Wednesday, May 25, 2005

homeless butternut squash soup

There comes a time when one is in between living situations and without a decent pantry. Scarcity of ingredients can be a problem, or not. But, at times, it can let the flavors really shine through.

Joy's In-Between-Homes Curry Butternut Squash Soup

1 onion minced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 medium sized butternut squash cubes 1" pieces (peeled)
4-6 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1 T Jamaican Curry powder
1 t olive oil
1 pkg of 3 cheese tortellini

On medium high heat, add olive oil, saute the onion until transparent, then add garlic and saute until fragrant, add curry powder. Add cubes of butternut squash, and add broth until covering cubes. Bring to boil and simmer for half an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth minding the hot soup.

Prepare tortellini according to package, and add ~1/3 cup of tortellini to each bowl.

Lately, it's been rainy in New York, and soup is needed.

Monday, May 16, 2005

cold and sweet

Cold and Sweet Faves

My rule of thumb for getting through a New York summer, which is swamped with humidity somehow worsened by all the concrete and bad air convections, is to constantly snack on something nice sweet and chilly.

During any sunny and slightly warm day I will make every effort to be in the West Village so that I can buy CONES which serves an Argentinian sort of ice cream, which I always call gelato for the sake of simplicity.

I swoon over the dulche de leche, and my friends are crazy for their hazelnut. The texture of the helado is soft and creamy, like ice cream that is at the perfect firmness/softness for eating rapidly. My friend especially loves the grapefruit sorbetto, but I always indulge when I go. I´ve been known to chose helado over lunch. Tricks are when you get the 3 flavored cup, the first flavor will always be the largest serving.

On days when I can't make it somehow out to the Westside, which is probably good for the girth of my belly, I buy Edy´s Whole Fruit Strawberry popsicles. One of my friends said he hadn't had a popsicle in years. I can´t imagine life without popsicles. We used to eat freezies like nothing else. An odd thing we did in my family was pop the miniature asian jelly cups into the freezer and then pop them into our mouths like frozen grapes.

Though I have traditionally stayed cool with those two particular solutions, a friend of mine treated me to a huge scoop of ice cream from Emack & Bolio's in this luxurious waffle cone dipped in chocolate and toffee bar bits! Talk about decadent. Apparently, they hail from Boston. Apparently, they are very good at ice cream, too.

I might have to learn this helado business after I move away from New York. How else will I get my fix?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

tea rolls

With the warm weather I stop craving things like meatballs and lingonberry jam with steamed potatoes, or goulash with mounds of steamy egg noodles and cool sour cream. Nope, spring summer weather brings a curious change in appetite, much more of what I would say is the normative Californian diet.

In the little town of Amherst, there is a surprising amount of good restaurants and student budget friendly options. It was pretty hilarious when the friend I traveled with to the wedding and I tried to eat as much of the delights Amherst has to offer in the span of about six hours.

One of the best places to study or meet friends was Fresh Side Cafe. There one could eat some curiosities called Tea Rolls. These tea rolls, unbeknownst to me, actually originated with the Vietnamese summer rolls, but morphed in accordance with American tastes.

The secret charm of the tea roll is two fold, chewiness of the un-fried spring roll covering, and the pleasing fatness of the rolls.

The fillings are as wide as your imagination, just like onigiri, this is just another fun Asian spin on the sandwich.

Joy's Favorite Thai Tea Rolls

1 package of spring roll covers, about 10" x 10" *
Iceberg lettuce plunged into ice water
1 chicken breast poached sliced into wide flat matchstick pieces, about 1/3" thick
1/4 c finely chopped peanuts
Baby spinach leaves
Vermicelli noodles (prepared according to directions)*
Mint leaves

Rice vinegar
Fish sauce (Thai)*

Carrot curliques for decoration

*These can be bought at any Chinese Grocery like Dynasty Super Market which is located on 68 Elizabeth (Cross Street Hester).

If you have all the ingredients ready it takes no time to wrap them up, like say you already have a poached chicken breast in the refrigerator ... and pre-washed mint leaves, etc. Otherwise these are little more time intensive than I would like. Although, one should always try to buy fresh nuts. I'm not sure if they're readily available here in America.

Peel off a two layer stack off the spring roll covers, the key here is to not let the wrappers dry out -- once they dry out they won't be nicely chewy and won't wrap well either. I usually put a damp cloth on top of the wrappers.

Lay out the two stack high wrappers like a diamond, lay the lettuce, then spinach, then about a tablespoons worth of noodles, some pieces of chicken breast, then judiciously sprinkle the peanuts and maybe two or three mint leaves.

Here comes the crucial part. Squishing everything together so that it will look satisfyingly fat and compact. Believe me, a loose tea roll just lets all the ingredients fall out. Don't be disheartened if it takes some practice, it's a little similar to acquiring sushi rolling skills.

Take the two corners which will be the top and bottom of the roll and bring them to meet together while holding these down with your thumbs, grab the bottom corner, and pull it tightly up and around the filling, and tuck it in like a military bed sheet, meaning firmly. Then roll the roll into the top corner and smush it so that the top fastens to the rest of the roll.

Once the roll is closed, cut it in half and serve in a small bowl or plate.

In a very small sauce bowl, fill 1/8 with fish sauce, a dash of sugar, 1/4 with rice vinegar and then stir and mix with water to taste. Add carrot curliques to sauce and or serving bowl/plate.

Other very successful fillings are with ginger-soy-sesame-honey marinated tofu rolls, curry chicken salad, chicken walnut and grape salad filling, teriyaki chicken. The key here is to ensure the freshness is the bed of crispy lettuce.

These are not so filling mealwise, but then you'll just get hungry again in an hour and can eat something else equally yummy.

These don't keep, so serve them right away. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

japan and amherst and yale

I went out to my old college town Amherst for a wedding, and the thing that all of us had in common was that we had all lived or traveled in Japan. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about the onsens (the hot spring baths), and of course the delicious food there.

My friend asked me what I usually cook, and I answered that I like to cook Japanese food because the recipes that I know are pretty simple. I adapt a recipe from my favorite East Village izakaya Village Yokocho. An izakaya is a small plates Japanese restaurant. I actually read somewhere that the way tapas was invented is that they used to put plates on top of glasses, for what reason, I'm not certain, maybe to keep flies out. Then, they starting putting nuts on the plates, and then it evolved into the delicious garlicky seafood oriented dishes of the Spanish cuisine.

In any event, izakaya was developed as small appetizers that are salty that whet your appetite for more beer or sake, choose your poison. It was at Village Yokocho that I discovered this dish, but I simplified it even more, and made it lighter also.

Soft Tofu in Tempura Sauce

1/2 block of soft tofu
1 cup Tempura sauce* (follow directions on bottle)
Bonito Flakes*
1/2 inch of fresh ginger minced
3 scallions sliced thinly

*Buy at a store that carries Japanese products.

This effortless dish is so tasty and so quick to make. What actually takes more time is the rice to cook. When I know I'm going to cook asian food accompanied by rice, I usually put the rice on immediately. It's a bit like the concept of boiling the water for pasta also. I usually eat this dish with Nishikin short-medium grained rice, it's chewier than other rices, but not too chewy.

Prepare a cup of Tempura sauce (just dilute it according to the ratio on the bottle). Pour mixed Tempura sauce into medium sized microwave safe bowl, add the half block of soft tofu, and let it sit in the middle of the sauce, then add finely minced ginger to the top and sprinkle the scallions over the top and sides. Microwave for about 3 minutes on high, Serve immediately with a generous serving of bonito flakes on the top.

Good sides for this are steamed edamame, and maybe some boiled dumplings.

A recent favorite of mine are Kimchee Dumplings which you can buy at the Korean supermarket M2M, there's one on 11th and 3rd ave, and another by Columbia University on Broadway and 114th or so.

While visiting Yale, I went out to dinner with a dear friend of mine, yet another Amherst friend, and we went and ate at Miso, which only further demonstrated my love for strange American concocted sushi, and I fell heart deep in love with Spicy Tuna rolls wrapped in avocado. Yes, I do believe my love for raw tuna will beggar me eventually.

As requested, I'll be putting up recipes for tea rolls which I learned to love and savor in Amherst and Vietnamese summer rolls as well this week ...

Monday, May 02, 2005


The Café Search

Despite, or maybe, in spite of the ubiquity of Starbucks, there are a plethora of cozy cafés strewn around Manhattan and Brooklyn. I'm always on the look out for the best cafés to spend a lazy afternoon reading a good book with tea and maybe a pastry. I like my cafés to be cozy, with not too loud music. Ambience and good and reasonably price eats are my criteria.

Doma - West Village

Doma is well lit from natural light during the day. There is a pretty unfussy menu that simply tastes quite good. I believe I had a really delicious mushroom soup there once, which had clouds of mushroom bits held in a fine tasting vegetable broth served with a little bit of bread on the side. The rumble of the train is felt through the benches at the front. Doma is no secret though, not quite the place to go to be alone. It's cash only.

Mudspot - East Village

Mudspot is like the quintessential East Village sort of café. With a quaint little garden out back and huge mugs of their java and hot chocolate and the like, it's a popular destination for me. I'm not too fond of their lunch menu though, seems to be undersalted/underflavored, unfortunately. Mudspot also has a warm feel to it, with lots of orange, greens and blues. It's definitely worth going to for their generous drinks, but you might want to ask to add the sugar yourself. Also, cash only.

Teany - Lower East Side

Moby's café is pretty hip and modern with lots of white, but keeps from feeling too cold. Music is played at a medium level, and is, of course, pretty energetic music. This café is particularly known for its teas which they also sell at gourmet food stores like Whole Foods and the like. I had a fabulous teamochachino which was a fun alternative to the usual chai's. Extremely vegetarian and vegan friendly, the foods and sweet pastries are entirely of that sort. It's a little pricey, unfortunately, but what else could you expect in the Lower East Side? They take credit, but minimum $10.

Ceci-Cela - Soho

I read recently that there's nothing New Yorkers like so much as a big fake French bistro. I would have to hold to that that is true, and I would probably repeat that statement that we also like fake French cafés, seeing that I'm very charmed by the French-ness of this particular café. After all, the French invented cafés, no? That's probably not true. The service here is pretty awful though. The mood is very cute and quaint, and I love their French Lemonade with bubbles, and dark chocolate truffles, but the waiters here tend to be terribly rude and difficult to get ahold of (on several occasions), and will serve you drinks in paper cups even when you're not taking it to go. Otherwise, it's throughly enchanting. I'm pretty sure it's cash only, as well.

Knit New York - Gramercy/Flatiron

Knit New York can be a difficult place to find. One must sort of have one's eyes sharpened for the pale green sign/awning and the basement level entrance. It was at Knit that I discovered Lake Champlain's Spicy Hot Chocolate, which I now have bought make at home. They've got the most delightful coconut cupcakes which are tiny, but stacked high with generous frosting. They've also a wonderful assortment of teas. Pretty reasonably priced as well. They had quite good soups the previous times I've been there. Knit is overwhelmingly frequented by women, for the most part. I think still cash only.

Hungarian Pastry Shop - Morningside Heights

This café is entirely not about style in the least. I've got complaints against most of their pastries, but I do love their very dark hot chocolate, and they'll even serve it over ice for you. The Hungarian is extremely inexpensive, and is probably one of the few places where you can get a bottomless cup of coffee. I can't vouch for the coffee since I'm not a coffee drinker. The Hungarian has got a reputation for writers taking advantage of their relaxed seating policy, they don't mind if you stay and stay, and there's an article up along the wall showing some of the books which have been written by authors who frequented the place. They've nice sidewalk tables in good weather, but you have to be on the prowl for them during high traffic times. The place in general is quite crowded with tables and chairs. The bathroom has got lots of political statements written all over it too. Cash only.

Even though I do have my stock of good cafés, I'm always looking for more, especially with good outdoor seating now that the weather is finally getting warmer.