Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shanghainese Buns - Mantou

For Thanksgiving at Siddharth's house, I decided to skip the typical sweet potato rolls and make authentic Chinese steamed rolls called mantou. These are little steamed wheat buns that are shaped like little pebbles, a staple in northern China.  I had these at my grandma's house a lot in lieu of a bowl of rice. They could be purchased at any Asian food markets in the frozen aisle. The texture of the mantou is similar to the buns you would order at Chinese restaurants for dim sum also called bao, but these buns don't have anything inside. Our family would eat it as a side with our meals. Some people eat them as snacks by dipping them in condensed milk or even deep frying them! I've never tried, but I'm sure these would be delightful. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chewy chocolate chip cookies

OK, chocolate chip cookies are simple and easy to make, right? But don't you hate it when your cookies aren't as chewy as you would like? Well, I've done some experimenting and here is a recipe that will guarantee you chewy chocolate chip cookies! The secret? Freeze the dough before you bake!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Brown Sugar and Sea Salt Hot Chocolate

It's been an unbelievably warm late November and early December here in Ithaca and throughout the northeast so far in 2011. But, according the forecast, it seems that the first snow showers will be upon most of us by this weekend! I for one am looking forward to winter's arrival, if only so that I can sip some hot chocolate and enjoy a few snowed-in weekends.

It is incredible to me how many people miss out on creating the truly luscious-style hot chocolate that one can make with real chocolate bars. Once you've had a taste of it, Swiss Miss or even dissolving cocoa powder just won't cut it anymore. I've added a few optional flavor enhancers (brown sugar, coffee, salt) to make it special, and once you've got the method, you can improvise and create all kinds of delicious flavors (peppermint? white chocolate? whatever suits your fancy!).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homemade Poutine

Poutine is a dish that is unfamiliar to most Americans. It originated in Quebec as a distinctive way of eating French Fries. It is so popular in some parts of Canada that places like McDonald's and Burger King have it on their regional menus. In reality, it is a fairly simple construction: french fries + cheese curds + brown gravy. The genius is in the combination of these simple ingredients. Putting this together at home is fairly easy, and it is well worth it (nothing beats homemade fries!). Below is my recipe.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ole Mexican Grill - Cambridge, MA

Restaurant Info:
11 Springfield Street
Inman Square
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 492-4495

Looking for Mexican food in the the northeastern United States can be a challenge. Even in NYC and Boston, it's hard to find unanimously loved South of the Border food on sites like Chowhound and Yelp. For us, this is generally tragic, as the spicy, savory goodness of Mexican cuisine ranks among our favorites. So, we decided to give Ole a chance, and we dined there this past weekend with my parents. The food at Ole Mexican Grill was a pleasant surprise, combining authenticity and innovation to make some of the more unusual but delicious Mexican fare that we have had.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Choco Pie

Emeril Lagassi inspires a lot of our cooking. This recipe was inspired from his Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate pie (see it here). Hawaiian Vintage chocolate is a brand of chocolate that has been aged before processing, similar to fine wine. For those who do not have access to this type of chocolate, you can use any type of chocolate, but I would suggest something moderately priced. I used Lindt's chocolate, YUM! No worries, this pie did not require heavy baking techniques. I used a simple pie crust made from my Oreos (minus the icing) and honey graham crackers. For the chocolate filling, I mixed in toffee bits to give it extra texture and flavor, but you can substitute it with nuts (pecans sound good here) or peanut butter bits. After a bit of cooking on the stove top, the pie is chilled for a few hours in the fridge before serving to your hungry guests. The pie filling was absolutely divine and the pie crust surprisingly cut down the sweetness a lot, allowing one to have more than one slice. Here's the recipe:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autumn Harvest Soup

As autumn comes to a close, and the cold winds of winter blow in to most of the country, this soup evokes the essence of the fall harvest flavors. Combining pumpkin and sweet potato as a base, it expresses the characteristic hues of the season that are so beautifully displayed outside the window. I've also thrown in some warming spices (things like cinnamon, cardamom, etc.) and even apple cider to really create a sweet and savory soup. The recipe is easy to follow, and it is equally simple to substitute some of your own favorite flavors to enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ode to the Philly Pretzel

Chicago deep dish pizza. Memphis barbecue. New York bagels. Famous regional specialties are one of the most important components of the (young) American culinary culture. With Tricia's recent move to the Philadelphia-area, we have recently had the chance to start developing as pretzel connoisseurs by sampling various Philly twists. We have tried quite a few locations (chains, independent storefronts, street vendors), and here a few of our favorites. By no means is this list comprehensive, and if you have suggestions for better pretzels, please send them our way! But for now, this is our ode to the Philly Pretzel!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Lavender Shortbread cookies

It's tea time, and we know the perfect cookie you can have for such occasion. We love all teas, especially English black teas (well they are really teas from India, but the idea of tea time and milk with tea came from the British). Siddharth loves shortbread cookies and we found dried lavender petals at an Asian food store so we figured it would make a great cookie combination. These cookies are great alone, but better when dipped in tea. Lavender might be hard to find, but you can use other floral aromas or citrus zest. Here's the recipe (adapted from London Foodie in New York):

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy Fall Apple Turnovers!

Happy fall everyone! Autumn is in the air, and this year, it's a great season to apple pick. I just recently inherited more than 5lbs of Macintosh apples. Now, let me preface this: I can eat 1-2 apples a day, but 5lbs of apples is a lot. So here's a recipe for apple turnovers, a perfect baked goody to be enjoyed as a snack or an on-the-go breakfast during the week. This recipe is really easy because it utilizes puff pastry dough that gives the apple turnover flakey crust while pocketing the apples in its caramel sauce. You can skip the hard part by buying frozen puff pastry dough. I used Pepperidge Farm's pastry dough that I thawed out for 10 minutes on the counter. 
The recipe follows: 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CT Bento - Ithaca, NY Revisited!

Greetings fellow Ithacans (and those who follow our Ithaca restaurant reviews)!

Awhile back, we wrote a review on the sushi and bubble tea cafe on RT 13 that had just opened (read it here!) To our delight, our review was recently featured in CT Bento Cafe's website. Among our review, CT Bento Cafe had also featured other reviewers who commented on their great sushi rolls and rice bowls. We suggest you to check it out! Here is our updated review on CT Bento

Thursday, September 29, 2011

White Lasagna with Spinach, Sausage, and Mushrooms

Lasagna is that fabulous type of dish that can provide multiple meals by virtue of storing well and being easy to make in large quantities. It's the kind of food that anyone can make at gourmet quality as well. Conveniently, it allows you to put all the elements of a balanced meal (vegetables, meat, carbs) into one preparation. And one recent weekend, when I was alone and in the mood for some simple yet hearty sustenance, I elected to make a less-conventional white lasagna with a bechamel-based sauce, and to incorporate hot Italian sausage, fresh spinach, and mushrooms. It came out really well, and it fed me for an entire weekend!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Mocha" Roasted Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is a nice meat to work with because it cooks relatively quickly (due to its low fat content, it doesn't need a long braise or roast), and if treated properly it is moist and delicious. It is also amenable to a variety of marinades and sauces. I decided to try and be fairly creative with my most recent preparation. Although unexpected by many, cocoa is known to compliment pork very well. I decided to make a cocoa-based dry rub for this recipe. For the "mocha" aspect, I paired the cocoa-rubbed pork with an espresso-based glaze. This was a fun recipe that ended up turning out really well. Give it a try!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mom and Dad's House - Holden, MA

Despite all the places in the world that we have traveled, one thing that is as true for us as it is for many other people, is that the most comforting place to be is with our parents. And of all the restaurants that I have dined at and raved about, home-cooking from your parents often beats it hands-down. With that in mind, I thought that describing a trip home to see my parents in sleepy Holden, Massachusetts (from a food perspective) might be fun. My family (mom, especially!) likes to cook up a storm, and here I present some of the deliciousness she cooked up on my last visit (starting with the peach strudel pie on the left!). 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Siddharth's Triple Mac and Cheese

Who doesn't like Mac & Cheese? It's one of the finest American comfort foods. And yet, many people don't know how to make a good mac & cheese from scratch. The presence of TV dinner-style mac & cheese or velveeta and shells is proof that many people are missing out on delicious homemade goodness.The best part about making mac & cheese at home from scratch is that you can make it as decadent as you like, and it's really simple! In my recipe here, I used 3 cheeses: extra sharp cheddar, colby jack, and smoked gouda. I also used pancetta, which can easily (and deliciously) be substituted by bacon (or omitted altogether).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

El Vez - Philadelphia, PA

Restaurant Info:
121 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 928-9800

After having a nice brunch at The Continental Midtown, (see our review here) we decided to try out another Starr restaurant, El Vez. El Vez serves upscale Mexican-American food with some LA-flair. A short drive from the Philadelphia Art Museum where we spent our afternoon, we arrived at El Vez for our reservation at 4:30. Some of you might be surprised with our early reservation for dinner, but due to the restaurant's popularity, this was the only time slot we got for same day reservations, especially for a Saturday. But to our surprise, we ended up eating for 1.5 hours because we loved the food so much.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza

Making deep-dish pizza at home turns out to be a lot of fun. It comes out delicious (especially if you follow some of the tips here!), and there's nothing like the sense of accomplishment that comes with making something that sounds complicated on your own. I took my recipe for the crust from the posters over at http://www.pizzamaking.com/ with slight modifications (the specific poster that I borrowed from is Buzz). I used a cast-iron pan to create this pizza, and I think that worked out especially well in giving a crispiness to the crust. Give it a try!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Crab Stir-fry with Sugar Snaps and Oyster Mushrooms

Summertime on the east coast is when crabs are in season. Delicious blue crabs from Maryland emerge in local grocers, and you really can't beat the taste. At Wegman's, we get chunked lump meat from crabs, and after bringing some home the other day, I was determined to come up with something interesting to do with them. Crab cakes are good, but I was in the mood for something a little but different. I decided on a stir-fry. Stir-fry is always good, but introducing some incredible crab meat seemed like a way to really make it special. Sugar snaps and oyster mushrooms seemed like perfect accompaniments to crab. This is a great recipe for quick cooking after work, and it's pretty healthy too!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Muffuletta Pinwheel

Appetizers are an important component of any gathering. And they are one of the easiest parts of any meal to be creative with! In this recipe, I combined 2 things that I love - muffuletta and puff pastry - to make a bite-sized snack that everyone enjoyed. Muffuletta is a type of sandwich that is famous in Louisiana. It is generally served on a French round, and inside it has salami, pepperoni, soprasetta, capicola, and provolone or emmentaler cheese (not unlike a classic hoagie). It's most distinctive feature (which separates it from the hoagie) is that it is usually lined with olive salad: a marinated mix of giardineira (Italian pickled veggies) and good olives plus seasoning. To turn great sandwich into a "pinwheel", I replaced bread with puff pastry in my recipe, and I switched from olive salad to a garlic-olive puree. I then baked them, and got these delicious finger food for my party. They were a big hit, so I hope you try the recipe:

Red and Gold Potato Salad - with Bacon, Chipotle, and Chives

Quintessentially summer. That's what I think when I think about potato salad. Just the mention of the dish evokes memories of countless BBQs and picnics. So when I decided to throw an end of summer party, I decided that potato salad had to part of the menu. Now, while potato salad is certainly associated with good times, too often the dish can be bland and tasteless. This recipe avoids that trap by incorporating lots of big flavors (chipotle, bacon, red wine vinegar, and more). I used both red potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes with the skins on the get great color and texture. Before summer leaves us for good, why not give this potato salad a try?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Indian Hakka Noodles

Hakka noodles are a popular item found on Chinese restaurants in India. The dish was brought to India by Hakka Chinese immigrants (from Southern China) who started coming into the country (mainly via the port of Calcutta, the capital of British India) in the late 18th century. In the subsequent years, Chinese food in India has been transformed into a unique cuisine in its own right (distinct from either Indian or Chinese food), and Hakka noodles is one of the more famous staples of this cuisine. Both of my parents spent significant periods of their lives in Calcutta (and I was born there), and based on their recollections, I recently became interested in making Indochinese foods. As I researched Hakka noodles, I found that there is little agreement on what the essential ingredients are. So, my particular recipe here is based on my interpretations of firsthand description from my parents and information from the sources I consider most reputable. The dish is vegetarian, but can easily accommodate minced meat or strips of beef. The addition of cabbage, I think is essential for the desired texture of this dish. Finally, the use of dark soy sauce is required (not light soy sauce), because I have found that the Chinese in India exclusively cook with the dark variety (which is aged longer and contains more molasses, making it thicker, sweeter and less salty than the light variety). Overall, this is a really simple recipe to make, and it packs a lot of flavor!

Read on for the recipe:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hazlenut Kitchen - Trumansburg, NY

Restaurant Info:
53 E. Main Street,
Trumansburg, NY


Downtown Trumansburg is about 20 minutes away from Ithaca up Rt 96. For those who shelter themselves in the Cornell bubble, this town will feel like a total different universe. However, within this "universe" (and many others) is a hidden (literally) gem called the Hazelnut Kitchen. We did a good amount of reading on this restaurant and their unique sample menus that changed frequently were always intriguing. If you look at their websites, they document several photos of their dishes, especially the desserts!

We arrived for a 8:30 reservation. Reservations are highly recommended for this restaurant due to its seating capacity and popularity (and the fact that it's only open Thursday-Sunday for dinner). Although we were about 15 minutes late, we still had an intimate table right near the window. The restaurant was simply decorated, with nonmatching chairs and tables, antique paintings and lighting fixtures. There was a large chalkboard with daily specials that were so popular that they ran out of a few by the time we arrived at the restaurant for our late reservation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mexican Steak Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinagrette

I'm not a big salad-guy. While Tricia absolutely loves salads and raw veggies of all kinds, I have a hard time dealing with what I consider rabbit-food (or to make it more Ithaca-appropriate: deer-food). Even so, for a recent cookout, I thought that a salad might be appropriate as an opening course. I was also making fish tacos, so I wanted my salad to keep with a sort of Baja-Mexican theme. Since I had my charcoal grill out and hot, I figured that I'd like to incorporate a grilled element into the salad as well. In the end, I settled on a marinated flank steak as a grillable item for the salad, to go with cotija cheese, corn relish, and a lime vinaigrette. Check it out:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Continental Midtown, Philadelphia, PA

Restaurant Info:
1801 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-3712

For our second visit to Philadelphia, we decided to tour the many eateries of the city. We wrote down a list of several places to eat that were famous or popular (we did a lot of yelp-ing). Out of 4 interesting places we listed, we only made it to only one of them due to time constraints and being way too full. This place was called The Continental Midtown, situated in the middle of the shopping district and the Franklin Institute, decorated with a large martini olive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Grilled Fish Tacos

Fish tacos have recently gained popularity all over the US, including all the way up here in the northeast. While they aren't found incredibly frequently on restaurant menus, they are beginning to enter the culinary consciousness of a wide audience, so to speak. This being the case, I decided to try my hand at homemade fish tacos. Classically, fish tacos are made with battered and fried white fish or grilled fish. I decided that grilled fish sounded like a great plan for a recent cookout that I hosted, and so the idea was born. In addition to the fish, these tacos usually come with lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, and sour cream. I tweaked these a little bit to make my own unique creation:

Swirled Goat Cheese and Caramel and Walnut Brownies - the gooey kind

Listen up, bakers! This recipe is to die for, the brownies are dense but gooey, not cakey like Duncan Hines (sorry!). This recipe was completely thought out by Siddharth and it's great. The brownies are gooey and the caramel gives the extra zing to the chocolate, although I must warn you, it will require some work and a lot of patience! The goat cheese and the caramel really compliment each other, with the goat cheese and the walnuts cutting the sweetness. I'm not a huge brownie fan to begin with, but the texture of these brownies was enough to convert me. Adding walnuts gives the extra crunch as well!

Here is the recipe:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Red Hot Jambalaya

Jambalaya is a classic Creole dish of New Orleans. As most people know, it is rice-based, and it incorporates lots of ingredients. It is related to paella, but it lacks the saffron that defines its Spanish cousin. The recipe that I'm going to share with you is known as a "red" jambalaya, so-called because of the extensive use of tomatoes. While I'm going to put some twists on it (including using inspiration from Bobby Flay's Fra Diavolo Jambalaya  and my own use of Indian spices), my recipe here incorporates many classic aspects of jambalaya, including the use of both meat (andouille sausage and chicken) and seafood (mussels and shrimp), the inclusion of the "trinity" base (peppers, onions, and celery), and the cooking of rice in the same pot as the meat. It takes time to prepare, but it's hearty and leaves plenty of leftovers!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Got berries? Make a crumble!

It's still summer and you've probably been buying pints and pints of berries because they are still in season. But what happens if you can't eat them all in time and the berries get all wrinkle-y and not bright in color anymore? Well here is a simple recipe that you can try. It's probably the easiest summer dessert you can remember, just remember the number 4 because every measured quantity is a multiple of 4.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

Who doesn't love cornbread? And who would have thought to make corn muffins with cornmeal? These muffins have the same texture as corn bread but it has a coffeecake crumble crust that is absolutely delicious, especially from the sweetness of the berries and the extra honey. This recipe calls for cornmeal which is readily available in your cereal/baking goods aisle.

This recipe is easy as pie and with summer season coming along, we all have access to the best berries of the season. I chose blueberries because they are everywhere and Siddharth loves blueberries. I adapted this recipe from Martha Stewart, and you must check it out. Here is the recipe. 

Sichuan-style Cashew Chicken

I love spicy Chinese food. Chilies and typical Asian flavors mingle so well, and this dish really exemplifies that. Plus it involves cashews as an added bonus! It kind of resembles what is often called "Kung Pao Chicken" in American Chinese places, but I've tried to use ingredients more representative of authentic Sichuan cuisine. Of course, I am missing the famous Sichuan peppercorns (which are not readily available in the US), but I did my best!

In this recipe, peanuts can easily be interchanged with cashews. In either case, the best results will be found by starting with fresh, raw nuts (not pre-roasted). Of all the ingredients that I employ, the two that are most important in generating the distinctive flavors of Kung Pao are the black vinegar and the Shaoxing wine. Black vinegar is a rice vinegar that is popular in many parts of China - it is made from fermented black glutinous rice. It has a sweet and smoky flavor, but if you can't find it, balsamic vinegar is a reasonable approximation (in my estimation). Shaoxing wine is a rice wine that is used widely in Chinese cooking, especially in many of the famous dishes termed "drunken."

The recipe follows:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Praline Pound Cake

Greetings fellow bakers! I apologize for the lack of communication for the past months, but no worries, I am posting some recipes that you will love. 

First off, for the Heat vs. Mavericks game, I wanted to do a southern dessert for the party, to go along with our "Go Mavs, boo Heat" theme. After browsing through Paula Deen's repertoire of southern baking, I was inspired to make a praline pound cake. Pralines are a big thing in Texas, so I thought this dessert will suit our Texas-themed party quite well. This dessert ended up being the biggest hit of the night, bigger than the Mavs beating the Heat.

For the recipe, I used a bundt pan but I'm sure you can substitute with a regular cake pan, just adjust the baking times. Make the cake first, then the praline sauce. Read on for the recipe!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Schmap London Restaurant Guide

Tricia and I are happy to announce that one of our many food pictures has been included in the newest Schmap London Restaurant Guide. Schmap is an online map and guide for eating in London, and is a very cool site for anyone who may be taking a trip there. We posted our trip to London a while back, and one of our favorite restaurants was Dehesa, a Spanish Tapas restaurant in the Carnaby area. We took pictures of their beautiful charcuterie selection (delicious!), and one of our photos has been selected to highlight the restaurant's latest entry in Schmap (check it out).

Thanks to Schmap for our inclusion!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crispy Fried Pork Bites

This is a very simple dish that serves as great party food. It also has the ability to satisfy many of those cravings (for something crispy, for something salty, for something a little spicy, and of course for meat)! I used pork tenderloin here because of its great flavor and texture - it's a very lean cut of meat, but it is not tough at all (if cooked properly). The special touch that I added was a marination step. The result was a super crispy and flavorful bite-sized creation that quickly disappeared from the serving platters!

Sorry for our absence!

The past month has been a little chaotic for Tricia and I, so we have not posted any updates to our blog. The main thing that took up our time involved Tricia getting a new job just in Radnor, Pennsylvania (a little bit outside of Philadelphia). So, we were busy moving her out of Ithaca and into her new place. And of course, she has been taking a good amount of time to get acclimated to her new settings and job. Unfortunately, this left us a bit too distracted to post recipes!

However, we are eager to share new food experiences with everyone, and we plan on putting some stuff up very soon (today or tomorrow)! Tricia has a beautiful kitchen in her new apartment in Pennsylvania, and a wonderfully new oven that she has already started baking up some delicious eats in. Meanwhile, I have continued to put together some great dinner items that I'd like to share. Sadly, because of Tricia's move, we will no longer be able to frequent the Ithaca dining seen on a regular basis, so the restaurant reviews may not be as consistent (though we do promise to share details from when she visits me). On the flipside though, when I go to visit her, we'll be sharing many of the great foods that we are now able to try in the Philadelphia area.

Thanks to those who continue to check out our site! Look for updates soon!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cowboy Beans and Texas Chipotle Slaw

As many of you know, the NBA Finals concluded two nights ago with the Dallas Mavericks beating the Miami Heat 4-2. As someone who spent their formative years in Ohio, I grew a fan of all things Cleveland (Cavs, Browns, Indians), and with the LeBron saga ending with him losing, I couldn't be more thrilled (unless the Cavs themselves had won a title). For those of you looking for a food blog, I promise, this back-story has a point. About a week ago, while the series was still going on, Tricia and I hosted a party to watch the game and root for Dallas. We tried to throw in some Texas flavor to some of the food items as a sign of our support! As a disclaimer, we're not from Texas, and we have never been to Texas, so this is not necessarily "authentic." (in case anyone from Texas is reading this blog!) However, we were inspired by Texas to create some the dishes, and here are two of the recipes we used. Both are great side items for any get-together.

First, we made "Cowboy Beans." My recipe here is slightly modified from other versions that I have seen in the past. Basically, for those not familiar, cowboy beans are really smoky, stewed beans. Almost like a cross between a good bean chili and baked beans. This is actually very easy to make. Here is the recipe:


½ cup Diced Bacon
½ onion diced (any color is fine, to your taste)
5 cloves garlic minced
1.5 cups stock (chicken or beef)
2 cups black beans (divide into 2 batches of 1 cup each)
2 cups red kidney beans
1 cup white beans
1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
½ cup Spanish cured chorizo, sliced
2 sliced jalapenos
1 whole jalapeno, chunked for pureeing
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp paprika
Thyme and oregano

Cured chorizo is increasingly available at most grocery stores. Make sure to get the cured Spanish kind, not the fresh Mexican kind. The Spanish chorizo is actually ready to eat without cooking, but cooking actually does wonders for it. Spanish chorizo often comes as a u-shaped sausage (see left), and I cut mine into small discs. Have the onions, garlic, and jalapeno chopped and ready also when you start cooking.


First, render bacon and chorizo. The rendered fat from the chorizo is a beautiful red color, and it makes the final dish look great.

Once the fat is rendered, add onion/garlic and the sliced jalapenos. Allow these to become fragrant, and let the onions sweat but not caramelize. You can see how the beautiful colors of this dish begin to develop in this step.

While the onions are sweating, puree 1 cup of black beans with the chunked jalapeno plus the chili powder, paprika, and chipotle peppers. Depending on what your using for pureeing (blender vs. food processor), you may need to add some stock to get this mixture to be smooth. Use stock out of the 1.5 cups that you've set aside - all of that liquid is going into the dish, so as long as you use 1.5 cups total, it doesn't matter which step it is added in. Set the puree aside. Now that the onions/garlic are fragrant, it is time to add the thyme, the stock, and the rest of the beans. Just estimate how much thyme to put in - the leaves from a few sprigs really enlivens the dish.

Let the beans cook a little bit (2-4 minutes) to absorb the flavors already in the dish. Then, add the puree back to the dish. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. The dish is ready to serve at this point, but as with any stewed dish, the longer it simmers, the more the flavors meld. When you are ready to eat, uncover, add some chopped cilantro and oregano as well as salt and pepper to taste.

This is an attractive and delicious dish. It's substantive enough to eat as a stew, but it's also bright and colorful and serves as a great side dish to a steak or some other meat.  

In addition to the Cowboy Beans, I also made a Texas Chipotle Slaw. This is a vinegar-based cole slaw with a bit of a kick. It's incredibly easy to make, and the only key is to allow enough time for the flavors to develop (a simple matter of leaving it in the fridge for ~4 hours).  Here are the ingredients:

1 medium head of green cabbage, shredded
¼ medium head of red cabbage, shredded
2 jalapenos, finely diced
4 shredded carrots
½ cup sugar
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup oil (canola is good)
2 chipotles chopped with adobo sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

The amount of cabbage is obviously sort of approximate, but is roughly 10 cups all together. Simply combine everything and mix really well. Then give it 4 hours in the fridge. The result is a bright, sweet and spicy slaw that we all really enjoyed. The freshness and coolness of the slaw play really well with the heartiness of the beans for the record.

Monday, June 6, 2011

La Luce, By Donna Scala, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant Info:
La Luce by Donna Scala
14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane
Orlando, FL 32821

What surprised us the most about Orlando was how early a lot restaurants closed especially for the young crowd (young as in 18-32!) in Orlando. We returned to our hotel around 8pm after a whole day at Sea World and found ourselves very hungry, but very dirty as well. After showering and dolling up for dinner, we came across a dilemma, where can we go and enjoy a nice dinner at 9:30pm? Better yet, what is still open? Despite the fact that we were in Orlando, a drive to any of the Disney resorts would have taken 15-20 minutes and a drive to the other parts of the city would take even longer. As we flipped through a coupon book and called several restaurants to see if they were still open, most of them said they were closing in 30 minutes for last seating. For such a tourist city, we were disappointed that Orlando didn't accommodate late night dining (like Las Vegas, NYC, Miami).

After calling about 5 restaurants and learning everything was closing in 30 minutes, we resorted to eating in the hotel we were staying at, the Hilton at Bonnet Creek. We had reservations about eating in our hotel because we knew it would be expensive and maybe too pretentious. However, we were down to our last resort (pun?) Our hotel had 2 very upscale restaurants that were opened until 11pm; one was Bull and Bear, a steakhouse, the other was La Luce, an Italian restaurant by Donna Scala featuring traditional Italian food with Napa influences. Donna Scala has several restaurants in northern California and Florida, both featuring local and fresh ingredients and grass-fed beef. She and her family also own an olive farm to make their own olive oil in Napa Valley. We chose La Luce after seeing their delicious appetizer menu.

The restaurant decor is beautiful and comfortable. La Luce was going for traditional Italian food with a familial atmosphere with long dinner tables, leather chairs and benches with large pillows. And for those who are going for an intimate setting, there are also booths. No matter where you sit, you will have a view of the pool, the wine bar, the in-house pizza oven or one of the many modern Italian artwork.

We were starving when we got to La Luce, so the fresh bread the brought out was especially enticing to us at first sight.  Upon tasting the bread offerings (fresh focaccia, peasant bread, and a crispy Italian flatbread), we were wowed and pretty sure that we were in the right place. We ordered a bottle of chianti to go with this delicious bread as you can see below (in stylish black and white!).

Our waiter was very knowledgeable about the restaurant/menu and recommended several of his favorite appetizers. For starters, we ordered their fried Spanish olives with almonds, an appetizer we wished that we had come up with ourselves. They were absolutely excellent. The salty Spanish olives were lightly coated with a flakey batter and deep fried, giving them some softness in the middle but a crunchiness from the batter. An interesting addition to this appetizer were the pan-fried Marcona almonds (sauteed in rosemary and garlic) that helped cut the saltiness of the olives.

For our entrees, we ordered the duck confit with Andouille sausage and white beans. We love duck and you can never go wrong with confit. The meat was tender and fell off the bone. The sausage was crispy on the outside and made from scratch packed with a delicious smokey paprika. The white beans were incredible and had a very balanced make-up: they were smokey and sweet and didn't have that starchiness that you would normally get with improperly cooked beans.

 In addition to our duck confit, we ordered agnolotti pasta, resembling of little pillows stuffed with a creamy cheese. Agnolotti is a really rustic and simple ravioli that really evokes images of Tuscany and hearty Italian cooking. The pasta was elegantly served with a simple white truffle and cheese sauce that stuck to the pasta beautifully, really imparting the dish with strong and beautiful flavor.

With all the entrees, appetizer and the rustic bread, we were looking at an Italian feast for 2. Everything had fresh flavors and kept the simple spirit of Italian cuisine, while still giving off a distinctive modern and creative flare. To end our special feast, we tried some of their desserts (all fresh made in-house, except for gelato which is from a local creamery). Tricia had two flavors of gelato: pistachio and hazelnut. The ice cream came accompanied with freshly made biscotti and a pine nut cookie. The gelato was phenomenal- smooth and very flavorful. The biscotti was good too, but the showstopper was the pine nut cookie. It must have been loaded with butter, because it literally melted upon first bite. The cookie was so good that there has been a serious push to get Tricia to make something comparable since the return to Ithaca!

Siddharth had butterscotch pudding. Sounds tame, right? Definitely wrong. Firstly, the "scotch" aspect of the butterscotch was real - an 18-year old Macallan, to be exact, was used to put this pudding together. The pudding was served with shaved chocolate and fresh cream on top, along with homemade English Toffee (covered in sea salt) on the side. Everything in this dish was perfect. This is flat out one of the best desserts we've had in a restaurant. We're not the only ones that think so either!

La Luce was a ritzy place, but one that we found was well worth it. From beginning (bread) to end (gelato and the best butterscotch pudding in America), the meal was outstanding. Though, we were only in Orland for one week and have not sampled all of the cuisine that is present in central Florida, we feel safe in saying that La Luce offers one of the best dining experiences in the area (in expounding on all the great food, we feel almost remiss to have not mentioned until now that the service was excellent - our server was friendly, knowledgeable, and he even gave us recommendations about the other great places to eat in town!).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Conshohocken, PA - El Limon (Mexican Food!)

Restaurant Info:
103 Fayette St
Conshohocken, PA 19428
(610) 567-0120

Siddharth and I were in Pennsylvania for a night and found this restaurant on urbanspoon rated quite highly. Situated along a main road in Conshohocken, this tiny restaurant is hidden in between a BYOB restaurant and a Jimmy John's. Although the restaurant seemed small and crowded on the outside, El Limon was capable of seating all of their customers with little wait.

What I liked most about this restaurant was the open kitchen. Siddharth and I had the pleasure of eating at the counter right behind the cooking grill (pictured above to the right) so we could watch the two cooks. The menu selection is a bit limited compared to Garcia's where you can have any combination of dishes you want. They served traditional Mexican restaurant offerings like enchiladas, tacos and burritos (all a la carte, with the tacos and small ones at about $3 each!) with your choice of their mole sauce or tomatillo sauce. Everything was made fresh in house, including their tortillas, absolutely delicious.

I had a steak enchilada with the tomatillo sauce. The steak was tender and perfectly seasoned with the typical Mexican spices. I loved the tomatillo sauce as well. It was a bit tangy and a little bit spicy. It contrasted well with the spices from the beef. And I could taste that the tortilla was freshly made because of its softness and corn flavor. On the side were refried beans which were incredible, a lot better than Garcia's. I think it's because they fry them in lard which adds a whole lot of flavor. Unlike Garcia's, these beans were seasoned and served with a bit of cheese. The Mexican rice was also excellent. It doesn't look like they give you a lot of rice, but that mound of rice ended up being very filling.

Siddharth ordered sopes: one with chorizo and one with beef. Sopes are made with super-thick, deep-fried corn tortillas. The sopes come served like an open-faced sandwich, as you can see to the right. Neither of us had ever had sopes, and suffice to say we were very impressed. Texture-wise they are soft on the inside and crisp on the outside, almost like a corn-flour based hash brown. The chorizo and beef were both fresh cooked and delicious. The sopes were served with two sauces, a green tomatillo based sauce and a red chipotle sauce. Neither was overly spicy, but both were very flavorful. 

Another great quality of this restaurant was the unbelievable fast service. Even though there were no tables available for us to be immediately seated, the host allowed us to sit at the bar behind the kitchen. Our waitress took our order and immediately gave it to the cooks. We watched them both prepare our two entrees with great speed; one of them was cooking at least 3 pounds of chorizo on the grill while the other prepared the corn tortillas for the sopes and the enchilladas. Probably about 7-8 minutes after we ordered our entrees, our dinner was right in front of us, piping hot! 

The cooks (and waitress) were quite social and checked on us many times while we enjoyed our meal, asking how things were and whether we wanted to try anything else on the menu. Their persistence might be a bit annoying to some patrons, but Siddharth and I appreciate when the waitstaff or the cooks themselves interact with their customers and talking about their food with us, especially when we are trying something new.

Overall, El Limon was maybe surprisingly some of the best Mexican food we've had in the Northeastern US. The restaurant distinguishes itself by making great food in a hurry at dirt cheap prices. If you are ever in the area of Conshohocken, give it a try!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blue Frog Coffee House, Ithaca, NY

Restaurant Info:
Blue Frog Coffee House
Pyramid Mall, next to Best Buy, Ithaca NY

Although new to the Ithaca area, Blue Frog Coffee House has already established itself in Cortland as a cafe serving local coffees and pastries, sandwiches, paninis, and even quesadillas. We had heard about this cafe from our friendly neighbor, Angelique, who requested that we write a review on it.