Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dough Ho, Part 2: Yeh's Bakery

As promised, another post on a different Asian bakery, Yeh’s Bakery, in Flushing. This was a fun place to visit, and it seems their curry pastry is killer. Another reason to visit. 

They have cakes and roll cakes, as bakeries would,

and these buns that I sadly am not familiar with. Might have to do with the Mooncake festival. Something to try next time. 

We went to hang out with a friend of The Fisherman in Flushing and, since it was around The Fisherman’s birthday, his friend got him a Boston Cream cake.

Sadly, the cream is a non-dairy creamer base, which isn’t bad, but it’s not…cream. It’s not terrible, I just don’t love the waxy mouth feel after you eat that stuff. 

It seems many Asians and people of Asian descent are lactose intolerant (like The Fisherman), so non-dairy is the way to go. 

Then here’s a picture of the birthday boy cutting the cake,

and enjoying. 

 Happy Birthday Fisherman!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dough Ho, Part 1: Tea Shop 168

In general, I try to have a good rapport with everyone in my office, the largest place I’ve ever worked. I think, overall, I succeed. The reality is though, that I have better relationships with some people than others. 

Sometimes it’s based on various commonalities, like a love of foods, animals, or art. That’s the way these things go where you have to play nice with others, such as school, and eventually work. I do wish we had naps at work, and perhaps even snack. 

Speaking of which, this posting was inspired by both work and snacks. I was having a conversation with a colleague that I really enjoy talking to, and the topic was Chinese bakeries. This is definitely something I file under “Awesome Things The Fisherman Has Introduced To Me and Will Be Eternally Grateful.” While calling both Chinese and American/Western establishments “bakeries,” their styles are quite different, which is what I like. 

It’s a fun, whimsical trip in baking, pastry making, and various bread-like treats. They’re on the snack-size, for the most part, are incredibly cheap (I think the max I’ve seen one item is $2.00), and it’s fun to see different versions of what we know as baked goods. 

Here I’ll write about one of two places in Flushing, Tea Shop 168 and Bakery and next posting, and close by Tea Shop 168, Yeh's Bakery. Worry not, this topic is far from covered in this one post, mostly because The Fisherman and I do enjoy going to these bakeries.

First up, Tea Shop 168, which is actually more known for its bubble tea than it being a bakery, hence the name Tea Shop and Bakery. It has an incredible breakfast selection, general menu of hot items, bakery items, and of course various teas, bubble and otherwise. 

Here are a tiny fraction of items they have here, and usually other similar bakeries. 

Pineapple buns, which, actually don’t have any pineapple. The name comes from the texture of the top of the bun, which is cookie-like in texture. Amazingly good!

Steamed pork bun, one of my favorites. I get ‘em whenever I can, and they vary in greatness, sadly.

Cream bun with almonds. Tastes like bread with cream. It's an acquired textural mashup. When in Rome...

Pork floss bun. I think we have a case of lost in translation here, it’s really more like a dry thready bacon bit. Delicious, try it, I promise it’s bacony goodness.

This looks like a boob. Sorry, sometimes I revert to a 13 year-old boy. 

Lotus seed paste bun. I don’t love lotus seed paste (as seen in mooncakes), it’s like a very rich peanut butter. Very rich. You might like it. I’d give it another try.

Something more familiar, called strawberry jam and pineapple jam cakes. Never had them, maybe one day...

Roll cakes, bûche de noël eat your heart out! I haven’t had one of these yet, but the soft spongy cake with the creaminess is probably incredible. I’ll keep you posted if and when I can be trusted not to eat the whole thing by myself.

More fun cake in interesting configurations.

Red bean paste pastries. Red bean paste has the texture of really creamy refried beans, but very, very sweet! It’s definitely an acquired taste, but I’d recommend trying it. Many Asian sweets incorporate sweet bean pastes so it’s a regular flavor. I do love it as an ice cream flavor.

And, while we’re talking bakery and not tea, here’s our bubble teas. Definitely not as super sweet as others I’ve had, like in Quickly, which, is good as I’m no longer a teenager and find the sugar overload waaay too much. I’m getting old…

We haven’t figured out what’s up with the labels, we’ll keep you posted.
Well, I hope that’s enough sugar to drag you through this grey, rainy, dreary day here in NYC. At least it’s Friday. Next, we’ll explore another bakery, Yeh’s. Yay Yeh! Until then, mangia!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sucker Punch Key: The Quest for Pre-Lenten Polish Doughnuts (Packzi/Pączki)

Lent is around the corner, so what do good Catholics do beforehand? Party it up, aka Mardi Gras. And, you use up all the good stuff, like dairy, eggs, lard, fruit, sugar and meat before Lent, since those were forbidden during the forty days of Lent. 

Of course this was back in the day, like the Middle Ages, when Lent was a lot more strict but even today Catholics all over the world party it up before Lent. Usually you don't eat meat on Friday, and you give up something you enjoy for Lent (like alcohol, sweets, swearing), or at least, that's what I grew up doing.

Sadly I did not grow up knowing about pączki (pronounced punch key, the Polish answer to using up all the good stuff before Lent. Think a super rich, brioche-like dough, fried, and filled with a yummy jam or cream. A jelly doughnut? Bah! To call pączki a mere jelly doughnut is like calling Shake Shack a simple burger joint! 

A year ago I read about pączki at one of my favorite foodie websites Serious Eats and I've been thinking about searching for it ever since. They also have a recipe for those more adventurous/baking inclined than I am. Actually I thought it proper to taste it first, so I have a baseline, then I'd consider making it. But after trying it, I see why it's a once a year sort of treat. That and deep fried zeppoles at The San Gennaro Feast.

Anyway, onto the pączki. The Fisherman and I made our way to Greenpoint in Brooklyn in search of these elusive fried yummies. But since we were in the neighborhood, we first stopped for something savory at Relax Restaurant. We were a bit early, so we wandered, and noticed other establishments also had the pączki. This seems to be a seasonal thing, so my guess is you get it while you can. But we were after the best, so we held out. We killed some time, got inspired for fried doughnuttiness, and returned to Relax.

After being fortified with Polish home cooking (and me butchering the name of a Polish beer, again), we head off to Northside Bakery. They had some incredible looking baked goods, as well as some standard Polish fare (is my guess). Being novices, we ordered two of each pączki: a cream and cherry, a powdered sugar plum filling, and a glazed plum filling. Here we can see them hiding in the back.

Some cream pączki waiting...

Boy, was that ambitious to order six of these. 

These are dense, so much so that The Fisherman and I split all six doughnuts in two sittings. Even doughnut connoisseurs such as we are could not consume a whole one. Besides, it's more fun to taste the slight variations.

First we tried the cream, which turned out to be a rich whipped cream with a bit of cherry. It was definitely cherry pie filling, which I had no issue with. Creamy, with a sweet tart cherry bite. Quite tasty.

Next, the powdered sugar plum filling. The plum filling, while sparse, was delicious. Any more would have been ridiculously sweet. The filling also had some rose water flavor, which to the uninitiated could be weird. Many Middle Eastern/Greek/Persian desserts utilize rose water and other floral waters as flavorings, ranging from incredible to tasting like you had to eat soap because you said a bad word.

In this case, it was really incredible. It really made the plum shine, as opposed to mushed prune taste, it brightened it against all that sugar and fat. Really nice. I think this was The Fisherman's favorite because it was the least intimidating in terms of richness.

Here, my pup is very curious about what we're eating, and is quite miffed we aren't sharing, yet. 

For me, my favorite is the glazed plum filling. Sure, the sugar is sticky in this one (more fun if you ask me), but the slight vanilla flavor from the glaze also adds another dimension, and plays against the plum/rosewater filling. 

One thing I didn't love was the seemingly overcooked taste of the dough, like it was fried way too long. But from the other pączki we saw, that color seems to be the norm.

In the end, it's always fun to visit my ancestral homeland (before I moved to Queens), and to feel like a stranger among others with similar last names, to feel like I belong, but I really don't. It's odd, but it's an adventure nonetheless. It makes me happy to know that after moving over twenty years ago, very little has changed in Greenpoint. I like returning to feel a little closer to a side of me that I'm quite unfamiliar, but am trying to rebuild, for me, and perhaps for my kids. We shall see. 

Up next, another culinary adventure...until then, mangia! And a happy Mardi Gras as well!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hot Pot Showdown, Part II: The Home Version

As I mentioned previously, if you want to save a decent amount of money (50%-75%), your best bet is to try hot pot at home. In this case The Fisherman had an induction heater, but a hot plate would work or even a sterno can if you’re very, very careful (and don’t have cats that happen to like playing with fire, screwballs).

Aside from that, the rest is super simple. First is the broth, which The Fisherman and his mom highly recommend Little Sheep Hot Pot Soup Base. Seriously, it’s really good. You probably won’t be able to read much of it, but there is some Engrish and that’s very fun. 

Here’s his family’s stash of Little Sheep, brought here before you could get it online, since The Fisherman’s mom is hardcore like that. 

Next, the spread. The usual suspects are present, various fish/meat balls, tofu, veggies (in this case baby bok choy) and seafood. Keep in mind this is for four people (actually three since The Fisherman’s mom was out shopping for the upcoming Lunar New Year festivities. That’s still a crazy amount of food). 

The Fisherman’s family already had this at home, so all we had to pick up was some read meat, namely beef and lamb.  

Next, the fun with the raw egg, seasoned and used to cool the very hot food that was boiled in magma broth. If this skeeves you out, then don’t do it. I tried it, I might try it sans egg next time, just to compare. 

One of many bowls of hot pot, fish balls, veg. Since you don’t want anything to overcook, sometimes there’s a pile up of stuff. And, if you get something a bit under (like a semifreddo of fish ball), just drop it back in to finish cooking. You know you’ve ingested worse things…

Then, to make things interesting, we tried it with some green bean thread noodles. These cook super fast, and are fun to eat. Problem is, they are SUPER high in carbs, like worse than wheat or rice noodles. I was about to huzzah for finding something tasty, noodley, and lower in carbs. Maybe next time, maybe next time…

 Since I’m one to play with my food, I had to fiddle with the noodles. Mmm
And for fun, I was learning how to do this origami-like paper folding (called Zhezhi it seems) with The Fisherman’s mom. 

This is mine, it’s not great, but for a first timer, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. 

So, that's Hot Pot 101. And with weather like this, hot pot would be a good idea indeed. 
Next time on Full Belly Alchemist, we'll see what adventures we went on, but haven't written about yet. Stay tuned, and mangia!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hot Pot Showdown, Part I: Minni’s

Hot pot, huo guo (fire pot), shabu shabu, all different ways to say fondue, but with broth. Fun and delicious! The Fisherman was less than enthused when some friends of his invited us out for hot pot. “I don’t get it,” he said, “It’s just boiling food.” His friend B’s reply: “Right, and grilling is just putting meat on fire.” Touché, B. I never had hot pot before so I wanted to see what the fuss was about. 

So, the 101 on hot pot: 

Basically you start off with a hot pot of bubbling broth (or two, usually a not spicy and a spicy broth). Then, you add many, many culinary accessories like veggies, meat, seafood, various fishballs/balls of tastiness (that sounds inappropriate…)

Everything is small/flat to make cooking quick. The stuff you put then is then fished out (or, in the case with Minni’s, each person has a bowl of broth). Your cooked food is then cooled off in a small bowl of raw egg and/or various sauces.
It’s interactive, it’s fun, and it’s great on a really cold day (which we haven’t had much of lately in NYC. 

According to The Fisherman, some Chinese families will blast the air conditioning in the summer just for hot pot. Something to consider). 

I wanted to do a comparison, first of hot pot in a restaurant (in this case Minni’s), and then one we had at home at the Fisherman’s house. TL; DR, if you know someone who does hot pot, or want to be brave and venture to an Asian market, do it at home. Save lots of money for lots of booze, or tasty things to put in the broth. For what you spend for one person, you can feed four or more people. But, like anything else, do it once in a restaurant for the experience. 

So, onto Minni’s. 

First, the fun adjuster for your pot. OOOO SHINY! I mean, it’s good to keep an eye on it and adjust as necessary, yes. And it’s in Japanese, but I think you get the gist of how it works. Left makes it cooler, hot cranks it up. Food and entertainment, what more could you ask for?

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble, fire (heater) burn and cauldron bubble, mwahahahahaha!

Next we each get a bed of interesting veggies. I don’t understand why the cabbage was in big honking pieces. Sure cabbage cooks down, but still, I needed to gnaw on mine to get it into manageable pieces. I’m also Italian, and therefore have a big mouth and even I needed help! I don’t understand the corn or tomato, I’d avoid the tomato next time, it wasn’t very tasty cooked. 

The various fish balls were tasty, the egg was hard to handle given its size and texture. The tofu too basically fell apart, good times. There was also a potato type thing that was interesting…

Ah, the dipping sauces. I made one spicy, with chili oil and scallions, and one with this AMAZING peanut sauce, and chili oil. Some like it hot :)

Then, the glorious meat, shaved super thin for quick cooking. Beef and lamb are standard. You can try chicken, but when you can choose beef or lamb, why would you?

We also got a seafood plate, I thought it was okay, but I find when I’m the one cooking my shrimp it never comes out tasting right, but that’s just me. 

Apparently it’s weird that I LOVE raw seafood, but I’m not too familiar with it cooked. That’s how I roll.

 And, the bubbling of the tastiness as my food cooks. 

Honestly, it was a fun time, but The Fisherman and I agree that the broth was very, very mild (like hot dirty water), and for each plate of meat/veg, etc., it could add up really quickly. It was a fun experience, I highly recommend trying it once, then continue doing hot pot, the home edition.

Until next time, mangia!