If there's one thing that's good about winter, it's the food.
Holiday food in particular has a way of warming you up and make your stomach happy so that for a second, you can forget how cold and miserable it is outside.
But really, any good food will do. So to make myself happy, I ate well this December. Really well.
And what a lovely winter it's been!
Let's start at home. These were all homemade.
- This was my first time making beef stew. The rosemary was key, the assortment of potatoes kept it interesting, and the wine made it...warming. Perfect winter food.
Crunchy peanut butter chocolate bars
- These are really simple to make, using just butter, sugar, peanut butter, graham crackers, and chocolate. I went to Trader Joe's to buy the grahams but they didn't have any of the usual Honey Maid ones that I'm used to, just their own brand's cinnamon grahams - so I reluctantly bought them. They turned out to be exceptional in this recipe, adding a delightful crunchiness that normal grahams would not have provided. These were particularly popular with my friends...think homemade Reese's cups.
Cinnamon sugar monkey bread
- I got the recipe from Baked Explorations, and did everything but bake it the night before (yay for saving time!). About an hour before my party, I took it out of the fridge and let it sit for about half an hour, then threw it in the oven. It was a very welcome warm, ooey gooey, cinnamon-y addition to the menu - don't make this if you're home alone. You just might eat all of it.
Coquito (Puerto Rican eggnog using coconut milk instead of cream)
- I made this virgin (the recipe is here) because 1) I didn't have rum and didn't know if everyone wanted whiskey, and 2) quite enjoy shaking drinks to order anyway. The coconut is not at all overpowering, and the cinnamon-nutmeg combination makes it recognizably eggnog-y. For those who find traditional eggnog too coat-your-esophagus-decadent, this is a delicious and unique alternative. I like to think the coconut creates subconscious tropical-island allusions in your mind too, warming you up just by association.
(Related note: Making your own drinks is great because you can control what ingredients go into them; my other favorite drink to make at home is Bailey's.)
Alright, time to get out of the apartment, hop a few states and really chow down in, where else:
NEW YORK CITY
My culinary heaven.
I don't think I've ever eaten this well for this cheap in a 60-hour time frame.
See proof below.
[Madison Square Park (+ other locations)]
The Shake Stack (Cheeseburger topped with a breaded and fried portobello mushroom filled with muenster and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, and "Shack Sauce")
- Yes, there is a cheeseburger AND a deep-fried double-cheese-stuffed mushroom. Yes, that is a lot of cheese. Yes, it is as amazing as it looks. And no, it is not as good without the burger. Or the mushroom. Both, yessss, both, my precioussssss.
(No, this was not mine. Sniff.)
(p.s. In case you didn't know, all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. I DARE you to click on the Stack. Do itttttt.)
- This was my burger. See how sad and wimpy it looks after the sheer epicness of the Stack? I mean it was still good, but I was secretly really jealous. In this case, go big or go home.
Caramel Apple Pie "Concrete" (daily special)
- This was alright; I think I'd go with another mix-in combination next time. I find that holiday flavors are really hit or miss in general, so this was a gamble. A little overly sweet, and maybe not the best thing to have, it being a frozen dessert and us having to dine outside.
- This, on the other hand, was as amazing as it sounds. A melted rendition of the ever-orgasmic combination of peanut butter and chocolate, this was hot, not-overly-rich, and had the perfect touch of saltiness.
- This cafe claims to have the "original cappuccino", of which I'm not entirely certain what exactly that entails. It was alright, though I think I prefer my foam silky, not fluffy (you can see the bubbles even in the picture)
"Banana yogurt" mixed with vanilla ice cream and topped with freshly sliced bananas
- This was actually pretty good, probably because it was basically a banana milkshake in parfait form. The yogurt added a nice tanginess and allowed me to trick myself into thinking it was healthy too. What.
No one said this was a low-fat trip. In fact, that just sounds terrible.
Spinach, sausage, and white cheddar strata
[Homemade, though not by me]
- Can you see the steam in the second picture? Freshly baked homemade brunch makes my life. Crispy edges, soft fluffy interior - amazing.
[Lower East Side]
I had heard about this bakery a while ago and was pleasantly surprised that it was right around where we were heading that day.
Strawberry cream cheese cupcake
- Sadly, this wasn't as great as I had expected; the cake was dry and this frosting was just alright. The strawberry flavor was really faint, and though I appreciate their use of real strawberries I feel as though they could have pumped up the flavor intensity, especially in the frosting.
"Sassy Red Velvet" cupcake (red velvet with a chocolate almond buttercream)
- I always try the red velvet at a cupcake shop if they have it (and I've been to a few, see this post on my old blog), and this one was, again, drier than I'd like. The frosting was the best part, mostly because of the slight almond flavor. If it had been plain chocolate I don't think I'd have liked it much at all.
In the cupcake's defense, my dining partner liked the red velvet and "loved" the strawberry one - so take what you will. I just call it how I see it.
Next, my ultimate ramen go-to:
Oh, how I love thee.
Having been here once before, the sight of the noren triggered a Pavlovian-like salivation response. Too bad I still had to wait 45 minutes to get seated - that's average, I think.
But then we were in.
When you think about it, 45 minutes is a pretty short wait to get into heaven.
Hirata Buns (Melt-in-your-mouth pork with lettuce and spicy sauce enclosed in a steamed bun)
Oh my god amazing.
- The butter-soft pork slice, the perfect crunch of the lettuce, the salty-umami kick from the sauce, the über soft and fluffy warm bun - heaven in your mouth.
You get 2 for $8 but it's SO worth it.
And the best ramen ever:
Akamaru ramen (Tonkotsu soup noodles with Ippudo's "special sauce", melt-in-your-mouth pork belly charsiu slices, cabbage, scallions, miso paste and garlic oil)
- The broth, pork and garlic oil are the key ingredients. If you've only ever had instant cup noodle ramen, you will absolutely die when you eat this. DIE.
If I had to choose one last meal it just might be this.
But that ramen wasn't even mine. This time I decided to try another ramen:
"Shiromaru Hakata Classic" (Tonkotsu soup noodles with pork loin charsiu, kikurage, menma, half of a not-quite hard boiled egg, red pickled ginger, sesame seeds, and scallions)
- Also delicious, and better than most ramen I've had because of the amazing broth, but the Akamaru is still my all-time favorite. I just wish they could throw this egg, with its perfectly just-solidified yolk, into it.
(But oh wait - you can, for $2 if you feel like splurging).
Some ramen notes, just FYI:
Tonkotsu (or "pork bone") ramen differs from miso, shoyu, or shio ramen in that it's thicker, due to the extensive boiling of the bones, fat, and collagen of the pork. It's my favorite type by far, possessing what I find as the ramen with the most depth, richness, and flavor.
Kikurage is also known as Wood Ear, and is a relatively flavorless, dark brown or black chewy fungus that reminds me of seaweed and is mainly just there for texture.
Menma is basically braised bamboo shoots. It tastes like bamboo, so if, like myself, you don't care for the panda staple, give them to your dining parter who does.
For those of you who are craving the old standby burger-and-mikshake combination, I'd highly recommend:
Their website says that they're the "Rare well-done burger restaurant". If the one burger I did have there last time was any indication of their overall quality, I'd say it's accurate.
The menu...specifically the milkshake flavors. It was almost painful to pick just one. I'll definitely be back to try the maple almond and ricotta pistachio at some point...
Oh, right. And they serve other food too. Here's the full menu.
Toasted marshmallow milkshake (regular)
- This is kind of what the Stand is famous for. It's like a cold, melted, drinkable marshmallow. Yeah, amazing. The mini comes with one toasted marshmallow on top (see my last post for a picture of the last time I came and got one)
Honey lavender shake (mini)
- Oh my god. Dare I say it? Even better than the toasted marshmallow. A flawless pairing of honey and lavender, not too sweet and not too floral. I just finished the lavender honey I got at a farmer's market in Boston, I now I am on a mission to get some more to try and recreate this.
- Don't bash it 'til you try it. The tempura batter stays light and crispy crunchy (not soggy), and the acidity of the pickle cuts through the oil. I'm pretty sure these are bread-and-butter pickles, and they're more sweet than salty. The mayo/aioli it comes with is good, but not necessary.
I apologize for the poor picture quality; I was a bit too excited to get inside.
Menu outside - I took this on the way out (hence the clarity).
These potatoes are double-fried Belgian-style
Clockwise from top left: Parmesan peppercorn, sweet mango chutney mayo, "war sauce" (frite sauce, peanut satay, and raw onion)
- The fries were good; they were fluffy, hot, and a few were super crunchy (my fave). The regular size was good for sharing between two not-so-hungry people. My favorite sauce of the three was the war sauce, my least favorite the mango mayo. It was kind of disappointing, probably because it didn't resemble the mango chutney I'm used to at all. The parmesan peppercorn was what you'd expect - really peppery and slightly cheesy.
Needless to say, I don't think you can really go wrong with fries and dips. Comfort food FTW.
Being in New York, we had to stop at the food trucks:
[location varies, check the Twitter]
Part of "what they believe" is that "Everyone has nice dumplings."
I'll admit I giggled a little.
Classic pork, Chinese chive, cabbage, and ginger dumplings with a soy-sesame dipping sauce
- Pretty good, though I feel like I can make better at home...especially for $1 a pop. Not bad though.
Chicken, Thai basil, lemongrass, glass noodle, and carrot dumplings with a spicy peanut sauce
- The dumplings themselves were pretty good, nice and moist and a pretty good size (twhs?) The star of this one was the sauce, though - I think I have a thing for peanut sauces. It was slightly spicy and of the right dipping consistency - not too thin so that you get a good amount on first dip, and not peanut butter-thick.
[various locations, check Twitter]
The most delicious Belgian wafels ever.
The people who work at the truck are awesome. They even took a picture with me.
Brussels wafel with nutella, fresh strawberries, and powdered sugar
- This was quite yummy. Airy, crispy, light, and slightly lemony, and well, what isn't better with Nutella and strawberries.
I also got a liége wafel with spekuloos, but gobbled it down before I had a chance to take a picture of it. Oops. The liége was definitely my favorite: soft and chewy with little crunchy caramelized bits. And spekuloos - well, that's just happiness in a jar. (Speculaas is a Belgian cookie similar to gingerbread in its ginger and cinnamon components. The German spekulatius is very similar and I actually found a box of these in New York too. Spekuloos is the spread form of speculaas, and has the consistency of peanut butter or Nutella when warm.)
If you're wondering what Dinges are, this is what they have on their shirts:
(ding-uhs) noun, plural
Used in Place of the noun or the proper noun,
when you can't remember the name of:
1. a thing
2. a person
3. your wafel toppings
4. like, uh, you know: stuff
So I guess the truck's name translates roughly to "Waffels and Stuff". Whatever, it's good stuff.
I have to try the savory ones next time, I hear they're amazing. (Here's looking at you, pulled pork and bacon.)
So that was my December.
And in case you were wondering, yes, I still fit all of my clothes, thank you very much.
I have a feeling 2011 will be a good food year, too.
Happy new year and happy eating, friends :)