Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes

Let me start this off with a controversial statement: 
I do not like Paula Deen.

I am not warmed by any supposed granny charms (in fact, it kind of gives me a creepy vibe), her accent and voice annoy me, and I don't find her recipes particularly ground breaking.

BUT, I love her gooey butter cake recipe.  I originally saw the recipe posted elsewhere and my jaw dropped at the idea.  An entire box of sugar?  Two whole sticks of butter?  Seriously?  It looked and sounds amazing.  Then I reached the bottom of the article, giving Paula Deen credit.  No way.  I was about to try my first and most likely last Paula recipe (for no other reason than sheer principle). 

I later saw another recipe on NYT for St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake recipe, which looks equally as appetizing.  I made this pumpkin gooey butter cake twice so far, the second time slightly tweaking Paula's in combination with the NYT's version.  I'll just post Paula's at the bottom though, since it is super easy and a very tasty dessert.  I recommend using the NYT's version if you want to make your own cake bottom instead of using the usual yellow cake mix that is used in generic gooey butter cakes.

I have a hand mixer, but no good deep mixing bowl to mix it in.  By hand it is!

Yes, that is crack.. the crack secret to this cake: an entire box of confectioner's sugar.

That will soon become ooey gooey.

The final product, but it still must cool for an hour at least!

 Except someone took a nibble before they were supposed to.  The burnt corners are definitely the best part, by the way.

Aaand, the culprit.  My brother was sitting perched on a stool for a good 15 minutes straight, just staring at the cake, inhaling the intoxicating scent of baked pumpkin.  I was adjusting my camera when I caught him reaching to steal another piece before it was time.

And now, we feast.
HIGHLY recommended to fresh whip some heavy cream to top this cake.

The one and only Paula Deen Recipe you will ever see on Gastronommy:
Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
1 (18 1/4 oz) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16 oz) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer.  Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
3.  To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together.
4.  Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well.  Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40-50 minutes.  Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.
5.  Served with fresh whipped cream.

Venturing into.. gasp! Jersey?!: Nihon Kai

My buddy, Alex Choe has the misfortune of having to work in New Jersey (sorry, it's a NY thing).  But while he grinds away at work and chokes on the sulfurous smog, he says there are at least three saving factors that keeps his hopes and dreams alive.  Okay, I might be slightly embellishing that quote.  In any case, here they are... and no, Jersey Shore is not on that list:
Mitsuwa, Nihon Kai, and the gorgeous view of New York across the Hudson River.


We began our journey at Mitsuwa, the giant Japanese marketplace full of all things Japanese: restaurants mostly, a bakery, rows and rows of sake, beauty products, snacks... I really felt like I was back in Asia.

Alex is a huge sake fan, so we wandered over to that section.  Nihon Kai, the restaurant we were headed to was BYOB.  I must say, these Japanese really do know how to make everything so aesthetically pleasing.  I always admire their packaging.

I snuck a box of Pretz onto the checkout belt.  I am truly addicted to the little cracker sticks and they're not something you would find in any ordinary American grocery store.  Back in Hong Kong, I had a tendency to snack on them a lot during long days at work.  mmm MSG comfort.

I am debating whether or not to return to this Jersey spot to try out the curry and ramen shops.  Voluntarily straying into Jersey again might just be worth it.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd
Edgewater, NJ 07020
(201) 941-9113

Nihon Kai

Before I begin on any comments about our next destination, I must say that I wasn't feeling well at all that evening.  I had a headache, I was tired, and at times slightly nauseated.  I went out that night hoping I would feel better at some point.  This factor may have tainted some of the Nihon Kai experience for me.

Nihon Kai looks like any other Japanese sushi joint on the east coast.  It's very unassuming with mostly bare walls.  Straight to the point, eh?  We walk in to be greeted by a completely empty restaurant.  Hmm... this is good and bad.  We'll have the full attention of the chef, but the general rule in most Asian countries is: longer the line or bigger the crowd, the more awesome you know the food must be.  Empty restaurants or stalls are very suspicious.

From behind the bar, Chef-owner Li Shing immediately calls out to happily greet Alex, asking where he has been and where his colleague is.  He's only been to Nihon Kai a total of once nearly a year ago.  I must applaud the Chef's good memory.

We go straight to business.  Alex tells him, "Omakase, $40!"
What?  Only $40?
Omakase (お任せ) literally means, "up to you."  The customer is in the chef's hands.  Typically, the chef will present a number of dishes of his choice, usually different pieces of sushi.  If the customer is somehow still hungry (this rarely ever happens to me), you can request more and expect to pay only a bit more.

We start off with eggplant.  The gooey texture and combination of  sweet and savory is surprisingly very tasty.  It reminds me of a soft mochi.  Warning though, it's very hot!  Might want to let it cool and take small bites at first, lest you burn your mouth.  It's followed by fried chicken, but I avoid eating too many pieces before the raw portion of the meal begins.

I look towards the wasabi first, while we're waiting.  It's usually my first indicator on the quality of the overall meal that is to come.  It disappointingly isn't fresh here.  Then again, we aren't paying the ridiculous omakase prices that I'm used to in Hong Kong or New York either.

We are presented with a flurry of sushi pieces that I completely lose count of. 

He subtley watches us eat.  He doesn't begin the preparation of the next fish until he sees we have started on our current.  He times it well.

One of my favorites is grilled toro.  I was pretty eager for it to be served... and it was (I think he overheard me gushing about it to Alex).  Here is a terrible photo of their less than quality grilled toro.  It wasn't even freshly grilled and tasted like it was sitting in the fridge since yesterday.  Quite disappointing. 

Alex makes a request and Chef Li tells us that he is fresh out of saba.  At this point, I gather that the reason for the disappointing sushi in some cases is probably because of the fresh shipment coming in the next day or two.  Ugh, we were feeding off the bottom on a Wednesday night.
But Chef Li is proud and it is evident that he is trying his best to give us the best that he can with what he has.  He tells me in broken English how he spent 21 years in the sushi business getting to where he is now.  He started with the washing dishes at a Japanese restaurant and worked his way up to the rice and eventually to the fish, like a proper sushi chef apprentice.  A native of Hokkien, China, he explains how the Japanese do not trust a non Japanese chef preparing their food.  Yet, in his establishment, his Japanese patrons are shocked to find out he is Chinese and insist that he must be of Japanese origin due to his service and food.    

These three pieces tasted relatively alright, though again, it was evident the fish was not fresh by a long shot.  The presentation was also surprisingly a bit sloppy.
Realistically speaking, one can say the critic in me is just being nitpicky.  The company and the service was fabulous.  As we all know, good and sincere service goes a long way.  I see why the place has its fair share of Japanese customers on a normal work day with fresh fish.   I'd easily go back with Alex and friends to give Chef Li a second chance, if it wasn't all the way in Jersey!

Nihon Kai 
41 South Washington Ave.
Bergenfield, NJ 07621
(201) 384-3000

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A visual aid in how to choose the right fast food joint for you.

My friend, Andrew alerted me to the Fast Food flowchart, as posted on Grub Street.  Entertaining enough!  Too bad they don't have one of these for non-fast food joints.  Would be great if they had one centered around top New York burgers or pizza places.  Worry not though.  Look forward to a show down on New York's supposed best burger places.  ie. I find an excuse to go to all of these burger places again and tell you my verdict.
(click to enlarge)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Press (Hong Kong)

Tatler Magazine, Hong Kong 

Newspapers, weekly magazines (Hong Kong)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Big Ass Hot Dog


For a little less than $40, you can get 16" long, 7lbs hot dog.  Yes, that hot dog is almost the size of your Rock Band guitar and bigger than your infant nephew.  I need to show this to my brother, who has been on a Papaya Dog diet the past month (gross, I know.  Don't ask).

Too bad they don't sell buns in 50 packs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Craving of the month: Kimbap

I never liked "korean sushi" as a little girl.  Why settle for a roll that reminded me of a more boring version of actual sushi or the already boring California rolls instead?  I often argued with my late friend, Augustine Kim about the faults of this "korean sushi."  He detests raw fish, while I found his desires for his native "sushi" to be silly.

Fast forward 15 years and you find me craving kimbap every week for the past month.  The first key is to not compare it to sushi, but as its own entity of bite sized goodies in rice.  I re-encountered the idea of trying them out when my friend, Veronica offered to bring homemade kimbap on our fishing trip earlier this summer.  Given my childhood unenthusiastic desire for the dish, I declined taking any pieces the entire trip until there were only three left in the tray.  Out of politeness I finally took one when she offered.  mmm..  yummy!  I turned to tell her how good they were and to reach for one more.

Photo by Matthew Won, from our Huntington fishing trip

MY GOSH, why did I wait?!  While I was thanking her for bringing them, she was already beginning to hand feed our friends the last two pieces while they were busy baiting (Mike Choi, Andrew Chen, I'm looking at you two).  Noooo..!

I wish I could tell you why I had the sudden turn-around regarding kimbap this past July, but alas I have yet to fully fathom it myself.  Instead, I will resort to telling you about my newest kimbap tastings tonight.

What is kimbap?
In case you are not familiar with kimbap, the basic kimbap comprises of various goodies rolled into white rice with an outside layer of roasted seaweed (the kim).  These goodies usually include julienned carrots, spinach sauteed in sesame oil, allumette cut pickled daikon radish (takuan), thinly sliced sirloin (bulgolgi), and maybe fish cakes (odeng).  No dipping sauce needed for the completed kimbap.

Nomming E-Mo's kimbap
I had last minute dinner plans with my gigantic 6'7" friend, Brian.  I told him of my recent weekly cravings for kimbap.  There's something comforting about the little Korean nommies and I just love how easy they are to eat and clean up after.  More than a few times tonight, he mentioned how silly it was for us to actually go out and buy it when it is super easy to make at home.

Well, I don't care, Brian!  I want my kimbap and I want it now!

And so, we had our kimbap.  At E-Mo, probably the best kimbap place I've had in my limited experience with it, Brian pointed out the cheese kimbap to me.  Strange!  ...but I suppose there are equally strange creations like the existence of the Boston Roll and those aren't so bad (bastardized sushi roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese).  It reminded me of recently hearing about Koreans putting cheese over their ramen.  Preposterous!  I am not sold on the idea and am further skeptical when he tells me they simply use average grocery store American cheese in the kimbap or over their ramen.  He's gushing about it at this point, so we add it to our order along with spicy tuna kimbap and spicy squid kimbap.         

I like how E-Mo (meaning "aunt") adds miso soup to each order.  It's such a comforting pair to be nomming on in front of the TV.  Bulgolgi kimbap + Miso Soup + Milkis (carbonated yogurt drink) = ultimate comfort food (for the time being anyway).  And don't forget to munch on the slices of the bright yellow, refreshingly crunchy pickled radish that is usually included on the side.

I first try the cheese kimbap.  Ugh.  It ended up being the first and last one I tried for tonight.  I could very well taste the processed American cheese, and I can't say I like it being combined with rice and seaweed.  Brian seems surprised by my adverse reaction, but he happily devours the rest.  I won't be seeking to try cheese covered ramen anytime soon.  

Next up, the spicy tuna.  I like the spicy kick, but the roll doesn't hit the spot like the good ol' bulgolgi kimbap usually does for me.  It tastes exactly what it looks like: a spicy mayonnaise tuna fish salad wrapped in rice and seaweed.  Perhaps I'm just not in the mood for tunafish tonight.

Finally, the spicy squid.  I remain focused on this roll for the rest of the meal.  A few chomps in, I perk up at an indescribable flavor.  It was definitely a result of some sort of herb or vegetable and its flavor was remarkably distinct.  Initially the texture and flavor profile reminds me of a cross between basil and mint leaves, but as I chew further, the taste leads into a slightly different direction.  What is this?  Brian points out the nearly hidden, single layer of green leaf rolled up next to the spicy squid.  "kkaennip" he tells me.  That tiny morsel of leaf balanced deliciously next to the slices of marinated squid.  Its flavor powerful, but not overwhelming... and it leaves each slice of kimbap with a fascinating cleansing aftertaste.  

kkaennip is known in English as the perilla leaf.  The Japanese version of the leaf is referred to as shiso.  It turns out that I have had this leaf in many other dishes, including in some of my favorite omakase sashimi pieces at Sushi Seki a few months ago and even in my marvelous cocktail ("groovy") at B-Flat Lounge this past weekend.  I suppose its raw state in the most unexpected places finally properly captured my attention tonight.

Perilla leaf, you are well noted.
Tummy, you are well satisfied.   

Gastronommy's Favorite Kimbap joint 
if you have limited access to your own kimbap making auntie or mommy, try this mom & pop hole-in-the-wall:
2 West 32nd Street
(between 5th Ave and Broadway)
New York, NY 10001

Monday, November 9, 2009

Imagine a world without the smell of bacon

A conversation between my brother and me this morning:
me:  I made pancakes.  Going to make me some scrambled eggs now
and bacon
I think I'll wake Duke up to bacon! [our other brother, sleeping near the kitchen]
Laibond:  You know what is very depressing to me
me:  what?
Laibond:  because denise doesn't cook
i will almost certainly never wake up to the smell of bacon

Sent at 9:03 AM on Monday

Luckily for Denise and all other girlfriends who cannot cook, it's hard to go wrong with basic bacon.  Though, if you truly care about your loved ones, you will always find out first if they like their bacon crispy or chewy.  You want them to remember your favorite flower?  Then remember how they like their bacon.  These details count.

Me?  I love my bacon nothing short of crunchy. 


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