Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

Now that it's chillier out (70 degrees and sunny with a light breeze is sweater weather here in New Orleans), it's time for a spicy recipe! I asked my grandmother the secrets on making mapo tofu. It's something that I don't necessarily order because it's so common, but also because it's hard to get the right authentic Sichuan taste down. My grandmother is from Hunan, which also prides itself in eating spicy food 24/7, so she knows the ins and outs. 

One of the main things I didn't know about mapo tofu is that traditionally, it is made with beef. I always thought it was ground pork. Also, the sichuan spice is made from two different peppers: heaving facing (Sichuan) pepper and Sichuan peppercorn. The former provides the spice and the latter delivers the distinct numbing factor. 

Recently I also made this recipe for my vegetarian friend, Henok, that's Ethiopian and can handle his spice. He accidentally bit into a pepper, and it was a bad idea. Anyways, for the vegetarian version, I instead of beef I used fresh shiitake mushrooms. 

In the photo above, I made the mapo tofu with ground beef I got from Lilac Hedge Farm's meat CSA. Dare to be adventurous with your ground beef. Anyways, hope you enjoy one of my go-to recipes. And be very careful with how many peppers you throw in! 

Mapo Tofu (serves 3-4)
1 tbs canola oil
5 cloves garlic
3 sprigs scallion, diced (separate the tops and the ends) 
2 tbs spicy soy bean paste
1 pack tofu, firm
1/2 lb ground beef, marinated* or shiitake mushrooms (OR both??)
6-8 heaven facing peppers
1/3 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, crushed
1/2 tsp sesame oil

1. In a deep pan, heat oil with garlic, scallion ends, and heaven facing peppers on high heat. 
2. Once garlic and scallions are browned (make sure the peppers don't turn a dark brown), add spicy soy bean paste and mix well.
3. Stir in the ground beef (or mushrooms). 
4. Once about 70% cooked, add in the tofu and simmer on low heat with lid ajar for 15 min to an hour.  
5. 5 minutes before serving, stir in the crushed peppercorn, sesame oil, and chopped scallion tops. 

*Beef marinade:
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs dark soy sauce
1/4 cup shaoxing rice wine
1/4 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Atlanta, Georgia: Flying Biscuit, Vortex, & Majestic Diner

Over the weekend I visited Atlanta, Georgia for the second time. I stayed with a good friend Vic near Emory, who I also had the pleasure of traveling to IstanbulBudapestVienna, and Prague with a couple winters ago. Knowing that I love food, he planned an ambitious schedule packed with southern food and Atlanta favorites. 

After getting into Atlanta well past midnight the evening before (for the record, it was a 475 mile drive from New Orleans), I needed a strong breakfast to get me going. We picked up Fukuko, who was visiting from Hong Kong for TomorrowWorld, and headed straight to brunch at The Flying Biscuit. 

I ordered the High Flyer, a generous feast featuring two sunny side up eggs, chicken breakfast sausage, "creamy dreamy grits," plus an organic oatmeal pancake topped with warm peach compote. I of course had it with an unsweetened iced tea and a unexpectedly 16oz pineapple mimosa. I don't know how anyone finishes this by themselves. And though the biscuit was good, the star of the show was most definitely the creamy dreamy grits. I could have had 3 bowls of that plain. Runner up is their whole wheat French toast that's served with homemade raspberry sauce and honey cream. 

The Flying Biscuit
1655 McLendon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA

 I had no idea that there was such a strong street art culture in Atlanta. I was so impressed with the quality of the murals and disappointed that New York is quickly losing this culture. Vic showed us Krog Street tunnel and we took a walk around Cabbagetown, where we admired the colorful houses and stunning painted walls. When I have the money, I will most definitely be commissioning murals all over Manhattan. 

Vic works at The Neon Company, who produces many of the iconic neon signs seen around Atlanta. This is another reason why ATL was amazing. I don't know why, but I've always loved the aesthetic of neon signs and here, they're everywhere. It was closed over the weekend, but I will definitely need to stay on a weekday next time to check out his work space. 

Good thing Vic brought us for a walking tour of Cabbagetown to work off that breakfast because dinner at Vortex is no joke. After an hour long wait, I was utterly famished. 

We started with the fried zucchini slices, which were undoubtedly A+. Who knew zucchini would taste so good with ranch dressing? Fukuko and I both ordered the Steak House, a half pound sirloin beef burger topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms, swiss and cheddar cheese, and Vortex steak sauce. I had mine medium rare topped with an egg and served with sweet potato waffle fries (skip the marshmallow goo sauce). Fukuko ordered hers with their perfectly crispy tater tots. Vic toyed with the idea of getting another Coronary Bypass burger (think bacon plus cheese plus egg) , but opted for the Holy Guacamole burger instead. 

It was tough, and no one talked for the entire meal. But we did it. 

Fun fact: I drank two 32 ounce unsweetened iced teas at this meal. 

Vortex Bar & Grill
438 Moreland Ave NE
Atlanta, GA

Our final stop at 4am on Sunday was Majestic Diner. It was between this or Waffle House, and we opted for the slightly classier definitely pricier Majestic Diner. You can see the diner from a far with its iconic neon exterior lighting up the entire street corner. 

Inside, this place was packed. We actually had to wait 20 minutes for a table. But let's be real, who doesn't want breakfast food all day? 24 hours is definitely the way to go for a diner. Fukuko and I shared a grilled ham and cheese, hashbrowns (a la Waffle House style), and grits. I of course had to order a vanilla milkshake. It's the only way to go. Vic's friends had a delicious looking patty melt and a corned beef hash. Solid choices all around. 

With only one full day in Atlanta, I'd say we did a real good job packing in three full meals, albeit it took us a span of 17 hours. We actually needed all of it to fuel us for the long night out. And I woke up hungry. But next time (yes, I'm for sure going back again) I definitely have to hit up Gladys Knight's for some fried chicken and waffles. 

Majestic Diner
1031 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hop Shing

My last meal in New York before I made my drive down to New Orleans was at Hop Shing. I have no idea how long this place has been opened, but I know that it has been decades and it is still one of the busiest places to get a dim sum fix. They open at 7am every morning, so this is the perfect place to hit up before a golf outing, a flight, or a long road trip. But if you do go that early (or pretty much any time of the day), be prepared to be seated at a table with a few other elderly Chinese men. These guys just hang out there and eat char siu baos and drink coffee all day. I swear. 

What you have to order:
  • baked char siu bao (pork bun)
  • beef rice rolls
  • beef ball 
... and all your usual dim sum favorites of course! 

I really don't eat here enough because I usually get dim sum at Ping's with my entire family, but this is the ideal place for a cheap and casual delicious dim sum meal. 

Hop Shing
9 Chatham Square
New York, NY

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shake Shack

So today is apparently National Burger Day? I wish I was informed because then I wouldn't have had a roast beef po-boy for lunch #nolaproblems. Maybe I'll get a burger from Phil's Grill this weekend, but for now I will just post about one of my favorite and one of the most well known burger places in the city: Shake Shack. 

It almost seems like a waste of time telling you that you have to go try Shake Shack because everyone has been and everyone knows what it is about. But let me tell you if you are going to Shake Shack and ordering a cheese/hamburger, then you're doing it all terribly wrong. Because I'm going to put this out there -- the burgers are Shake Shack are mediocre at best. If you want a burger, head uptown to JG Melon (post coming soon, I promise) or St. Mark's to Paul's

Instead, what you have to get at Shake Shack is the 'shroom burger. That's right. The most famous NYC burger chain is best at making a vegetarian burger. It's a meaty breaded portobello mushroom stuffed with melted cheese and served with tomato and a leaf of lettuce on their soft potato bun. No ketchup or sauces needed. It's got texture and hot melted stringy cheese oozing out. Why would you get anything else? Oh, and do not forget the cheese fries (they're not crinkled anymore! The blasphemy!) and a strawberry milk shake. 

I may be biased, but I grew up a few blocks away from Madison Square Park, so clearly the flagship Shake Shack is my favorite location to go. Even this many years later, there is still always an impossibly long line to the front window. It's part of the experience though, so if you have an hour to spare, you should definitely head to my hood and get some Shake Shack. 

Okay fine. Even though I am loving New Orleans, I do get a little home sick. I can't wait to head home Columbus Weekend to get some pizza, bagels, baguettes, dim sum, and shroom burgers. 

Shake Shack
Madison Square Park
New York, NY 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Olivier's, New Orleans

Today I had the best corn bread I can remember. It was served warm and soaking in honey butter. I took a bite and was completely taken aback. Why was it so delicious?? It was more sponge-like than cake-like, but that just worked perfectly with the honey butter. I hate using this word, but this was most definitely a foodgasm

I also had the barbecue shrimp with a rosemary biscuit that was delightful. Like the French, Creole cuisine really has their sauces down: savory, flavorful, and full-bodied. It went perfectly with the fragrant rosemary biscuit. The turnip greens were salty as expected, but also exactly how you would want them to taste. 

All in all this was just a good old Creole meal. The best part though was definitely how every time I asked for something, the waiter would respond, "I got you." He definitely got me with the corn bread and the unsweetened iced tea refills. 

204 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

L'Express, Montreal

Although I didn't make it on my annual Montreal trip this year, I still have fond memories from my last visit. One of my favorite restaurants I got to try in Montreal was L'Express. It's a large windowed classic French bistro with tiled floors and small chairs. 

By far the best part of the restaurant was the large jar of unlimited pickles and mustard at the table. What a dangerous combination to leave alone with diners. For appetizer I had the roasted bone marrow, which is always a personal guilty favorite. 

For main course, Michael had the steak tartar and I had quail special. I really wanted to order the steak tartar because it's a house specialty and because raw beef just makes me drool. But I'm so glad I got the quail because it was so juicy and tender. I've never had quail at a French restaurant before, and I was very impressed with the sauce and preparation. 

If you know you're going to Montreal anytime soon, be sure to make a reservation right now because it's hard to book a table. Unlimited. pickles.  

3927 Rue Saint-Denis