Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Empire State loves its food: New York Taste

If you haven't heard already, NY Magazine is having one heck of an evening to benefit City Harvest (a food rescue organization).  40 highly reputable restaurants with top notch mixologist and chef participants like my personal hero, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, will be there to serve you some of the finest flavors New York has to offer.  Other well known participating names and establishments include Le Cirque, Morimoto (with Chef Morimoto himself), Bar Boulud, and Pegu Club.

Tickets will run you $175.  VIP tickets that get you an hour early preview and a goodie bag, will be $250.  The event is this coming Monday evening.

Anyone want to come with me?  Be sure to come hungry.

New York Taste
Monday 2 November 2009
Skylight, 275 Hudson Street

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"It's a wonderful day for pie."

As odd as it sounds, when it comes to my FAVORITE dishes to eat, I have an automatic mental block when it comes to considering cooking or baking them.  You see, if it's one of my absolute favorite things to eat, chances are I have ridiculous expectations of them as well.  I fear my inability to stand up to my own demands, so I usually just like to purchase these delicious things from my favorite restaurants, stands, or bakeries.

It's Autumn... well, what was briefly Autumn in New York anyway (what on earth is up with this crazy cold weather?!)... and I had my usual cravings for one of my favorites: pumpkin pie.  I sought it out on a whim with some friends while I was visiting them in Bayside.  We hit up Martha's Country Bakery (right by the Bayside LIRR).  The espresso macchiato was superb, but the pie wasn't hitting the spot.  It was a tad too dry, when I was looking for that moist custardy texture.  The pumpkin?  Something was amiss.  Maybe they used butternut squash instead?   Too much ginger?  No cinnamon?  Who knows. Later on we trekked over to Flushing and had the comforting sullung tang (a milky-colored Korean ox bone broth with scallions and rice) at Gahwa.

Anyway, back to the pie theme.  The next day I took the black lab puppy I was dog-sitting for a walk over to Chelsea Market.  I left her outside with a friend while I struggled through the crowds to get to the end of the market where Sarabeth's Bakery humbly stood.  Note to self: do not go hungry to Chelsea Market when there's a Food Network event going on there.  I eventually got there and got my two mini pumpkin tarts.  I'm only mentioning this because those tarts were most excellent.  I highly recommend any pumpkin pie lover to delight themselves with a Sarabeth's pumpkin tart.  Buttery, flaky crust.  Smooth, velvety pumpkin filling.  Salty roasted pumpkin seeds on top.  My friend, Mike Chou and I enjoyed these lovely little goods over by the water on Chelsea Piers during a gorgeous blue sky Fall afternoon... and with the happy puppy too. What a perfect day!

Still wanting to continue my pumpkin-high, I was finally compelled to simply make my very own pumpkin pie.  I stuck to the most traditional pumpkin pie recipe I could think of and walked over to Whole Foods with the shortest grocery list I've ever had.  Pie is much simpler than I thought!  They had cans of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin pie mix... but the row of canned pumpkins was completely empty.  Damn this pumpkin obsessed season.  They were all out!  And I was certainly not going to cheat by getting pre-made pumpkin mix.  I ended up grabbing a can of sweet potatoes.  They'll work fine.

I remember when I used to think the idea of using canned pumpkins or canned anything was preposterous.  But you know what?  Sometimes it's just not worth the hassle of heating/peeling/scooping/mashing pumpkin for a quick pie.  Huge pain in the butt with little difference in outcome, I tell you.

I was a bit worried when I was putting the pie in my crooked oven.  The oven rack was slanted!  My liquid, orangey-brown filling was spilling off to the side!  Ahh!  Oh, I forgot to mention that I began this spur of the moment attempt at 11pm.  So at this point, I just shrugged and reminded myself that this was just a first time, tester pie.  I closed the oven door and for the next forty-five minutes, let my apartment fill up with the warm and spiced scent of pumpkin pie.

End result?  I was quite delighted with my first time attempt!  It's no Sarabeth's yet, but I'll be making it again this Thursday or Friday.  It was much too easy and too delicious to not take advantage of practicing this season.  I think I might give out pie slices to trick or treaters this Halloween... or to hungry friends.

Below is a recipe for just the pumpkin pie filling.  I will work on different variations for the crust before posting it.

Gastronommy's Traditional Pumpkin Pie Filling:

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 (15oz) can pumpkin*
1 (12oz) can evaporated milk

1.  Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.
2.  In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, and spices.
3.  In a large bowl, beat eggs.  Stir in pumpkin and evaporated milk.  Then stir in the spices from previous step.  Pour mixture onto crust.
4.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
5.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes or until middle is firm. (jiggle test!)
6.  Remove and let cool to room temperature.  Enjoy!

*can be substituted with sweet potato.

It's a wonderful day for pie.

Pumpkin Pie on Foodista

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's Autumn!

They say roasted chicken is one of the safest roasts you can pull off, but they also say it's one way to differentiate the noobs from the pros.

I'd say Monday night's results were somewhere in the middle and steadily climbing up.  I was thrilled with the glistening, crispy surface and the lemon, rosemary, and onions infused nicely into the meat.

The left leg is a little torn.  My brother and I got a little too excited about eating the chicken before I remembered that I haven't posted my own food here in a while and need picture proof!

 It was also the first time I learned a little trick (it got me squirming with horror and glee), of which I will not share yet because it might just be the crucial KO move to not only kick Mike's ass in the kitchen (that's a given), but completely blow his turkey out of the water when we have a roast-off on Thanksgiving.  I must post a video of this delightfully horrible trick after the event.  However, this Monday, I was more focused on trying out a new butternut squash mash recipe that I forgot the most important ingredients on my whole chicken: salt & pepper.  Doh.

I adore Autumn.  It's by far my favorite season in New York.  It is the orange leafy romantic brother of Spring and without the rain and the allergies.  My favorite part?   The apples and the squash.  The simple apple is hands down my favorite fruit in the world.  I love mangoes, I love dragonfruit, I love mangosteens, I love guava, I love strawberries.. but my adoration for apples is unparalleled.  And squash?  Few dishes make me tingle with anticipation as this seasonal lumpy fruit when crafted into soups, pies or when roasted or grilled raw.

Yet, butternut squash has got to be one of the biggest pains to work with.  I feel sorry for any poor soul who attempts to peel or cut the thing before softening it first by boiling or even microwaving it a bit first.   The third option in softening the squash takes quite a bit longer:  Roasting.  The roasting process caramelizes the naturally-occurring sugars in the fruit and adds much flavor to the end result.  And so, I roasted them.  I also had two spare pears sitting in my fruit basket.

Peeled and cut into fours, I tossed them in the roasting pan too.  A butter, brown sugar, and vanilla bean concoction topped the fruits before going into the oven.  Adapted from another recipe, I combined the pears and squash into a chunky mash, adding my own touches with heavy cream and nutmeg.  (I really need to stop being lazy about posting recipes... I'll get around to this particular dinner once I try it a few more times.)

I was pretty content with dinner, especially for a Monday night.  This dinner will definitely be repeated until perfection for future guests.

Photo source for mash from  I didn't bother taking photos of the mash that night.  The chicken is my own, as you can guess from the usual green plate and terrible photo quality.

a little about me.

I've always had a thing for the kitchen.  It could possibly be the domestic X chromosome in play, but then I was never keen on playing House so much as playing what I called, Restaurant.  My memories of this start when I was maybe 10 years old.  I would fold looseleaf or construction paper in half and write up a menu.  And yes, I charged too.  A dime for eggs (scrambled or fried!), a penny for juice, a nickel for french toast...  My customers were plentiful.  Four younger brothers!  The eldest of the four would usually have to unhappily treat the rest.

Other times, my parents taught me how to make homemade wontons.  My brother, Laibond and I used to fold them into funky shapes before dropping them into the boiling stock.  I must boast that mine always came out better looking than his malformed attempts at sculpture.

As I got older, my mother granted me permission to use the oven by myself for the first time.  Prior to that, the closest I could get would be to make Betty Crocker instamix brownies with my uncle or dad.  Using the recipe on the back of Post's Banana Nut Crunch cereal one happy adolescent evening, I made my first baked good from scratch.  Delicious banana bread!  It was a magical moment taking the fresh, golden crusted bread out of the oven.   I remember it well.  I was so proud.  By this time though, my brothers refused to pay for my so-called "restaurant" when I was clearly just using groceries that our own parents bought for the house.  And so, those lucrative restaurant days ended.

I learned various small tricks and recipes through the years, like how you should mix corn starch in a separate small bowl of cool water before putting it into the rest of the dish so it won't clump up, or spring rolls from my Vietnamese babysitter, or things like my favorite Thai dish Ladna from my dad.  Then I learned many more small tricks in the kitchen from experience, friends, or my own research.  Back in college, friends definitely benefit from this hobby and experimentation (I'd like to think my friends still benefit presently too.  Free food!).  I'm still far from being close to professional, but I've long since upgraded from fried eggs or french toast.   My joy of cooking has never faltered since those early childhood days.

The starving artist.  No one wants to be that.  Back in the day, I don't remember the concept of a celebrity chef or things like Food Network being a hit among popular culture.  Being a chef?  Whoa, let's just go major in Art History or English while we're at it.  Not something to consider as a career at the time.  Asian parents?  Definitely not gonna fly.  I'd like to say my parents are more liberal than that, but back when I was deciding my major, I acutely remember my dad flipping out when I said I wanted to pursue graphic design (I was also very much into the arts and figured the digital version was more acceptable).  I'm stubborn and I might verbally refuse, but my dad's opinion has much more sway on my actions than he seems to know.  I ended up in Journalism & Mass Communications, what I thought was a decent compromise between something "ludicrous" like English Lit and something "decent" like Finance.  I have some regrets about that decision too, but what can you do.  Life.

As for food, I always figured it would have to be on the backburner in terms of a career until I was 40, when I had enough capital, maturity, and experience to open my own joint.  However, in 2006 and at 22-23 years old, my father contacted me with a fortunate opportunity to fly back to Hong Kong and team up to open our first F&B outlets.  I dropped what I was doing, dropped my job, left my boyfriend and friends and leaped at my dream that came sooner than I thought.

I loved it and knew for sure, long before I have to hit 40, that this is my passion.  Unfortunately though, I was thrown into the deep end fast.  My father is a keen and successful businessman with much knowledge to impart, but the F&B industry is a different animal.  Some business wisdom and tricks carry forward through every industry, but there were simply some things we might have handled better if there wasn't such lack of experience in this particular playing field on both our parts.  Thankfully though, besides through hard work and a LOT of capital, luck also played on our side.  Things didn't tank.  In some cases, quite the opposite!

But luck isn't always enough.  I am back in New York now, looking to get a proper education and foundation in this industry.  Ideas and excitement are spilling at the brim, but it's one pricey canvas.  I don't want to just guess and hope every so often on the next restaurant I work on.  I want to do it with a Daniel Boulud kind of confidence.

[ deleted paragraphs ] There have been a number of obstacles in the meantime, and while for the first time ever, I almost felt like giving up.  Too bad I'm too damn stubborn to throw in the towel yet.

I intend to be back in the French Culinary Institute before the year is over.  I will start punching away once more against the wall of Dream Killers.

Otherwise, it's time to scrap the dreams and crawl back to the drawing board.  And that is not the alternative I want to turn back to just yet.

June 2011: Update on what I'm doing now. 

Friday, October 2, 2009


For as much as I thought I researched and mastered much of what there is to know about all kinds of burgers, along comes this epic piece on The Guide to Hamburger and Cheeseburger Styles from one of my frequent reads, Serious Eats.

This has got to be my favorite burger blog piece I've seen yet.  Starting from pub burgers, going through deep fried burgers, and until slug burgers, he's named it!


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