it seemed like after that, we were doomed for the rest of the meal.

After 10 minutes or so, we were greeted by yet another waiter. Let's just call this guy J; he was of Chinese origin. To be quite honest, we felt like we were given the Chinese dude 'cause of our youthful Asian appearance (we are professionals in our late 20's and still get carded for lotto?!) and the fact that it seemed like we were not going to be big spenders... this greatly disturbed me. But I was willing to give him a chance.

However, here's a sample conversation with J:
K: "One of each oyster please (pointing to the menu)"
J: "Whaa? 1 Kumamoto and whaa?"
K: "No, one of each (pointing down the list)"
J: Blank look
K: (Points his finger down the list of each oyster)
J: "Oh. 4 oysters (writes on a piece of paper like in a Chinese restaurant)"

Now, I NEVER like to complain about Asian waiters and J must've done SOMETHING good to be hired at this well-known establishment. But there was just no professionalism, no courtesy, no friendliness. And you would expect that from a place like this, no?! He did not seem to have a firm grasp of the language, nor did he treat us like guests. I tried to notice whether or not J was taking any other table's orders. Nope. He only took ours. In fact, it seemed like his main job was to bring dishes to customers' table and clear tables. So in other words, he was a glorified bus boy. It seemed quite discriminatory how they shoved us into the care of J, who was obviously ill-prepared to to be a professional waiter.

I ordered the garden salad and the 14oz steak, he ordered the calimari and the soft shell crabs and J had to ask K what he wanted again. I really felt like we were eating in a Chinatown restaurant and not at a place that seemed to have good ratings and rave reviews. J was just about to walk away when I said, "Uh I'd like my steak medium rare?!" and he quietly notes that on his paper. I don't understand why he didn't ask me how I wanted it? Isn't that the first question you ask when someone orders steak?

But I digress.

The Restaurant Week menu was quite lame, to say the least. Appetizers were either soups, salads or a calimari. The entrees were steak, beef hash, soft shell crab and I think a poultry of some sort. Desserts consisted of cakes and pies.

John Goodman NEVER talked to us again, until I asked him about my steak and its doneness.

When our entrees came out, J set them on our table and then said, "Sides are not included, do you want sides?" .... weren't you supposed to ask us that BEFORE when you originally took our order?!

TASTE: The steak was only passable. I think I've had better steak at APPLEBEE'S; that's how passable it was. Don't even get me started on the soft shell crabs. They were 4 very small, very illegal size looking crabs that were so fishy and disgusting that they just tasted unfresh.

We were offered no steak sauces, no condiments, nothing.

Towards the end, our table was finally cleared and our desserts presented to us. Our bill was flung onto the table by John Goodman as he walked past to goto another customer. I'm not sure what was worse -- John Goodman's outright rudeness/lack of professionalism or J's incompetence as a waiter.

As a last note, I think that S&W has some serious sanitary issues. If you have a big party, or if there is a lot of food coming out at once, they roll carts out with the food on them. These are narrow little carts that can probably hold 10 dishes on the top. So what happens if there are more than 10? Well, they are laid ON TOP of the original 10. How disgusting is that?! Why would you want someone else's food sitting on top of yours?

Seriously, this place really disgusted me. You can bet I will NEVER come back here again and will forewarn everyone I know.


So, what happened, you ask?

I wrote to management. I got an answer and satisfactory action was taken on their part. However, I come onto Yelp, and what do I see, but a personal attack from a "Linda W" who has never posted and suspiciously just joined Yelp this month!?

Here is what "her" review said:
I'm a frequent customer at Smith and Wollensky. I am a huge fan of their steaks and wine. I normally order a simply grilled 10 oz. Filet Mignon or New York Cut Sirloin medium rare with a nice bottle of 05 S&W Napa Valley private reserve red wine. Their wine is a perfect accompaniment to every meal. I always feel a warm tinge on my throat after one sip. Delicious! The crab cakes are to die for-huge chunks of Alaskan King Crab meat over a delectable sauce! Huge praises for their desserts- cheesecakes and mousse cakes are my absolute favorites! This is definitely a place to go for die hard steak fans who has a deep appreciation for real savory steaks. In response to Annie's comments to Smith & Wollensky's food and waitstaff is a real misrepresentation of their quality and service. Her review is completely biased which only centers her personal reflection of feeling discriminated as an Asian person catered by an Asian waiter. In all of my visits to S&W, I have observed that a majority of the waitstaff are Asians. The waitstaff has always been outstanding in delivering a well-informed menu and service to my table. I have never encountered any personal issues with the quality of food, presentation or waitstaff of S&W. This is certainly not a restaurant for people who are looking for cheap eats hence Restaurant Week to appreciate its full value and experience of S&W. I highly recommend this restaurant for serious diners who are well-informed and knowledgeable of steaks. It is definitely not for steak amateurs who compares S&W to Applebee's which is degrading and insulting to an upscale restaurant as Smith and Wollensky. Annie's review is unprofessional and should not be taken seriously at all. It is an ill-representation of the waitstaff and restaurant.

This is a joke, right? Are we in like a Communist country where freedom of speech (or of opinion, for that matter) is not allowed? Who the fuck are you, "Linda W" to personally attack me and my integrity? And you must be fucking joking that the "majority of the waitstaff at S&W is Asian". Maybe you don't know what "Asian" means then... because all I saw were Caucasian faces EXCEPT for that one Chinese waiter. Unless... you think Caucasian must mean that because it ends in "asian" that means Asian... I see... how interesting.

Smith & Wollensky, you have lost ALL credibility with me and negated all the good you have done with your quick response and action to my situation. I am horrified by how you have acted to an honest review and disgusted that you have the gall to personally attack someone who didn't like what you did to them. I will make it a personal mission to make sure that anyone I know will never step foot into your restaurant ever again.
Links to this post
So last week I wasn't able to participate in SMS because I do not own an ice cream maker. A travesty, I know... there are just so many attachments to my KitchenAid mixer that I want to acquire yet I just can't seem to justify the money nor the added clutter. But anyways, looking at everyone's pictures of ice cream really got to me so I went out and bought a pint of Haagen Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee (which, I might add, is definitely my new favorite!) to satisfy my ice cream cravings.



Head on over to Karen's site for the recipe and some pretty pictures.

Last weekend was also July 4th weekend, and K and I didn't do anything out of the ordinary. It was quite a quiet weekend; I mean, I also had to work on Friday (from home) so I really didn't have an extended weekend or anything. It was also a mini break before my second session of summer classes started so I actually got to breathe a little bit. On Sunday, we decided to head out and do a little shopping for our upcoming trip to St. Croix. We've been having the weirdest weather in New York this summer; it's almost like we haven't had a summer yet and we're just going straight into fall?! And to illustrate this point, I was not able to find swimsuits except for the occasional small rack of mismatched sale items. What the heck?! I was sorely disappointed.

Which leads me to our visit to Ippudo. Since we were in the SoHo area anyways, we decided to take our chances... and guess what! Apparently when it's a long weekend, nobody goes to Ippudo so we had no wait whatsoever. In fact, there were quite a number of empty seats.


We ordered the Harata Buns... which is seriously indescribable. You just have to eat it and you will know what I mean. SO GOOD. I am salivating as I recall the memories of it, haha. They are little steams buns (in Taiwanese, we call them "gua bao") filled with fatty pork bellies and a little bit of lettuce, drenched in a spicy & sweet sauce. It's very similar to Peking duck, but even better because it's not as oily as Peking duck. They are quite expensive though - 2 for $8... but I think it is definitely worth a try (or two or three...) We will definitely have these in the future, despite the high price tag.

So K ordered the Classic Ramen, while I ordered the Tori Ramen. The only thing that seemed to be different from the menu description was our broth, which is really what makes or breaks a bowl of ramen. His was just the regular tonkatsu, while mine was chicken soup with tonkatsu. (Classic on the left, Tori on the right)



Now as you can see, the ingredients are fairly similar; we both had Berkshire pork BUT they both had different flavors. His was more of a broth cooked, natural flavor, while mine was sort of a roasted pork kind of flavor (I liked his version better, but my soup more).

This Ippudo trip was definitely enjoyable and opened our eyes to how good Ramen can be outside of Japan. We used to travel all the way to Mitsuwa in Jersey to get good Ramen at Santouku, but now we can just goto Ippudo... if only we had the patience to wait on the horrendous lines...

Ippudo
65 4th Avenue
New York, NY

***

Now, this week's SMS recipe is the Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake with Cornmeal Crumble Crust chosen by Eliana. Personally, I am not a big fan of lemon nor blueberry, and I debated whether or not I should skip this week (yet again, ugh). But I decided to change it up a bit and personalize it to something that I would actually enjoy. Coincidentally, I was also meeting up with some friends for potluck this weekend and had been asked to make my green tea cupcakes. So then I thought... green tea cheesecake! Kill two birds with one stone!!

I made a few changes to the recipe:
• I made the crust exactly as described, but with vanilla wafers instead of cornmeal; I thought of using graham crackers, but I wasn't sure how that would taste with green tea, so stuck to vanilla wafers.
• I halved the recipe for the filling since I felt like there would be TOO much cream cheese.
• Instead of the lemon zest and lemon juice it called for, I used green tea powder dissolved in warm water.

As you can see, I had a little trouble getting the cake out of the springform pan. I'm not sure what it is, but when I tried to slide a knife between the cake and the pan, it would pull up the cream cheese filling? Why does it do that?! It made my cheesecake look really ugly, that's for sure. Even K was like, "Uhhh what did you do to it?"

So after nearly destroying it with a knife, I put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, I also had a LOT of trouble trying to get the cake OFF the bottom of the pan. What a nightmare. I actually had to cut out each individual piece in order to get them off, so I'm not sure how I would fare if I had to serve this as a whole.


HOWEVER, all this hard work really paid off, because the cake came out really good (taste-wise, of course). It was creamy, yet not too cream cheesey, which I think a lot of cheesecakes tend to do. It wasn't heavy due to the mascarpone used and the green tea flavor was subtle, not overwhelming and just really added to the taste.

Now, if only I could perfect the aesthetics.....

Links to this post
This weekend is a colleague's birthday, so I decided to bake something special to treat everyone. I didn't do anything special or fancy to this recipe; just decided to follow it directly and the cupcakes came out beautifully. I frosted it with a regular cream cheese frosting which I flavored with raspberry extract.

The dark chocolate cake came out very fluffy and moist. The chocolate taste is not so bitter that you would cringe; in fact, the slight bitterness is a nice contrast to the sweet cream cheese frosting.

I am definitely getting better at frosting, eh?

The biggest problem is that I baked 30 cupcakes and it's gonna be a real burden to get to work tomorrow! Let's hope that it really doesn't rain early in the morning...

Dark Chocolate Cake (adapted to cupcakes, makes about 30)

2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 9" round cake pans. I lined muffin tins with cupcake liners. In a medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans. I filled the cupcake liners up to half-way full.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes. I baked the cupcakes for about 20 minutes, until they puffed up all nice and cute! Allow to cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting

I used a basic cream cheese frosting (which just means that I eyeballed everything...)

I mixed the following together until they were the right consistency:
  • cream cheese
  • confectioner's sugar
  • butter
  • heavy cream
  • red food coloring
Links to this post
This week's SMS recipe is extra special because it was picked by Melissa herself. You can see her post and the recipe at the SMS blog here.

I have to say, I've been quite busy lately, thanks to the start of summer classes. In fact, I have a midterm tomorrow and yet I procrastinated by baking today *hangs head in shame*. What can I say... I am just the queen of last minute cramming.

I have to say though, that this recipe couldn't have come on a better week (perhaps finals week, but that's besides the point). I whipped up the cookie batter in less than 30 minutes and baking was a breeze. I was too lazy to use my real oven (because when it's not doing it's real job baking, it's acting as storage for my pots and pans, which I have to drag out each time I'm baking) so I used the small toaster oven. Which is also why my cookies are not round but square since they spread in all kinds of directions. But it gives them character and a homemade quality, don't you think? :)


I also did not use toasted almonds as suggested, but added white chocolate, which gave it some sweetness since I used unsweetened chocolate instead of semisweet chocolate. Using unsweetened chocolate gave the cookies a heavenly smell of chocolate without the super sweetness of chocolate chips.
Links to this post