Monday, August 31, 2009

Perfect Crab Cakes

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There's nothing worse than a crab cake with fillers like potatoes or excessive vegetables. These aren't potato or veggie cakes, they're called crab cakes for a reason. You want to actually taste the crab meat. After spending a small fortune on good quality crab, why would you want to cover it up with excess? Although I was very hesitant to use canned crab meat, I opted for the most expensive canned crab meat I could find at Trader Joe's (it was $12, a deal compared to what you'd pay at a fish market, AND this canned version keeps in your refrigerator for much longer than if you bought fresh!). As you can see from the photo, once I opened the lid, I was pleasantly surprised! It wasn't a can of mush, but a can of succulent, delicious, good-quality crab! I was well on my way to a batch of yummy crab cakes. Next, it's important to keep it simple, which is what I did. Don't overdo it with too many spices, seasonings and (ugh) fillers! You want to showcase your crab, and this version does exactly that. These crab cakes are so tender on the inside, melting in your mouth, with a great crust outside. Try them next time you want to impress! You won't be disappointed.

Crab Cakes
Serves 4 to 6

For the crab cakes:
1 lb crab meat, picked over for shells (I used Jack's Catch claw crab meat from Trader Joe's)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. plus 3 T. olive oil, separated
1 egg
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. chopped parsley
4 dashes hot sauce
Pinch of Spanish paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup dried plain bread crumbs, plus more for dredging

For the sauce:
1/4 cup + 2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. lemon juice
1 T. capers, drained and chopped
Pinch of chopped parsley
2 dashes hot sauce
Pinch of Spanish paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat up 1 tsp. of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion until softened and then set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl, add the crab meat (pick over it for shells, but don't break it up too much), egg, mayonnaise, onions, mustard, hot sauce, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper and mix carefully. Add the bread crumbs, and fold the mixture until just combined. Set aside the crab mixture while you prepare the sauce. The moisture in the crab mixture will begin to soften the bread crumbs.

In a small bowl mix together all of the ingredients for the sauce and taste for seasoning. Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Add some bread crumbs to a plate for dredging your crab cakes. Portion out the crab mixture into whatever size cakes you'd like to make. You can make 4 to 6 large to decent-sized crab cakes, or a bunch of minis if you'd prefer. Shape the crab cakes into patties, but don't flatten them too much as you don't want to completely dry out the interior as they cook. Dredge each crab cake in bread crumbs and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the prepared crab cakes and cook on each side for 4-5 minutes until nice and brown (beware, if you make smaller cakes they will cook faster!). Remove from the heat and drain briefly on paper towels, just to blot some of the oil. Serve immediately accompanied by the sauce.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In a New York State of Mind: Part 2

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As promised, here is part 2 of my culinary adventures in New York City! I could have eaten three meals a day at different places for months and I would never finish finding new things. I guess I'll just have to move there someday! Haha! Enjoy :) P.S. The photo above was taking in front of Carrie Bradshaw's front steps from Sex and the City!! Just so you know...

Food Discovery #5: Classic NY

Sometimes the classics are just best. How does one go to NY and not visit the famous Katz's Delicatessen? It's where the famous orgasm-faking scene in When Harry Met Sally took place. It also has the best pastrami in the city! I'm not hugely experienced in the world of pastrami, but I figured I'd try it out! Note that there are certain rules in place at this establishment which you must follow in order to not be labeled a leper. First, they hand you a green ticket. You stand in a line for a carver (any line will do) and then place your order with them and hand them your ticket. They write down what you owe and hand back the ticket. You hang onto your ticket while you take your food and find a place to sit. After you've finished you return the ticket to the cashier and pay on your way out. Phew. Good luck. It's worth it.

Matzo Ball Soup and Half Pastrami and Mustard on Rye $13.95

The Wall of Fame!

"I'll have what she's having..."

A newer classic New York staple is the Shake Shack burger. There are several locations around the city, the most famous being the one in Madison Square Park. I've been there before, and this time opted to enjoy a burger after a long day at the Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. Shake Shack is right across the street! It's like these two were made for each other! Spend a day looking at fossils and rocks, emerge starving and exhausted, head over to the Shake Shake for a juicy burger and some fries! I'd like to note that I generally think that crinkle cut fries are the most stupidly shaped fries in the world. When faced with the choice of a frozen fry type to purchase at the grocery store, I boo and hiss in the general direction of the crinkle cut fries. Maybe it's the fact that in my life a crinkle cut fry has always either been soggy or dry and tasteless, but at Shake Shack they almost make me a believer! These fries were crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, served right out of the fryer, nice and hot. Thank you Shake Shack for teaching me that prejudice is wrong!

Double Shack Burger with Fries $10

Food Discovery #6: Random is Good

In a city like New York, sometimes the greatest finds are the unexpected ones. You fall in love when you least expect it. The same can be said for food! I came to New York with a pretty clear idea of places I wanted to try, and I left a little room for some surprises. Aren't I glad I did!

First on the list is the Petrossian Boutique & Cafe. I literally stumbled across this place by accident after I got out of the 57th Street subway station and couldn't resist stopping in for a pain au chocolat and iced latte to enjoy in nearby Central Park! The pain au chocolat was almost as good as those I enjoyed in Paris. The prices for the pastries are comparable to those at Starbuck's so you're not exactly denting your wallet too much by trying this place instead. I decided immediately that I would return at a later time to eat breakfast or lunch here another day during my visit. A few days later, I did. My waitress was a lovely French woman who was very helpful and friendly. I had already dined at the formal Petrossian restaurant a few days earlier and had some caviar, but not smoked salmon, so it was at the top of my list to try at the cafe. My bagel with smoked salmon was delicious. They served a generous piece of smoked salmon along with all the fixings one would want when assembling this classic. They also sell their famous caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, chocolates, and more at their boutique. Petrossian Boutique and Cafe is now officially one of my favorite places in the city. I can't wait to come back!

Yummy Pastries

The Holy Trinity: Caviar...

Foie Gras...

And Smoked Salmon

Bagel with Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Red Onion, Tomato, and Capers $11

My next "random" restaurant is Schiller's Liquor Bar. I had never heard of this place before, but apparently they have the same executive chefs as Balthazar. My friend Sydney suggested we go here, she'd been there before and I LOVE French bistro cuisine so there we went! We split the Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon (I think if the bacon was cut smaller it would have increased my enjoyment, but otherwise it was very tasty) and then I had the Seared Tuna Salad. It was exactly what I needed after the rich Mac and Cheese! Overall, I enjoyed my meal here very much. The decor was really cool, and even the bathrooms were interesting! Check it out next time you are craving some Steak Frites!

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon $14.50

Seared Tuna Salad with Arugula, vegetables, Nicoise Olives and Anchovies $17

The Bar at Schiller's Liquor Bar

The Old School Communal Sink in the Bathroom :)

After our lovely bistro meal, I suggested we head up to Payard Patisserie & Bistro for some dessert. Little did I know until we arrived (and I later Googled) that Payard had recently closed due to a huge hike in their rent from the oh so greedy landlord. So we headed all the way uptown for nothing? Not true! A block north of Payard's former location we discovered a French eatery called Orsay, completely out of the blue. Although it doesn't appear to have the greatest reviews on Yelp, it hit the spot for dessert! My profiteroles tasted like Cocoa Puffs in the awesomest way! This just goes to show that even when you're looking for something particular, and you don't find it, sometimes you can find a pretty good alternative right up the street!

Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce $10

Floating Island: Meringue, Creme Anglaise, Caramel Sauce, and Toasted Almond $10
Even if you wander aimlessly through the city as I've done, there are some places you may never find on your own. The following is an example. While tagging along with some friends to a stranger's birthday party at Pier 66 Maritime, I discovered a pier/bar/restaurant in one. There appear to be a couple of docked ships here (one of which is the Frying Pan) where people can dine as well as a Bar + Grill area that serves way more than just bar food. My friend and I were starving when we arrived and were pleasantly surprised to find such an extensive selection. We both ordered the crab cake, which was delicious and spicy, although the avocado on my plate was incredibly under-ripe, I will forgive them this one time, as my friend's was not and she shared some of her avocado with me. It was plated beautifully, not at all what I'd expect from a "bar." There was music and pitchers of beer and a pretty awesome view. They're open all day long (not just nights) so you can enjoy lunch out on the pier if you'd like, and only during the warmer seasons, but I'm so glad that I found this place as I'll be sure to return another time.

View of the West Side of Manhattan from Pier 66

Crab Cake with Avocado, Golden Gazpacho Vinaigrette and Chipotle Peppernade $11.99

Food Discovery #7: Bakeries

There are thousands of bakeries in New York, all specializing in various things. Just because they're famous doesn't make them the best. I've been told by more than one person to avoid Magnolia Bakery as it's completely overrated. The bakery at Petrossian was a great find, as was Baked By Melissa! My friend Sydney suggested we meet up here as she'd been here before and thought I'd enjoy it. I certainly did! These cupcakes are adorable and fun! They are the tiniest I've seen, almost like the tapas of cupcakes... you can try them all in one sitting! I love being able to enjoy a variety of things and not have to commit to just one (do I sound like a man? lol). I'll be honest, they aren't cheap. I got a dozen for $10 and split them with Syd. Each one is literally a bite. They were great for a snack, didn't fill me up before dinner (yeah I know, desserts usually come AFTER dinner) and were moist, delicious, and came in a bunch of great flavors. I pretty much inhaled them, but I'd say peanut butter cup, cookie dough, and s'more were maybe my favorites. Baked By Melissa is literally a hole in the wall off Broadway in SoHo, but if you're in the area check it out!


The Adorable Menu!

One dozen mini-cupcakes $10

Food Discovery #8: Avoid Eating in Times Square


I think this is pretty much a no-brainer, but I learned it the hard way. I had half an hour before I attempted one final time to fail at the Broadway ticket lottery, so I wanted a quick little bite before I headed to my doom (failure is worse on an empty stomach). TGI Friday's was less than a block from the West Side Story box office so I popped in, and to my dismay the prices were completely outrageous. A sandwich for $20?! I had a really amazing sandwich at the freaking Four Seasons in Beverly Hills for far less than $20! I told the waiter exactly what I thought of their prices, but didn't really have time to go searching for an alternative, so I ordered a side Caesar salad (for $9!) and decided then and there that I would spread the word and avoid this place like the plague. Don't make the same mistake I did!


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In a New York State of Mind: Part 1

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Tisk tisk, Victoria. I have been MIA for the month of August and offer my sincerest apologies. I have a good excuse, though. I've been eating... a lot. I was in New York City last week on a bit of a food excursion. Not only was it still Restaurant Week in the city (it's been extended until Labor Day so get on it if you haven't already), but I also tried out a lot of the city's other treasures. I am here now to share with you some of my greatest finds on my most recent visit to the Big Apple! Brace yourselves for Part 1 of my journey (and tune in later for Part 2)!

Food Discovery #1: Astoria, Queens

Anyone who knows anything about Astoria in the borough of Queens knows that it is famous for its Greek cuisine. Everywhere you turn you see Greek restaurant after Greek restaurant. I didn't try nearly enough of them to point out a singular favorite for my reader's to try. I can point you towards Omonia Cafe for their incredible bakery which produced the wedding cake for My Big Fat Greek Wedding and features countless yummy treats to fatten up anyone with a sweet tooth. They also have a great brunch deal on weekends from 11am to 4pm which gives you an entree, a dessert, a beverage and a cocktail for $12.95!


Strapatsada: Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes, Feta, and Oregano, Served with Pita Bread

Amygdalou: Layers of White Sponge Cake Filled with Vanilla Custard, Light Almond Flavor, Topped with Fresh Chantilly Cream
We also tried Taverna Sofia, formally called S'Agapo Taverna. They had tasty saganaki (baked Greek cheese) and hummus, and everyone's food I tried was delicious! I actually liked my neighbors' food better than my own as I had ordered the grilled red snapper, which was served whole and made it difficult to eat while discarding all the bones and trying not to choke on them. Never been a huge fan of eating whole fish, but in any case, the rest of the meal was quite delicious!

Saganaki (Baked Greek Cheese)

Hummus

Grilled Red Snapper with Rice
Food Discovery #2: New York Style Bagels

Now, I know that the most famous bagels in New York come from H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I, however, never made it there this trip. I did enjoy some really delicious bagels at the Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company in Astoria. They were HUGE and delicious, accompanied by at least a dozen possible cream cheeses and spreads. It made my head spin, but I managed to finally choose an everything bagel toasted with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. Yum! Just look at the size of that bagel!

Large Bagel with Flavored Cream Cheese $4.45

Food Discovery #3: The Food Network Doesn't Lie


I saw A Salt & Battery featured on the Food Network's Throwdown with Bobby Flay in the fish and chips challenge and knew immediately that I'd need to try it out when I got to town. It was everything I thought it would be and more! The employees are certainly British, calling me "my love" every chance they got (gotta love it!) and the fare was certainly British as well, the best fish and chips I've had outside of London. The fish was moist and delicious with an incredible crust! The tartar sauce was homemade and far better than any I've had in the past (relish in mayonnaise anyone?), and the chips were lovely as well. I'd definitely stop in here again for more of their tasty fish and chips!

Large Pollock and Small Chips $12.45

Food Discovery #4: Restaurant Week Makes Fine Dining Affordable!


I enjoy fine dining, but also must do so on a budget. New York is a very expensive city, and I have expensive taste, especially when it comes to food (caviar and foie gras, anyone?) so when I realized that Restaurant Week had been extended this year until Labor Day, I knew that I would have many great opportunities to try places I couldn't normally afford to eat at all in one week at full price. Lunches are $24.07 for three courses, while dinner is $35 for three courses.  Let's get started with my choices...

Bar Boulud was my first Restaurant Week excursion in New York. I thought the service was great and the food was yummy, although I couldn't polish off the giant dish of mussels which I had been presented. At least I saved room for dessert!


Pâté Grand-Mère: Fine Country Pâté of Chicken Liver, Pork and Cognac (so delicious!)

Moules Belge: Mussels Steamed in Wheat Beer, Lemon, Coriander Cream, Onions, Herbs

Praline Rouge Bavaroise: Praline Rouge Mousse, Lemon Anglaise, Sable Breton
Next on my culinary journey was Petrossian. A big part of why I came here was to have caviar (one of my favorite luxuries in life), for which they are famous. The rest of my meal fell right into place as well, with a tasty duck breast and a classic mixed fruit tart. I'm so looking forward to my next visit here!


Transmontanus USA Farmed Caviar (12g Presentation)

Seared Long Island Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree, Orange Suprême, and Apricot Sauce

Fruit Tart with Pineapple Sorbet

Jean-Georges is arguably the best restaurant in the city, and lucky for me the slightly more casual eatery adjacent to it (Nougatine at Jean-Georges) is also participating in Restaurant Week! Score! They also offer their lunch prix fix menu year round for a couple bucks more than Restaurant Week so it's worth trying out any time of year. This was easily one of the best meals I've had! Thanks to Justin the awesome bartender who made it especially great :)

Tuna Tartare, Avocado, Spicy Radish, and Ginger Marinade (the best I've ever had!)

Pan-Roasted Red Snapper with Gold Bar Squash, Tomato Compote, Green Olives, Fresh Herbs and Olive Oil (simply amazing!)
Vanilla Cake with Fresh Strawberry Salad and Red Wine Sorbet
My last Restaurant Week experiment was at Butter, restaurant to the stars! Again, impeccable service (I think my waitress's name was Rachel, and she was awesome) alongside incredible food. I don't think I went wrong once with my choices! The entire meal was superb, but I would especially like to note that the raspberry beignets are smokin' (literally)! They are served piping hot, filled with gooey raspberry filling, coated in sugar and accompanied by a cool vanilla sauce for dipping. Yum! These alone would bring me back to Butter :)


Homemade Charcuterie Plate: Duck Mortadella, Fennel Salami, Chicken Sausage and Chicken Liver on Toast (Yum!)

Crispy Duck Confit with Lentils, Tuscan Kale, Crispy Onions, and Chestnut Honey Gastrique

Raspberry Beignets with Vanilla Dipping Sauce (Heaven!)

Complimentary Mango Chocolates

Tune in later this week for more of my culinary explorations in the City That Doesn't Sleep!


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