Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Trends in My Kitchen 2012

Hamachi with Vietnamese Chili-Fish Sauce
Have you had enough of the Year End Lists?  In case you haven’t been paying attention, there have been a few.  I’ve seen Best Restaurants, Best Dishes, Top Food Trends, Best Fast Food, not to mention psychic predictions as to what we can all expect to be eating, trending, and “besting” in 2013

I’ll leave the “Best of” lists to the professionals.  But even in my own universe, food seems to cycle, each year bringing its own personal set of top eats.  2010, for example, would certainly have been The Year of the Duck.  Once John found out I could sear a mean Muscovy, he put in a request for said duck dinner at least once a month.

2011 could have been a few things, but I’ll give a special mention to the clay pot. A simple unglazed bean pot inspired many a long simmered dish from Jamaican goat curry to rabbit ragu. 

Which brings me to the Top Trends in My Kitchen of 2012. 

Saturday Fish
Hamachi Collar
Once John learned how to navigate the tourists and overwhelming selection of fish and seafood at The Lobster Place, our fish consumption skyrocketed.  Walking home from a Friday night or Saturday morning workout, he might swing through and pick up whatever was looking good at that moment.  Opah belly, ahi tuna, hamachi collar, fresh Florida shrimp- we threw the net wide.  I'd prepare the fish simply and we'd eat it alongside a salad. Our Saturday lunches became infinitely healthier.

Grilled pork with Japanese Sweet Potatoes
Wide World of Potatoes
It all started with John’s famous sweet potatoes, roasted with garlic and rosemary, and the occasional dollop of duck fat.  Feeling bold one day, we swapped out the sweets for Purple Peruvian potatoes.  The entrance of Foragers Market to our neighborhood brought the discovery of sublime, creamy Red Bliss potatoes from a local farm, so far removed from the typical grocery store variety it was like I was discovering the potato for the first time.  Then came the revelation of the Japanese variety from BodhiTree Farm at Abingdon Square Farmer’sMarket.  These tiny, misshapen tubers were so intensely sweet I could eat them practically by themselves with little more than salt and pepper.

Ice Cream on Hand
New best practice for dinner parties: always have homemade ice cream in the freezer.  The gift of a Cuisinart ice cream maker last Christmas turned into the unexpected dinner party savior I never knew I needed but apparently did. Keeping ice cream on hand saved me from having to make one more dish on the day of the party, while still reaping the benefits of serving a homemade dessert.  From milk chocolate with Oreos, to lemon sorbet, to pumpkin with candied ginger, there was an ice cream recipe to fit any season and every menu. 

What will be trending in the months to come?  Will John start adding pineapple to his berry smoothies?  Will coriander replace cumin as my favorite spice in the cabinet?  Will potatoes take a backseat as we sample the international rainbow of rice?  Only time will tell.  But if it happens in my kitchen, you will probably be reading about it right here, on Pho the Love of Food.  

Happy New Year! With Vietnamese Duck and Rice Noodles

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, December 17, 2012

From the Slanted Door to Your Front Door

Cooking Fish for "Halibut Vermicelli with Dill"
It is rare I cook four recipes from a book in a year, let alone a week.  Yet since the moment I received Charles Phan’s new cookbook, Vietnamese Home Cooking, I have only been able to put it down long enough to pick up my chef’s knife and start chopping. 

It is no secret I love Vietnamese food (my blog is named after the country’s most famous dish). And The Slanted Door, Phan’s deservedly popular San Francisco restaurant, has also long been one of my favorites in that city.

However, I will admit I was skeptical the first time I pulled up a stool at the sleek and sunny restaurant bar with its sweeping bay views.  How could this chic space possibly remain true to the food I had devoured on roadside plastic stools and make shift restaurant shacks? 

Then came the crepe.  The Slanted Door may have boasted central air conditioning and walk-in refrigerators, but the golden pan-fried crepe presented to me, stuffed with bean sprouts, pork and shrimp, was a near perfect replica of one I had eaten some years before in Saigon on an oppressively humid day sitting outdoors on the dirt floor of restaurant tucked down a narrow alley. 

Ever since I have been wondering how to make that crepe at home.  Would it ever be possible to form that perfect golden batter tinted with turmeric and scented with coconut milk in my own kitchen?

Crepe with Pork and Shrimp
Thanks to Vietnamese Home Cooking I can now definitively answer “yes”.  To be sure, this book is not Vietnamese cooking lite.  Phan’s recipes sometimes require upwards of fifteen ingredients.  But they are the sort of Vietnamese pantry staples- tamarind, rice flour, fish sauce- that once stocked, will keep you in good supply long enough to work through much of this book.

As devoted as he is to creating authentic recipes, Phan remains a sympathetic teacher.  In a recipe for “Hue Rice Dumplings” he demonstrates creating the batter and forming the dumplings in six beautiful, full color photos accompanied by nine, clear-cut steps.  For “Bánh Cuón: Rice Crepes with Pork and Mushrooms”, he explains how to make the proper steaming contraption (a pot that would be sold specifically for this purpose in Vietnam) using a common pasta pot with steamer insert, fabric, and a 16-inch hose clamp easily purchased from Home Depot.

I have already worked my way through a few of the simpler, everyday recipes (Lemongrass Chicken, Halibut Vermicelli with Dill) as well as some more time consuming (Pork Clay Pot with Young Coconut Juice).  As for the crepe, or Bánh Xèo, it was as I had always hoped.  Thanks to an excellent teacher and his well written book, my crepe emerged as an authentic taste of Vietnam, cooked simply, at home. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Storm Diary, In Food

 New York City: Hurricane Sandy

Breakfast: Sky is eerily quiet but somehow foreboding.  (Or am I just feeling that way because of all the doom and gloom warnings on CNN?)  I make my usual 7-grain hot cereal with raisins and maple syrup.  
Coconut-Salted Caramel Cookies

Lunch: It started to rain a bit on my walk to the gym- perhaps the only place in Manhattan that is packed with people today.  Realized lunch will have to be at home.  Even though it is barely drizzling every restaurant is closed.  Even Starbucks.  Reheat curried butternut squash soup and toast a slice of Amy’s Bread's Tangy Sourdough.  Spent afternoon baking cookies to pass time with the little I could scrounge up in the pantry.  Came up with some rather delicious coconut-salted caramel thumbprint cookies.

Dinner: It’s here.  The power is out.  The wind is wild.  Something hit my window not long ago.  I know I’m not supposed to be near the windows but peaked out anyway.  My window planter is broken.  Probably just as well as not much more than moss has grown there in the last 12 months.  Not sure how long the power will be out but figure I should start eating the most perishable items.  I don a headlamp, light the gas on my stove with matches, and sear a small piece of skirt steak.  I slice the steak and eat it in front of the fireplace with tortillas and salsa verde. Beer is thankfully cold.

Breakfast: Woke up to a chilly apartment. It is still windy but doesn’t appear to be raining. Still no electricity.  Should probably get started on those farm eggs.  Fry an egg and have it on the last of the sourdough with some Vermont salted butter.

Lunch: What comes between lunch and dinner? Linner? Dunch?  Anyway, I didn’t eat until 4.  Getting stir crazy, I packed a backpack and hiked the 2.25 miles to the closest gym with power.  Worked out, showered, recharged.  On the hike home, like a bright shining light from heaven, I spotted a sushi restaurant with power!  Two rolls and a Sapporo later I was feeling more like a human being. 

Dinner: Started to think about the perishables.  Boiled the rest of the eggs. Moved the cheese and the rest of the beer to the freezer (very important).  Reheated the last of some cheese and chicken enchiladas from a few nights earlier.

Breakfast: Poppy seed bread, a gift from John’s mom, was starting to defrost so I pulled it out.  Will be munching on this for days, I think.

Lunch: Long walk, over 3 miles, to meet my cousin for ramen in midtown. It is a different world up there in the electricity zone.  Tourists shopping, suits lunching.  Very different from vacant downtown. It was worth every step for spicy ramen with extra pork and scallions at Hide-Chan.

Curried Chickpeas with Spinach and Peas
Dinner: Made it back home just as the sun was setting.  With no streetlights probably safest to get home before dark.  It is Halloween.  Weird mix of people out on the dark streets: kids in costumes holding parent’s hands; gay couples, hands entwined dipping into the few open, candlelit bars; refugees, suitcases trailing, headed uptown to escape powerless, waterless apartments.  I lit the stove and fried up chickpeas with onions, garlic, curry, spinach, peas (last two salvaged from the leaking, defrosting freezer). Steamed rice, just enough for one.  Felt luxuriously homemade, eating by candle and firelight.

Urban Camping Food- Tuna + Hardboiled Egg

Breakfast: More poppy seed bread and cheese (staying somewhat cool in the freezer).  Sadly tossed out two duck carcasses I had been saving to make stock.
Lunch: Hardboiled egg, tuna, rosemary crackers.  This scavenging thing is getting old.
Dinner: The hike uptown today was not so bad as the trains are now partially working.  Had a burger and sweet potato fries at PJ Clarke’s.  The staff could not have been kinder finding me a table with an outlet to charge both my phone and computer. 

Carolyn's Poppy Seed Bread and Ossau-Iraty Cheese
Breakfast: The last of the poppy seed bread and some more cheese.  As of today, I am over this urban camping thing. Think I will spend most of the day uptown. 

Lunch: Found a nice quiet table in the atrium for ticket sales at Lincoln Center.  Hot green tea, Wi-Fi, lots of other refugees graciously sharing outlets. Met friends at Landmarc in Columbus Circle and spent a sum of money I will later want to forget.  But the braised lamb sandwich with butter pickles will surely standout as one of the most comforting meals of the week. 

Dinner: Lunch kind of ran into dinner and migrated to a friend’s corporate apartment.  We reheated my leftover sandwich and some pizza. We passed pieces around while watching the Hurricane Sandy telethon.  Too many bottles of wine consumed to count.  Disobeyed my own rules, walking home in the dark, only my headlamp and some traffic guards to guide me.

Friends celebrating the return of power at A Casa Fox
Breakfast: Let there be light!  Fired up the stove the old fashioned way to make seven grain hot cereal.  Still no hot water or heat. But electricity!  Sweet electricity.  Didn’t realize how much I needed you.

Lunch: Neighborhood is still scarily quiet.  Everyone just got power back so most restaurants are closed.  Walk for 20 minutes determining what is open.  End up at Bill’s Burger.  Getting tired of burgers and sandwiches but desperate times…. 

Dinner:  At A Casa Fox on the Lower East Side it is back to business.  A random mix of people- new friends, old, friends of friends stranded in Manhattan post-marathon cancellation.  We drink cocktails and pass plates of calamari and rice, empanadas, beef tacos.  We talk of waterless toilet strategies, the beauty of headlamps, the generosity of neighbors and gyms, the disappointment of marathons un-run, the many people less fortunate than us still waiting for help. We tie our bandana napkins in funny ways making neckerchiefs and silly hats.  We take pictures.  A snapshot of a time that none of us will soon forget. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

Monday, October 22, 2012

New York City: 2 Days, 2 People, $200

Grounded Coffee on Jane St. in the West Village

If you were in New York City sometime in the last week, you are the lucky few.  Crisp, clear mornings; falling yellow leaves; precious fading hours of amethyst daylight; these autumn days are the best days to be in New York. 

As such, I thought I would celebrate autumn, the city, and my 100th blog on Pho the Love of Food with an imaginary trip to a few of my favorite spots in the city right now.  No doubt one can blow the bank on a single meal in this town, but if you live here, that is not the way of life.  More likely you learn how to eat well, often sharing food with a friend or lover to get the most bang for your food buck. 

So here you have it.  Two days, two people, two hundred dollars to spend eating and drinking in this best of all possible times of year in New York City. 

Day One

I rouse John from his precious slumber sometime around 10:00am with promises of coffee just a short walk from our apartment at Grounded.  We pull up two mismatched chairs to read the New York Times over one extra hot latte with organic skim milk and one Japanese Sencha full leaf green tea.  Once caffeinated, we split a poppyseed bagel, easy on the butter, and one of Grounded’s signature breakfast wraps- a tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs and turkey sausage then griddled on a Panini press until crisp. ($13)

It is a weekday in this imaginary scenario so we hop the L train to the East Village for the “Duck Bowl Set Lunch” at Momofuku Ssam Bar (not served on weekends).  The sweet, sticky, juicy duck breast and shredded leg served with rice, lettuce cups, scallion pancake and a side of spicy roasted potatoes is almost enough for two people to share.  We throw in an order of duck dumplings for good measure all washed down with oolong iced tea. ($32)

After an afternoon long run on the Hudson River and some shopping for new releases at Book Book on Bleecker Street, John’s getting peckish.  A small order of fries with bourbon dipping sauce and two Belgian beers in courtyard at Vol de Nuit (otherwise known as “The Belgian Beer Bar”) gets us back in a good place.  ($25)

Do I feel any shame in eating regularly across the street from our apartment?  If the food weren’t so damn good at Corsino you’d have every right to call me lazy.  But the Tagliatelle with Pork Ragu and Mint is one of the most satisfying pastas in town.  We share an order of the tagliatelle and a half bottle of Valpolicella then call it a night. ($37)

Day Two

We take our paper over the Chelsea Market to stake out a table before the tour busses arrive.  A latte from 9th St. Espresso for John ($4) plus an oat scone and almond brioche from Amy’s Bread and one green tea ($12) gets Day Two started on the right foot. 

Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles
It is back to the East Village for lunch.  I’m pretty sure they add crack to the Spicy Cumin Hand-ripped Lamb Noodles because I get the shakes if it has been too many weeks between visits to Xi’an Famous Foods. While I take mine in a rich, soupy broth, John does his dry, or rather, stir-fried in a slick of chili-laced oil.  Our taste buds hum for hours. ($14.50)

We stick around the East Side and catch a movie.  By the time we come out the sun is fading signaling Happy Hour is getting started at Terroir.  We order two glasses of Musar Jeune, Chateau Musar 2010 (Lebanon) and an appetizer of sage leaves with lamb sausage ($20).

On the seven block walk south to Zabb Elee, I’m pretty sure I can smell the duck larb.  It’s calling to me.  Ground duck, shallots, mint, crispy duck skin, lime, scallion, chili.  My mouth is on fire. We wash it down by splitting a Beer Laos before moving on to the next spot. ($17)

We have room for one more beer and maybe a bit more food.  We continue the southward walk to the Lower East Side because there may be no better Asian food for soaking up excess liquor than the Ham Rice Cakes at Yunnan Kitchen.  The hearty bowl of chewy rice disks is tossed with shaved heritage pork and plenty of chili sauce.  It is drinking food with a conscience. We toast our successful two days of eating with an Ommegang Witte and a Victory Prima Pils.  ($23)

Total for the weekend: $197.50.  (Note this doesn’t include tax and tip but I’m pretty sure not everyone would be as inclined to eat or drink quite as much as us.)  I’m not sure eating this good can only be done in New York, but on gorgeous fall days like these, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be doing it. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell