Cauliflower Rotini (AKA The Perfect “One Bowl” Meal)

Cauliflower Rotini

I didn’t realize it until years later (actually this morning), but my mom tricked me growing up. Instead of making macaroni and cheese, she would cook me this vegetable-laden bowl filled with cauliflower and parmesan cheese. Today, this dish is my go-to easy dinner for nights when I want a cut above ramen but don’t feel like cooking an entire meal. It has everything I need in one course, with protein (chicken broth and parmesan), carbs (pasta), and vegetables (cauliflower) and makes the best leftovers!

Time: 35 Minutes
Yield: 4 Servings

You will need: 

2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 head cauliflower rinsed, trimmed from core, and separated into 1-inch pieces
12 oz. dried rotini pasta or another shape about 1 inch long
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

To make: 

  1. Pour oil into a 12-inch frying pan with 2-inch-high sides over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and stir until fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute. Add cauliflower and stir to coat, about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in pasta and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover, reduce heat, and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just tender to bite and liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, 15 to 20 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick before the pasta is done, add more chicken broth ½ cup at a time. Stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Afternoon Meze Platter

Afternoon Meze Platter

What could be more appetizing than a plate laid out with some lightly steamed asparagus, a poached egg, some radishes with butter, and an aioli dip? Placed on the floor near an open window, and paired with a good book, a meze platter is the ideal late-afternoon meal. But before I go any further, I’ll be honest. The first time this idea occurred to me, it was after watching this scene in Eat, Pray, Love. While the pray and love pieces of the equation only vaguely appealed to me, I could completely relate to the pleasure found in enjoying a simple feast for one. This past weekend, I found myself with an entire afternoon free, so I visited the open-air market by my apartment and stocked up on fresh vegetables, cheeses, and a bottle of rosé to recreate the scene and a perfect afternoon.

Simplicity is key. Part of the appeal of meze is that it is made up of simple components. There’s no need to douse the radishes in dressing, or to make the toast into a croque. Instead, the arrangement should be about the elements themselves. Have butter and salt on hand to put on the radishes, and keep mayonnaise on the side for the artichoke hearts, but add these little enhancements as you go, and don’t let them overpower the flavor of the vegetables themselves.

Meze Platter with Cheese and Tomatoes

Think Mediterranean. Meze platters are traditionally Mediterranean, and are served in countries like Greece and Turkey with fresh dips like hummus, falafel, and grilled fish and meat. While I prefer a simpler meze platter, it can be helpful to look towards these cuisines for inspiration!

Plan ahead. While part of the appeal of meze is that it can take as little as 10 minutes to create the entire meal, you might want to add some make-ahead elements, like this anchovy dip, or home-made wine jam to pair with the brie.

Location, location, location. While an Italian apartment or an open-air Greek home is not always immediately accessible (qu’elle domage), it’s possible to make a few changes at your house or apartment to at least feel like you’re at an Italian villa. Put a throw or blanket on the floor and arrange your meze (and wine!) around it, place some candles nearby (this one’s my personal go-to), and play some music (either Carla Bruni or this Spotify playlist will do!).

Have a variety of options. While fresh vegetables and proteins (like salmon lox and zucchini blossoms) should be the centerpiece of the platter, there should be a balance between the fresh and light and the heavier foods. So that every bite feels like your first, alternate between bites of cheese on bread (with fig or wine jam) and lightly steamed asparagus with lemon rind.

What’s on my platter.

Cheese {Brie or goat cheese}
Protein {Poached egg, smoked salmon}
Vegetables {Radishes, artichokes, asparagus}
Beverage {Rosé or an herb-based cocktail}
Carb {Freshly baked bread}
Condiments {Jam, pear mustard, aioli}

 

Review: Pok Pok Ny (Brooklyn)

Pok Pok Fish Sauce Wings

Every time the New York Times Dining section reviews a restaurant, Pete Wells attends the restaurant three times. No more, no less.

Visit 1: The first time my boyfriend and I went to Pok Pok Ny, it was on the advice of the Wells’ 2012 list of his favorite restaurants in New York. We made our pilgrimage through the freezing February weather, taking the F train into Carroll Gardens then walking a mile to the Thai restaurant, a nondescript spot on the edge of a quiet residential neighborhood. As soon as we stepped inside, we were ushered across the street to the adjacent bar, the Whiskey Soda Lounge to order a drink while we waited for our table.

The bar, filled with haphazard multi-colored Christmas lights and video monitors playing Thai movies, felt like something directly out of Bangkok. We found a spot at the bar and ordered two Hunnys, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice with honey drinking vinegar, tequila, and lime. Thirty minutes, four Hunnys, and a contemplated tattoo later, we were called across the street to our table.

Pok Pok is a New York outpost of Andy Ricker’s Thai-inspired Portland restaurant. And while one would think that joining the New York cluster of Thai restaurants is the equivalent of restaurant suicide, Pok Pok has survived, serving the food of northern Thailand not usually found in the city. Rather than use Americanized classics like coconut soup, Ricker opts for grilled meat-centric dishes with fresh chiles and herbs.

By the time we sat down at a gingham-covered table in the back of the dining room, we were starving. Just short of saying “One of everything,” we ordered the legendary Fish Sauce Wings to start, with pork collar, duck salad, and Tiger beers coming shortly after. As a lover of spice, I persuaded my boyfriend to ignore the warning signs of “green chili,” “served spicy,” and “Thai chilis,” and order the authentic preparations.

The Fish Sauce Wings came first, doused with sugar and deep fried before being covered in caramelized Puh Quoc fish sauce and garlic. They were everything we had hoped for: spicy and incredibly flavorful with tons of roasted garlic. By the time we received our second course, we were drunk, laughing, and eager for the next dish. So eager that I premptively poured half of the pork shoulder sauce onto my order of sticky rice. This proved to be a Pok Pok Rookie Mistake.

To say the pork shoulder was spicy would be an understatement. To say my boyfriend and I caused a scene, fanning our tongues, jumping up and down with tears in our eyes, and staring mournfully at my poisoned rice would be more like it. But it was delicious. Like a masochist, I went in for each bite preparing myself for the pain, but needing more of the delicious meat.

Pok Pok Whiskey Soda Lounge Anchovies

Visit 2: Naturally, when given a two-hour wait time for Mission Chinese’s eight-course popup restaurant, my boyfriend and I decided that that was the perfect amount of time to head to Pok Pok and get a couple beers and fish-sauce wings. Thinking we could eat a plate of fish sauce wings immediately before an eight-course meal is another prime example of a Pok Pok Rookie Mistake.

Visit 3: No longer amateurs to the incredible spices and highly-alcoholic drinks at the Whiskey Soda Lounge, we returned this past weekend for Pok Pok Round 3. Walking into Pok Pok, we welcomed the two hour wait time (“No seats? No problem!”) and sauntered over to our bar stools at the Whiskey Soda Lounge. “Two Hunnys, please!” Branching out from “the usual,” we ordered a bowl of Plaa Lek Twat Krob, a bowl of deep-fried baby anchovies with sriracha sauce, and Huu Muu Thawt, five spice fried pig ears with black vinegar dipping sauce. Both were… crunchy? I can’t say that I loved them, but my boyfriend downed the little flounders in one fell swoop. Call me impressed.

Thoroughly liquored and fish-breathed, we took our seats at Pok Pok just over an hour later to order our beloved fish sauce wings and pork collar, with a side of milk.

The trick is to look at Pok Pok as a portmanteau establishment of incredible dishes and daring exploration. Just as important as the delicious food is a healthy sense of adventure. Just be sure to mind the chilis.

Thoughts on the Half Shell: Oysters 101

Thoughts on the Half Shell Taste Talks Oysters

“Take it naked.” Excuse me? The woman removed the lemon from my grip and pointed towards the Blue Pool Oyster balanced in my palm. “Just slurp it down naked.” Oh. 

I’ve loved oysters my entire life, but I ate them the same way I drank solo cups of Franzia in college, without any knowledge that other varieties existed and proud of my ability to slurp them down. I could not tell you the difference between a Dosewallip and a Cuttyneck to save my life (Still can’t, but I’ll be using those names as my expletive of choice from here on out. Dosewallips!).

This past weekend at Taste Talks, I attended an oyster and wine pairing that taught me a thing or two about our barnacled friends.

Oyster 101:

  1. If you’ve never had an oyster before, start with the Kumamoto {Oregon}. It’s small, sweet, and fruity, with a very subtle taste.
  2. Oyster season is officially in months that have an “R” in them, i.e. the winter months.
  3. Words to describe oysters with: zesty, fatty, crunchy, meaty, balanced, briny, buttery, sweet, bold.
  4. When in doubt, order a classic gin martini with a lemon twist to pair with your oyster.
  5. Oyster tumbling is a means of producing oysters to give them a deeper cup but a smaller shell. This method is used with Hama Hama {Oregon}.
  6. West Coast oysters are often meatier, while East Coast oysters (all derivatives of the Virginica species) are often slurpier and more balanced in flavor. Island Creeks {Massachusetts} are often considered the quintessential East Coast oyster.
  7. Oysters taste best during the winter because during the summer, they load up on a sugary substance called glycogen that’s incredibly flavorful.

Oyster and Wine Pairings:

Hama Hama Oysters with Aop Blanquette De Limoux Mauzac, Chardonnay
Blue Pool Oysters with Aop Crémant De Limoux Brut 2012
Row 24 Oysters with Aop Picpoul De Pinet Piquepoul
Island Creek Oysters with Byrrh Grand Quinquina

10-Minute Summer Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes

Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes and Burrata

One of my favorite parts of summer is the abundance of fresh beautiful tomatoes, so as the summer is ending, I’ve tried to incorporate them into most of my dinners. This recipe is a perfect late summer meal that’s incredibly easy. The entire process takes about ten minutes so it’s ideal for after work, and the combination of burrata and tomatoes is delicious! I paired it with a kale and arugula salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes on top.

Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

You will need:

1/2 lb. fresh Tagliatelle pasta
1 c. sun gold cherry tomatoes
1/4 lb. burrata cheese
2 tbsp. butter (I use “Plugra” or “European Style” for its high fat content)
A few leaves of basil
Olive oil

To Make:

  1. Cook pasta (keep in mind that fresh pasta takes only 2-3 minutes!), drain and return to pot.
  2. While cooking the pasta, place the tomatoes in a hot frying pan with olive oil and cook until charred or burst.
  3. Add butter to the pasta and salt to taste.
  4. Plate the pasta, and add the burrata, tomatoes, and basil on top!

Taste Talks: Do Restaurant Reviews Matter?

Do Restaurant Reviews Matter Taste Talks

This weekend, I attended Taste Talks, a three-day food festival in Brooklyn “exploring the culinary cutting edge for a food-obsessed generation.” Over the course of this week and next, I’ll be covering the meals and panels I attended under the headline “Taste Talks.”

To the left of Sam Sifton, the Food Editor of The New York Times sit the CEO of the curated review site Taste Savant and an Editor at Tasting Table. Ruggy Joesten of Yelp adjusts himself uncomfortably in his seat. The panel’s moderator draws the audience’s attention to him, “Ruggy, you’ve been quiet for the last five minutes.”

“Product reviews do well for Patagonia jackets but they do less well for three-start restaurants.”

Ruggy laughs. He seems like a likable guy, referencing “bomb-ass” burritos and apologizing for his surfer-dude vocabulary. But here, as the New York Community Director of Yelp, he’s the lone champion of crowd-sourced restaurant reviews in opposition to a panel of professional dining savants. He references the “wisdom of the crowd” and their ability to give a voice to the “small business owner in Des Moines.” (There are a lot of references to this uneducated, unsophisticated “Des Moines” representative throughout the weekend.)

“I use Yelp,” Sam Sifton says, “For products. Product reviews do well for Patagonia jackets but they do less well for three star restaurants.” He continues, “Restaurants are culture, and culture matters. Restaurants should be treated as our city’s artistic cultural pursuits.”

But reviews no longer have the power they used to. Restaurant-owner Carlo Mirachi of Roberta’s says, “A Times review used to have the power to close a restaurant, but that doesn’t really happen anymore because people want to make their own opinions about food.”

Diners today may take the time on an hour-long commute to read a 4,000 word review, but often they need instant gratification and access to what Joesten calls the “Twitterization” of reviews. “Some people just want the quick and dirty.”

“If you’re walking down the streets of New York at 7 pm,” Jocelyn Mangan of OpenTable says, “what’s going to give you decision confidence?” Sifton, who abandoned Yelp completely after a regretful Chinese dinner in Des Moines (again with Des Moines), cites the lack of context and education in the amateur restaurant review. Mirachi agrees, “The amateur food enthusiast who has never travelled to Japan does not have the experience to be able to review a sushi restaurant stateside.”

“If something is mentioned enough times, it becomes true.”

But these amateur reviews carry weight. Last year, Yelp’s revenue grew 72%, and there’s something to be said for the consistency of reviews. “If I see one review that the roast chicken is bad, I’ll probably still try it. If I see two or three reviews of the terrible roast chicken, I’m less likely to try it,” Mirachi says. Yelp has the unique power to combine hundreds of reviews and pull from them highlights that are consistent. “If something is mentioned enough times, it becomes true,” Mangan adds.

And then there’s the mother of all reviews. “Have you even read a Michelin review??” Sam Sifton asks, referencing the review created by two French tire manufacturers over a century ago. “I mean the actual review in the Michelin guide. It’s like it’s written through Google Translate.”

Maybe it’s time that the century-old maidens of reviews release their widow’s grip. Times are changing, creating a place for both the curated and the crowd-sourced. After all, Anthony Bourdain is a huge Yelp fan.

Fried Chicken 101 (and where to find it)

Buttermilk Channel Fried Chicken

Up until this summer, I could count the number of times I’ve had fried chicken on one hand (including the time my mom and I packed K.F.C. into Tupperware and brought it to a potluck). But for the past three months, I grabbed ice-cold beers and sunk my teeth into the best-battered birds North of the Mason-Dixon line.

What I learned:

  1. Classic fried chicken pairs excellently with champagne.
  2. K.F.C. also refers to Korean Fried Chicken, which is often fried twice and covered in garlic or sweet and sour sauces.
  3. A “dry brine,” also known as a salt rub, works along the same lines as a normal brine, but some prefer it because the lack of water means the fats won’t be diluted before cooking. On the other hand, a “wet brine” is usually done with salt water or buttermilk, which can enhance the flavor of the meat and make it more tender.
  4. Fried chicken descendants date back to the Middle Ages and include European fritters and West African chicken fried in palm oil.
  5. New Yorkers: You don’t need to trek out to Flushing to get delicious Korean Fried Chicken – Midtown and K-town have plenty of options.
  6. A twice-fried chicken has crispier skin, but less meat on the bone!
  7. Chicken fried steak refers to a piece of tenderized steak that is breaded and fried in the same style as fried chicken (so it’s about as chicken-y as chicken of the sea).
  8. Fried chicken is often brined in buttermilk because it is acidic and breaks down the meat fibers for a more tender dish.

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Super-Food Me (Oatmeal Edition)

Super Food Oatmeal with Blueberries

I’m all about a high-calorie, high-sugar breakfast in the morning, and often it’s the quickest thing to reach for: a power bar, yogurt and honey, oatmeal with brown sugar. Unfortunately, these foods don’t lend themselves to an active, high-power day. And since I usually run in the morning, I’m usually looking for a meal that’s satisfying, easy to make, and quick. Taking a hint from the ever-reliable “instant” classic, I’ve started making Oatmeal Superfood Bowls. All I do is cook a bowl of instant oatmeal and add in my favorite “super foods” and fruit. The whole endeavor takes about five minutes to make.

Once you’ve cooked the oatmeal, add any of the following (I usually add three Super Foods then one from each additional category)…

Super Foods:

  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Local Bee Pollen (Good for allergies!)
  • Coconut oil

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Review: Sushi Nakazawa (West Village)

Sushi-Nakazawa-Exterior-Review

In 2011, Daisuke Nakazawa cried when his mentor, Jiro Ono, told him he had finally succeeded at making egg sushi, a yellow custard that I would not ordinarily associate with sushi, somewhere between a cake and pudding. Relegated to making a dozen egg sushi a day, this acknowledgement of craft is what the student has been waiting for. Nakazawa recalled this moment while sitting in a tunnel of the Ginza train station in Tokyo, filmed for the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about the three Michelin-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro, tucked into a Tokyo subway.

At Sushi Nakazawa in the West Village, the sushi chef behind the counter is nothing like the monk-like man in the documentary, head bowed in servitude to his mentor. Today, he can only be described as jovial, more of a blushing Buddha.

Throughout the 21-course omakase meal, he laughs and jokes in between serving single pieces of incredible sushi: Ivory King Salmon, a sea scallop freshly scooped from its shell, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of fatty tuna. At one point, Nakazawa throws four tiger shrimp onto the counter in front of a respectable Scandinavian couple. The lively shrimp squirm and the woman jumps back in her seat before Nakazawa retrieves them and instructs us to repeat after him: “Sayonara!” Laughing almost satanically, he proceeds to pop each head off in rapid succession before filleting the recently deceased and placing them on a burial mound of rice.

Click “More” to read the rest of the review.

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Best “Cake” in NYC

Momofuku Apple Pie Cake

Photo: Pancake Princess Blog

I’m just going to put it out there: Cakes are over-rated. Yes, a buttercream frosting can be delightful, and I don’t deny that carrot cake can really hit the spot. But there are so many other desserts I’d rather spend my sweet tooth on than your average cake.

Not surprisingly, New York City has plenty of worthy options. So for all the other Manhattanites out there unimpressed by the rubbish you get at your average birthday party, here are some alternatives.

Dominque Ansel: Extra Large DKA. Gathering dust on the shelf behind it’s acclaimed counterpart, the cronut, is the DKA (“Dominique’s Kouign Amann”). Somewhere between a croissant and a muffin, its larger counterpart resembles a cake, with a caramelized sugar crust and flaky center. If you need me, you can find me dipping these into my coffee for an extra-indulgent breakfast.

Momofuku Milk Bar: Apple Pie Cake. This cake is transcendent enough to inspire an existential crisis (Is it a cake or a pie??). Better to just not ask questions and grab a fork. A dense cake layered with apple pie filling and topped with a crumble, let’s just agree that the cake and the pie ran away together and blessed us with a delicious lovechild.

Ample Hills Creamery: Ice Cream Cake. It’s a little sneaky to call two slabs of ice cream a “cake,” but I’m not complaining. Covered in a thin layer of frozen frosting, their Nonna D’s (a seriously delicious take on oatmeal cookie) and pretzel-infused chocolate ice cream take the… erm, cake.

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery: I Love New York Cheesecake. Collapsing under a layer of blueberries, this is not your average New York classic. The rich, cream cheese-based filling is enough to make me swear allegiance to the East Coast, home of the over-the-top cheesecake.