Archive for June, 2009

Souen is so in!

June 5, 2009

If you live in New York, you are probably aware that ramen is all the rage. But what started out as a few noodle shops taking shape in the East Village has flourished into a bona fide trend. While the origin of this movement is usually accredited to Momofuku Noodle Bar circa 2003, chef David Chang is decidedly unwilling to cater to vegetarians. Now, I don’t fault him for this. A chef should be able to cook what he or she wants, after all. And I’d rather be warned up front. But there is a lot of irony in the air when you begin an anti-vegetarian trend in the East Village. While followers aren’t as hard-core about being anti-vegetarian, what slim options they do offer are meager attempts to assuage local concerns. So it’s only fitting that Souen, a sanctuary for vegetarians craving Japanese cuisine, has come to the rescue and opened its own ramen outpost in (where else?) the East Village. Currently, they offer four vegetarian ramen soup options: curry, black sesame, miso and shoyu. Though the miso ramen is denoted as the chef’s favorite, I found it a little too salty for my taste. Instead, I prefer the shoyu ramen. The broth has a deep yet delicate flavor that balances well with the springy, resilient wheat noodles and the abundance of vegetables. The black sesame is also good, though the broth has a much more pronounced seaweed flavor. And while the curry ramen is also extremely enjoyable, it tastes like a refined version of Maggi Masala noodles. I guess this is a fitting menu option given that the restaurant location is in the middle of Little India, which can make it hard to miss. So next time you are craving a satisfying portion of steamy comfort food, walk towards the end of the line of Indian restaurants and look out for the little red door that leads to Souen Ramen.

Black Sesame Ramen

Black Sesame Ramen

Souen Ramen
326 E. 6th Street
(between 1st & 2nd)
212-388-1155

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Magically Delicious

June 3, 2009

Last year, I took a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway ending up in LA. Now usually on a road trip like this, finding decent food on the go can present a problem. I travel a lot between Boston and New York, and I can’t even explain to you the dread I experience when the bus slows to a roll in front of a Roy Rogers or, even worse, the Golden Arches. It basically means that I’m in for an extra 30-45 minutes of starvation. But this trip on the West Coast was different – magical even. Why, you ask? I’ve got three hyphenated little words for you: In-N-Out. Ok, so “N” isn’t really a word. But I know you’ve heard of this place from your west coast friends who practically worship it like some sort of fast food deity. Well I’m here to tell you they do so for good reason. I know what you’re thinking: “In-N-Out is a burger and fries place like any other. The food might be better quality, but there still aren’t any vegetarian options.”  You would be wrong. When you walk into an In-N-Out, the only menu options you see are three beef-filled burgers, fries and milkshakes. Don’t be fooled. In-N-Out is apparently famous for its “Not-So-Secret Menu” that we East Coasters are completely out of the loop on. Next time you are out in California, Nevada, Utah or Arizona, try ordering a grilled cheese with grilled onions and fries. Try them both Animal Style. I promise – you will be addicted. The best part is that the fries are cooked in 100% vegetable oil. So no worrying about animal fats discreetly mixed in. I was so floored by this fast food fabuloucity, that the next time I went back to SoCal, I overdosed, eating there about 3 times in 4 days. Soooo worth it!

Note: You can also order a veggie burger, which is basically a hamburger with no burger and with double tomatoes, but I hear it’s kind of boring).

British High Tea Party: Part 3

June 1, 2009

BREAD PUDDING

The bread pudding is where, in my opinion, the entire menu becomes complete. It uses the crusts from all of the bread and the rest of the whipping cream and some simple readily-on-hand ingredients to make a fluffy and delicious bread pudding – which is still very much in keeping with the theme of British high tea. With the amount of bread crusts I had accumulated, I was able to make two casserole dishes of bread pudding. This recipe is based on one from MomsWhoThink, but I’ve doubled it and replaced the raisins with dried apricots. Also, you need a total of 4 cups of liquid, so I basically used the rest of the whipping cream and used milk I had on hand to replace the rest of the liquid. I keep skim milk at home, so that’s what I used. Also, the receipe on MomsWhoThink calls for an extra sauce to add on top. I skipped it and the pudding was still moist, perfectly sweet and had a great balance of flavor from the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Ingredients:

½ cup whipping cream (or whatever you have left from the scones)

3 ½ cups milk (whichever kind you have on hand)

1 stick butter (cut into slices)

1 ⅓ cups sugar

4 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon nutmeg

6 cups (approx) bread crusts

6 eggs

¼ cup dried apricots diced

Special Hardware:

2 1.8L baking dishes*

*If your baking dish is slightly deeper, you will end up with a more moist bread pudding.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Use some of the butter to lightly grease the baking dishes, and then arrange the bread crusts into them. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk until just simmering. Add the butter and stir until melted. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Slowly add the milk mixture, only adding a little at a time at first to avoid curdling the eggs. Pour half of the egg and milk mixture over each baking dish filled with bread. Sprinkle half the apricots over the bread as well. You can use raisons or any other dried fruit if you like. I just prefer apricots. Bake 45-50 minutes. Let cool a few minutes, but serve warm.

TIPS ON SERVING TEA

While I highly enjoy a cup of good tea, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an expert just yet. I tend to stick with more basic selections such as English breakfast or Earl Grey. So, to help me make the harrowing decision of what to serve at my party, I headed to McNulty’s Tea and Coffee Company in the West Village. Walking into the shop is a wondrous experience. The earthy aroma of tea and coffee is the first sense to hit you as try to take in the varieties of teas kept in clearly labeled clear jars and burlap sacks. While the variety can be a bit overwhelming, it is also most certainly impressive. And the friendly, knowledgeable staff will answer your questions, taking you from one jar or sack to the next, waiting while you smell each tea and make your decision.

For the party, I settled on Assam tea – a stronger full-bodied tea with a “malty” flavor. It is actually used in a variety of blends including English breakfast and Early Grey (though the distinguishing factor for the latter being the bergamot oil). Assam tea is pretty typical for a high tea. I also wanted to serve a milder and less well-known tea. For this, I was pointed toward Golden Nepal tea. It has somewhat fruity notes and is not over-powering. It also has a bright reddish-golden color when it is brewed.

Serving tea to a large group can be difficult to manage. I recommend investing in a set of tea mugs where each mug has a different color or pattern. That way, guest can easily identify their mugs. Also, in terms of logistics, this is what worked for me:

  1. Measure out about 6 mugs of water and pour into a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and then turn off the heat.
  2. Add the loose-leaf tea (about 1 heaping teaspoon per mug) and let sit for a few minutes and then pour into a serving jug, using a sieve during the transfer to remove all of the tea leaves.
  3. Heat the next pot of water over medium-low heat. This way you don’t have to wait so long when you are ready to make the next batch. You can do two pots /jugs at a time for the two varieties of tea. If you do this, make sure you can identify which jug is for which type of tea.

Remember to keep out some milk, sugar and lemon so your guests can decide how to make their own tea.

Since this post was a 3-parter, I won’t add much else, except to say Cheers!

British High Tea Party: Part 2

June 1, 2009

THE SANDWHICHES

For the sandwiches, I used both whole grain and white bread for added variety. I used about 3-4 standard loaves (12-16 slices per loaf). While I would recommend using fresh bread, regular off-the shelf bread works just fine. I cut off the crusts (and put them aside to use in the bread pudding later) and cut these into triangles instead of into strips. Triangles just seem more satisfying to eat and you don’t have to worry as much about the fillings being too thick and oozing out. For 25 people, I aimed at having at least 1 whole sandwich per person. You can make less if you are also serving scones, but since almost every guest brought a bottle of champagne, I wanted to make sure there was enough food to go around. I was able to prepare the bread the evening before the party to save time the day of.

 

Egg & Cress Sandwiches

Egg salad can be a tough one to master. You have to be careful not to over boil the eggs or make the mixture too liquidy. I recommend using an ice bath after boiling the eggs to prevent over cooking. I also recommend adding the moist ingredients gradually so you can monitor the consistency of the salad.

 

Ingredients:

8 eggs

2 stalks celery

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2-3 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

½ bunch chives

1 teaspoon capers (drained pretty well)

1 bunch watercress

20-22 slices of bread

 

Directions:

Place eggs in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Turn of heat and let the eggs sit for seven minutes. While you are waiting, you can finely chop the celery and chives. You can also wash the watercress and dry thoroughly. If you use a food processor to chop the celery, then you may want to squeeze it in a towel to remove excess liquid. Remove from the pot and place into an ice bath for 3 or 4 minutes before peeling. Mash the peeled, hard-boiled eggs in a bowl with a fork and add the celery, chives and capers. Add the Dijon mustard and slowly add the mustard and sour cream, mixing in between tablespoons to ensure that your mixture is the right consistency. It should be spreadable and moist but still pretty thick and not runny. Butter the bread on both sides (you may want to do this before cutting them into halves) to prevent the sandwiches from getting soggy. Place a small bed of cress on the bread and top with a heaping spoonful of the egg mixture. Refrigerate the sandwiches until you are ready to serve. I made about 10-11 whole sandwiches (20-22 servings) of this variety and still had some egg salad left over (which my roommate and I ate for lunch the next day).

 

Cucumber & Mint Sandwiches

I found a great recipe for these sandwiches on Epicurious. The variation I made here is that instead of combining the butter, cream cheese, and mint, I layered the ingredients preferring to keep the mint leaves whole.  So basically, I thinly buttered the bread on both sides, added a layer of cream cheese on both sides then laid on a few slices of cucumber and a few of the mint leaves. I also tripled the recipe and cut into halves instead of quarters. This way I came about with about 9 whole sandwiches (18 servings). The recipe from Epicurious is below:

 

Ingredients:

¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed, spun dry, and chopped fine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons cream cheese

6 slices of whole-wheat bread

1 3-inch length of seedless cucumber, cut into thin slices

 

Directions:

In a small bowl combine the mint, the butter, and the cream cheese and stir the mixture until it is combined well. Spread the bread slices with the butter mixture, top 3 of them with the cucumber, distributing the cucumber evenly and seasoning it with salt, and top the cucumber with the remaining bread slices. Cut off and discard the crusts [instead put them aside for the bread pudding] and cut each sandwich diagonally into quarters. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

 

Apple & Boursin Sandwiches

So what is Boursin, you ask? Boursin is a rennet-free Norwegian soft cow’s milk cheese. It has a consistency similar to that of cream cheese. It is also called Gournay cheese (Boursin being the name of the creater and the brand name of the only legitimate producer of the cheese). In addition to being vegetarian, it is also kosher and gluten-free. You can find more facts about this cheese here and here. Boursin comes in a variety of flavors, but for this recipe, I used the Garlic and Fine Herbs variety.

 

Ingredients:

2 Granny Smith Apples

1 package Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs cheese

1 lemon (for juice)

20 slices of bread (or whatever is left)

 

Directions:

Thinly slice the apples. Pour the juice of one lemon over the apple slices, toss and keep aside. Spread a thin and even layer of the cheese on to each side of the bread. Boursin has a pungent flavor, so you do not need to use too much. Place a layer of the apples in between the bread and cut in half diagonally. Makes about 10 whole sandwiches (20 servings). Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

British High Tea Party: Part 1

June 1, 2009

Don’t you just love when things come together? You know, those days when your friends come over and you can just sit around, enjoy a bottle of wine and sample some new culinary ambition that you pray turned out delicious (and somehow, magically, it did). But sometimes, cooking for friends requires a lot more planning. Enter: the perfect menu for a British tea party! The thing I love about this menu is that it all comes together and I’m not left with any random ingredients that I’m going to struggle to figure out how to use up in the next week before they go bad. I guess that it partially has to do with using a lot of basic items, like bread, cheese, milk, etc. But still, it’s so satisfying! I recently used this menu for party of 25 people. The menu and recipes follow:

Menu
Cream Scones

Selection of finger sandwiches:
-Egg & Cress
-Cucumber & Mint
-Apple & Boursin

Bread pudding

Selection of Teas:
-Assam
-Golden Nepal

Champagne


CREAM SCONES
The recipe I used here comes from the Joy of Baking website. Making these scones was a brilliant idea. I have tried scones in all types of bakeries in New York and have yet to try any that are as close an approximation to what I used to have in England (If you know of any good ones, please let me know in the comments section. Though not available for takeaway Alice’s Tea Cup serves some excellent scones). They came out golden on the outside with a creamy, flaky center. Yum…

The recipe below makes about 12 – 14 2.5 inch rounds. I made two separate batches for the party. If you too plan to make them for a large group of people, I recommend measuring out the dry ingredients the day before and storing in the refrigerator. That way your ingredients will remain cold longer into the process (especially if you sift the flour), and you can save yourself time the day of the party by having it ready to go. Likewise, I would cut the butter into small cubes and store in the refrigerator.

My recommendation is serve them with clotted cream or butter, and lingonberry jam.

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (and a little extra for kneading)
¼ cup granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup

Special Hardware:
A 2.5 inch cookie cutter
2 silicon mats or parchment paper
2 cookie sheets

Directions:
Place the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°. Mix the dry ingredients together (if you haven’t already) and then add the butter and the wet ingredients. If you have a pastry blender, add the butter first and then knead in the wet ingredients. If not, then just add all at once and knead together until just combined. You don’t want to over mix. Flour your surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough into a 7-inch round. Use the cookie cutters to cut out your scones. Twisting the cookie cutter through the dough supposedly helps them to rise higher. Place the scones onto a cookie sheet that has been lined with either parchment paper or silicon mats, positioning them a few inches apart. Brush the tops with a little bit of the cream. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean. Let them cool before serving.