December 31, 2009

New Shine in Sunset Park

Having read about New Shine on a blog, I went into this new eatery the other day while shopping in Sunset Park.

I wanted to love it, because it is cheap and the proprietors are very friendly. Best of all, it's down at the lower end of Sunset Park, in the 40s, where parking is still within the realm of possibility.

Unfortunately, it won't be replacing any of my other sichuan spots anytime soon.

I ordered the beef with cumin, thinking I would get a plate of beef strips crispily deep-fried and dusted with cumin and hot pepper, which is how they prepare this dish at Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge.

Instead I got this stir-fried melange of beef with peppers, and, underneath, stewed bok choy.

While I hate green pepper in my stir fries, these were authentic long hot peppers and they were delicious. The beef wasn't so good, over-velveted so that it was too soft, verging on gummy. There wasn't much discernible cumin flavor, either. The bok choy wasn't bad.

The place itself was hard to pin down. Run by the young and friendly, it kind of looks like it's going for the low rent young bubble tea crowd, but it offers hot pots and some sichuan dishes. The tablecloths, as seen in the photo above, are a bright bubble-gum pink, but the rest of the decor is dark, with lots of black paint.

It was a cold day and it was cold inside the restaurant. Although I've never been to Sichuan Province (or to China, for that matter) it felt somehow authentic, like I could have been sitting in a cold bubble tea hangout in Chengdu.

I guess that's worth something.

Happy New Year's!

December 24, 2009

More Cookies

This is the last cookie post of 2009.

I promise.

It's just—how can I post holiday cookie pics after the holidays?

So it has to happen now.

Holiday cookie-making is like a art project in our house. Lots of paint brushes are used.

To start, you need an easy sugar cookie recipe that won't spread. Try this one. It makes buttery cookies that don't puff and totally hold their shape when baked.

I suggest you halve the recipe, because otherwise you end up with enough cookies for an army. However, the dough freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole recipe if you think you're gonna need it.

As soon as the dough is made, roll it out between sheets of parchment paper and refrigerate it that way. I find this works better than refrigerating the dough and then rolling it out, because the act of rolling out the dough can warm it up too much. It's best to cut out shapes with dough straight from the fridge.

Since we usually have friends over for cookie making/decorating, I roll it into about 8 circles and stack them in the fridge. If you have 6 people decorating and you reroll the scraps, eventually everyone will have a least 2 circles of dough to cut out and decorate as they want.

The first day, we used a tempura wash and crushed sour balls to make painted stained glass cookies. The tempura gives the cookies a beautiful jewel-like sheen.

The Vegetarian eschewed the cookie cutters and created this cookie instead. She at first said it was Alice, her friend with beautiful curly red hair.
Then she painted a mask on Alice and proclaimed her a robber.

She didn't care one whit when I admonished, as she was making the cookie, that it would never come off the parchment in one piece.

Then she proved me wrong.

The next day, we switched gears and used a glace icing, which is put on after baking. Glace icing, like all most uncooked powdered sugar icings, tastes terrible, but the kids love it and it looks great.

I'm not sure why, but I was obsessed with the goat cookie cutter this year.

Finally, I made these for the Soccer Monster's class party. He loves meringue cookies because they don't adulterate his sugary pleasure with fat or nuts or other annoying ingredients.

The mushrooms were much easier to make than I had expected. I didn't do things as fussily as the recipe suggested, and I stuck the caps and stems together with melted dark chocolate, rather than more meringue. Also, if you want a lot of these, double the recipe, because I only got about a dozen smallish mushrooms out of this. Which is great if you're decorating a Buche de Noel or something, but not so great if you want a heaping basketful.
Honestly, try these. They're fun and hard to mess up.

December 19, 2009

The Egg Custard King

The other day I was in Sunset Park's Chinatown, doing some grocery shopping for the vast vats of vietnamese rice noodle salad I was making for the teacher lunch at the Soccer Monster's school.

This particular Chinatown is booming. Things are changing so fast, it seems like new places spring up almost every day. I was on my way to check out some oyster pancakes I had read about when I passed this place by.

What can I say? I'm a credulous person. If someone proclaims himself the king of something, I believe him.

I went right in and bought these:

The one on the left is a regular egg custard. The one on the right is called "Portugese style."

I gave the one on the left to my friend Ruby. I ate the one on the right.

I'm a sucker for egg custard, and mine was a good one. The dough was flaky and the custard was just eggy enough, with a faint bitter caramel overtone from the torched top.

Ruby pronounced hers delicious as well.

The "King" also sells other kinds of egg custards (almond and taro among them, but really, why bother?) and the usual Chinese bakery standards. I haven't tried anything else, but I would definitely come back for the namesake item.

December 13, 2009

Big Pot O' Sauce

The only thing that keeps me from making gigantic pots of pasta sauce every few months is a lack of freezer space.
I think I might hate my tiny freezer almost more than my tiny kitchen. I mean, in some ways I love my tiny kitchen because it's incredibly energy efficient—I can get from stove to sink without moving a step.
However there's nothing to love about my freezer. It's just too small for all the things I want to put in it.
But sometimes you have to find a way, because some incredible bounty falls into your lap, like, say, a bushel of luscious ripe plum tomatoes.
Of course, that was not my incredible bounty. Tomato season is over around here.
Instead, I wound up one sunday morning with this:
Which is an incredible piece of beef shin from my local farmer's market. I love beef shin—it's a great, versatile piece of meat—but I don't like to buy it in a supermarket anymore. I feel the same way about any part with marrow or any 5th quarter cut (like oxtail). For these cuts, I definitely want to get something from a grass-raised, hormone-free cow. I haven't really pondered the logic of it; it's just the way I feel.
Anyway, I stopped at the beef stall and inquired, as I always do, if they had any soup bones. The answer, up til that point, had always been no. But this week, to my surprise, the guy pulled a package out of the cooler. "This was supposed to be osso buco, but it didn't work, so we're selling it as soup meat," he said.
Imagine my delight when I saw the giant meaty slice of shin in front of me, selling for the price of soup bones.
Of course I bought it, visions of long simmered pasta sauce forming in my head.
I took it home and salted and peppered it. Look at it. Isn't it lovely?
Then I browned it in some olive oil:
After that I added a couple of diced onions and carrots, about a cup of red wine, some sprigs of thyme and rosemary, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. After those softened, I added two cartons of pomi strained tomatoes (One of my favorite packaged tomato products— I learned about passato di pomodoro when I lived in Rome), a large can of tomato paste, and about about a quart of water.
Several hours of bubbling later, I ended up with this:
I took the shin meat out, shredded it, moistened it with some of the sauce, and served it over homemade pasta for dinner. The rest I ladled into pint containers and jammed into my overflowing freezer.
Did I mention how much I hate my freezer?
If you're obsessive about fat, you could refrigerate the sauce overnight and skim the fat off before freezing it, but I didn't find the sauce too greasy. Of course, I'm definitely not obsessive about fat.
Best of all, because this sauce has no visible meat, I can even get the Vegetarian to eat it. She's only 7, so what does she know?
At least I'm giving her fodder for later therapy. "And then my mother would feed me pasta sauce that had been cooked with meat, even though she knew I was a vegetarian!"
I figure I won't be able to get away with this kind of thing for much longer.

December 10, 2009

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

It's cookie season. Lots of fresh-baked cookies around here. Recently I made these chocolava cookies. But since the first time I made them I've had to change a few things. The chocolavas are supposed to be rolled in powdered sugar, and I can't abide things rolled in powdered sugar. (Yes, I'm talking to you Mexican wedding cakes and powdered doughnuts!) So I switched it out for regular old granulated sugar. And I wanted my cookies to be super-crackly crinkly on top, so I added some baking soda to the dough. Oh, and I flattened 'em out before baking, cause I don't like a puffy mound of cookie, I like a flat circle of cookie. So here goes:
The ingredients are pretty simple. • flour • sugar • brown sugar • cocoa • baking powder • baking soda • salt • butter • eggs • vanilla
First you mix the dry ingredients together with the butter, until the mixture kinda feels like sand. It's a little like making pie dough. Best to do this with your hands. I tried making these in the food processor once and they came out tough.
Then add the eggs and mix them in until the dough comes together. It might seems a little crumbly at first, but if you get in there with your hands it will come together.
Now take tablespoon-sized balls and roll them in some sugar. It can get a little sticky, but just work through it. Place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. (I could get about 20 on mine)
Tangent: Don't you just love silpats? Paul, my manager, hates them and constantly makes fun of me for having them, but I swear, they are one of the best kitchen inventions EVER! Paul doesn't know what he's missing!
(Paul: you don't know what you're missing. Try one and you will fall in love like I have!)
Use the bottom of a glass to flatten each ball.
Bake for about 10 minutes at 350. I turn mine halfway through because I have a very emotionally unstable oven. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack.
Then give them to your kids and see some smiles. Sophisticated, these cookies are not. But they are delicious. Especially if, like me, you had a serious recent childhood obsession with Archway dutch cocoa cookies.
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
1 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar plus extra for rolling
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp coffee
• Preheat oven to 350.
• In a bowl, combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together.
• Add eggs, vanilla, and coffee and mix by hand until the dough comes together.
• Place some sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll heaping tbs of dough into balls and roll in sugar. Place on silpat-lined or greased baking sheet about 2" apart.
• bake for 10-12 minutes, until crinkly on top and set around edges. Don't overbake, as you want them fudgy in the middle.
• Leave on baking sheet to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
• Eat with tall cold glass of milk.

December 4, 2009

The World at Your Doorstep

One of the things I love about living in Brooklyn (or New York in general) is the way that you can travel to a different neighborhood and feel as if you've hopped a plane to a foreign country.
Over TG weekend, we took the Soccer Monster and the Vegetarian (and their cousins) to the movies in Bay Ridge. The theater was in a distinctly Middle Eastern part of Bay Ridge, and I snapped a few photos of places on the block I'd like to visit when I'm not stuffed to the gills with TG leftovers.
Imagine all the deliciousness in there!
Or in here!
Though it says "Fish Market" this is actually an Egyptian restaurant where you can pick out a fish and have them cook it for you.

December 3, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Pot Pie

It's been exactly a week since TG.
I'm doing my one leftovers post and then I'm done.
On to Christmas cookies.
Since we didn't host the TG meal, we didn't have as many leftovers as in other years.
So I only made one leftover dish.
But it's one of my favorite dishes of all time: turkey potpie.
Potpie is one of those things that you wish you could eat a lot more often than you know you should.
I've always loved it. When I was a kid, I used to get the frozen ones as a dinnertime treat every once in a while. I loved the way the crust turned mushy in the aluminum pan.
I would probably hate those frozen ones now, but they were delicious in my youth.
But on to my potpie.
Most recipes call for you to make a roux in a saucepan, add broth, milk or cream, vegetables and turkey, and then dump into a pie or casserole dish and top with pastry.
But being lazy busy I wondered why the whole thing couldn't just be done in one ovenproof pan, like my trusty cast-iron skillet.
So I tried it out. I was the guinea pig. And I'm here to say that it makes no sense to use (and have to wash) two pots for potpie, when one works fabulously.
Here's what I did:
1) I added about 2 tablespoons butter to my cast-iron skillet over low heat. When it melted, I added about two tablespoons flour to the pan and whisked it around a bit, to cook the flour. This made the roux.
2) I took the leftover gravy I had and added it to the pan, whisking it in with roux until there were no lumps.
3) I took the leftover cream from my pies and whisked that in, too. At this point, my liquid looked good, but if I had needed more I would have added some milk. Or, if the gravy was overpowering things, I would have added some water.
4) I threw in the leftover TG baked onions—diced, some diced carrots, frozen peas, and diced leftover turkey. If I'd had mushrooms, I would have thrown them in, too. But I didn't.
5) I rolled out a pie crust to the width of my pan (a 9-incher) and placed it on top of the filling, tucking the edges down into the filling. I actually used the leftover scraps from all the pies I made for TG, but any piecrust, even a storebought one, would do. You can also use frozen puff pastry, but that seems more trouble than it's worth, and I personally don't like puff pastry on my pot pie. (I don't like puff pastry much in general, but that's another story.)
6) I baked the whole thing in the oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes.
And voila! One pot turkey potpie!