Category Archives: French

Cherry Clafoutis

We are in the midst of summer, and as I am spending some time visiting my boyfriend in California, the fruit here is overwhelmingly sweet and abundant. Cherries are in season, and we had some guests over last week who brought us a big bag of sweet bing cherries, which had us worried because cherries don’t last very long in the fridge. If only I had an ice cream maker, I would have made cherry vanilla ice cream, one of my favorite flavors growing up. My boyfriend asked me what I could bake cherries into, and of course cherry pies and cobblers came to mind, but I remembered a French dessert that I had read about but never made before, the cherry clafoutis.

Fresh cherries

“Kla-foo-tee”, that’s how it’s pronounced in French. The clafoutis is a custard cake baked with fruit, a French countryside dessert/breakfast cake that was traditionally made with unpitted cherries. The pits of the cherries lend the clafoutis an almond flavor, but make it difficult to eat, so these days cherry clafoutis generally uses pitted cherries, but of course lack the almond aroma. The cake is a combination of a custard and crepe batter, baked so that the center is still custard-y and the edges are browned and chewy. It’s a delicious combination of flavors and textures, and versatile enough to be served for breakfast, brunch, or dessert. Its only drawback is that it should be served fresh and warm, because I’ve heard it’s not as good later (I can’t confirm this fact, since… we ate our entire cherry clafoutis straight out of the oven… oops!) Yeah, it was really good warm haha. Making the clafoutis worked out well for our need to use up the fresh cherries – this dessert uses a lot of them (I used up 24 cherries for a 4-serving portion!), and accommodates for either fresh or frozen/jarred cherries. Plus you don’t need any fancy ingredients and everything comes together pretty quickly once you’ve pitted your cherries.

My recommendation, if you decide to make your own cherry clafoutis, is to pit the cherries ahead of time (I did mine the night before while watching TV), so that when you wake up in the morning to throw this together, you’ll have gotten the hard part out of the way already. And if you have almond extract, add a touch of it to really bring out the flavors. Just… don’t forget about your milk on the stove like I did heh, burnt milk is never a fun thing.

Cherry clafoutis



Cherry Clafoutis (serves 4)

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. fresh cherries, a little more than 1 cup or about 20-25 cherries, stemmed and pitted (see step 1 below)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar for serving

Directions:

1. If you are using fresh cherries, pit them first (unless you want to go traditional, in which case I would warn your loved ones lest they break a tooth). If you have a cherry pitter, well I’m envious lol. Otherwise you can just use your hands, by making a slit at the tip of the cherry with your thumbnail and then digging out the pit. Watch out for cherry juice, it stains pretty well. If cherries are not in season, you can also use pitted frozen cherries or bottled cherries, just thaw/drain and proceed the same way.

Pitted cherries

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9×5″ bread pan (or you can use a 7″ tart or cake pan, as well as smaller ramekins, depending on your preference).Line the bottom of the pan with the pitted cherries.

3. Combine the milk and heavy cream in a small saucepan and heat on medium heat until just starting to simmer (watch it carefully, it’ll boil over fast!) Set aside.

4. Mix together eggs, flour, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, and salt in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture, to prevent cooking the eggs. Stir until smooth, the batter will be thin. Gently pour the custard batter over the cherries in the pan, tap the pan if needed to let the batter settle.

Cherry clafoutis ready to bake

5. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown. The clafoutis will puff up in the oven, and the edges may get more browned than the center, but you’ll want to make sure the center starts to just brown lightly so that you know it’s set. The cherries will give off their juice during the baking process as well. Whatever you do, try not to open the oven door, because the clafoutis will deflate when you do. So save that for when you are done baking.

Cherry clafoutis

6. Remove pan from oven, allow to cool for 3 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges to release from the pan (I didn’t even need to do this, the shrinking of the clafoutis did that by itself). Cut into wedges and serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Slice of cherry clafoutis

 


P.S. I apologize for the lack of posts lately, it’s been a busy year of medical school, and only now am I finally finding some time to update. I still have so much that I’ve made that I want to post, and at the same time I am making more goodies, so the posts will trickle in as I find time to squeeze it in. Thanks for reading!


Caramelized onion and goat cheese phyllo tarts with fresh basil

Summer is in full swing, and the basil plant that I acquired a month ago has been reminding me of its bright and refreshing flavor with its bountiful jewel-green leaves. Ever since I got this plant, I’ve been in love with fresh basil. I tear up a leaf or two and sprinkle it on top of my rice when I eat my meals, and it adds a hint of fresh flavor that reminds me of eating at a Thai restaurant. When I water my basil, the smell of the leaves always reminds me of delicious appetizer skewers of cherry tomatoes with balls of mozzarella and basil leaves, all drizzled with the most luscious balsamic vinegar. And one of these days, I am going to harvest a big handful of basil to make the freshest, most flavorful pesto sauce, mmm.

fresh basil

Last week when my boyfriend was in town visiting for the July 4th long weekend, we were discussing options for a night of cooking in when I remembered a recipe for goat cheese tarts with sweet onions and thyme that I saw on the Serious Eats French in a Flash column. They sounded like the perfect appetizers to go with a pasta dinner that we were planning. I was particularly excited about the goat cheese, as I had just recently bought a small pyramid of spreadable Chavrie (goat’s milk cheese) and had not thought of a good way to use it yet. And instead of thyme, the thought of the bright taste of fresh basil paired with this tart made my mouth water. The original recipe also calls for using frozen puff pastry for the tart bases, but I had some frozen phyllo dough that I’ve been wanting to use instead, which I thought would add a dimension of lightness to the appetizer as well. My inspiration for adding honey to the tarts came from the multiple experiences I have had with restaurant appetizers that wonderfully pair the salty creaminess of cheese with the sweetness of fruit and honey, such as with baked brie and sheep’s milk ricotta. So thus was born the concept of crispy flaky squares of phyllo dough topped with soft caramelized onions, basil, goat cheese, and a drizzle of honey to bring all the flavors together.

In execution, this recipe is actually pretty straight-forward. But do plan ahead, as it takes about an hour to make these tarts, although most of the time is spent waiting, with some stirring here and there, so it is definitely an appetizer that is great to make alongside your main dish and it will be piping hot and ready to serve just when you are finishing up your cooking. If you have never used phyllo dough before, fear not! This recipe was my first time using my frozen phyllo dough as well, and although the directions on the box sounded scary and involved, the actual preparation of the dough was very easy. It would help immensely if you have a pastry brush to brush the phyllo layers with oil, but if you are a poor student like me, the back side of a big soup spoon will do just fine too :) These tarts were so good hot out of the oven, even my boyfriend who doesn’t like cheese enjoyed these. The flavors come together to be savory, the textures of the soft cheese and onions contrast with the crisp phyllo dough, and the hint of richness from the goat cheese is balanced by the brightness of the basil and the touch of honey. I will be keeping this recipe for the future when I want to serve French hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!

caramelized onion and goat cheese phyllo tart with fresh basil



Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Phyllo Tarts

with Fresh Basil (makes 6 small tarts, serves 2-3)

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into bite-sized strips
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil, about 20 leaves
  • 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz spreadable goat cheese (Chavrie brand is the easiest to find at grocery stores)
  • 20 sheets of 9×14″ frozen phyllo dough, freshly thawed and cut in half (approx 9×7″, or 4 oz. by weight)
  • grape seed or olive oil for cooking and brushing on phyllo
  • honey to garnish

Directions:

1. In a skillet on medium heat, gently saute onions with 1/2 tbsp of grape seed oil, stirring often, for 15 minutes.

2. Tear up the leaves from 1 sprig of basil (about 10 leaves) and add to skillet along with brown sugar. Stir to mix well, and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes. Turn down the heat slightly if the onions are browning too quickly.

3. Remove onions from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Prepare thawed phyllo dough on a clean cutting board. Layer one sheet of phyllo on top of the next, brushing each layer with a light coating of grape seed oil (it does not need to coat entire sheet, but do brush enough to ensure that each sheet adheres to the next. When all 20 sheets have been layered together, use a sharp chef’s knife and cut into approximately 6 squares.

5. Line a baking pan with foil, and spread phyllo dough squares into pan. Top each square with onions, then the goat cheese.

assembled tarts ready to bake

6. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees F until the phyllo bakes to a golden color.

tarts done baking

7. Remove tarts and serve warm, drizzled with honey and garnished with torn fresh basil. Enjoy!

And just for completeness sake, this was the delicious main dish that followed the appetizers,  made by my boyfriend. A hearty whole wheat penne with chicken thigh, onions, mushrooms, and basil in a vodka sauce. Such a good dinner… I think he should come visit and cook for me more often :)

chicken with whole wheat penne in vodka sauce


A Duck L’Orange to mark 18 months of happiness

Dear Vox, I have a confession to make. I have been dating the most wonderful person for the past year and a half. He has been my best friend for the past 6 years, and he makes me happy like nobody else can. They say you can’t possibly know that you’ve found the one when your eyes first meet. And I can’t pretend to be quite that astute. But I will never forget the way my heart skipped a beat in my chest the day I first met him more than 6 years ago. What happened over the next several years is probably a story fit for a romantic comedy screenplay, and one that I’ll spare you the details of for now, but we found ourselves together just before I started medical school, and since that day I will never again doubt the voodoo they call true chemistry.

:)

I am immensely lucky to have found a man who not only shares my sense of humor and cherishes my strengths and vulnerabilities, but also a man who encourages my passion for baking and cooking. Perhaps he is quite familiar with that glimmer of joy in my eyes that only a few things in my life can bring out in me. Our first official date was, as I’ll always fondly recall, a candlelight dinner that we made together. Juicy pan-seared scallops over a bed of risotto and vegetables, followed by strawberry cream puffs. Whether it was the sentiment or the food that made that night special, it will always remind me of how content I felt to be spending that evening with him. Since then, we have celebrated several special occasions by planning out nice dinners to make together. There’s something so wonderful about being able to work side by side in the kitchen to create a special dish together. Sure, we haven’t yet quite mastered the skill of keeping our finished dishes warm while we put on the finishing touches of these dinner dates, which includes slipping into nice clothes, breaking out special beverages, and taking pictures, of course, to remind us of our accomplishments. But therein lies the magic of food that you’ve spent the time and effort to make, even more so when you’ve done it together with the one you love. No matter how your dishes turn out, they still taste amazing. This effect is further magnified by the fact that I see him only once every few months, as we have been in a long distance relationship since the day we began dating. They always said, food is a powerful aphrodisiac after all!

Our most recent dinner date was to celebrate our one and a half years together (that’s 18 months), since I happened to be visiting him for Thanksgiving at the same time.  We agreed to tackle the quintessential French dish Duck L’Orange for this dinner, and poured over a handful of recipes before deciding on one that seemed to work with the ingredients we had on hand yet still sounded similar to some of the other more complicated recipes. Looking back on our kitchen escapades, I realize that we rarely ever follow recipes down to a T, and this duck l’orange was no exception. We did not have access to duck breast, so we substituted with duck legs instead. A lack of sherry vinegar was remedied with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and red wine. This improvisational cooking brings an excitment paired with perhaps nervousness, but I like to think that it makes our food that much more personal :)

This recipe does a wonderful job with perhaps the most important part of duck l’orange, the orange sauce itself. I was initially skeptical about the process, and how so few flavors could be blended together to make a complex flavor (sugar, sherry vinegar, chicken stock, and orange), but after the first sip I was sold! This sauce is simply wonderful, with just the right balance of sweet, sour, and and salty to complement the duck meat. The one thing I would change the next time I make this recipe (and I really think it would be a great recipe for guests because it looks and tastes to elegant when it is really not very difficult to make), is that I would definitely go with duck breasts instead of the duck legs. Duck legs are deceptively difficult to cook thoroughly when you are simply pan-searing them. We had to sear them on all sides and finish them off with a stint in the oven, after which point we discovered that parts of the duck were overcooked while other parts were perfectly done medium-rare. So, make things easy for yourself and go with duck breasts! I did make several stylistic changes to the recipe, but its proportions are maintained. It is fancy fare made absolutely accessible to the casual cook, and it made for a lovely dinner date that I’ll never forget.

Duck L’Orange (serves 2) Recipe adapted from About.com

Ingredients:
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp red wine
3/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp onion, minced
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1 large orange, sections cut from membranes
2 duck legs, seasoned with salt and pepper
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange zest, plus more for garnish
chopped green onions or chives for garnish

Directions:

1. Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepot. Boil on high heat for several minutes, until the syrup caramelizes and turns a golden brown color. (I have to admit I had trouble with this step because my saucepot was a bit big, so the water kept boiling off and leaving me with sugar crystals. Use a small saucepot or double the amounts of sugar and water and simply just use half the syrup for the sauce). I ended up just using my syrup that had not caramelized, having only turned a light tinge of yellow, and it came out just fine.

2. Add the vinegar, wine, orange juice and onions. The liquid will bubble vigorously at first. Stir well and boil until 1/4 cup of liquid remains.

3. Add chicken stock and boil until the sauce is reduced to 1/3 cup volume. Remove from heat and stir in orange zest. Set aside until just before serving. This sauce can be made ahead of time. When it is ready to be served, add butter and warm up on medium heat, stirring to melt and incorporate butter. Gently stir in orange segments.

4. Meanwhile, prepare duck legs for cooking. Score duck skin with a knife just through the skin layer. Season with salt and pepper. Over high heat in a very lightly oiled skillet, sear the duck legs about 10 minutes on each side, rotating as needed to obtain an evenly cooked leg. If needed, finish cooking duck in a 350 degree oven to prevent outside from over-cooking.

5. Rest duck legs for 10 minutes on a cutting board, then slice through meat before plating. Drizzle with warmed sauce and garnish with extra orange zest and green onions. Reserve remaining sauce in a sauce terrine on the side to use as needed.

We paired the duck l’orange with sauteed green beans and some garlic mashed potatoes with roasted onions and red peppers. The sides went nicely with the duck, and the potatoes did not need any gravy owing to its own flavor from the chicken stock I added and some of the duck drippings from the skillet. Mmmm. And I really couldn’t get enough of the orange sauce, the flavors came together nicely and the orange zest imparted a sophisticated touch that was just right. At first taste it might seem like the sauce is a bit reminiscent of sweet and sour sauce, but the flavors are really more rich than that. The night was just perfect as I relished the dish slowly over the candlelight and wonderful company :)



Upside-down Eclairs

I was visiting my family in Massachusetts the week before summer vacation ended, and I just had to bake them something delightful that could be enjoyed in the sweltering heat that captured our town during that time. I didn't have a whole lot of ingredients on hand, so I turned to something I've done before in cream puff form… the eclair. I adore eclairs! They are so wonderful to bite into when fresh… the delicate crunch of a pastry shell filled with cold and creamy custard, and sweetened with just enough chocolate. Perfection. Luckily for me, elcairs use the same dough as cream puffs, which needs only basic ingredients found in every kitchen. The same goes for the pastry cream filling as well.

This was my first time trying the cream puff recipe from JoyofBaking, which sounded like it was going to bake for a really long time. The eclair shells actually turned out quite well, with just a slight problem, which was that the bottoms were so thin and delicate that when I tried to peel them off the wax paper I lined them with, the bottoms broke right through, leaving me with a gaping hole on the bottoms of my eclairs! Thus I decided to simply turn them upside down and fill them with pastry cream as is, since the work to make a hole had already been done for me, clearly. I used the pastry cream recipe for the fruit tart from the same website. I've made the filling once before for mini fruit tarts, and they were delicious. Drizzled with melted chocolate on top, these eclairs were just wonderful, even though they looked funny. I wish I knew of a good way to make cream puffs or eclairs without always having to worry about the bottoms breaking. Does parchment paper really make that much of a difference? I thought wax paper or foil would do it, but those have not saved me from the breaking bottoms. The trial and error continues! And deliciously so :)


Eclairs Filled with Vanilla Pastry Cream (makes 12)     recipe adapted from JoyofBaking.com

Ingredients:

Eclair Shells:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp (half stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
1 egg white, beaten

Pastry Cream Filling   (adapted from JoyofBaking.com)
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water (more as needed)

Chocolate Icing
handful of semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vegetable oil

Directions:

Eclairs
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in center of oven. Line baking sheet with parchment paper (I used wax paper).

2. Stir together flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

3. Combine butter and water for the eclair shells into a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil.  Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in the flour mixture all at once, stirring until a ball of dough forms in the pot. This should happen pretty quickly.

4. Let the dough cool slightly (you can stir it up to release the heat), then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition until the egg is well-blended to form a smooth batter.

5. Spoon the dough into a ziplock bag and snip off the tip to about 1 inch in diameter. Pipe the dough into 3-4 inch long stripes onto the lined baking sheet, spacing the eclairs 2 inches apart.

6. Gently brush the surface of the piped eclairs with the beaten egg white.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down oven temperature to 350 degrees F to continue baking for another 30 minutes. The shells should be a nice golden-brown color. Turn off the oven and leave door ajar, with the eclairs sitting inside for another 10-15 minutes to let them dry fully. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack, peeling eclairs off carefully (this is where all of my eclair bottoms broke off). They will have a wonderful cracked appearance on top.

 

Pastry Cream
1. In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix together sugar and egg yolks.

2. Combine flour and cornstarch in a separate bowl, then add to egg mixture and stir until a smooth paste forms. Add vanilla.

3. In a saucepan (preferrably stainless steel, I find non-stick pans to be awful for making custards), heat milk on medium until just boiling. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into egg mixture, careful not to let egg curdle.

4. When fully incorporated, place egg and milk mixture back onto the stove to cook on medium heat, whisking constantly until it starts to boil. Keep stirring and it should thicken up very quickly. When it has reached a desired thickness (I prefer mine to be pretty thick), remove from heat immediately and whisk in the water. You can add more water if your pastry cream is too thick.

5. Chill pastry cream in fridge for several hours, covered with a layer of plastic wrap touching the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.

Assembly
Normally you would slice the eclairs open by cutting horitzonally on each one to cut off the tops. Since mine had holes in the bottom I just pried the holes open until they were the same size as the eclair and piped in the pastry cream (using the same ziplock bag trick that I used for piping the elcair dough). Fill each eclair with enough pastry cream to fill out the shell, but not so much that it bursts. If using cut open shells, replace the tops once the filling has been added.

Finally, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, and stir in the vegetable oil to thin out the consistency enough to drizzle. I just eyeballed this, so you can adjust the chocolate icing how you like. Take a fork and dip it into the chocolate to drizzle it over the eclairs. Serve immediately for the best taste and texture. If not serving right away, I suggest you not fill the shells so that they don't get soggy. Fill them just before serving and you will wow your guests with how fresh they taste, nothing like the pre-filled ones you buy at stores!


A Patriots fan’s visit to NYC on Superbowl weekend

Before I forget, happy belated Chinese New Year to all! I didn't get to do anything special to celebrate, and I didn't have any of the necessary ingredients to make classic Chinese New Year desserts (I only had a navel orange in the fridge… that counts right? haha), so unfortunately, as much as this blog is related to Chinese food most of the time, I don't have anything to post about CNY. I'll try to make up for that with a post about my visit to NYC on Superbowl Sunday :)

So last Sunday I woke up bright and early at about 5am to pack and drag myself to the Boston bus terminal to ride the Greyhound bus down to NYC. I have to say, 4.5 hours is a long time to be cramped in a chair, with the sun shining in your eyes the entire time. Still, I got to the Big Apple just before noon, and met up with my hung over friend Zheng to grab brunch near his apartment haha. I've been on a brunch roll lately, it's almost like I've uncovered a whole new cuisine altogether (I guess there were benefits to never eating breakfast!). At this place, whose name I can't remember but I know it's located on 9th Ave, I saw that eggs benedict was $9 (hah, no way I'd pay that price now!). What sparked my interest however was the large assortment of omelettes that the cafe served, and with a choice of whole eggs or egg whites.

Feeling like I should eat healthy, I settled on an egg white Irish omelette, which had corned beef, onions, and peppers in it, topped with swiss cheese. It was served with a side of smashed and seasoned potato chunks and whole wheat toast. I have to say, it being the first time I've ever had egg white omelettes, it was really tasty! In fact, I would definitely choose it over whole egg omelettes simply for the health benefits, because I honestly thought it was just as good as the real thing. I think the swiss cheese helped give it a lot of savory flavor that perhaps the plain egg whites would have been lacking. The corned beef was also really tasty with the egg whites, something a little different from the usual ham or sausage meat additions. The potato side was not very interesting though, but I suppose it was nice to rotate amongst the different foods on the plate. And as you'd expect things to be in NYC, the price tag was steeper than I would see in Boston. This brunch platter cost me about $9 before tax and tip, and I only got water to drink on the side.

Later that afternoon, I walked with Zheng through the city to get to his friend's apartment for a Superbowl party. Having grown up in the Northeast, there is no way I could be anything but a Patriots fan, and I was a bit intimidated that I would be the only one at the party who wasn't rooting for the Giants. Luckily I was wrong, because otherwise it would have been really hard to watch the last few minutes of the last quarter by myself heh. Anyway, on my way to the party, I was taking in all the sights and sounds of the city, and then I remembered that I've always wanted to try the frozen yogurt phenomena known as Pinkberry. Since Pinkberry stores are only located in CA and NY, I was set on getting a taste before I left. Zheng informed me that we'd be walking by "Koreantown", which is literally just one block of the city with all sorts of Korean and Japanese restaurants and stores, and that Pinkberry was located there. Apparently Pinkberry is a Korean frozen yogurt concept, which was news to me haha. Anyway, we made our little detour there and I was all giddy and snapping pictures because I've heard so much hype about this place and how celebrities love it. I have to say, the interior decor was nice and hip, very Korean-cutesy. I bet a lot of the people just come here for the decor alone, to be able to say that they hang out at the "cool" fro-yo place lol.

They had these big round white lights hanging from the ceiling, with undulating wave patters on them. Certainly very eye-catching and chic. On the walls were printed names of many famous lovers (Zheng was asking me what half of them were heh), although I'm not sure how it has anything to do with frozen yogurt or Pinkberry… I associate neither with… love haha.

There was a long line from the cash register going all the way to the front door, all people waiting to be served on a winter's Sunday afternoon. Amazing. Notice the cutesy pastel things on the right side wall? I don't even know what they were supposed to be… but definitely your typical Korean cutesy items. The one thing about the way Pinkberry operates (btw all their staff was non-Korean) that annoys me is that they don't tell you anything before you get to the cash register. On the back wall are the prices (and damn, this stuff is over-priced!), which say that a small yogurt is $3, and each topping you'd like to add is an additional $0.95. That's all it really says about the frozen yogurts. I figured out eventually that there were three yogurt flavors: original, green tea, and coffee. They don't tell you what the toppings are at all… how the heck was I supposed to order my $0.95 toppings?!? So when I got to the front of the line, I ordered a small original yogurt with 2 toppings, but the cashier said I needed to specify the toppings. Well you didn't have a list of them!! So I had to run up to the counter where they were serving the yogurt, which is like 7 feet away from the cash register, to observe which toppings were available in the serving bins. Normally that's not a big deal, but when there's like 15 people in line behind you, you feel terrible having to step out of line to figure out what toppings are available before coming back to order. What a poor system. Anyway, I chose cookies & cream (oreo crumbles) and mango chunks for my toppings, which made my small Pinkberry yogurt a grand total of $5 plus taxes. What a ripoff, seriously! For that price, I could buy a whole half gallon of premium ice cream at a grocery store!

So now that I've got my Pinkberry in hand (and I had to leave the store to eat it because all the seats were taken up), what is the verdict? Like many people, I had thought the "original" flavor, since it was white colored, would taste like vanilla. But it didn't… in fact it had a very distinct but very familiar taste to me, something I had often tasted while growing up in China. It was the taste of fresh yogurt… the kind that is sold in small bottles in China where the yogurt is partially liquid and partially soft curds, and you shake it up so that you can drink the thing with a straw. That's exactly the kind of thing that Pinkberry tasted like, except it was in a soft serve form. If you've never had the yogurt drink I've mentioned, I can only really describe Pinkberry as sour – not citrusy but more of a mild tartness that is accompanied by a hint of sweetness. It's not really creamy at all, which is what makes Pinkberry a refreshing and healthier alternative to ice cream. It's kind of an acquired taste, I think. Personally, I loved it because it brought back all my childhood memories of those yogurt drinks that I really enjoyed, but I think if you've never had such a flavor before it might be a shock to associate it with frozen yogurt. As tasty as the yogurt is though, I felt like the toppings didn't add anything to the experience… this isn't ice cream, there's no point in topping it with the traditional toppings aside from ripping customers off (honestly… $1 per topping?!?!). So while the flavor of the yogurt itself is appealing to me, I will definitely not be going back often due to the exorbitant price tag. When I go to China this summer… I'll just have my fill of my little yogurt drinks for a few pennies each :)

Moving on… the Superbowl itself was a pretty intense game to watch, and it was a lot of fun with a room nearly split 50/50 Pats fans and Giants fans. Zheng's friends had an enormous apartment (they had an entire floor of a building to themselves… with 2 bathrooms, 4 bedrooms, and a giant living room with kitchen. In fact, and this was exciting to me haha, the elevator of the building opens right up into their living room when you hit their floor button. How cool is that?!? Okay… sorry haha I clearly am easily excitable. We had the usual pizza and wings and chips and beer at the party, and then we stuck around for a while after the game since there were riots going on in Times Square (near where Zheng lives). We walked through some of that on the way back, and Zheng, a Giants fan, high fived a lot of random people in the streets haha. I saw policemen sitting on horses, trying to keep the order, but everyone was screaming and shouting and cars were honking (I almost got run over crossing the street). It was pretty crazy and a little scary too I have to admit, although I guess we've had our fair share of riots up in Boston for the Red Sox too heh.

The next night for dinner, I went with Zheng to a little French-Italian fusion restaurant on 9th Ave called Nizza. Zheng wanted to get dinner from the Olive Garden, and I was having none of that chain restaurant stuff while out traveling, so we settled on this small but nicely decorated restaurant with decent prices (entrees $12-16 each). After being seated, the waiter came and told us about the menu, and informed us that the food here was a fusion of French food from the area of Nice and Italian cuisine. He also told us that the portions at this restaurant were about 3/4 normal entree portions at other places (no wonder it was priced cheaper than most places I saw), but that worked out nicely for us since neither of us can eat big portions anyway.

We started off the meal with two appetizers, which the waiter told us were tapas-style and great for sharing. We got the warm calamari with potato salad, and a plate of prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. (Sorry for the pictures with flash, it was just too dim in the restaurant).

The calamari (right) was not fried as I had expected, instead it was naked and tender, probably braised. It came with little jalapeño pepper slices and grape tomato halves that were so sweet and juicy, in a savory vinaigrette sauce, on top of a small bed of skinned and cubed potatoes. I'm not a fan of spicy, so I let Zheng eat all the peppers, and he's not a fan of seafood, so he let me have most of the calamari (oops! I forgot he hates seafood and he didn't tell me not to order it when I suggested it). But in any case, the squid was just so tender, with that warm and perfectly soft chew that fresh and lightly cooked squid has.

On the left is the prosciutto crostini with sheep's milk ricotta and balsamic syrup. It was soooo good. The prosciutto was fresh and lean, sliced very thinly so that it pretty much melted in my mouth. The flavor was wonderful too, not too salty, not too bland. It paired perfectly with the creamy sheep's milk ricotta, which was much milder than I thought it would be, but I thought that was nice, because it would have competed too much with the prosciutto otherwise. And then, with the sweetness from the balsamic syrup on top of a crunchy slice of French bread, I was in heaven with each bite. I really liked the ricotta, it was nothing like cow's milk ricotta with its gritty texture. This cheese was so smooth and creamy I could have sworn it was a different cheese altogether. What a perfect pairing of fine flavors and textures!

Next came the entrees. Zheng ordered something that was pretty much like spaghetti with marinara sauce (it's not on the online menu right now), which wasn't interesting enough for me to waste a flash photograph on :P I ordered the crab ravioli, which came in a lobster cream sauce with fennel and parmesan.

I think the thing about Nizza that impressed me the most was the freshness of everything they served. The ravioli blew me away with how tender and fresh the pasta skin was. It was this pillow-soft texture that I had never ever experienced eating ravioli or any kind of pasta before… simply amazing. The crab meat filling was silky and subtle, with the lobster cream sauce giving it most of its flavor. I really liked the added kick from the fennel in the sauce, which gave the creamy flavor an edge that made it memorable. The portion size was perfect, each ravioli was two bites, and I felt just satisfied after dinner. I had room for dessert, but none of the dessert options (of which there were 4 or so) interested me, so we left to grab dessert at a bakery on the way home. I would definitely come back to have dinner at Nizza again, the appetizers were fantastic and the portions were surprisingly just right (there's something to be said about being able to eat your whole meal and not feel too full or not full enough). The price tag with 2 appetizers is a little steep (I paid about $27 including tax and tip), but that ends up being about on par for dining in NYC, as I was seeing a lot of restaurants advertising prix fixe menus at $24-27 per person before tax/tip.

So then on our way back to Zheng's apartment, I stopped by a busy little bakery called Amy's Bread, which had some tasty looking cakes on display, as well as a lot of sandwiches and breads. Apparently everyone else waiting in line was getting some of their fresh handmade bread to take home, too bad I'm not a big fan of bread. What caught my eye from the street were their red velvet cupcakes, complete with lots of whipped cream cheese frosting on top. It was no Magnolia, but it looked just right for dessert (although $2.50 for a cupcake is steep!).

Truth be told, it was my first time eating red velvet cake, and it's true that there is nothing special about how it tastes (it's really just red cake), but I guess it's something of a visual experience not to be missed out on in your life hehe. The frosting was just great, it wasn't sweet and overpowering like most cupcakes that use royal icing or even buttercream. This frosting also wasn't thick and heavy like cream cheese frostings. I really liked its lightness, which most resembled the kind of frosting that whipped cream cakes tend to have, with a bit of butter in it. Of course, with cakes that have this much pretty frosting on it, it's hard to eat properly without getting frosting all over your face, so I'll remember not to get such a thing when I'm out with important guests :)

So those were some of my food exploits on this trip, yummy and pricey as always! Until next time, NYC!


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