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Archive for March, 2012

There is so much promise in buying a $5.00 cookie made with Jacques Torres chocolate in New York City. This kind of cookie has the potential to be great, specifically because it is backed by a name known for high quality chocolate.

I remember this cookie well. I bought it in New York City’s Chelsea Market. I was even asked if I wanted my cookie warm or room temperature. For $5.00, I felt that my purchase was going to be well-worth it.

Unfortunately, this cookie did not deliver. I asked for my cookie warm, but it felt more like a sad attempt to mask a cookie that was already stale. The “cookie” part was bland and hard as a rock, while the chocolate had a bitter, burned flavor, like it had been left in the microwave for too long.

I was disappointed, but I finished the cookie anyway. My hands and face were also covered in this ridiculously expensive chocolate. I’m pretty sure Jacques Torres was just having a bad day, so it’s hard for me to pass judgement based on this incident. Still, it was not worth my $5.00.

When I look for a good cookie, I look for several things – quality of chocolate, distribution of chocolate (does it use chocolate chips, chopped chocolate or both?), flavor of the dough, and crispness versus chewiness.

Potbelly, a popular sandwich chain with numerous locations across the country, has a store a few blocks away from my apartment. In addition to my usual sandwich, I always buy an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. (Thanks to dfw.com for the image.)

The cookie is crisp on the outside and soft in the center, just the way I like it. The melted chocolate chips are small enough not to make a mess. The cookie is somewhere in between thick and paper thin. This cookie is much better than the one I previously mentioned, and it’s $1.25.

Unfortunately, I’ve had to learn the hard way that you don’t always have to visit an expensive, fancy-schmancy bakery with an internationally renowned name to find an excellent chocolate chip cookie. I didn’t have to try to find Potbelly’s cookie, either. They are so abundant I might as well build a house out of them. Wait, a cookie house? Hmm…

Corner Bakery, another sandwich/coffee/desserts chain in D.C., is another winner on my list. The “Monster Cookie” (Pictured, left – thanks to runnersworld.com for the photo.) combines chocolate chips and M&Ms, making it much more chocolatey than Potbelly’s. The cookie is also crisper than Potbelly’s, but it is just as soft in the center. As a result, the contrast of the outside and the center of the cookie is more intense.

This cookie is incredible, and it’s $1.50. There’s a location in Union Station I frequent, but they are all over the city (as well as across the country!).

Grocery stores can also be a good bet for delicious cookies. I have been a fan of Whole Foods’ chocolate chip cookies for years. These cookies tend to be softer and less crisp than the last two I highlighted, but the chocolate chips are rich and flavorful. I also like BJ’s chocolate chip cookies, as well as Harris Teeter’s (My mom used to pack these in my lunches when I was in middle school).

Despite the winning cookies I mentioned above, there really is nothing better than a homemade, freshly baked cookie. If you have a good recipe, take the time to bake your own. I think it makes a difference.

Here is a great recipe I received at culinary school from one of my instructors, Chef Somchet. I like to use Ghirardelli chocolate, which packs the most flavor out of any other chip I’ve ever used.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

• 4 ½ oz. Crisco
• 4 ½ oz. soft butter
• 8 oz. sugar
• 8 oz. brown sugar (dark)
• 2 eggs
• 1 egg yolk
• ½ tsp. vanilla
• 14 oz. AP flour
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. salt
• Sea salt (optional)
• Chocolate chips
• Chopped chocolate bar

Instructions

1. Combine Crisco and softened butter in mixer (can use a hand mixer or a KitchenAid mixer).
2. Add brown sugar and sugar, and then cream with butter and Crisco.
3. Add the yolks and eggs slowly, one at a time.
4. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together, and then add to the other ingredients. Mix well.
5. Add vanilla and continue to mix.
6. Stir in chocolate chip and chopped chocolate with spatula.
7. Use ice cream scoop to place dough onto a sheet tray lined with Crisco.
8. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
9. Sprinkle the top of each cookie dough cluster with sea salt (optional).
10. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

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District of Pi

The first, and seemingly last, time I have eaten a deep-dish pizza was at a summer camp I used to attend when I was younger. The camp’s food was generally good, but every now and then, something horrid appeared on our plates. I can remember the day we were served deep-dish pizzas. It was a mess of bitter tomato sauce, undercooked peppers and onions dumped inside a thick, soggy crust. It did not look appetizing either. After one painful bite, I’d had enough. At least there was a salad bar.

Until I recently visited District of Pi in the Penn Quarter, I’d never touched another deep-dish since.

Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Pi opened their D.C. location in August of last year.  The words “PIZZA” and “BEER” surround a pi symbol above the door. Simple, yet effective.

Pi’s sign is up there with the front window of Michel Richard’s recent meatball shop a few blocks away. The window displays “meat” in small, nondescript letters,” and “BALLS” in capital letters (read my review here!). As I said before, simple, yet effective. I can’t pass by without giggling like an immature middle schooler.

The menu at Pi offers specialty deep-dish pizzas, such as “the kirkwood,” with mozzarella, Italian meatballs, red peppers and basil, and “the penn quarter,” with roasted eggplant, sausage, red onion, basil and ricotta. In addition to the deep-dish pizzas, the menu offers several thin-crust options.

My party decided on “the bucktown,” a deep-dish pizza with mozzarella, roasted chicken, artichoke hearts, red bell peppers, green olives, red onions, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

After completing six months of culinary school, I have become more open-minded when it comes to food. I don’t have to like everything I eat, but it’s important to me to try it first. In addition, the same goes for foods I’ve had in the past and disliked. So why not give deep-dish another chance?

Not being very familiar with deep-dish pizzas, I was instantly intrigued by the bucktown’s appearance – a thick crust that contained a generous amount of chunky tomato sauce piled on top of chicken, artichoke, peppers, olives, red onions and cheese. I tried the crust, immediately tasting cornmeal. After a little research, I discovered that deep-dish pizza crusts are traditionally made with ingredients such as flour, cornmeal, salt and olive oil.

What I loved about this pizza were its flavors – it was jam-packed with incredible, vibrant flavors. The sweetness of the cornmeal crust combined with the acidity of the tomatoes and the saltiness of the cheese…delicious.

This pizza lifted my previous qualms about deep-dish. It was filling, too – two slices did it for me. In addition to their pizza, Pi has a strong beer list. I enjoyed a few beers from Schlafy, a local brewery near their St. Louis location.

On a Saturday night, the inside of Pi was crowded, loud and filled with energy. I hope the restaurant continues to do well – Pi is a great addition to the D.C. area, being that there are limited options for deep-dish in the city.

(thanks to pi-dc.com for the photos – my iPhone didn’t fare so well in the low lights.)

District of Pi on Urbanspoon

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I have always found making desserts to be rather intimidating. There are so many exact measurements and precise baking temperatures, but there is so little room for error. I am more drawn to the flexibility of savory cooking, where recipes often say, “season to taste” or “simmer over low heat until ready.” Perhaps this philosophy of cooking fits my often spontaneous and open-minded personality better.

The recipe below I am listing is from the “restaurant challenge” we had a few weeks ago at culinary school (read about it here: The Restaurant Challenge). Although I didn’t write about it in my post, I worked the dessert station for the second day of the challenge. At first, I was worried – my experience with souffles, making crepes and flambéing bananas was quite limited. When I tried to make cinnamon ice cream for the team and screwed up my base, the Creme Anglaise, I panicked. However, one of my instructors, Chef Michel Pradier, calmed my nerves by helping me to come up with a brilliant flavor of ice cream.

I say brilliant because the way Chef took my botched cinnamon creme anglaise, the typical base for ice cream, and effortlessly fixed it was quite incredible. A key part of making Creme Anglaise is making sure the mixture is sufficiently cooked over low heat. I took this principle a bit too far, to the point where lumps of cooked egg stuck to the bottom of my pot. Chef Michel, with his French accent said, “No, no my dear. Let me add a little this, a little that…” and poured in seemingly random amounts of melted butter and cream. Doing so would mask the overcooked egg flavor while giving the ice cream an added element of creaminess and smoothness. He then added lime zest to help offset the sweetness. How did he know how to do that? Perhaps over 30 years of experience could be part of the explanation, but still!

Finally, with a smile, he poured in a generous amount of Grand Marnier. I watched in amazement, as Chef made my failure into something delicious. He explained to me that knowing how to react to any situation in cooking is one essential part of being a great chef.

Chef Michel’s Cinnamon Citrus Ice Cream
(Note: to make this recipe, you must have an ice cream maker!)

Ingredients

  • Crème anglaise
    • 2 cups milk
    • 3 egg yolks
    • 5 oz. sugar
    • Vanilla
  • Butter (soft)
  • Heavy cream
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • Grand Marnier (1-2 tablespoons)

Instructions

  1. Prepare crème anglaise by first warming up milk (do not let it burn or boil) in a pot over low heat.
  2. In bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Slowly add the warm milk and whisk. Pour the mixture back into the pot and place over low heat.
  4. Stir over low heat with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens. The crème anglaise should coat the back of the spoon.
  5. While still warm, add soft butter and cream to crème anglaise and whisk to combine.
  6. Add cinnamon, lime zest and Grand Marnier. Whisk well and adjust to taste.
  7. Chill crème anglaise in freezer over ice.
  8. Place in ice cream maker and let machine run for 20-30 minutes.
  9. Keep in freezer, but move to the refrigerator a little before serving so it is not too hard.

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My parents have always had one thing to say about New York City – choose nearly any restaurant at random, and chances are, it’s going to be good. I have many fond fine-dining memories from visiting the city with my parents when I was younger.

In terms of food and restaurants, there is more variety than I know what to do with in New York. In the same weekend, I sipped a chocolate martini, tried Korean fried chicken in Koreatown, and dined on perfectly al dente pasta at an Italian market. I could not have been happier (and more stuffed).

Here’s a rundown of my meals over the weekend. Enjoy! And while you’re at it, listen to your parents. They usually know what they’re talking about.

Breakfast

The Grey Dog – This is a cozy little coffee spot near the corner of 16th and 8th Avenue. I tried the homemade granola with yogurt, accompanied by sliced strawberries, bananas and blueberries (pictured, left). The granola was spot-on, neither too sweet nor too bland. The free refills of coffee were also a nice touch.

Lunch

Caffe Gratzie – Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this small but classy restaurant is expensive, but what do you expect? (It’s New York City and it’s the Upper East Side!) I felt a little out of place amongst the well-dressed ladies on lunch dates. However, my Parma panini with prosciutto, mozzarella and a black olive tapenade was quite tasty.


Chelsea Market
 There is more food here than I could ever imagine. Literally, this market has it all – fresh seafood, a chocolatier, a creperie, multiple bakeries, a fromagerie (cheese store), a kitchen supply store, a butcher, cupcakes, thai food, vegan/raw food, a nuts, candies and spices shop, and more. Yes, there is still more. I bought a housemade hot dog topped with beefy from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats. It was messy, but delicious. This was no Oscar Meyer wiener.

Dinner

Ayza Chocolate and Wine Bar – A small, low-lit dining room with very limited seating (thankfully, my friends and I had reservations) near Penn Station, Ayza serves chocolate truffles and chocolate infused libations and beverages in addition to its dinner menu. My chocolate martini, although $16 (yipes), was delicious. With my martini came a Jacques Torres (a famous chocolatier) cappuccino chocolate truffle. I also tried a chocolate wine. The food is good as well, but the highlight of this place is clearly the chocolate.

Eataly – Located on 5th avenue, this is an indoor Italian market owned by Chef Mario Batalli. He’s a well-known name around New York, and own numerous restaurants in city. He has also appeared on television multiple times, namely as one of the master chefs on Iron Chef America. What I love the most about Eataly is the atmosphere. The large, open space is divided into mini-restaurants – pizza and pasta, fish, vegetables and a wine bar that offers standing tables. I decided on pasta and dined at the bar (the tables were a 30-45 minutes wait!), right in front of the grill and food prep area. As a culinary student, I could not ask for a better seat. To be able to watch the cooks prepare my food before I enjoyed it was a treat. Around the restaurants is a market selling fresh fish, produce, pasta, cheese, olives, bread, and more. I have heard you can buy a glass of wine from the bar and do your food shopping at the same time. I approve.

 

Late Night

Bon Chon – Near Penn Station is a small collection of streets known as Koreatown, is a collection of restaurants serving up everything from Korean fried chicken to Korean barbecue to pho. I’ve heard of Chinatown, but never Koreatown. I’m not sure why my friends and I decided on Bon Chon, a fast-food restaurant specializing in fried chicken. However, my chicken tenders and sweet potato fries were more than satisfying at 2 a.m.

Pommes Frites – Known for their Belgian style french fries and unique dipping sauces, Pommes Frites is a tiny place
near the East Village. Fries are ordered at a counter and prepared to order. Open until 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, the line is often out the door (perhaps to remedy a case of the drunk munchies?). Vietnamese pineapple mayo, rosemary garlic mayo, dill lemon mayo, peanut satay and curry ketchup are among the unique selection of dipping sauces that Pommes Frites offers. I tried the rosemary garlic mayo with my frites. The mayo  took an already perfect combination of flavors (rosemary and potatoes) to whole new level of awesomeness.

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