Archive for March, 2008

Jane and I got free smells today – free smells of cupcake batter. Cloyingly sweet molecules of butter, sugar, eggs and flour swirling around in the air. It was so intense that we didn’t even need to buy anything – which is why I don’t have a food picture for you. Maybe Billy’s should start charging people just for entering so that they don’t lose money with freeloaders like us. For now, the least I can do is post their logo and address:

Billy’s Bakery
184 9th Avenue (between 21st and 22nd)
New York, NY 10011

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New delights

I’ve always been intrigued by the tendency for people to discover interest in foods that at one point seemed uninspiring or just downright un-tasty. I imagine this is a result of 2 things: new perspective (that comes from a more developed, sophisticated palate), and plain old nostalgia. Once you’ve been exposed to the culinary wonderland out there, your taste buds become more discerning and you start to think to yourself, “maybe that cake that my mom used to bake back in the day was better than I thought…the combination of banana and pineapple seems so much more exciting now than it did when I was 6, when all i really wanted was boxed yellow birthday cake with chocolate frosting.”


img_03991Hence my renewed interest in the Banana-Pineapple Cake from the 1984 Holiday Cooking issue of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. My mom made this for almost any occasion that required a celebratory cake, exactly the way the recipe called for – in a Bundt pan, using over-ripe bananas and an 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, and dusted with powdered sugar. As a 6-year old, this translated to: not a layer cake like the picture on the Duncan Hines box, annoyingly “healthy,” and a poor man’s icing that left this sad cake virtually naked.

Today, this cake looks heartwarmingly old-fashioned, the banana-pineapple flavor combination feels surprisingly unique, and the powdered sugar seems beautifully and appropriately understated. Last week, I made this cake straight from page 16 of the 23-year old, grease-splattered magazine, and tasted it in a whole new way.

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I tried, I honestly tried to look past appearances. Rewind to about 1 month ago when I began craving the citrus taste of oranges out of nowhere – I remember standing in front of the display trying to establish selection criteria for a fruit that I didn’t have much buying experience with, and becoming increasingly disturbed by the mutant growth(s) at the base of the fruit. EWW. The disgusting lumpy balloon-ish sacs pushing up against the tough, dimpled skin of the orange…ugh, it was becoming too much to handle. (I actually have an issue with bulbous textures in general, undoubtedly related to my aversion to dots i.e., Shel Silverstein drawings).

Over the next few weeks, I tried my best to select the least mutant-like oranges I could find, but I couldn’t help feeling guilty about being so superficial. So when I found myself in front of the orange display yesterday evening, I became fueled by a sudden desire to disprove my theory and went for one that was truly cringe-worthy. I mean, I seriously averted my eyes and tried to focus instead on the seemingly “firm-but-with-a-nice-give” squeeze factor. I tried to convince myself that maybe this would be the best of the bunch – it would be shockingly sweet, with turgid pulp ready to burst open and release its juicy delightfulness. I was so excited for my shallow assumptions to be shattered…

I’m not going to go into the details of how horrifyingly disgusting this orange turned out to be. Let’s just say that those extra “growths” that you see in the picture probably indicate that this orange was way past its ripe stage. I felt tremendously relieved that in this case, judging a book by its cover wasn’t without merit. Turns out I wasn’t an unjustified asshole, after all.

P.S. I can’t get myself to make this post’s picture as large as they are in the others. Click on the the thumbnail, if you dare, for a closer look.

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I have a very simple way of evaluating Korean restaurants: success is based on the banchan it serves. More often than not, banchan is dismissed as “those free side dishes that come with the meal,” and as a result, become tasteless, unrecognizable piles of vegetables or seafood doused in red pepper paste. In my opinion, banchan is the true taste index because it represents the chef’s ability to work with the fundamental ingredients of Korean cooking– garlic, red pepper, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, scallions– and to create variety despite these shared ingredients. In theory, if the chef gets the banchan right, the bigger dishes should deliver.

In the restaurant that is my parent’s house and through the chef that is my mother, I am reminded of this every time she cooks Korean food for me. My mom’s banchan is simple and fresh, and the main ingredient always comes through. She turns sesame oil, salt, scallions and red pepper flakes into magical fairy dust that transforms broccoli and eggplant into dishes that can make me forget about every other dish on the table (all of which, as you now know, do pass the taste test).

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You know how when you go to a Korean restaurant and order Kalbi (Korean BBQ), there are all these techniques you employ to address the whole smokey-meat-smell issue? Like, you turn your coat inside out, you spritz your hair with perfume once you’re outside, and you sort of avoid getting close to people in general. Well, eating Kalbi at home necessitates its own set of precautionary measures – though not nearly as vain. Protecting clothes isn’t so much the issue as protecting the other rooms in the house. All bedroom doors are closed. All windows in the house are opened. And getting close to people isn’t really an issue at all because after consuming such a massive quantity of food in such close proximity to a bedroom, the only option that remains is rolling into bed (which thankfully, behind the tightly closed door, smells only of fresh laundry), watching reruns of Law & Order SVU, and then falling asleep, blissfully and utterly unobligated.

hell. yeah.

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Here begins a series of posts dedicated to fooding during my visit home…

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NYC has commoditized the concept of “dining out.” Everyone eats out. No one cooks. And the hottest new ingredient/dish/cuisine to hit the restaurant scene quickly starts to feel overdone as everybody and their mother jumps on the bandwagon. Before you know it, the scent of truffle oil becomes kind of nauseating. And tapas/piccolini/izikayas, the concept of a “small plates” in general, becomes mildly irritating. Or maybe it’s just that sometimes you don’t freakin’ feel like scanning a menu and trying to visualize in your head how all the ingredients in a dish will actually end up looking on your plate.

Whatever the case- in NYC, for many, a refreshing change of scenery isn’t eating out, but rather staying in with a friend and cooking something deliciously uncomplicated. Dinner this past Sunday was the best 2-course meal I’ve had in awhile…largely because someone else set the menu and I was spared the act of deliberation…mostly because the food was just damn good.

Course 1: Cheese, crackers, and olives


We started with a gorgeous plate of fresh cheese, olives and crackers. The cheese you see at the top of the dish was a ridiculously light and fresh farmer’s cheese. On the bottom left was creamy goat cheese. The rectangular crackers I’d actually never tried before – they were delicately cripsy, almost airy. The crackers on the right were nutty, wheaty, and herby – I think they were Z brand? The olives were Kalamata, and expectedly delicious.

*Update from Liza:
the crackers are aunt gussie’s, and the rectangular ones are 7 grain wasa crackers. the olives are from sahadi’s (the best mediterranian market) in bk.  not sure of the goat cheese’s name off the top of my head.  the farmer’s cheese is a whole milk ricotta from kenswick creamery that i bought at the local farmers market.

Course 2: Linguine with tomatoes, basil and garlic

The pasta dish started with cherry tomatoes, garlic, and basil, drizzled with olive oil and then roasted. The result was this beautiful pan of slightly charred tomatoes that had burst open, with huge chunks of garlic nestled throughout.


By the way, in case you’re wondering about the image in my header…

Liza then added the cooked linguine directly into the pan and grated fresh parmiagiano reggiano on top…and mixed everything together to form a dish that was light and lovely in a way that was almost reminiscent of summer:


Isn’t that just pretty? It’s funny how I’m not used to being satisfied with a single bowl of pasta as my entrée. I think it’s the “dining out” mentality that meals need to consist of variety to cover off on everything – some bread somewhere, some meat somewhere, a side of “x” to support your entrée. So not the case this time – I left Liza’s that night in a state of satiety!

I do love NYC restaurant life, but honestly, this past Sunday reminded me of how great it can be dining with someone indoors (and how much I miss having a roommate)! Thanks, Liz…

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