Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – Momofuku

pork rice cakesLast year, J wrote a post on his mixed feelings about momofuku noodle bar. I visited the restaurant separately, and personally loved it. The momofuku ramen, their version of tonkostu ramen, is wonderful and distinctive, complete with a rich chicken and pork-based broth. They use bacon, and it does make it taste a little different.

I’m fascinated by¬†David Chang talking about food in¬†The Lucky Peach¬†and in shows like¬†The Mind of a Chef.¬†His relationship with food and the way he tries to educate eater drove me to stop by his ssam bar on Second Avenue for brunch one day. We’d passed it before, at night, when it looks like it’s impossible to get a table.¬†When we went for brunch, there wasn’t much of a life, which was nice.¬†The atmosphere is very casual, and the menu is filled with unexpected and inventive choices. The focus is not on presentation (neither in decor nor on plating), but on experimenting with food, flavors, and melding different cuisines to make a distinctively new menu. We ordered the honeycrisp apple kimchi, the liver mousse, the rotisserie duck over rice, and the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes. Everything was very good, but the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes were really very memorable.



rice cakes 3

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It’s deceptive to qualify¬†this dish as spicy sausage-like, because it’s just ground pork that’s incorporated into the stir-fry. There’s also a good helping of dried red chilis, gochugaru, and Sichuan peppercorns thrown in, but it isn’t a spicy sausage. It’s more like a pork bolognese with Sichuan and Korean flavors. Regardless, this dish is incredible. The best part of eating it is the variety of textures, balance of flavors, and complexity of spices and ingredients.

To make the dish, you caramelize¬†yellow onions in a large pan (I used a cast-iron skillet), then you cook ground pork in another skillet, breaking up the pieces as you go along. It’s a bit of a juggle to handle and keep track of all the ingredients, and I don’t¬†own two large skillets, so I had to transfer the ingredients from one pan to another mid-cooking (ugh).

Next, the pork is reserved to the side, then the red chilis are toasted and the garlic is cooked in the pork fat left in the pan from the pork-cooking part. Then, ssamjang, Shichuan peppercorns, and gochugaru are added. The caramelized onions are incorporated, then the pork, everything is seasoned, rice cakes are boiled and added, and then silken tofu is mixed in.

The potent spices are calmed and softened with dense rice cakes and whipped silken tofu. Although not instructed in the recipe, I would recommend using a whisk to incorporate the silken tofu into the rest of the ingredients, as it adopts a fluffy and creamy texture that works really well with all of the other textures.

This recipe is now a household go-to. Spicier than a bolognese, it is more complex than a ddukboki, and hearty enough to be a stand-alone dinner. These are not ingredients nor flavors that one would happen to combine into a dish during a regular weeknight, but there’s no reason why they can’t be incorporated into your everyday food repertoire with a little bit of effort. The flavors in this dish are the expression of the thoughtful creativity that draws us to David Chang.

-V (& a little bit of input from J)

Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – Momofuku

Chicken Claypot with Caramel Sauce – The Slanted Door

caramel chickenEven if you don’t like sweet sauces at the dinner table, Charles Phan’s¬†Caramelized Chicken Claypot¬†really is a winner. When I first considered¬†what a caramel chicken dish would taste like, I imagined a gooey and thick sugary sauce coating small pieces of chicken. This dish, from the Slanted Door menu,¬†however, is thankfully nothing like that.

The sauce is complex: not just sweet, but also spicy, salty, slightly fishy (in a great¬†way), and fragrant. It is made by melting rounds of palm sugar over medium heat, and whisking in fish sauce. To prepare the chicken, ginger and shallots are first added to the bottom of a claypot, then the chicken and thai chilis are added, along with the palm sugar/fish sauce mixture. It’s given¬†a bit of time¬†to¬†cook, and dinner is done.

The only specialty ingredient in the recipe is the palm sugar, but it’s easy to find in Thai grocers‚ÄĒwe found¬†ours at Bangkok Center Grocery¬†in Chinatown. Just like cooking with cane sugar, you need to keep close watch of it to make sure it doesn’t burn. It turns into a strange thick yellow mess before it melts completely, and it takes some careful regulation of temperature to get there. Nothing too complicated though. It’s an indispensable part of the recipe, and more than worth it.

palm sugar

chicken claypot

To watch a video of Charles Phan preparing the dish on camera for epicurious, click here.


Chicken Claypot with Caramel Sauce – The Slanted Door

How to Prepare Chinese Broccoli

chinese broccoliIn NYC Chinatown, there are so many affordable and fresh vegetables to choose from, but I often don’t know how to prepare them. In Chinese restaurants, there are wonderful vegetarian options on the menu like eggplant with garlic, stir fried Chinese broccoli, or water spinach, but strangely, they’re frequently the most expensive items on the menu. I’ve¬†often wondered how vegetables can be more expensive than meat or poultry, but that’s neither here nor there.

One of our favorite vegetables is Chinese broccoli (gai lan). You can find heaps of this leafy green in Asian¬†supermarkets for less than a dollar a pound. I didn’t have a recipe, but I’m not one to look at something that’s less than a dollar and not buy it.

I scoured the internet and as most things go online there were a lot of variations and opinions. Many recipes added questionable ingredients or were unnecessarily complex.

I didn’t find a specific recipe online, but I did come to an understanding of what I needed to do in the kitchen to cook gai lan properly. Keep these thoughts in mind when you’re at home cooking this vegetable yourself.¬†Preparing the stalks and leaves: remove the tough ends of the stalks, ugly leaves, and any buds. Cooking: no need to steam, just blanch them and watch as they become a vibrant green (poke to check for doneness). Make sure to drain them well and prepare a nice sauce.

I pan-fried minced garlic, minced ginger, and chili flakes in some vegetable oil and drizzled it over the gai lan. Salt was not necessary nor was oyster sauce. V is rarely impressed with my cooking, but she couldn’t help but compliment me for this.

And that’s it! It’s super simple and super¬†tasty.


How to Prepare Chinese Broccoli

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

seabass cabernet sauceLately, I’ve been biting off a lot more than I can chew in the kitchen. I’ll see a tasty recipe and glance over it to see what I need and gauge whether or not I’ll like eating it. At that point, I should also consider skill-level and cooking time, but for this recipe I did not to my discomfort.

Do not let French Roots fool you with its one-page recipes. Do not think that because the ingredients are non-speciality items that this is something easy to make. DO get ready for one of the more delightful, succulent, and exquisite fish dishes that you can enjoy at home!

bassEach element of Pan-Fried Bass¬†is simple to execute, but there are many of these elements. Fortunately,¬†French Roots¬†presents the recipe in the most logical method I’ve ever seen in a cookbook. The ingredient list is sequential. It doesn’t matter to me that ingredients are not grouped in some way or another. All ingredients in sequence made life a breeze in the kitchen! I didn’t have to back-track or wonder or divide portions, I just went through the list and added elements together.

bass 2

The sauce was very time-consuming, as is customary for many traditional French sauces.¬†Vegetables are cooked in olive oil in a large Dutch oven, adding red wine (oops, used a whole bottle instead of half by mistake) and fish bones (we used frozen stock made from the fish department at Whole Foods) after 6 minutes, and then brought to a boil, then simmered. The vegetables and fish create a lovely stock. Then a shallot reduction is made alongside the fish and vegetables, eventually incorporated and made into¬†a¬†sauce. We had to reduce the sauce forever, but then again, it might have had something to do with using a whole bottle of wine! Meanwhile, leeks are gently cooked, fish is saut√©ed, butter is whisked¬†into the sauce, and a beautiful dish comes to life. Despite some bumps in the road, some improv, and some mistakes, this was easily one of the most interesting French meals we’ve ever made at home. We are so excited to continue cooking through¬†French Roots.

p.s. You may notice in the pictures above, a strangely bound object. We had a bit of fun with the elements of the bouquet garni and bound them up in celery stocks…in the end we put it all in a muslin bag…never forget to have fun in the kitchen!

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce

-V & J

Pan-Fried Bass with Leeks in Cabernet Sauce – French Roots Cookbook

Almost-Refried Black Beans

black beansRecently, I’ve grown tired of ordering takeouts for weekday dinners, so I’ve made an effort to cook more simple meals at home. Ideally, I’d want these¬†meals to also serve as lunch for the next day.

I’ve always enjoyed the refried black beans at Rosa Mexicano, and love that their flavor is smokier and more complex than pinto refried beans. I set out to¬†make refried black beans just like those as a side dish for dinner, and to have the remainder for lunch the next day. I found a lot of recipes for refried black¬†beans online, using various methods of soaking dried beans, prepping, and cooking.

black beansBefore finding the right recipe, I went grocery shopping and mistakenly bought an uncured slab of bacon, assuming it¬†was a crucial ingredient. Turns out that isn’t quite true, and I had to do a bit of digging to find a refried black beans recipe that included bacon. I found a great one in the end‚ÄĒa¬†recipe that is thankfully easy, that doesn’t require soaking dried beans overnight, and that isn’t very¬†time-consuming.

black beans 2

I used the “Refried Black Beans” recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen,¬†and made some adjustments. Instead of chopping slices of bacon, I cubed the uncured slab of bacon. I saut√©ed the onions, garlic, celery, and jalape√Īos along with the bacon, added the chicken broth, beans, and salt, and brought them to a boil. Then I simmered them all for 3 hours, adding some more chicken broth midway through. But then I stopped at step 4. I didn’t pur√©e the mixture in a food processor, and I didn’t refry the beans in vegetable oil. Instead, I tried the cooked beans and bacon before I was going to blend them, and they were already delicious. Why pur√©e and fry something that’s already great?

Heartier than a refried bean, they were spicy, smokey, bacon-heavy, and perfect. I served them as a side dish at dinner, and then ate them with rice the next day. Highly recommended indeed.


Almost-Refried Black Beans

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

ak cookiesPeter Meehan mentions a recipe for his¬†favorite cookies in¬†New York¬†magazine’s¬†Grub Street Diet. Grub Street Diet interviews are fascinating to me because sometimes I discover great restaurants through them. I also like that¬†I don’t have to feel nosey when finding out what other people are eating through the week. Don’t know why it’s so compelling, but it is.

Interview aside, this particular Grub Street Diet steered me towards the Lucky Peach website, where the AK cookies recipe lives.

These cookies are the gold standard in Meehan’s¬†home. If a man that writes well about great food for a living wants to share his favorite cookie recipe, there’s no reason not¬†to make it.

These AK cookies (named as such after a friend from Alaska who first made them) are basically souped-up chocolate chip cookies. A lot of extra ingredients go into the making of this cookie, but they all make sense together. You’ll need to procure¬†oats, shredded coconut, and chopped pecans in addition to the regular components of chocolate chip cookies. They were simple-simple¬†to make (2 steps), and are easily freezable.

I scooped all of the batter into little ice cream scoops, baked half of them, and froze the other half. The fresh batch took around 14 minutes to bake while the frozen batch, baked a couple days later, took around 17 minutes. AK cookies

These aren’t cookies to impress a baking wizard, but these are extraordinary everyday cookies that are a pleasure to eat as an afternoon snack. They are not¬†beautiful, and they will not show off your baking craftsmanship, but they will satisfy your cravings for sweet things and then some.AK cookies 2-V

AK Cookies – Lucky Peach Winter 2014

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon App√©tit January 2015

spicy charred octopusIt’s worthwhile¬†to read the “RSVP – readers sound off”¬†inquiries in the beginning pages of Bon App√©tit. There are often unexpected recipes requested from notable restaurants around the U.S., and wonderful cooking inspiration. In the January 2015 issue,¬†someone¬†asked how to make octopus at home.¬†I’d personally never considered making octopus¬†a feasible endeavor, but the recipe looked fairly straightforward and the ingredients sounded perfectly balanced and intriguing.

Jeffrey will take on any frightening cooking that’s presented to him, and this octopus dish was a great example of that.

With the ingredients list in hand, we headed to Chinatown to check out their aquatic offerings. The recipe called for a 5 to 6 pound octopus, but these are very difficult to come by it turns out, so we went with 5 pounds of baby octopus instead.¬†They were half-frozen, but we learned from¬†the magazine that that’s actually a good thing, and that it helps tenderize the sometimes tough and chewy flesh. I didn’t involve myself with this project besides being there for the shopping, so we will continue with Jeffrey’s thoughts on the preparation of this dish:

Most people who have any business in the kitchen or have high culinary aspirations or know a thing or two about food will immediately think of Jiro’s poor assistants from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. There’s a tiny moment in the documentary during which it is explained that the lowest assistant on the totem pole is tasked with “massaging” the day’s octopus…for hours! It’s explained that this is the key to tender octopus. So, thinking of Jiro’s lowest assistant, I hiked up my sleeves and massaged the babies for no more than 15 minutes. As V mentioned, the octopi were half-frozen…15 minutes in, I lost feeling in my fingers. There was no discernible difference in tenderness, so I’d go with the magazine’s opinion that frozen octopus is more tender than fresh octopus. It’s easier to find¬†anyway.

octopus 1
We were not drunk in the making of this dish, so why is there a cork floating in the sauce? This was another tip from the magazine. Apparently, this aids in the tenderizing of octopus as well. But who knows why or how this works? It’s easy enough to throw the cork in and no one loses.octopus 2
It’s fun to think about how people are people in the kitchen and will come up with all sorts of tips and tricks to pull off the perfect dish. It’s a primal desire to want to eat and prepare tasty things, so it makes sense that our illogical and superstitious impulses remain strong in the kitchen as they are lost in our other daily activities.

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For the recipe, visit Bon Appétit: Spicy Charred Octopus

– J & V

Spicy Charred Octopus – Bon App√©tit January 2015

3 Water Bottles to Consider

I try to have water with me wherever I go so that I drink my daily quota. The winters are very drying in New York, and the summers are sweaty, so keeping hydrated is important to me. I’ve tried a lot of water bottles over the years, but I have three definite favorites: the¬†Lifefactory¬†polka-dot silicone and glass, the small bkr with silicone and glass, and the less-loved BPA-free plastic¬†Camelbak Eddy.¬†Read below for my thoughts.

LifefactoryLifefactory: In 2007, two people came together to make¬†eco-friendly glass and silicone baby bottles that didn’t contain any¬†harmful-chemicals. Lifefactory expanded from there to create one of the best water bottles that I own. They are dishwasher safe (both removable silicone sheath and glass bottle), and microwave safe. Their handle makes them very easy to carry, and they are easily washable, unlike some other water bottles I’ve used. I’ve dropped mine a few times, and the silicone protector has kept it safe from breaking! The

diveonly downside to these Lifefactory water bottles is their wide-brimmed mouth, which sometimes makes spilling easy when taking a sip.

bkr: the bkr water bottle is my second favorite. I love that it’s compact so it can fit in my bag, and that it has a small opening so¬†my drink¬†doesn’t spills all over my face. The silicone sleeve is a little difficult to remove, so I mostly end up leaving it on in the dishwasher. The cap also has a handle so it’s easy to carry. I’ve had two shatter, though, because they’re difficult to dry (unless you can prop them up securely, they fall over easily because of their small mouths).

The bkrs¬†are¬†popular with the celebrity/fashion set: maybe it’s because they’re attractive as far as water bottles go, but¬†maybe it’s just because they have a great marketing team.

camelbak EDDYCamelbak EDDY: I used this water bottle for a while. I liked it because there was no spillage whatsoever because of the nipple. But the nipple¬†is also a little embarrassing to be sucking on in public. And, not to be gross, but the inside of the nipple tends to mold, and the only way to really get it clean is with a cotton bud soaked in alcohol. So that isn’t ideal. But it’s useful if you’re very active, I guess, and are otherwise too busy to bother with a bottle cap.


3 Water Bottles to Consider

Farmer’s Markets in the Winter

The longer I live on the East Coast, the more I have to learn how to deal with the seasons. Growing up in California, the weather is consistently¬†pleasant, and fruits and vegetables are beautiful year-round. In Manhattan, the farmer’s market dramatically changes in the winter.

J and I visited the Union Square Greenmarket over the weekend on a very cold (feels like 9F)¬†Saturday. I imagined that produce would be limited, but I didn’t really know what to expect to find in January. The first thing I noticed was¬†the¬†dramatic¬†decrease in vendors: maybe a quarter of the number than in Spring and Summer. The next thing I realized was that¬†the only fruit on offer were apples. Admittedly, there were a huge variety of apples. But apples were the only fruit for sale this Saturday in January. There are only so many things to make with apples: I’ve already made apple sauce, pork with apples, and apple pie. I don’t want to bite into an apple when it’s snowing outside, either. Apples are pretty useless to me.

The vegetables were all of the grown-underground variety. Carrots were rare, and looking worse for wear. Potatoes held up well. And then there were a handful of root vegetables that I have no idea what to make with: celeriac, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. I can’t say these are the most exciting vegetables for me, but maybe I need to learn how to make them into something tasty before I discount them completely.

The changing of the seasons and the harsh winters in New York have made me learn not only how to dress for the weather, but have also forced me to expand my cooking abilities. Maybe this is a better way of cooking: along with the seasons, but I can only take eating root vegetable after root vegetable for so long. For now, I dream of the ramps coming in Spring. Winter Vegetable poster available on Etsy.


Farmer’s Markets in the Winter

French Roots Cookbook

French-rootsThe summer after graduating from college, my roommate and I thought it would be fun to take a cooking course in France. After some careful research, we chose Two Bordelais, which is a week-long session taught by former Chez Panisse chef Jean-Pierre Moullé and his wine-expert wife, Denise Lurton Moullé. Lodging and meals being included in the course made it all the more enticing.

We learned everything from how to confit a duck to how to make rillettes. We also had some lessons about the different wine regions of France, and took tours of local chocolate and cheese makers in the area. Not only was this week-long course a lesson in Bordelais food and culture, we also learned how to make classic French dishes like pissaladière (an onion and anchovy tart from Provence) and basic cooking skills like how to properly filet a fish.

Earlier this year, the Moullés released a wonderful cookbook, called French Roots, which my mother thoughtfully sent to me. The recipes are a blend of French classics and California cuisine, with the personal touch of their life stories through food and short narratives. The most interesting parts of the cookbook describe the different ways that you can live off the land outside of your own home. If you have a garden, why not make room for a vegetable garden or chicken coop? If you live near the woods, why not learn about edible mushrooms and pick them for dinner?

The Moullés live between Bordeaux and Healsburg, California, where they take full advantage of what their local landscapes have to offer. Each recipe that they share considers the full use of every part of all ingredients. The easiest way to describe the cookbook is to read this explanation from Jean-Pierre Moullé, who says,

“My ambition is to make my own balsamic vinegar, start a barrel of hard cider made from apples grown on the property, cure the hams of the wild boar I shoot, expand my charcuterie repertoire, produce more of my own wine and olive oil, keep a cow for experiments in cheese making and plant even more fruit trees.”

In reading this cookbook, and in trying the recipes for myself, I have found that these ambitions have been sparked in me, too.


French Roots Cookbook

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyFrequently, two people watch the same movie and have very different reactions to them. This happened when J and I watched¬†The Hundred-Foot Journey¬†last night. Below, my thoughts, and then J’s. Have you seen the movie? What are your thoughts about it?

V: Films about French food and restaurants are a dime a dozen, so it is refreshing to watch The Hundred-Foot Journey, a movie about a family that moves from India to a small village in France to set up a restaurant. The Kadam family buy a run-down stone building 100 feet across the road from an established Michelin-starred restaurant owned by a stereotypically uptight Frenchwoman woman, played by Hellen Mirren.

Opening an Indian¬†restaurant in a close-minded small town in France proves challenging, made even more difficult by the staff of the restaurant across the street. Dayal¬†Kadam, the family’s prodigal cook, quickly becomes the protagonist of the film with his brilliant gift for cooking and reimagining classic French dishes with soul¬†and some Indian flavors thrown in for good measure.

The story is sweet, entertaining, and the food from both restaurants and the local market is beautifully filmed. Although there are some cheesy moments and predictable plot twists, the movie is definitely worth watching, if only just to be transported to a picturesque French village and to see the stunning food that its inhabitants create. Unsurprisingly, there are some major Hollywood influences behind this picture: both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey had their hands in the memorable execution of The Hundred Foot Journey, available to rent now.

J: The Hundred-Foot Journey is a pretty film with pretty ideas and pretty moments. But in the end, for all the pretty, it’s just plain boring and conventional.

Even though it’s the kind of movie that has no surprises and doesn’t press the boundaries of any issues, not everything under the sun needs to be thoughtful or provocative.

It’s an easy movie to sit back and watch.

In some ways, the movie avoids being a complete wash because it’s meant to be a Disney film for adults:

We can just call it La Belle et La B√™te. Outsider wins the heart of Caucasian French woman. Outsider has magical powers that transform him into a classical French chef, but he‚Äôs exotic because he uses Indian spices to impress the restaurant’s clientele.

Immigrant struggles, emigration, xenophobia, cultures lost in translation, miscegenation, rise to the top, and rose-hued denouement.

In writing this, I feel slighted as there wasn’t much emotion and even less spirit.

Also, why does¬†Helen Mirren play a French woman with a fake French accent? Couldn’t they have chosen one of the countless talented French actresses to speak in English for the film?

What’s wrong with a feel-good movie though? Nothing. But that’s just it. Is it a waste of time to sit there and watch something like this when the balance is neutral.


The Hundred-Foot Journey

Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies – Food&Wine December 2014

gingersnap sandwich cookies

In the December 2014 Food & Wine issue, chefs from around the nation shared their favorite holiday cookie recipes. Kir Jenson, from Portland bakery The Sugar Cube, contributed her recipe for Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies. I quickly glanced over the recipe, wrote down the ingredients I needed, and headed to the store. When I got home, I read over the recipe for the first time (rookie mistake), and then realized just how complicated these simple-looking cookies actually were.

gingersnap 1


The gingersnap cookies require zesting both an orange and ginger, and measuring out four different spices in addition to the other eight ingredients, but it is worth it for the depth of flavor. The gingersnap dough is fairly straight-forward, but the cream cheese and brown butter filling (neither of which are mentioned in the recipe title), is not. The filling calls for making a vanilla bean brown butter, which requires a lengthy process of melting, ice bathing, and then solidifying. I would say that the overall active time of making the cookie dough, the filling, and then assembling, took me a solid five hours.

gingersnap 2

The cookies turned out very well, but I’m not sure that I would make them again considering just how long they took to make. They are a great project for the holidays, but definitely not something I’d try to make on a weekday evening.

gingersnap 3

Reading over the comments on the Food & Wine website, it looks like other readers attempted¬†the recipe with negative¬†results. They found the dough to be gooey and the flour (and/or butter) measurements to be off. I didn’t find this to be true, but maybe they’ve since edited the recipe? Either way, the¬†recipe worked for me, and I followed it closely, so it should work for you, too.

gingersnap 4


Gingersnap Sandwich Cookies – Food&Wine December 2014