Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Day In The Life of An Uptown Girl

Despite the dream weekend trip to the city being just a fortnight ago, boy, were these last fourteen days a long, long journey till the end. Never have I in college pulled so many weekday all-nighters in a row, forced to embrace the pseudo ghastly role of a nocturnal cemetery caretaker on his graveyard shift - over and over again; the puffy eyes and slight disorientation of the mind are some unflattering evidence highlighting this accumulation of sleepless nights that just escalated out of control towards the end.

And so I finally submitted my proposal today. Fearful to admit, but I do feel oddly empty; an eerie revelation that something did consume me. And I have been purged.

Alright, that should be sufficient rambling for a blog that's supposed to be about Muscovado sugar, cinnamon spice and angel food cake batter.

So I promised updates on the weekend trip to Manhattan. And right now, I shall promptly deliver.

The Manhattanite high life begins at 10 in the morning at Gramercy Park Hotel. The stunningly chic boutique property by the ledengary Ian Scrhager. (The two doormen were outstandingly charming I have to add.) Well, Danny Meyer recently took over the Aoki Chinese restaurant to open his all new Roman trattoria, Maialino, in November last year.

We had a family-style lunch at the private dining room.

The menu featured simple, classic Roman dishes done superbly well. The bread, can I say, was marvelous.

A flaky, crisp crust just waiting for me to sink my teeth in to reveal the airily soft and moist insides. Mmmm.... And it can't be all that awful when they had a decent selection to choose from. I loved the focaccia.

Next came the Carciofini Fritti or fried artichokes. I do enjoy artichokes, often in my salad, but never had them fried before. So realizing how amazing these little nuggets of golden shards taste (dipped in anchovy sauce) was yet another enlightening gastronomy episode worthy of a diary entry. But then again, don't almost everything taste delish deep-fried...?

The Bombolotti all'Amatriciana were mouthfuls of spicy, savory al dante bliss. Thanks to that fresh homemade pasta (and hidden pork bacon...)

Finally - the entree du jour! Insalata di Spigola and Bistecca di Bue. Translation: Marinated sea bass with preserved lemons, and aged sirloin with radicchio and sunchokes. I am definitely a self-proclaimed red meat lover and these ever-so-moist tender hunks of charred beef illuminating with their crimson pink interior were (literally) a feast to my eyes and (of course) my palate.

Dolci, or desserts, were a simple but spectacular fare of fruity and chocolatey delights, of which I am not proud to admit that - ironically out of all things - my brain chooses to dismiss any signs of recollection for these divine sweet treats. And my only excuse? I blame it on the excessive food and wine that had thrown me out of focus... Right.

... But most certainly not lacking in too much focus to make it to our next culinary pit stop at the famous Four Seasons Restaurant owned by Mr. Alex Von Bidder. No seriously, we left Maialino's and all we did was to walk from Gramercy Park on 21st and Lex to The Four Seasons Restaurant on 52nd and Park. Twenty-one streets uptown but undoubtedly much needed after that midday feast fit for the Roman gods (and goddesses).

So whizzing past dinner, our next stop (yes, we did have another stop after Maialino and FS) was downtown Chelsea where I had a little evening champagne-sipping at Moet Hennessy.

How about some bubbly to round off the night? With compliments from the good people themselves.

And we tried some of their champagne-chocolate truffles specially created for the 2010 Oscars'. Again, need I speak further? If it's fit for Hollywood, I'm pretty darn sure it's more than fit for me too.

By the way - they're launching a new Belvedere flavor soon! Grapefruit - I eat, love and crave; Belvedere vodka - my ideal libation of choice at any party any time. Put them together? I trust I'll have a fabulously flirty time.

And when I thought the night was truly over, new episodes always happen to make me remember that I am, after all, in the city that never sleeps. So surprise or no surprise, I ended up in revelry at Del Posto next door. The chefs kept whipping up hors d'œuvre after hors d'œuvre, while the bartender showered us with more champagne yet again. I shall not even try to recount what I did after that fifth (or was it the sixth? maybe the seventh?) glass of sparkling... Ah, who's counting anyway?

How's that for an epic start to a great weekend in the Big Apple?

The official time now stands at 3:19AM. I think I'm getting accustomed to working on overdrive. No need for Redbull to give me wings. Neither do I need that disturbingly potent 5-hour energy drink to beat the 3PM (or in my case, 3AM) snooze time. But what I do need is some peace and shuteye. And definitely more than forty winks. So goodnight world, as I sign out from my deeply modest and humble abode along a nondescript street up in dear ol' Ithaca.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Living A Dream... With Compliments from Daniel Boulud

Last weekend was special. Very special.

I had the greatest honor of dining at
Daniel over the weekend. With compliments from the chef himself. Yes, Chef Boulud.

I shall not go into the nitty gritty of how I landed myself with that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but I was definitely star-struck when I first had a phone conversation with Chef Boulud. He was in Florida that day for the Citymeals on Wheels charity event, but graciously offered to set up a dinner reservation that evening at his celebrated four-star restaurant on the Upper East Side... with his compliments.

I could not believe my ears.

It was by far the most spectacular dining experience I had ever had to date. Ever. The service was impeccable. Beyond outstanding, I dare say. Witnessing how guests were attended to was like watching a symphonic orchestra. From the dashing young man going around with the bread basket, to the charming maître d that greeted us warmly and ushered us to our table - everyone worked in harmony; every server moved in synchrony. I was in awe at how much passion each person had for their craft, no matter what it was.

And the food... the wine... Oh, where should I even start?

The maître d brought us a tasting menu and told us we could have anything from it.

Oh no, all of you are too gracious. Extremely gracious.

So then, we decided to leave our meal entirely up to the chefs. And I wondered if that was a mistake... but then again, who's complaining at all? If I have to say, it was a glorious mistake indeed.

(Some courses are accompanied with photos, but do pardon me for the unflattering lighting - the room was dimly lit)

Broccoli Mousseline, Ricotta Salata, Lemon-Pine Nut Gremolata, Harissa Coulis
Celery, Walnut Oil, Granny Smith Sauce

Eggplant Caviar, Garbanzo Beans, Sauce Diable

Leek Potato Parmentier, Roasted and
Tempura Celery

Cipollini Onion Marmalade, Glazed Salsify,
Dijon Mustard Chicken Jus

with Louisiana Crayfish
Roasted Tenderloin, Spring Garlic Confit
Crispy Sweetbreads, Artichoke Barigoule
Braised Cheeks, Young Turnips

Red Wine Braised Short Rib
Chanterelle Marmalade
Seared Tenderloin
Chestnut-Potato Gnocchi, Swiss Chard


Liquid Caramel, Fleur de Sel, Milk Sorbet
Candied Rose Petal, Crème Chantilly

Milk Chocolate Biscuit, Rwanda Coffee Ice Cream
Caramelized Macadamia,
Passion Fruit Banana Sorbet



I have to say that the photos don't do justice - though they'd have to suffice. The maître d and his team knew how much I simply adored the citrus madelines served with the tea. So much so...

...they surprised me with a box just before I left the restaurant.
How's that for four-star service? Let's not forget the absolutely beautiful wines that were paired with every course. Every dish worked in perfect synergy with the wines, and every mouthful was truly a mouthful of bliss. Complete. Utter. Bliss. Words can never describe how amazing that evening felt. I was living a dream.

And did I mentioned I had the chance to meet Chef Boulud when he returned from his charity event that weekend? I was almost speechless. Almost.

Pssst...! And I'm definitely looking forward to doing pastry at Daniel this summer!

P.S.- Will share more of my weekend gastronomic adventures in my upcoming posts... XOXO

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Summer On A Plate

It has been more than a week since I've arrived back at Ithaca from my amazing 7-day voyage around the Caribbean! Our little sojourn on board the ship was nothing short of spectacular.

Sights were breathtaking...

Sunsets were divinely romantic...

The ship was outstandingly charming...

...And needless to say, the food was a personification of pure joy.

Indulgence was definitely something people took for granted on board the ship. We relished in a plethora of decadent dinners, unending buffet spreads, on-board Vegas-style entertainment, and stunning off-shore explorations that left us gasping for more...

...And now, all we have left of the vacation are nothing but nostalgic remnants of sun-kissed memories, a folder's worth of still images (thanks to our trusty Canon Digital Ixus), and - why, of course - a mountain of calories to last us for... quite awhile.

La vie est belle, la vie est belle!

So back to school it is, but no one's complaining because the SUN IS OUT! Yes, the cherry blossoms blooming across the street from my bedroom window join me in ushering in the new season of sunshine and colors: "Hail, Spring Time!"

A bunch of friends and I had a tea party picnic by the Arts Quad last Friday. We made our own dips to go with crisp crackers - your choice of wheat or original - and a beautiful mixed salad of vanilla yogurt, crunchy granola and a medley of seasonal fruit. And what's a tea party without a moist, crumbly slice of summer pie? And so, I took the chance to whip up a lovely Peach, Yogurt & Almond Cake. The top came of toastier than I would have liked it to be, but that was because my housemates and I left the cake baking while we went out jogging. But no one's picking on sour grapes here: We agreed that it would give the cake a pleasant toasty-vanilla flavor. (Tsk, the glass is always half full.)
Everyone was in good spirits - and we ought to be anyway since it was the weekend and the weather was to-die-for. The tea party picnic was a blissful combination of flavorful dips and crackers, sweet cake, joyful laughter, lighthearted conversations and...
...Cranium. I am far from proud to admit a new discovery: Most of us definitely need more coaching in our artistic and creative departments. Nope, we couldn't mould the solar system using purple dough. Nope, neither could we hum to the tune of MJ's Thriller. And nope, we couldn't act like a hamster wheel (?!).

But what we could do, we did best.
We ate.
Left to Right, Clockwise: Sautéed Baby Bella Mushrooms; a slice of Peach Yogurt & Almond Cake; Vine-Ripened Tomatoes with Fresh Basil & Balsamic Vinegar; and a dollop of Spicy Avocado.
This is what I'll call Summer On A Plate.
No doubt about that.

P.S. - And who says that cakes can't be sun-kissed too?

Peach on FoodistaPeach

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chocolates in Spring

The weather has taken a turn. Finally! Apart from the weekend (which just had to rain when our house had visitors over), sunshine has reigned again and warmth is all over the slopes! I started running outdoors last week - something I was longing to do since Jack Frost decided to visit five months back. I almost forgot how beautiful Ithaca is without that thick quilt of snow blinding everything in sight.

We had another weekend cookout last Saturday - a Tuscan-inspired seafood pasta special (I ♥ angel hair!) and some sesame-honeyed spinach greens tossed with cranberries, roasted almonds and clementines - a wonderful meal to usher in the long-awaited springtime. And seeing that I have had one gourmandizing episode after another for the past couple of weekends, I decided to cut back on the sweet treats and go for something savory instead. Cheese is always a favorite.

We decided to roast some red and bartlett pears with walnuts, fresh gorgonzola and brie. I just love those candied walnuts, roasted and gleaming in its glossy cloak of clover honey and vanilla. The pears were a little underdone, I must admit. A little longer in the oven would have made those voluptuous pears perfectly soft - but a watched pot never boils, so we all settled for something a little crunchier.

And the cheese... mmm... 
Simply satisfying, nonetheless!

I had a HSI networking session two Tuesdays ago, and I know I promised some Nanaimo chocolate bars for the event. Nanaimo bars - for those unsure - are no-bake chocolate bars that originated from Canada. They're basically layered with a waffle crunch bottom, a white custardy middle layer, and a dark top coating of milk chocolate.

So I intended to swap the base for a brownie batter, then top it off with a layer of milk chocolate (I don't fancy white cocoa that much), then finish it off with a blanket of deep, dark cocoa spread. However, the middle layer didn't harden as quick as I thought it would, so I ended up with a chocolate truffle swirl - which I actually preferred just because the textured surface makes this sweet confection so pretty.

They're really rich, so one-inch cubes would be ideal bite-sized portions at a party. Don't you just adore those pastel-colored paper cups? It makes everything look so floral and feminine. It's like a springtime chocolate bouquet - what could be more perfect than that?

Spring break is just two days away! I can almost smell the salty ocean breeze and feel my toes wriggling through the moist sandy beaches, all framed beautifully under the sublime Caribbean sunshine.

I'll definitely keep my promise of sharing postcards from the Caribbean when I get there! XOXO!

Friday, March 5, 2010

I Wish...

I look forward to breaks in-between classes.

Not because I can hang out with my friends (though I won't deny that being an enjoyable activity).

Not because I can catch up on my sleep school work.

And most definitely not because I dislike school. In fact, I love my classes. Well, most of them at least. I'm having some personal issues with my financial management class, but let's leave that for another story.

I treasure my breaks. They're my peace and quiet. I grab a coffee - my all-time favourite Vanilla-infused Americano - grab a laptop, and tuck myself in the comfy corner that I always sneak to before the next class...

...and just sink blissfully into my own world of sugar, spice and everything nice. Reading entries from my favorite food writers, looking at creative recipes and imagining how wonderful the dish will be, and just being Inspired.

Sometimes, I wish my breaks were longer.

And I wish I could write my own cookbook too. Just like her, and her.

And I wish for a SLR camera to take more pretty pictures.

And I wish for an ice-cream maker because I'm craving for some homemade chocolate sorbet.


...It's time for class.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Week I Was Spoiled With Food (Part 2)

Blog Post Interruption: An Emergency Alert Message

Welcome to Ithaca's unimaginable snow storm!
Slushies are refreshingly delicious in a cup, but a complete (inedible) slippery pain when I'm late for class...
...And I wonder why school wasn't closed on Thursday.
Alright, regular blog entry resumed.

Last night, after yet another stay-in (i.e. let-us-shun-the-snowstorm) weekend feast - which I am about to share in a moment's time - I was flipping through the last blog entry I had written the day before flying back to school for the Spring term, and it was me sharing about some delicious miniature raisin-studded cream scones and homemade blueberry jam I had made for Aunt Rosalind's birthday...

...And I can't believe almost half the semester has gone by already! I remember dreading that departure day so badly thinking that it was going to be "the same crap, different semester." I was dreadfully homesick the first week of school, living in the absence of my family, my highly entertaining cable TV, the warm tropical sunshine, Singapore's fantastic fare of local food, and of course, baking.

But as much as I whine, sulk and moan the whole way through the departure terminal, I eventually find myself always having the wildest and most enjoyable time - and it just keeps getting better and bolder every semester. This final one, however, seems to be a tad bit more extraordinary than the previous three. And in all honesty, I would have to attribute that to baking. Despite living amidst the unearthly snow storms and arduous college workload, spending some alone time in the kitchen creating sweet treats is somehow my form of escapism. In some unexplainable way, I find it immensely soothing just completely immersing myself in the activity at hand, be it simply swirling a bowl of stunningly sweet cake batter, melting a pool of buttery dark chocolate, or watching plush cupcakes swell into beautiful airy mounds... Mmmm, definitely easy on the eyes...

I think the $6 whisk I bought at Wegmans last week was hands down the most satisfying purchase I made thus far. The first dessert I used it to prepare was a delightful tray of cheesecake-marbled brownies for the Sangria & Asian Tapas house party we threw on Friday night. I had a sudden urge to bake the night before during the witching hour, and while my housemates were fast asleep, I was floating around the kitchen turing ordinary cocoa batter into an intense chocolatey glory.
I swirled some cream cheese filling in and around the thick cocoa-laden liquid, and dotted it with some semisweet chocolate morsels I had remaining since I last made a batch of those banana cranberry cupcakes. Tossed the tray into the oven...
...Viola! A gorgeous batch of fudgy and creamy marbled squares that did turn out to be a hit with the party crowd. Not one was spared for weekend leftovers.
Gourmet Magazine, June 2007
The Ingredients:
For brownie batter-
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
For cheesecake batter-
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, well softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
The Directions:

Make brownie batter-
  1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
  2. Heat butter and chocolate in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking occasionally, just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined and spread in baking pan.
Make cheesecake batter and bake brownies-
  1. Whisk together cheesecake batter ingredients in a small bowl until smooth. Dollop over brownie batter, then swirl in with a knife or spatula.
  2. Bake until edges are slightly puffed and center is just set, about 35 minutes.
  3. Serve warm or at room temperature.
So Friday went and Saturday came, and Ananth had prepared a Southern Indian feast for the six of us (my housemates, Ming and Yong Kai). The menu comprised of homemade naan, raita, murgh makhani, masala masoor, and basmati rice. I have to admit that it was a rather lip-smacking meal indeed. We paired dinner with a couple of bottles of Vinho Verde and Riesling - an almost perfect match. I decided to whip up a simple dessert to put a sweet ending to the weekend feast, and since Ananth made a special request not to have anything too heavy or chocolatey, I decided that my Peach-Pineapple Upside Down Cake (a la mode) would do the magic.
And boy was it magical. The baked fruit came out perfectly caramelized - sweet, toasty and tangy all in a single bite - and the cake was fluffy and light, and yet so moist... It was hard controlling ourselves from wiping out the entire plate.
Alas! We all gave into temptation - and that includes Shihao, who firmly insisted initially that he wouldn't be able to eat the whole thing. (Tsk, he finished it faster than I did.)

So that's all folks, to this yum-mazing weekend that I was spoiled with food. This definitely calls for a run at the gym.

What's Bakin' Next? Nanaimo Brownie Bars for my HSI finale event, Hotelies Sharing Information, March 2nd at 4:30pm, SR445. And of course, you're certainly invited!