Thursday, April 26, 2012

Magnolia Bakery

Everyone knows about Magnolia Bakery. It's no longer a hidden gem in Greenwich Village; it's a destination. It has also recently expanded to several other locations including one in Bloomingdale's (where I purchased all my Thanksgiving pies). As a front runner in the cupcake craze and appearing in Lonely Island's Lazy Sunday and Sex in the City, Magnolia is more than just a neighborhood bakery. There is always a crowd, no matter what time of day or year you go. 

The cupcakes? The cake is a bit crumbly and the icing tastes like over-sweetened sugar. (Butter Lane has my favorite cupcakes, next to Made by Melissa.) I can't imagine finishing an entire Magnolia cupcake by myself. But what I really do like is the banana pudding. It's a wonderful combination of bananas, cake pieces, and what seems like heavy whipping cream; it's great in small doses or frozen. Magnolia is perfect for an afternoon iced coffee with vanilla frosted cake break after a shopping spree on Bleecker Street. 

Magnolia Bakery
401 Bleecker Street 
New York, NY

Monday, April 23, 2012

Helmand, Cambridge

I have never had Afghan food before. So when Michael suggested to go to an Afghan restaurant as if it were a regular thing, I was intrigued. Helmand is located right by the Cambridgeside Galleria and offers Middle Eastern cuisine in a spacious dining room with unfamiliar decor and cushioned chairs. Situated on the side of the restaurant is a clay oven that offers fresh baked flat bread, so needless to say, I was ecstatic. 

We started off with kaddo, pan fried sweetened pumpkin with a yogurt garlic sauce and ground beef.  I know, weird. I did not realize that pumpkin was a thing in Middle Eastern cuisine, but I have to insist that you order kaddo if you dine at Helmand. I've been thinking about this pumpkin concoction ever since I had it a few weeks ago. It's a heavenly combination of flavors and textures and something totally unexpected and completely novel to me. Pumpkin. Do it. 

 I then had lamb lawand, which is sauteed leg of lamb in yogurt (obsessed with yogurt sauces) and spices served with spinach and challow rice. The lamb was not as tender as I would have liked it, but it was very flavorful. However, I must admit that the challow rice was the ultimate highlight. 

Challow rice is basmati rice baked with cumin and cardamom. It was the most fragrant rice I have had in awhile, and I can undoubtedly eat bowlfuls of it alone. Michael had the mourgh challow, chicken sauteed with yellow spit peas in a yogurt and spice sauce. It was another very flavorful dish that went very well with the rice (my closest comparison would be a typical curry dish --served as a sauce/gravy).

I'm sure you've gathered from my description that I really enjoyed Afghan food. My friend Neil that is currently in Afghanistan right now is not giving me the same raving reviews of what he's eating there, but this Cambridge locale is definitely beckoning me to return. It's a bit pricey for ethnic food, but the only real thing that would have improved my experience would be if the restaurant transformed into an after hours hookah (chillim) joint.  

Kaddo (sorry, it's a lot more appetizing than what I photographed)

Lamb lawand

143 1st Street
Cambridge, MA 02142

Friday, April 20, 2012

Red Braised Pork/ Hong Shao Rou/ 紅燒肉

There's probably some elaborate story on 紅燒肉 (hong shao rou) and how it's Mao Zedong's (yes, Communist China Mao) favorite dish, but all I can tell you is that it's a braised pork dish cooked to a point that the meat gently pulls apart and melts away in your mouth. Furthermore, it has the distinct flavors that now many Chinese families grow up with. Recently, I visited my best friend Jun-Wan in Syracuse and decided to try out a simplified recipe from my Hunanese grandmother, who takes great pride in her hong shao rou. Given my limited resources (namely an electric stove), it turned out surprisingly both aesthetically and palatably pleasing. 

Pork belly

Star anise

Red Brasied Pork/ Hong Shao Rou
2lb pork belly (sliced into quarter/half inch pieces)
1/2 cup dark soy sauce (to give it proper coloring)
1/2 cup shaoxing wine
1 small lump of rock sugar (~ 1-2 teaspoons)
2-3 pieces star anise
3 tablespoon cooking oil
5 cloves garlic
1 chunk of fresh ginger (about 3-5 grams)
optional: 2 lb Shanghai bok choy

1. Heat the cooking oil with the garlic, sugar, and ginger.
2. When browned, add the sliced pork belly and pan fry on medium-high heat until the pork has darkened and is about half cooked.
3. Add the dark soy sauce and shaoxing wine to the pork. It should cover about 2/3 of the pork. If not, add more soy sauce in wine (in about a 1:1 ratio).
4. Add the star anise and bring the pork to a low simmer for at least half an hour.
5. Remove from heat for at least thirty minutes to an hour. Discard top layer of suspended oil. Cooling the meat and cooking it again helps tenderize it immensely.
6. Bring the meat to a simmer again and let it cook on low heat for at least another hour. Again, remove the top layer of oil.
optional addition:
7. While the pork is simmering, stir fry the Shanghainese bok choy in another 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil with a few cloves of garlic.
8. Once the vegetables are cooked and the pork tender, pour the pork and all the sauce over the bok choy.

Happy 4/20!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I've probably walked by Marea a hundred times, but have never noticed it. Nested along the scenic Central Park South, Marea's Michael White offers an Italian seafood faire that is delicate and refreshing.  The menu offers an extensive (almost overwhelming) array of crudo and antipasti, and a list of in-house prepared pastas creatively paired with seafood and flavors.

My family and I all opted for the $97 four course prix fixe with an additional dozen of oysters. For the crudo selection, I had the choice of three which included the langoustines, mackerel, and tuna. The simple preparation accented the freshness, and the raw texture of every dainty bite set off all the stimulant sensors in my mouth. The portion for the primi di mare was just right: my spaghetti with crab and sea urchin was savory, delicious, and just enough was provided to keep me satisfied, yet still hungry for my secondi di pesce. For my main course, I had the brodetto di pesce, a very aromatic seafood soup, similar to the French bouillabaisse. 

But surprisingly, the highlight of the meal was the dessert. It was just so unexpected that an Italian seafood restaurant along Central Park would have one of the most talented pastry chefs in Manhattan. The carota carrot cake was extremely moist and paired with a delightful carrot ginger sorbet and the panna cotta was dangerously creamy and balanced with a blood orange sorbet. 

Marea is a great locale for special occasions, fancy dates, or high rollers, however its prix fixe option makes their extensive menu approachable, convenient, and a bit more affordable. If anything, I would definitely go back just for dessert. 


assagio di tre crudo: langoustine, mackerel, tuna 

spaghetti: with crab, sea urchin and basil

brodetto di pesce: adriatic seafood soup

bistecca: grilled 50-day aged dry sirloin, bone marrow panzanella

branzino: local striped bass, red wine jus

fiore di limone, bomboloni, panna cotta, carota

240 Central Park South  
New York, NY 10019

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dave's Fresh Pasta Class, Somerville

Last weekend, I took a $75 sauce and pasta class at Dave's Fresh Pasta with Alisa. For those of you who have never heard of Dave's, it's a gem in Davis Square. Not only do they sell fresh pasta and delicious sauces, but they also have the best sandwiches in the area. I learned how to knead pasta dough from the intricate combination of durum and semolina flour, and I am now potentially scoping the market for a pasta machine. The super amiable Chef Jason also taught us how to make ravioli, tortellini, and a few amazing sauces. His southern Italian take was right up my alley and now I can't wait to experiment with lots of olive oil to make a simple marinara sauce, a fresh herb and lemon zest, and a wild mushroom with wine sauce. He sent me all the recipes, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to just post them in public, so feel free to email me if you want specifics. I will also be posting my own takes on what I learned soon! My biggest regret: Eating a massive meal at Boston Burger Co. before partaking in the class where I then stuffed myself with pasta. How pleasant. 

Egg fettuccine and a pasta machine


Alisa preparing her ravioli sheet

Ravioli and tortellini

Fresh herb and lemon zest in olive oil

Angel hair with fresh herb and lemon zest

Chef Jason and his mushroom wine sauce

Creamy porcini and wine sauce with truffle oil

And you know what? Making fresh pasta is totally doable at home. I highly recommend taking a class at Dave's to anyone. It's a lot of fun and perfect for friend dates, man dates, date dates, anything! However, they do sell out fast, so sign up at least a month in advance! 

Dave's Fresh Pasta
81 Holland Street
Somerville, MA 02144

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Layover: Zurich, Switzerland

Over winter break, I had a 4 hour layover in Zurich. I've been to Switzerland before, and have spent a couple of days in Geneva, especially its airport, a few summers ago. I don’t know how many of you judge a city by its airport, but if we are going to use that standard, I can assure you that Zurich is a beautiful modern city with high levels of sanitation.

I always think it is very interesting to go through airport stores to see how a country perceives itself through products. With Zurich, there were lots of chocolate and cheese products. I’m proud to say that I purchased a Toblerone from its source, and I was very tempted to purchase a raclette device, which is used to melt cheese. I wanted to just get a simple sandwich from the vending machine, but who really carries Swiss Francs around?

So what I actually ate in the Zurich Airport was a sandwich at the Montreux Jazz Café. I’m still very French-challenged and the lunch rush was a bit overwhelming, so I just pointed to the most appetizing looking sandwich in the glass case. I forgot what the exchange rate was from Swiss Francs to Euros to US dollars, but I didn’t think about it much when I paid 10.80 Swiss Francs for my meal. When my sandwich was finally toasted and served, I must admit I was a bit disappointed. It was two thick slices of French bread with a few slices of Swiss cheese, a few slices of egg (emphasis on slices of a portion of a single egg), and a few sprigs of arugula. The exchange rate? About $11.80 USD. Is this real? Am I paying more than $10 for the most deprived sandwich ever? Is this a normal amount of filling in a sandwich in Switzerland? Am I too used to New York City delis and/or America? Needless to say, it was a bit of a culture shock, but after some reflection, it made sense. There was enough protein in this sandwich just from the cheese and egg and maybe a little carbohydrate overload. It’s all about quality, not quantity, and I must admit that it was good cheese. I just don’t think I would be able to afford a few more of these, so good thing it was a layover.