Thursday, January 31, 2008

One hour at Cafe Zaiya

Spicy chicken sandwich, Cafe Zaiya
I stopped by Cafe Zaiya for some grub before meeting with JL and JS to drive up to Hunter Mountain for the weekend. Inside, I hemmed and hawed over the many choices, wavering between the combo pack of three half-sized sandwiches—tuna salad, egg salad, and ham, perfect for the indecisive—or a plate of mentaiko spaghetti. In the end I settled on the "Spicy Chicken Sandwich."
Spicy chicken sandwich, Cafe Zaiya
It was still warm when I bought it, as you can probably tell from the condensation on the plastic wrapper. The breading was still crunchy and the chicken was juicy; an abundance of a chili-and-mayonnaise sauce would probably provide moisture if it wasn't. The slightly sweet roll was squishy and even a bit chewy, good traits for this combination. Tomato and lettuce added little but weren't objectionable. Despite its name, this sandwich was not spicy in the least. Slightly gloppy, overall tasty.
Mochi doughnut, Cafe Zaiya
Along with the sandwich, I got this mochi donut. I love mochi and I love salty-savory-sweet combinations in general (hence the name!), so for me this was a perfect snack. The smattering of sugar provided the perfect amount of sweetness for the chewy, crisp-edged mochi. I only wish it had been just a bit less greasy.
Mochi doughnut, Cafe Zaiya
Not particularly healthy, but a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

These are just not photogenic.

IMG_0517.JPGThese ended up as dry, cakey cookies, pleasant enough, though I was hoping for more along the lines of crisp and slightly chewy as in the description. Mine also don't look nearly as dark as the ones pictured along with the recipe.

I'm guessing at least some of these issues are because I used unsweetened cocoa that was not dutch-processed. The recipe didn't indicate which kind to use and as dutch-processed cocoa is usually specifically called for, I assumed it was the former or that it didn't matter. However, in hindsight I realize that as the recipe used baking powder the writer might have meant to specify the latter? Certainly the difference in color is due to this reason, but I'm wondering if the difference in acidity is why they ended up more cake-like and dry also.

Finally, the dough was super sticky and didn't slice neatly at all despite sitting for two hours in the freezer. I had to manipulate the dough blobs with my fingers to keep them presentable.

I have more dough sitting in the freezer and I'm going to see if freezing overnight will take care of the stickiness issue. I'm also going to bake these cookies for a shorter time, maybe 9–10 minutes instead of 12, in an effort to keep the rest from being as dry.

"Intensely Dark Chocolate Icebox Cookies," Coconut & Lime

Monday, January 28, 2008

The un-risen loaves

After my attempt at "No-Knead Bread," I thought I'd give the one from Hertzberg and Francois's Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day a try. Though it calls for the bread to be baked on a stone or in a loaf pan, I also read that this bread would work nicely using the same covered-pot method of baking as Lahey's, so I went with that since I didn't want to deal with the water/broiler pan/steam thing.

For master dough yielding four loaves, I used 5 cups white bread flour and 1.5 cups white whole wheat (King Arthur brand). I didn't add more water to compensate for the whole wheat, but I think I should have.
So close, but yet so far
I had mixed, risen, and refrigerated the dough two nights prior and so I let the formed dough balls sit on the counter for an hour and forty minutes before baking. But as you can see, these loaves didn't rise very much at all, ending up practically the same size as when I formed them. Both just ended up looking all sad in their giant pots.
Crumb, dense and chewy; crust, just okay, initially thin and crisp but later just tough. But most disappointing of all was the flavor. It tasted like...nothing, if a bread can taste like nothing. I actually could love a dense and chewy bread but the flavor was so bland that I took one bite and didn't feel like eating it anymore. I suppose it could serve as a good neutral background to something strongly flavored (if that's ever desired).

I still have two portions of dough left, and these I'll let sit for another week to see if the flavor develops anymore. With these next loaves I am also going to let the second rise go longer, in hopes that they will actually poof up. Slashing the tops before baking may help as well.

Modified from:
"Simple Crusty Bread," The New York Times

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hand-held recharger

Nonfat frozen yogurt, Ikea
Nonfat frozen yogurt, Ikea. After a long afternoon of shopping, this really hit the spot.

Turkish for twelve

Mixed cold appetizer platter (large), Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine
For JSK and MH's 28th birthdays, I chose Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine for a celebratory meal. When I first discovered this place maybe six or seven years ago, it was a pizza joint selling Turkish food on the side. Then they ditched the pizza, opened up the back area, and expanded into a full restaurant. With spacious new digs and such a large group (twelve), Ali Baba seemed like a good choice.
Pide, Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine
We started with the large-sized mixed cold appetizer platter, which was served with baskets of fresh, warm, chewy pide (generously replenished throughout the meal). I thought the lebni, smoked eggplant salad, and babaghanush were tasty, but I found the hummus ho-hum (let's just call it ho-hummus), and the pilaki unremarkable. And the cucumber slice I nicked off the plate was bitter, which made me sad.
Lahmacun, Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine
We also split three orders of lahmacun, which due to a mix-up turned out to be enormous entree portions of three full-sized lahmacun each (so nine, total). These came with tomato slices, slivers of raw red onion, and sprigs of flat-leaf parsley to lay on top of or roll into the lahmacun (as I did). There were also lemon wedges for squeezin'. The tomatoes were tasteless and mealy, but the lemon and the fresh green note from the parsley nicely lightened up what could have been a heavy-tasting item.

I left out the red onion as I needed my breath to be smelling pretty for the festivities afterwards. Though who was I kidding, given the meal I was eating overall?
Manti, Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine
RL and I split an order of lamb-filled manti for our entree. This was tasty; chewy outer wrapper, flavorful, juicy filling. Could have benefited from a bit more acidity (hot sauce, lemon?) to cut through the yogurt sauce a bit, but no complaints.

I was enamored with the itty-bitty size of these little manti, which were like the tiny, round offspring of grown-up dumplings. Even the name is kind of cute. My heart will always belong to the Chinese variation, but I do want to eat every ethnicity of dumpling at least once. Next up: pelmeni.
Donerli pide, Ali Baba Turkish Cuisine
I snagged a wedge of donerli pide from LB, who had ordered it as his entree. Mine came sans tomato, which means I ended up with some minimalist doner-in-dough. Good, but about what you would expect.
They're turning five! (or fifty)
We ended the meal with a beautiful white velvet cake, baked by JL for our Aquarian guests of honor (she posts about it here). I dug the raspberry layer on top: tasty and attractive. The restaurant was really nice about cutting up and serving the cake, and no extra fee either.

They're turning five! Or fifty….

Ignore that pesky shadow at the bottom (sigh).

By the end, we were all stuffed—which didn't bode well for our partying plans later, but at least our stomachs were happy. Over the years I've relied on Ali Baba for well priced and consistently fresh, flavorful meals, and this place hasn't failed me yet!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A triangle of rice to ease the growling

Eel Onigiri, Jas MartEel onigiri from Jas Mart. The ratio of filling to rice was a little spare, but as a quick meal, it did the job.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

After a disappointing date…noodles.

Noodles and wontons with oyster sauce, Wonton Garden
After two hours of awkward conversation and zero chemistry, I tried to cheer up my evening by having a solo meal at Wonton Garden in Chinatown. The wontons in my "Noodles and Wontons with Oyster Sauce" were filled with shrimp and pork, and pleasantly peppery. The noodles had a nice, resilient texture.
Clear soup, Wonton Garden
The soup accompanying the noodles tasted like instant ramen broth (this is not a bad thing). And in the end, a plate of chewy noodles and a bowl of steamy soup proved themselves to be the far better companions of the evening.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Needin' some no-knead

Jim Lahey's method for a "no-knead" bread has to be the most blogged-about bread recipe ever, so I won't go into any intro here.

For my attempt I used one-third white whole wheat flour, two-thirds bread flour. Second rise in oiled stainless steel bowl instead of flour- or bran-coated towel; it slid out easily when it came time to transfer the dough into the heated pot (no messy, dough covered towels here).
After removing the lid I let the loaf bake for another 25 minutes, but next time I will shorten this to 15 as the bottom came out a bit burnt.

This loaf didn't rise as high as I expected to, perhaps due to the whole wheat. And while I loved the texture and the crust, I wasn't that impressed with the actual flavor. I will follow the Cooks Illustrated adjustments next time to get more of a sourdough tang. I may omit the whole wheat flour next time also, as others seem to have reported similarly disappointing flavor results with it. Next time I may double the dough amount so as to get more of that moist, chewy inside (my favorite part).
Bread in pot
The color of my dutch oven turned to rich burgundy after it heated up in the oven, but went back to fire-engine red once it cooled (note the color difference between the pot and the lid, which had already cooled off). I also later discovered a crisp golden-brown square affixed to the bottom of the pot when I was washing it—I had neglected to peel off the price tag sticker before using it in the oven! Luckily, no ill effects (that I could tell, anyway).

Modified from:
"No-Knead Bread," The New York Times

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Not-really Moroccan

Baked for SYB's (North African) Potluck. I went around calling these "Moroccan Date Cookies" as that is what the recipe description indicated, but I altered these so much who knows what they ought to really be called?

I used dates, almonds, cashews (no walnuts or dried apricots), and embedded whole cashews on top for decoration. The procedure for baking these cookies and their appearance was more like biscotti than I had anticipated—I was envisioning something more like a shortbread. Because of this, I was disappointed when these cookies first came out of the oven, but then after they had cooled overnight, I discovered they were utterly addictive. They were dense, moist, chunky, fragrant with nuts and dried dates, and not too sweet.

These are the slightly burnt ones; forgot to photograph the nicer ones before giving them away.
Based on:
Sefrou Apricot (Galettes Sucrees)

Saturday, January 5, 2008


IMG_0232.JPGFeuerzangenbowle, or "Fire Pliers Punch," a hot, German-style mulled red wine beverage consumed around the holidays. This cone of compressed sugar was suspended on a large metal tong (like a giant absinthe spoon) and doused with the rum-fortified punch before being lit on fire. As the sugar melted and dripped down into the wine, the fire slowly extinguished, and so the cone had to be relit several more times before our host blew it out to ladle the hot, sweet, spicy wine into our mugs.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

All dressed up on New Year's Eve

Pecan Pie "dressed up scoop," Quality Meats
Five of us went to Quality Meats on New Year's Eve to indulge in a festive meal. None of the photos came out very well, but above is the Pecan Pie "Dressed-Up Scoop" that we got for dessert. I was completely charmed by the miniature pecan pie perched on top of it. We also got a full pint of their Coffee and Donuts flavor—coffee ice cream swirled with donut chunks—which arrived in a paper tub with its own ice cream scoop (but sadly, without a tiny donut). Both flavors were delicious, but the Coffee and Donuts won out in the end, as the Pecan Pie was a bit too sweet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Choco Bundt

For steak night @ SYB's.

This cake, as the recipe description says, was really tender and stayed moist even after several days sitting on the counter (covered in foil). It wasn't too sweet and so was perfect for my tastes.

I dusted the cake pan with fine-grain sugar instead of flour, this seems to work reasonably well. I think the slight sticking I experienced when removing the cake was from not greasing the pan thoroughly.

I made this cake again about a week later and added 50% more cocoa with no compromise on texture or moistness. I may experiment with doubling it next time to continue increasing the "chocolateyness" of the cake.

"Featherlight Chocolate Cake,"