Sunday, November 10, 2013

Apple Pancake: Birthday Brunch

I'm very thankful for the Fall hues that I get to experience up here in the Northeast, something I really missed when I was living in Georgia.  I can't help but smile when I see the decorative Indian corn husks, signs pointing to apple picking fun, and large orange pumpkins taking over small shops on the side of the road...or at least that's how it is outside the NYC bubble. 

Since Fall (along with most things) is a little different in the City, I decided to escape to the Berkshires in Massachusetts with a couple of close friends for my mid-October birthday celebration.  It was good to take time to explore the scenic views before New York minutes swallow up the season.

Relaxation was of course a priority on the agenda, along with hiking Mount Greylock, and the farmer's market to pick up fresh produce and a hot, buttery cider doughnut (aka Heaven).  Then there was lots (and I mean stretchy-pants-lots) of cooking and wine "tasting".  To most people, cooking on your weekend getaway may not sound like the best of times.  But for someone like me (and hopefully you can relate so I don't seem totally crazy), I saw it as an opportunity to try new foods with people who were equally excited about it.

Making meals for friends and family brings new opinions and influences to the mix.  It means experimenting with no judgment, and getting to share that food experience with the people you are close to.  I have to say, it was quite a successful outcome, with 6 restaurant-worthy gourmet pizzas pushed out from the kitchen for dinner (courtesy of our amateur pizza chef and friend, Rachel) and an amazing birthday brunch using recipes from a favorite food blogger of mine, Love & Lemons.
The other brunch recipe we made: Sweet Potato and Brussels Skillet

The main ingredient for this dish is truly an iconic one and I don't think I could've picked a better one for this occasion.  Aside from the apple's association to all things Fall, it's the state fruit of both New York and Washington, the fruit that poisoned Snow White, and the name of probably the most popular tech gadget company in the world.  Oh, and my favorite one...the famous fruit that hit Sir Isaac Newton on the head. 
Apples have quite the reputation in our society and in our daily lives.  This apple pancake recipe is great for brunch with a small group, easy to make, and of course amazingly delicious.  You know that cider doughnut ecstasy you were drooling over earlier?  Yea, it's like that.

Makes: 2-3 servings as main dish or 5-6 servings as a side dish
2 Tbsp. butter
3 apples (I used red), peeled, cored, and sliced thin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (or almond milk)
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Gluten Free - Use a GF flour such as spelt or brown rice flour.
Local Friendly - Use as many ingredients from your local farmer's market as possible.  At the very least, you should be able to find brown eggs, apples, and fresh milk.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Whisk together eggs and milk.
  4. Mix together flour and baking powder and stir it into the egg/milk mixture.
  5. In a large oven-safe skillet (I used a 10" cast iron), melt butter and add the apple slices and 1 Tbsp. of brown sugar mixture.  Cook, stirring until soft, about 5 minutes.
  6. Pour the batter over the apples and sprinkle the remaining brown sugar mixture evenly on top.
  7. Transfer the skillet to oven, and bake until it puffs, around 18-20 minutes.
  8. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

*HINT: To dust with powdered sugar, use a fine metal sieve or strainer.  Place a small spoonful of powdered sugar in the sieve, hold over the pancake, and gently hit the sieve with your free hand.
Another technique?  Use a tea ball.  Any will work, but I favor this OXO tea ball.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Other than the lengthening days of sunlight, the growing desire to wear shorter pants, and seasonal openings of the local amusement parks, what's the thing that truly signifies summer is right around the corner?  The first sight of strawberries.

Spotting them for the first time of the season at the local farmer's market will make the heart begin to race, followed by thoughts of "what will I make with them this year?" and "how many is too many?".  The answer to the first question is an easy one for me, after having been in this wonderful dilemma before (don't worry, I will share some of my ideas).  The second is usually not controlled by my brain but rather my craving level for strawberries at the time of purchase.  Let's just say that level is almost always high... So far this year I've purchased 3 pints from the farmer's market, received 2 pints in my CSA, and picked another 8 pints at a strawberry field in New Jersey.  Not to mention the ones my roommate brought home that were shared.

Strawberry picking is a fun and rewarding experience, for adults as much as children, and I think everyone should do it at least once in their life.  Not only does it teach you an important lesson in where your food comes from, but it's very relaxing and enjoyable to walk between rows and rows of strawberries searching for the perfectly shaped and deep-red colored, taking tastes of your gatherings all along the way.  I've spent hours filling up buckets or flats of these berries, and I look forward to my once a year strawberry picking.

I actually found this recipe after my first strawberry picking adventure, which yielded way more crop than I could ever hope to finish one at a time.  Now, it has become an annual recipe, which I try to only make from strawberries picked myself.  Yes, I could use store-bought, or out-of-season berries other times of the year, but trust me when I tell you that you need that fresh and sweet strawberry taste. 

Strawberry and basil seems like an odd combination, especially in ice cream, but I've seen it pop up on menus a lot lately.  It's become one of my favorite pairings, and the reason I love this ice cream so much is because it's one of the rare foods that will give you not one, but two distinct punches of flavor.  Strawberry...then basil.  I can just imagine my taste buds celebrating as the taste hits two different sets of them.  Take your first bite nice and slow to give your mouth the full indulgent experience.       

**Other great strawberry pairings you ask?  Just follow the season...  First comes asparagus in late spring, which kicks off the green vegetable season (this combination is best in salads).  Rhubarb follows shortly after (mix with strawberries in pies/tarts, ice creams, or cocktails).  As the season moves into early summer, pair them with blueberries, squash, and of course in salads.  Strawberry jam is always a good option too.

(Adapted from eCurry's recipe)
Makes: ~5 cups (2.5 pints)

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pint fresh strawberries + 1 cup fresh strawberries, washed, and hulled
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves (no stems)
3/4 cup sugar
Zest of 1 medium lemon or lime
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup blanched and slivered almonds, slightly toasted

Substitutions - Replace half and half with heavy cream and whole milk with half and half.  Or, for a healthier version, replace half and half with whole milk and whole milk with 2% milk.
Recommendations - Use milk and cream from a local source, such as the farmer's market, use fresh strawberries, and pick basil from your garden if you have one.
Gluten Free

*HINT: Save empty pint ice cream containers to store your own ice cream creations.  The plastic ones work best for multiple uses.
  1. Blend half and half, milk, 1 pint strawberries, basil leaves, sugar, and lemon or lime zest, and salt.
  2. Chop the remaining strawberries and set aside.  These will be used for extra pieces (optional)
  3. Crush nuts slightly to release oil.  Set aside.
  4. Combine all ingredients including nuts and strawberry pieces.  Pour slowly into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mangosteen and My Shanghai Adventure

One of the perks of my line of work (one of the many) is that I get to do some international travel. Since moving to New York almost a year ago, I've already gotten to venture to China for my new job. The trip was an exhausting two weeks with what seemed like endless traveling and factory visits, but fortunately I was able to squeeze in some personal time to explore a new city.

It was my first time in Shanghai, and although it seemed to be overwhelming in size (and this coming from a girl who lives in NYC), I found the city to be very charming and European, with a lot to offer in terms of history, culture, and food. I was also very lucky to have a personal tour guide, a friend of a friend and 4 year resident of Shanghai. He gave me the "local" experience, which means less crowds and limited tourist attractions - Hallelujah! As I travel more and more, these are the experiences that I appreciate the most. Being able to do what the locals do and eat what the locals eat really gives you a perspective on how others in different countries or cities live their lives. It's a lot like getting a break from your own life to enjoy all the good in another's.

In an attempt to document my trip and to recommend activities and restaurants to those who may travel there in the future, I present to you my 27-hour whirlwind visit:

  • Chinese lunch
  • Quick tour of the French Concession (this is the area where I spent most of my time)
  • Tian Zi Fang Market
  • Tibetan restaurant in the market for tea and cold noodles
  • Ex-Pat cookout on the roof of an old Shanghai-style house (They had made burgers and guacamole - 2 things I know I couldn't live without. Considering how difficult it is to find these foods in China, especially avocados, it just proves that where there's a will, there's a way.)
  • Dinner at an Uyghur restaurant, called Yeli Xali aka "The Silk Road"

  • Walk along the Bund during sunrise
  • Massage on Dagu Road
  • Lunch at a Thai restaurant, Qing Mai Heaven = best Thai I've ever had
    *Highlights: Green Papaya Salad, Lemon Fish

My temporary tour guide is actually who I have to thank for my introduction to this interesting fruit, the mangosteen. I know your first question is if it is related to the mango, but it is not, and a quick Google search will confirm that genetically they are totally different. It is both delicious and has health benefits, which makes me extremely jealous of its native locale.

The vast majority of the gems are grown and sold in Southeast Asia, and finding them anywhere else in the world, especially in the States, is very difficult. I have yet to investigate my Chinatown, so it's possible that I will find them here someday.

So what's the big deal? Well, they're certainly a different taste than anything I've had, and color too. You only eat the white, citrus-like sections inside, which are protected by a thick, bright pink layer. They are both sweet and tart at the same time, and remind me of a cross between, well, a lot of things; sections like oranges, sweetness of peaches, fleshy texture of plums. That perfect balance of acidity and sweetness left me craving more.

If you ever have the opportunity to jet set to that part of the world, this is one fruit you don't want to pass up.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Huevos Rancheros

Happy Cinco de Mayo! This holiday is a personal favorite of mine, mainly due to my never-dying love for Mexican food and flavors. There’s something magical about how such simple ingredients always taste so good together. Messy and heavy, spicy and crunchy, it’s a comfort food that can’t be beaten. And let’s be honest - guacamole is probably the best food combo ever created. Did I mention I’ve been pining over avocado temporary tattoos?  

Talk about a great example of food bringing people together, too.  Fiesta time!  The weather tends to be very pleasant this time of year, which presents the perfect reason to gather a group of friends for a Mexican dish potluck and some tasty margaritas y cervezas (guess what I’m doing today).  It’s nothing but a day of fun, filled with random sombrero sightings, fake mustaches (when did this become a trend, by the way?), and if you’re lucky a piƱata to get some of that work-week stress out of your system. 
As I talked to my friend who is off to Cancun this morning, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy.  But, for those of us who do not get to enjoy the real thing today, these are some of my picks that fulfill the cravings just fine.
Atlanta area:
Bone Garden Cantina
Taqueria el Ray del Taco, Buford Highway

Seattle area:

Taco Truck, Everett
NYC area:
Chavela’s, Brooklyn
Mole, Upper East Side (amazing guacamole)
(Adapted from
Smitten Kitchen's recipe)
Makes: 1-2 servings
cooking spray
2 corn tortillas
1.5 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
2 eggs
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 can black beans
ground cumin, to taste
ground cayenne pepper, to taste
extra toppings (see below)

cheddar cheese, shredded
fresh salsa, or taco sauce
sour cream


Gluten free - Most corn tortillas are GF, but double-check the brand you are buying
Other toppings - Jalepeno, corn, queso blanco cheese (or feta)
  1. Heat up skillet (I used 2 skillets, one for each egg) on MED.  Once heated, spray skillet(s) with a cooking spray or oil spray.  Add tortillas and heat until underside begins to brown.  Flip tortillas, sprinkle shredded cheese onto slightly browned side.
  2. Let cheese melt slightly, then crack one egg over each tortilla.  Season each egg with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, heat black beans in a small saucepan on LO.  Sprinkle cumin and cayenne pepper over beans and stir.
  4. When egg on the tortilla begins to turn white, use a spatula to flip the whole thing over.  Cook for an additional few minutes (1-2 minutes if you like your egg a little runny).
  5. When eggs are cooked, flip over again onto a plate and put your favorite Mexican toppings on top.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Grapefruit Cupcakes with Honey-Grapefruit Cream Cheese Frosting

Newsflash!  Winter is here, and so is the struggle to find fresh and appealing produce to eat and cook with.  Though impressive that my farmer's market is open year round, even their produce section has been a little bare the past couple of weeks.  But fear not friends, because there is one bright citrus that can bring color and life to the winter blues...the grapefruit!  Indeed, these mouth-puckering fruits are in season, so it's time to be bold and to search for creative recipes for them.

I love grapefruits for many reasons, the most dominant because it reminds me of my dad.  Growing up, every winter my family would buy a large box of citrus fruit to support the local marching band (yes, I was in the band).  And every morning during those winters, a grapefruit was breakfast for my dad.  I would watch him methodically cut each section and somehow manage to scoop out every drop of juice.  Of course, back then, grapefruit was much too bitter for my taste, so I practiced his method with oranges instead.

Over the years my taste buds changed.  I now enjoy and appreciate the ruby reds, which brings me to my next creation --- grapefruit-flavored cupcakes.  I topped them with a self-crafted cream cheese frosting, which after learning quick-and-dirty style from several YouTube videos, was fun and easy to do.

(made with the help of Alida's Kitchen)
Makes: 10-12 cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulates sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (nonfat or 2% reduced-fat)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. pink grapefruit zest (approximately 1 large grapefruit)

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 c. butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. pink grapefruit zest
2 tsp. pink grapefruit juice
Substitutions - Replace grapefruit with any other citrus fruit.
*HINT: Foil cupcake liners work best, but when using paper, spray the liners with cooking spray before filling to reduce sticking.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Fill 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add eggs; mix until smooth.
  4. To the butter mixture, add half of flour mixture, and combine; repeat with remaining flour mixture.  Add yogurt and vanilla, blending with a rubber spatula.  Fold in zest, mixing until just combined.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (about 2/3 full).  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Transfer cupcakes to wire rack to cool completely before frosting. 
  6. To make the frosting, place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy.  Add powdered sugar slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, until incorporated.  Add vanilla, zest, juice, and honey, beating until smooth. 
  7. After cupcakes are completely cooled, frost (frosting tip 1M used in picture).
Note: Because frosting needs to be refrigerated, frost cupcakes immediately before serving for best results.  Frosted cupcakes should not be left in refrigerater for more than a couple days.  Bring cupcakes to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brooklyn Food Tour #1

On the very first day that I moved to New York City, I did what any foodie and her foodie friend would do...I went on an impromptu food tour.  Though it was relatively short because of time and our eyes being a fair amount larger than our stomachs, it's still one of my favorite memories of my time here.  Both of us familiar with the food culture and charming vibe of restaurants in Atlanta, we set our sights on a few similarly cozy spots in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.  From Italian to Ethiopian, we ate and drank our way down Court Street, exploring the neighborhood and all that it had to offer. 
So naturally, when my friend Rachel proposed a first of many food tours of our surrounding area, I immediately jumped at the opportunity.  Thanks to her thorough research and careful planning, our first food tour together, from Prospect Heights to Greenpoint, was a huge success! 
Definitely one of the better doughnuts I've had and not too far behind Doughnut Plant on my favorites list, the inside of these doughnuts have a fluffy and almost croissant-like texture that practically melts in your mouth. For my taste, the icing was just sugary enough and the almonds were a nice crunchy addition to the pastry that didn't quite seem to be large enough in size. Overall, not too shabby of a doughnut, and I would definitely go back for a second round - maybe for the chocolate with cocoa nibs... or hibiscus...or toasted coconut...or...?  Yumm.
Dulce De Leche with Almonds

The locally roasted coffee sold here may also be worth checking out, or if nothing else the witty flavor palette descriptions on the bag.  They can serve as a good distraction while you're waiting in line.
Warning: It may not help control the drooling.


Open a little less than a year, I thought this local Williamsburg food and goods market was a great find with a lot of potential.  There were small selections of infused oils and balsamic vinegars (always a favorite of mine), fresh meats and cheeses, and gifty items like cookbooks and made-in-Brooklyn novelties.  To put the icing on the cake, they will soon be opening a hot food section, which will include a variety of Thai-inspired breakfast dishes. This alone will render this market a no-brainer stop for a bite to eat.


I have to say, this cute little nautical-themed sandwich shop was not what I expected at first glance, but little did I know what we were in for. After reading a long list of sandwich descriptions and ooing and ahhing over the options, we decided on the "Scuttlebutt," filled with hard boiled eggs, feta, capers, pickled veggies, and a to-die-for cheese sauce.  The sandwich was unlike any I've ever had before and was a refreshing combination of flavors and color. Oh, the color! Thank goodness for lots of napkins because the bright pink was literally oozing out of every corner. I give this sandwich a 4.5 out 5 stars (come on, no one is perfect).


Another great stop for the food and kitchen lovers of New York. Best part? They offer a large number of cooking classes on the upstairs level.


The perfect way to end the tour was with a large helping of ice cream from Van Leeuwen. With so many mouth-watering flavors to choose from, we ended up going for the classic indecisive route - splitting each of our cups. Cinnamon, Mint Chip, Pistachio, and Giandujia (the fancy name for Chocolate Hazlenut) at a half cup of each made for a very satisfying flight of ice cream and happiness all around.

Cost per person - $15
Distance walked - 3.7 miles
Day full of cultural education and good food - priceless


Monday, January 14, 2013

Grilled Steak and Cheese Sandwich

In the wintertime, the famous duo of grilled cheese and tomato soup is a comfort food tradition that we never get tired of.  There have been many different variations of the pair over the years, and this time I was inspired by a dish I tasted several years ago in Knoxville, TN.  On a business trip, my co-workers and I found ourselves at a local Irish pub for dinner, and were surprisingly impressed with the food.  What was on the menu you ask?  None other than a grilled cheese sandwich,with a simple, yet masterful twist of cheese.


For my first post of 2013, I want to share one of my own creations with you.  Based on what I could find in my local gourmet grocery store and where I let my stomach cravings lead me, I pulled together the ingredients below to make a truly hearty and comforting sandwich.

The other half of the duo? My top choice remains Trader Joe’s creamy tomato soup, or if I’m lucky the homemade version my friend and roommate makes – maybe there’s a post opportunity on that one in the future?

Makes: 2 sandwiches
4 slices bread (a dense, wide loaf, such as Sourdough)
1 wedge Brie cheese (medium softness, such as St. Andre)
1/4 - 1/2 lb.  cooked flank steak, cut into thin strips  (this will continue to cook as you toast the bread, so used either slightly undercooked or add the steak near the end of toasting)
Fig preserves or jam
Butter, for outside of bread

  1. Butter one side of each slice of bread. On the other side, spread a generous amount of cheese.
  2. On half of the bread slices, place one layer of steak strips and top with fig preserves.  Place sandwich halves together.
  3. Heat a pan on MED to MED-HI and toast each side of the sandwich until browned and cheese is melted.