Friday, February 27, 2015

Cafe Panache - Ramsey, NJ

After several months on our watch list, we finally got the chance to eat at Cafe Panache, a well known restaurant in Ramsey, NJ. In writing this review, the first thing that comes to my mind is "attention to detail." From making the reservation (where they reminded me that it is a bring your own) to setting the table for dessert, the staff didn't miss an opportunity to demonstrate their attentiveness to customer service.  

While the restaurant has been around for over 30 years, the decor is up to date and trendy.  
The only criticism I have of this establishment is that the menu is not inspiring. While we sat and reviewed the menu, neither of us were excited to order any particular item.  We found ourselves anxiously waiting for the waiter to tell us the specials, which we hoped would stimulate our appetites. There were probably 4 or 5 appetizer specials and 2 or 3 dinner specials.

Now back to the positives.  Everything we ordered was absolutely delicious. I ordered the filet mignon off the menu, which came topped with caramelized onions, over a bed of sauted spinach, with mashed potato mousse. 

Christine ordered two appetizers, stewed clams with chorizo in a tomato broth and creamy polenta with mushrooms and shaved parmesan.
The flavor combinations and presentation of the food was second to none. 

I can't stress enough how much we enjoyed our meal, except for the Tiramisu special for desert, which we found to have too much of a citrus flavor. Having said that, we were extremely impressed that they split the desert into two servings without being asked, making it easier to share.....great attention to detail!
All in all, Cafe Panache is an excellent establishment that can be counted on for a delicious meal. Our only wish was that there was a more exciting menu that would have us wanting to go back. 

Xteve rating : 4.0(*****)
Website : Cafe Panache

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Liege waffles

If you've ever been to NYC, you'd know about Waffles and dinges. It's a waffle truck started by a Belgian guy. Years ago when I went to Belgium, I totally fell in love with liege waffle. Regular Belgian waffle's totally yummy too but really, it's got nothing on liege waffle in my opinion. And of course NYC has got to have it somewhere! They have a few locations, my usual place was right outside of Bobby Flay's Bar Americain. And when I realized that I can get this beautiful bite of liege waffle right around my block in UES, I was over the moon! They only came to my block once a week though. Sunday morning. It was so convenient. I would go out and wait in line with my "hello, I just rolled out of bed for this goodness" look. 

Then my tot came in the picture. I used to stroll with him in central park almost everyday and these waffle guys have a cart there. It's not a truck, it's a cart in the park. And it was always a struggle to pass it. Then I would give in. Justifying, I will eat this waffle and jog around the great lawn a couple of loops, it will burn those calories right? Haha. Well..I was obviously dreaming but boy, that was good. And when my tot was old enough to walk with me, we would park the stroller at our favorite picnic spot, sit down and share enjoying nice breeze. That little mouth enjoying every bite of mommy's favorite waffles. Ah...memories. 

After we moved to suburbia, I guess I haven't looked hard enough but I haven't found liege waffles in any of good breakfast spots. It is not the most common waffles I have to say. So..what do I do? Make them at home! It's actually very simple to make them if you plan ahead. Because this is dough with yeast not batter, it takes some planning. But process is super simple. All you need is a little time. I whip the dough the night before and put it in the fridge. Next morning, take it out, add pearl sugar and let it rest while waffle iron's heating up. Then you're good to go. 

You can serve it with any of your favorite toppings. I love it with a little Spekloos(cookie butter). SO GOOD! That's how waffle guys serve it too. I always say no to whipped cream for liege waffle because I just don't like it with warm and chewy waffles, but that's just me. Come to think of it, I think have pretty particular preference when it comes to my waffles. Even though I don't take whipped cream for my liege waffle, I like my regular Belgium waffles with whipped cream and thin apple jam.

Oh, one thing about pearl sugar. You can usually get them from wholefoods or specialty food stores, if that doesn't work, amazon has them. You'll find Swedish and Belgian. Swedish is a lot finer than Belgian. You're supposed to use Belgian but I happened to have a lot of Swedish at home so until I use it all, I will be using Swedish and it is totally fine. Pearl sugar gets caramelized slightly in the waffle iron and gives a beautiful crunch to the chewy waffle. Because of the caramelization, it even taste fantastic without any topping. 

If you have a small family like us, you won't finish all these waffles. You can keep the leftover in the fridge for a few days and toast them as you need or they freeze well too. Very yummy when toasted. This is one of the few leftovers I actually get excited to eat. =)

Liege Waffles

*Makes about 10-12 waffles

Ingredients :

1 pkg dry yeast(1/4oz pack)
1/3 warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup pearl sugar

Directions :

1. Add dry yeast and sugar to warm water. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes.

2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and start kneading. 

3. Add eggs to the mixer one at a time. When all mixed, add butter to it about 2Tbsp at a time, letting it fully incorporated. Batter won't be smooth at this point. 

4. You can let it rise in double for about an hour if making right away or just cover it and refrigerate overnight, it will slowly rise. 

5. When ready, heat the waffle iron. Meanwhile, mix in pearl sugar to the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. Using an ice cream scoop, place the dough on the waffle iron and cook. 

*Recipe from butter baking.
 Method slightly changed. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Chicken pot pie

Brrrr....It is...So...COLD!!!
This morning temperature was 2 degrees. Thank goodness it's Friday and I don't have any special plans for this morning. It is brutal outside. And I think last couple of weeks, it snowed at least twice every week. I am so over winter, like everyone else around here. Usually, I get excited for winter just around November because of holidays and as soon as new year's day comes, I am over it. Taking down holiday decorations is the hardest part and as I do it, I start to feel like, Okay, I am over winter. But of course that doesn't change anything for another couple of months. And now I'm at this stage, longing for spring every single day. 

Let's face it, wishing it's spring is not going to do anything. At least "cooking cold weather friendly meals" make me feel better. We love good chicken pot pie. Call me crazy, I used to not like pot pie until I met Steve. He likes pot pie so much, I started to make it and I grew to like it. It's so simple but I changed it up here and there over the years and came to this simple recipe. In fact, my mother in law asked me to make some and sell them at her senior community. Haha. That's sweet of her that she loves my pot pies so much but's illegal here to sell home-cooked meals unless I cooked it at a licensed facility anyway. 

This one..pastry top looks like it's ready to fly away. Haha. I should have put egg wash on the bowl properly. I love nice ceramic bowl for pot pies but at the same time, it's a pain to clean the pastry stuck on the edges of the bowl, so sometimes I use disposable foil ones, if I'm cooking a larger batches. Of course, you can soak it and it will work fine but I am not a very patient person, when I clean up, I want to put everything in the dishwasher and be done with it by the time I sit down for a dessert. =) 

I had some leftover pastry dough and I rolled it out and made quick cinnamon sugar palmier pops. My tot's face lights up as soon as he sees anything on a stick. I didn't get to take pictures as we made it after dinner and made a big mess but they're so darn cute. Should have made them for Valentine's day. Even though it means elephant ear, it looks more like a heart to me. Roll out the dough into rectangle as you made the dough initially and brush little butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar, fold each end quarter to the middle and fold again like a book. Cut them to about 1/2 inch slices and poke a stick through it if you're making pops otherwise just bake at 375F for 15 minutes or until golden brown. 

Chicken pot pie

* Approx 2 generous portion or 3 small dinner portions

Ingredients :

1/4 cup butter 
1/4 cup flour
2 cup chicken stock, warmed
1 Tbsp cream or half&half(optional)
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1/4 cup frozen pearl onions
2 split chicken breasts, grilled or 2 cups cubed rotisserie chicken
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped(optional)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp cold butter, cubed
1/3 cup ice cold water

Directions :

1. Make the pastry(if you're using store bought puff pastry or pie dough, skip this step). In a food processor, add flour, salt and add butter. Pulse until the crumbs are pea size. Slowly add water to it and pulse until just it just come together. On a floured surface, place the dough and using a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a rectangle. Fold bottom third to the middle and upper third to the middle, like a letter. Roll it out and fold again, repeat about 6-7 times. Chill in the fridge for an hour(or over night).

2. In a large skillet, melt the butter and saute diced onion until just translucent. Add flour and cook it for 2-3 minutes while stirring constantly so the roux doesn't burn. 

3. Add chicken stock and whisk until well mixed. Let it thicken and season with salt and pepper. Add cream or half and half, if using. Add vegetables, chicken and pearl onions and mix well. 

4. Preheat the oven to 375F. Scoop pot pie filling in the vessel you're using. I like individual bowls. Take out the pastry dough from the fridge and roll it out and cut to size. Brush the edge of the bowl with egg wash and cover with the pastry. Brush the top with the egg wash too and make little slits. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until pastry's golden brown and ready. 

* Pastry recipe from Dessert for two.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Landmarc - Tribeca, NYC

Sorry Marc, but you've been Chopped. My wife and I are big fans of the food network, in particular, the show Chopped.  We always appreciated judge Marc Murphy's comments, he seems like a really nice guy, and they always refer to him as "acclaimed chef" Marc Murphy, so naturally we were curious and excited to try his first restaurant, Landmarc in Tribeca. I decided to surprise Christine and book a table for Valentines day.

The restaurant is more of a casual, neighborhood restaurant, with upscale prices. I find this to be a perplexing combination, as I expect the service and food quality to be in line with the pricing.    Since the restaurant is higher end casual, they lacked certain details I would have expected.  For example, the menu is a folded up piece of paper. This would be interesting if it changed daily or weekly, but that's not the case. I was also surprised that on Valentines day, there was not a simple flower on the table. Other minor snafus included serving a very slightly chilled bottle of Peligrino, and bringing bread to the table that was literally cold, not even room temperature!

Lets move on from these trivial details and focus on the food.  Christine ordered an Octopus salad to start. The presentation was rustic but nice, and the flavors great. What was astonishing was that the salad was served over a large bowl of potatoes.  Don't get me wrong, they were delicious, but we could not help thinking that  if this dish was presented to the judges on Chopped, the cook would get absolutely blasted for serving a large bowl of potatoes as part of a appetizer salad.  The dish clearly lacked balance, and if she were to have eaten such a mound of carbs, there seemingly would have been no room for the main course.  After "judging" the appetizer round, we got the idea to critique the rest of the meal as if we were judges on the show chopped.  I commented that they still have two rounds to make up for the unbalanced, yet delicious appetizer.    Given the taste, we decided to put the chef through to the next round! 

Now onto round two. I ordered the grass fed ribeye. Given its price of $52, I had high expectations.  Having eaten ribeyes at high end steakhouses twice this week, my palate was expecting a tender, juicy, flavorful piece of meat.  I was SHOCKED when they delivered a plate of food that was practically falling off the plate.  The steaks all come with fries, and the steak was placed at a slight angle on top of the fries.  To the left was a massive mound of lettuce.  Ok....I'm not sure where to start.   Practically, there was no room to cut the steak.  Traditionally, steaks are served on their own plate, with the sides on separate plates or bowls. I had to lift up the steak and remove the fries from underneath, in order to actually cut it.  All of the fries that were under the steak were of course soggy, as they absorbed the juice from the steak.  The salad was a real shocker. I know it's a bistro style restaurant but they have an abundance of salads on the menu as starters, why they piled lettuce on the plate is besides me. If they want to include a salad, they should serve it as an appetizer before the main course. Similarly, the lettuce was covered in the steak's juice, not a great combination.  So now that I've reconfigured the plate, time to dig in.  To my surprise, this was one of the toughest pieces of meat I've encountered.  It was genuinely difficult to cut the steak, and after some hard work, the steak was too tough and chewy to enjoy.    Since I was hungry, I labored my way through half the steak, but enjoyed almost none of it, but some of the fries that were not soggy.    Christine ordered the scallops, which were nicely presented and delicious. 

At the end of round two, I would definitely would have chopped this chef, as the mistakes were just too big.  Unfortunately for us, there was only one chef to judge, so we had to push on to the desert round.  We decided to order the warm chocolate cake from the special valentines day menu. It came quickly, looked nice, but was tiny.   We dug in, and both went "ehh".  Christine summed it up by saying, "this tastes like a microwaved cake."  We both burst out laughing and agreed that sadly, Landmarc needed to be chopped off our list.

Xteve rating : 2.5 ***** 
 Website :  Landmarc

Friday, February 13, 2015

Brazilian Lemonade

I know green is not the most appropriate color for the season yet. But I like my limes all year around. That refreshing flavor that instantly reminds you of warm weather. Mmm..So good.

Limeade or lemonade, whatever you want to call it is not a pretty pink drink that is appropriate for Valentine's day which is tomorrow. But we already had our fair share of homemade strawberry milk as we had little guests this week. Blend milk, strawberries and a little honey if you prefer sweetened. Strain it if you want smoother texture. My tot and I indulge it time to time.

Anyway, back to the Brazilian lemonade, one thing I don't understand is, why is it called Brazilian lemonade not limeade?? Except Chef Bobby Flay's recipe, everyone else seems to call it Brazilian lemonade. But whatever it is called, I liked the look of it, sound of it and when I actually tried it, I fell in love with it! This is definitely going to be served a lot once the weather gets warm and we have guests outside. 

If you're familiar with Asian drinks, you'd know what Yakult is. It's probiotic drink that is sweet and tangy. I used to love it growing up. This drink reminds me of Yakult as it has this refreshing fruity flavor yet, sweet and creamy with condensed milk. As I am writing this post, I hear the roofing guys cleaning the ice and the frozen snow due to so much snow and freezing temperature this winter, I am dreaming of sipping this refreshing drink sitting out in the patio on a perfectly sunny day. Can't wait for spring to come!

Brazilian lemonade

Ingredients :

4 limes, washed thoroughly
6 cups water
1 cup sugar
6 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk

Directions :

1. Mix water and sugar until sugar's dissolved. Chill in the fridge.

2. Cut the ends of limes and cut each lime into 8 pieces. 

3. Add 2 limes and half the sugar water to a blender and pulse 5-6 times. Pour it out through a cheesecloth or a fine mesh over a pitcher. And do the same for the rest of the sugar water and limes. 

4. Add condensed milk and stir well. Serve over ice. 

*Recipe by Playz with food

Monday, February 9, 2015

Steve's famous meatballs

Steve makes killer meatballs. They're seriously the best I've ever had and always so popular whenever he makes them for a crowd. Being half Italian, it's natural for him. A lot of times, when he makes these meatballs for a big Sunday family meal for the whole family, he makes homemade pasta too. Even our picky eaters in the family would devour these, so that really says something. My husband himself is the Italian mother in law when it comes to meatball and homemade pasta. Haha. He once made them for our house party with about 70 people, where there was plenty of fancy catered food, these meatballs were the first to be gone. Every single one of them. And what took us so long to share this recipe? Well..he said whenever he sat down to write the recipe quickly, something always came up and he didn't have a chance. But in my opinion, I think he was offended that I put it as Steve's ALMOST famous meatballs. Now that I finally got the recipe from him, with some respect, I changed the title and named it Steve's FAMOUS meatballs. Maybe this will make him share his simple homemade pasta recipe soon. =) 

I should take some better pictures of the meatballs and update the post one of these days. I always tend to be in a hurry and not focused when he makes them and these pictures really don't do justice. He likes to slightly undercook the meatballs and finish cooking in the sauce. When we serve them for a crowd, we do that and keep them in the slow cooker on low until guests are ready. But I always make sure he cooks a small batch all ready to nibble on. I love the crust when they are straight out of the oven. Writing this makes me crave some meatballs now. You can make them for your small family too, they freeze very well. We freeze the non-sauced leftover meatballs in the freezer so we always have some meatballs for emergency. Like...a lazy dinner. =)  

By the way, we do make tomato sauce time to time but we usually use Rao's sauce. Most of the time, Marinara or tomato basil - our favorite. They're the best. So far, nothing could beat their sauce in our opinion. (Even our homemade sauce unfortunately. Haha)

Steve's famous meatballs

*Makes about 30 meatballs
Ingredients :

1 lb ground beef(we use 85%/15%)
1 lb Italian sausage(we prefer no fennel one for the meatball), out of casing
1 cup grated Parmesan  
1 1/4 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
3 eggs
3 Tbsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh flat leave parsley finely chopped

Directions :

1. In a large mixing bowl, place ground beef and sausage. Mix until well combined.

2. Add rest of the ingredients and mix with hands. Mixture should not be too wet or too dry. If it's too dry, add a little milk. Too wet, add a little more breadcrumbs.

3. Shape them into about 2oz balls. You can use a cookie scoop or by hands. 

4. Place the meatballs on a lightly greased lined baking sheet and broil on the bottom rack for 4-5 minutes. Flip the meatballs and broil for 4-5 minutes. If eating directly, make sure they're fully cooked as it contains pork sausage.

* If I'm serving them in the sauce, I like to slightly undercook the meatballs and simmer in the sauce to finish cooking.