Sunday, October 31, 2010

New York, Part I: Autumnal spreads

Thursday was such a beautiful day in New York that even my point-and-shoot could capture it, so I'm going to break one of my blog rules by putting up these two non-food pictures I took in Central Park.

After leaving the park and walking back up 70th St. toward New York Presbyterian Medical Center, I stopped for dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Matsu.  I considered ordering sushi, but it doesn't really fall under the comfort food heading that I aim within on travel days.  Instead, rice, salad with the typical carrot-ginger-sesame dressing, shrimp and vegetable tempura arrived relatively quickly and tasted very fresh.

On Friday, lunch was a gigantic buffet at the Rockefeller Faculty Club, suitably festooned with Halloween decorations.  One of the best items was a spinach-and-cheese (gruyere?  Swiss?) bread.

The dessert spread made me particularly happy (in an admittedly childlike way); my table-mates and I shared a chocolate cupcake and a caramel apple.

Friday dinner was a smaller but more sedate buffet at the Weill Cornell Faculty Club.  I got distracted by hunger and conversation and so didn't photograph the main courses, but I did photograph two of the available desserts:

I spent Saturday evening with my aunt, uncle and grandparents in New Jersey.  Between my uncle, grandma and aunt, dinners at their home always involve a ton of great dishes.  Saturday's spread included two shrimp preparations, two fish preparations, vegetables, other stir-fries, and potstickers.

My next post, Part II, will cover my Saturday adventures at Bouchon Bakery and Nougatine :-).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Broccoli-tomato-and-turkey lasagna

Having picked up a box of lasagna noodles last week at Safeway and wanting to do some substantial cooking on Sunday afternoon, I decided to loosely adapt a lasagna recipe that I'm pretty familiar with: Joanne Cheng's Mushroom and Tomato Lasagna.  In place of mushrooms and leeks, I used broccoli and onions, and I omitted the goat cheese because its smell wouldn't bode well for the communal microwave at work.  I also halved the amount of white sauce because I didn't want to use a whole stick of butter, and I added some sauteed ground turkey.

From bottom to top, the layers went (I think): white sauce with turkey, pasta, broccoli and onions, eggy/basil-y ricotta, pasta, tomatoes, rest of white sauce, pasta, ricotta.

The finished product was pretty good, though I think I overseasoned the white sauce a little - surprising, since normally I end up on the side of underseasoned.  Also, the problem with making less white sauce is that I didn't have any left to pour on top, so the upper "crust" of pasta and ricotta became kind of tough.  Oh well!

I'm heading to New York tomorrow, so hopefully there will be a few good meals to report on.  Sneak peek: I currently have a reservation for Nougatine at Jean Georges and am on the wait-list for Jean Georges itself, which I picked because it is consistently on the list of top 10 United States restaurants, it is located in a convenient location as far as transit goes, and it actually has non-stratospheric (i.e. well below triple figures) lunch prix fixe and dessert menus.  Fingers crossed!

Sunday routine: this week, figs!

On Sunday morning a light rain was falling (cue Maroon 5 song), so I walked instead of biked to the Cal Ave market.  I picked up a chocolate hazelnut croissant (of course), a small bunch of basil, a bottle of honey, some kettle corn, and a basket of figs; the stand owner commended me for my choice, saying it was the last week for figs.  I don't know whether her statement applied only to her stand or to Figs In General, but these were succulent little fruits.  Eaten on top of some plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey (both Sunday, after the brisk walk home, and Monday morning), and as snacks between meals, I was quite satisfied.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chocolate chip zucchini bread

Sometime during the past week, I found myself with three zucchini that were on the verge of losing crispness.  Since I was also craving some kind of cake, the obvious solution was to make zucchini bread with chocolate chips.

Despite my frequent wariness of Paula Deen, I decided to use her recipe with a few modifications: 1.5 cups sugar instead of 2, about 0.8 cups vegetable oil instead of 1, no pecans or orange zest, and about 1/2 cup of sweetened flaked coconut.  The result turned out well, and has been especially good as breakfast when sliced and toasted.

Weekday dinner: a surprisingly satisfying pasta

Pasta and ground turkey were both on sale at Safeway this week - score!  While thinking about what to make on Friday evening, I remembered a particular Cooking for Mr. Latte excerpt describing a pasta sauced with yogurt.  And so, while boiling water for shell pasta (one of my favorite pasta shapes), I cooked some ground turkey with diced onion, and then after turning off the heat, added some plain yogurt and golden raisins.  The remaining heat liquified the yogurt, resulting in a creamy and somewhat tangy sauce with bursts of sweetness from the raisins.  I paired the pasta with some steamed broccoli.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Douce France: Almond cookie

On Tuesday afternoon, I decided to stop by Douce France and check out the pastry selection.  After looking at the fruit tarts, I suddenly saw some cookies in the top right of the glass case that looked remarkably similar to my beloved almond croissants.  For $1.45, one of these almond cookies came home with me, and I'm glad it did.  This cookie is crisp, but with a satisfying chewiness, and is not too sweet.  It's essentially a coconut macaroon where the coconut has been replaced with slivered/toasted almonds.  Highly recommended!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eating chow in Costa Mesa

Dinner on Sunday evening was at Eat Chow restaurant in Costa Mesa, CA.  The list of sandwiches and burgers was pretty appealing, as was the grilled shrimp linguini, but I decided to go with the mahi mahi fish tacos since I haven't had any for quite some time.  The fish and beans were both pretty good, but I didn't like how the tortillas fell apart so easily because the chili sauce was soaking through them.

For dessert, I decided to veer in the direction of comfort food, and so I ordered the banana chocolate chip bread pudding.  To be honest, I've had better - I like bread pudding when the pieces of bread are a little more discrete - but the combination of caramel sauce, whipped cream, and crusty edges was still tasty.

A few people at the table ordered something called the Choco Taco (chocolate chip ice cream in a cinnamon sugar tortilla shell), which they seemed to like, and which was surprisingly attractive:

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Nashville: Tin Angel Restaurant

Rainbow trout almondine

On Friday night in Nashville, we had dinner at the Tin Angel Restaurant, which was dim and cozy but surprisingly loud.  Our rather large party of 10+ applicants and several current students was divided between three tables, and I sat at a table of four.  I ordered a glass of the "Hahn" pinot noir; the first thing I noticed was its fantastic fruity aroma.  The taste seemed a little sharp at first, but after a few sips, the flavors started balancing out more, and the fruitiness really started coming through.

Bread was excellent: freshly baked herb dinner rolls (I had two).  I started with the "French Laundry Salad," which included slivers of apple and plenty of toasted hazelnuts.  Now that I think about it, hazelnuts seem to have been a part of every salad I've ordered while traveling this fall.  This salad was, like the others, tasty.  My main course was rainbow trout almondine, which was a gorgeous piece of fish with plenty of almonds and green beans piled on top, sauced with beurre blanc.  The accompanying (underlying) orzo pilaf was really rich because of all the beurre blanc that had pooled around the fish, but still a great main course.

Dessert was pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting and vanilla ice cream.  Hooray for cakes that aren't overly frosted!  I know not everyone feels this way, but I'm very partial to thin layers of frosting.  Due to a combination of exhaustion (resulting in lack of mindfulness) and good conversation, I ate too much.

I got home last night and am flying down to SoCal this afternoon for a 30-hour trip; then I'll be back at home for over a week (!!).  I got to enjoy my Sunday routine of going to the Farmer's Market this morning, and am currently having my usual Sunday brunch of tea, fresh fruit, and a croissant (today I actually warmed up my almond croissant in the oven, and that resulted in the pinnacle of pastry perfection).   There was a group of monks in red robes walking around the market stands and sampling various items; I'm guessing they came to Stanford with the Dalai Lama.

Palo Alto: A tribute to Cafe220

I've been to Cafe220 more times than I can count over the past three or four years.  I first ate there during sophomore year with some friends, and relatively soon it became one of my "happy places."  The owners, Hassan and Yusef, are so warm and welcoming, and have many regular customers (myself included, hooray!).  My friends and I liked Cafe220 so much that we had our graduation dinner there in June, with some of our family members.

I generally get the falafel plate or moussaka, though I also like the falafel wrap and chicken gyros; tea obviously works well with nearly every meal there; and if I want dessert, the rice pudding, baklava, or crepes are all great.  I don't know if the food is the "best" inexpensive Mediterranean on University, but for once I don't care.  I know that whenever I go to Cafe220 I'll have a comfortable and tasty meal served with friendliness, and that's what keeps me going back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back in action, with a scientific sandwich

I came down with a cold toward the end of last week, so the weekend was spent recovering as quickly as possible.  I didn't photograph much of my food over the past six days, but above is my lunch from yesterday: chicken salad sandwich from Cafe24 in the huge and gorgeous Genentech Hall on UCSF's Mission Bay campus.  On the whole I was kind of impressed by the food available at the UCSF cafes.  The Courtyard Cafe on the Parnassus campus may be mediocre on Yelp, but it has a great salad bar and also sells real dim sum.  Also, Peasant Pies on the Mission Bay campus has great chai and a mean chocolate tart.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Durham: Cookout's life-changing milkshake

So, it's 7:42am, our shuttle isn't leaving for campus until 8, and I'm sitting in the Hilton lobby trying to fend off a questionable throat by drinking fluids like a [thirsty] madwoman.  The logical thing to do is, of course, to post about the awesome milkshake I recently had.

I have C(S) to thank for this one, because as someone who spent 4 years at Duke, she was an excellent resource for Where To Eat in Durham.  Granted, I didn't have the time or transportation means to make it to most of the places she recommended, but I did walk straight to Cookout as soon as I checked in on Tuesday evening.  I ordered an oreo milkshake, which came with both a straw and a spoon.  My first thought was, "It's a milkshake; why give me a spoon?  Such a waste of utensils."  But I was just naive, because the straw proved to be relatively ineffectual.

This is the kind of milkshake in which a straw or spoon can easily remain standing.  It was wonderful.  Plus, the bottom of the cup had a layer of Oreo cookie crumbs in it, which made me happy (because I like Oreo cookies but not the disgustingly synthetic cream that is normally found between them).

To follow, I had (not from Cookout) some halibut, mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli.  But the milkshake was way better.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weekday dinner: tomato soup and greens

On Sunday night, I went over to Chez J for a blissfully vegetable-ful meal.  Dish #1 was beet greens, blanched and then sauteed with garlic and olive oil.  Dish #2 was tomato soup, which started with some chopped carrots and onions (I think?), plus roasted tomatoes (half fresh, half canned), broth, a little cream, garlic, and basil.  Once they were all cooked down together, it was time to break out the Awesome Immersion Blender, which I got to try and do, indeed, covet very much.  We also had fresh croutons and extra French bread on the side.  Hooray for successful simplicity!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

St. Louis: Brasserie by Niche, Sage, and Chocolate Bar

My first trip to St. Louis, MO involved, as it turned out, a lot of great food.  The highlights:

1) Dinner at Brasserie by Niche on Thursday night.  Our group of ~14 had a three-course menu, and it was pretty hard to decide among all the options.  I settled on a salad of mixed greens with warm goat cheese, hazelnuts and sherry vinaigrette; mussels in white-wine-and-mustard broth with french fries and saffron aioli; fig clafoutis with spice ice cream; and part of a glass of rose.  The people around me had onion soup, frisee salad with poached egg and bacon, steak, trout with green beans and almonds, floating island, chocolate pot de creme with sable cookies; red wine; and a local beer.

Other than a comment that the floating island tasted like whipped cream surrounded by vanilla cream, everyone thought the meal was fantastic.  I generally love mussels, and these did not disappoint; plus, the french fries were some of the best I have ever eaten.  Dessert was delicious, too, even though we were all saturated by that point.   

2) Dinner at Sage restaurant on Friday night.  Appetizers (yellowtail tuna sashimi and "potstickers") were underwhelming, in large part because the accompanying or covering sauces/slaws were way too salty, and partly because I'm a potsticker elitist (in addition to a chocolate elitist).  Main courses were much more enjoyable.  I had a cup of chili coronado, followed by sole stuffed with asparagus and a creamy blue crab filling, and I also got to try some of the chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes.  One of our hosts chose bottles of a full-bodied red wine and a nice, crisp white wine.

3) Dessert at Bailey's Chocolate Bar on Friday night.  This restaurant serves, not surprisingly, a large menu of desserts (not all chocolate) and chocolate drinks, including an array of martinis ranging from the "White" and "Milk" to "Sexual" and "Nutty."  I ordered the "Chocolate Inebriation" dessert, which was an extremely dense and dark cake with layers of cake (chocolate stout flavored) and ganache, enrobed in ganache and served with cinnamon ice cream - heavenly!  Other desserts at the table included the eponymous "Bailey's Chocolate Bar," a banana split, a truffle, an apple/caramel/cinnamon creation called "Eve's Apple," and a chocolate brownie with Bailey's ice cream and caramel.