Saturday, March 21, 2015

Recipe: What the 'Nduja?

I'm standing in line at Murray's Cheese Shop (this is something that happens often) and the guy in front of me says "Let me get a half pound of that 'Nduja (pronounced: nooja)". Of course I want in on this "nooja" so I order a 1/4 lb myself with zero idea of what I just ordered.

I look at the guy behind the counter, and I ask "What did I just order and what am I going to do with it?" I'm told to use it like chorizo (the crumbly kind, not the kind you serve with cheese).

So I finally go home and look up 'Nduja, which is described as a "spicy, spreadable pork sausage from Italy", or as I like to think of it, the chorizo of Italy.

So what's a girl supposed to do with the 'Nduja she acquired? What she always does: make tacos. Breakfast tacos to be exact.

Teenage 'Njuda Breakfast Tacos!
What the 'Njuda Breakfast Tacos
Makes about 6 tacos total.


  • Salsa (tomatoes, red onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, lime, and salt)
  • Cucumber
  • ¼ lb. of 'Njuda
  • 4 eggs (pull out a couple of the yolks if you're watching your cholesterol)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 onion (I like spanish, but whatever is lying around is fine)
  • 6 corn tortillas (not flour, because flour is gummy)
  • Extra cilantro and onions
  • Shredded cheese (optional, but not really if you live in my household)
Prepare your salsa (or open a jar). Slice cucumbers into rounds. Dice bell pepper and onion. Throw 'Nduja into a hot pan and break it up with your spatula. I like to sop up some of the oil as it starts to cook, but that's just me. Once the meat is browned, add the bell pepper and onion and saute until both are tender (onions should be translucent). Scramble and add your eggs and cook until just cooked (overcooked eggs are not good, so don't dry them out!). I don't usually add salt since the 'Nduja is salty enough for me, but feel free to season to taste. Toast your tortillas on a cast iron or open flame and assemble! Now eat breakfast like a boss!

'Nduja power!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Recipe: Not Mémé Rita's Pork Pie (Tourtière)

If you want to start a debate at dinner in the Gagnon household, bring up pork pie. Everyone has a differing opinion on how it should taste and whose is the best. My father-in-law will remind everyone his mother's was so good that the local supermarket used to commission her to make them. Unfortunately, I never got to try Joe's mémé's (French for grandmother) pork pie so I'll never be able to say if it was the best.

Rumor has it that one of Joe's Aunts has Mémé Rita's recipe, but rumor also has it that Mémé Rita was a bit funny at times and would leave out key ingredients or steps when giving out a recipe, so we'll never know if she has the actual recipe.

After having two different versions of it during Christmas, I was tempted to give it a try, but never got around to it. One weekend afternoon I was flipping through America's Test Kitchen's "The Best of 2015" magazine and what recipe do I see? Tourtière! It was fate. I had to try my hand at it.

So here we go, I'm entering dangerous waters here. I'd like to present my version of pork pie, adapted from the ATK recipe. I know it won't be the same as Mémé Rita's, but I'm hoping that maybe (just maybe!) I've made her proud here, and she's chuckling that the Chinese girl her grandson married made an acceptable pork pie.
Tourtière Recipe (Makes 4 Mini Pies)

  • ½ t baking soda
  • 1 T water
  • 1 lb. pork
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 onion diced finely
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 t minced fresh thyme
  • 1 t minced fresh sage
  • 1 t minced fresh rosemary
  • ½ t ground allspice
  • ½ t ground cinnamon
  • ¼ t fresh ground nutmeg
  • ¼ t ground cloves
  • 1 ½ C chicken broth
  • 1 medium sized potato (~6 oz) peeled and grated (using largest setting on box grater)
  • 2/3 C shortening / lard
  • 2 C all purpose flour
  • 5-6 T ice cold water

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt and the baking soda into the water and mix. Massage it into the pork and let the pork rest for 20-25 minutes.

I'm all about that mis-en-place.

In a pot, melt butter and sauté onions until caramelized. Then add garlic, herbs, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook until fragrant. 

Add chicken broth and potato making sure to scrape up brown bits on bottom of the pan. 
Let cook and stir frequently until potatoes have softened and sauce is thick enough for you to leave a trail when you drag your spoon across the bottom of the pan.

Add the pork and break it up into the mixture. Cook until pork is no longer pink. Let mixture cool (until completely cooled) in the fridge, uncovered. Stir from time to time.

To make the crust, combine shortening and flour with a fork until it's crumbly and the shortening is in pea-sized clumps.

Add ice water 1 T at a time until it seems like it will come together and form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Once everything is cool and the dough is rested, it's time to assemble.

Before you start assembling, preheat your oven to 450°F. Roll out the crust - you'll need 8 discs total (4 tops, 4 bottoms). Press crust into the pan and then fill with cooled filling. Place another disc on top, using an egg wash (1 egg yolk + 1 T water beaten together) to seal the edges.

Cut a couple slits on the top and place into a 450°F oven for 15 minutes. Turn it down to 375°F and then let it go for another 20 minutes.

Let pie cool for 2 hrs (or more) and then reheat gently. Pie is meant to be served warm, but not hot.

A tribute to Joe's mémé and a great way to celebrate Pi day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review: Mu Ramen

Mu Ramen
12-09 Jackson Ave
Long Island City, NY 11101
(917) 868-8903
Two things to start:

  1. I'm obsessed with this place. I love the food, the ambience, and the owners just seem like really nice people.
  2. It's cute when people come and ask what the wait time is for a table. Unless you're lining up for the opening or you don't mind going to a bar nearby for a drink, make a reservation at 3p.m., otherwise you're always looking at an hour wait...if not two.
Joe and I have been several times and over the visits have tried most of their menu (sometimes they have specials and we haven't tried those, yet). The menu isn't long: 1-2 snacks, 3-4 appetizers, and 3-4 ramens at any given time. The food is good, and it's consistently good. I haven't had a bad experience, yet. Some might argue it's expensive (2-3 apps, 2 ramens, a drink will run you about $100-$120 with tax/tip), but I've never regretted spending my money here.

UnI (a.k.a Uni Sundae!) - Hokkaido and Santa Barbara uni on top of spicy tuna, roe, and sushi rice. Don't mix it or you'll pop the eggs!
"Okonomiyaki" - smoked trout, tobiko and shaved bonito on a scallion pancake with syrup. Joe's absolute favorite. 
Tebasaki Gyoza - foie and brioche stuffed chicken wing. People rave about this, but it's probably my least favorite appetizer. It's good, just a little rich.
MUssels! Sauteed mussels with a spicy dipping sauce. Very refreshing and super flavorful.
I'm not sure they do this anymore, but when you were done with the mussels, they brought over a chorizo arancini and broke it up in the mussel broth. You let it stand for a minute and it becomes an amazing porridge.
Mu Ramen - beef based broth with brisket, pickles, menna, cabbage, and scallions. A very unique flavor.
Tonkotsu 2.0 - my absolute favorite. Broth is flavorful, but not heavy. Pork jowl is fatty. Noodles have the perfect texture.
Spicy Miso - good, but pretty rich. I like the thicker noodles that miso ramen comes with, but my loyalty lies with the Tonkotsu 2.0.
Like I said, I'm obsessed. I mean, I'm willing to call this place 100 times over the course of 15 minutes to get a reservation,'s worth it every time. If you've said to yourself, "Oh, I've been meaning to make it out to Queens" - I just gave you the ultimate reason to finally make that trip.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Recipe": Cashew Butter

You'll note that I put recipe in quotes, because I'm going to keep it real; this isn't a recipe. Really I just need to share with all the health nuts (pun intended) out there how amazingly easy it is to make cashew butter. Ok, you caught me, I actually have no idea if cashews are healthy, but a quick Google search seems to indicate that they are.

A delicious jar of cashew butter. Joe is a happy camper.

  • Raw cashews pieces (it took a little more than 1/2 lb. to make a 7oz jar)
  • Salt (for the above, I did a 1/2 t.)
  • Honey (if you're so inclined, I was not)
You just throw it all into a food processor and blend until it's nice and creamy. Scrape down the sides every so often so you get an even blend. Be careful of your food processor overheating, at some point you will have to give it a small break. I've detailed the evolution below, just incase you start thinking I lead you astray.
All aboard.
Right now you're all like "Wait, I just made cashew powder, this isn't right", but KEEP GOING.
You're still doubting me, because now you're thinking "This isn't smooth and creamy, it's lump and grainy", but GRIND ON....because suddenly....
You get to this: CASH(ew) MONEY.  

Serving suggestions as follows:
  • In the morning, on toast
  • In the afternoon, on chia seed pudding with berries
  • Right before dinner (since your wife said dinner would be ready 30 minutes ago) straight out of the jar
Spread the word, make your own cashew butter, it's too easy not to!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Saturday Experiments: Duck Tales

This is going to sound weird, but I really enjoy breaking down a bird. Sure it takes an amateur cook like me some time to do so, but it's economical and relaxing. If you're a household of two, getting a whole bird is perfect, you can get anywhere from 2-4 meals out of it (depending on how much you eat).

Yesterday we went to Chelsea Market (one of my favorite places in NYC) and stopped by Dickson's Farmstand and picked up a whole Peking Duck. You can probably find duck for cheaper in Chinatown, but if you're already saving yourself the money from eating out, why not go for something a little higher quality?

I haven't really made much duck, but it breaks down similar to a chicken - if you need help, visit Saveur. They have a great tutorial on how to break down duck.
Ducks are the fat kids of the poultry family - which makes them delicious!

Broken down for multiple meals!

With any whole bird, always save the bones for stock! I even do this with rotisserie chickens! Put the carcass, wings, and neck into a 9 x 13 baking dish and season liberally with salt and pepper. Add some carrots, an onion, bay leaves, and parsley (and/or thyme) to the bones. Roast them at 500°F for 45 minutes to coax all the flavor out of them. Dump them into a stock pock and add about a gallon of water and let simmer for ~8 hours. During the first hour, if you have stuff on top, skim it off for a clearer broth. After 8 or so hours, strain the broth into containers. You can use it anywhere chicken broth is called for. Or you can add rice, ginger, scallions, and shiitake mushrooms to it and make amazing congee.

Never throw out the bones! Always make a stock.
My bird also came with some liver and gizzards, so naturally I made paté. My version of paté anyways. Just take some duck fat and sauté one minced shallot and one minced garlic. Once the shallots are translucent add the liver and gizzards chopped up, along with a handful of herbs, salt and pepper, and dried cherries (cherries pair great with duck!). Sauté for a minute or so and hit it with a shot of some brown liquor (I used a Maple Bourbon I had on hand). Flambé! Cook for another minute or so and dump everything into a food processor and run it until it's smooth. Refrigerate and serve with sliced bread or crackers!

I don't always eat offals, but when I do, it's paté.
When you buy a whole duck you're going to end up with A LOT of fat, so LUCKY YOU! To render the fat, just put all your fat and skin into a pot and turn your heat very low. Leave it for about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs and you will have a beautiful pot of hot duck fat. Strain it into a container once it's cooled a bit. The internet says duck fat stores for 3 months, but I highly doubt mine will last that long.

I realize this photo isn't very yummy looking, but trust me, it actually is.
 For dinner last night, I pan roasted the duck breasts.

I reserved 2/3 of the fat that rendered out of the duck breasts for my diced potatoes, and to the other 1/3 I added garlic, 3 T of sugar, 4 T of white vinegar, juice of 2 oranges, and rind of 1 orange. After whisking, I hit it with a shot of Bulleit Rye and let it simmer and reduce for about 10  minutes.

During that time, I sautéed some kale in garlic (and hit it with a little red wine vinegar near the end) and I crisped my diced potatoes in the duck fat until they were tender. I seasoned the potatoes with salt, garlic powder, thyme and paprika.

Dinner is served!
I still have to confit my duck legs and my duck stock is going to make a great soup sometime this week. So many applications for one bird! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Restaurant Review: Sushi Nakazawa

To be fair, I haven't had many sushi omakases, so I'm by no means an expert here, but what I do know is that I really enjoyed my experience. All my friends have told me, and it's true, you have to sit at the bar on a weekday here. Interacting with Nakazawa is 100% worth the extra $30 to sit at the bar (restaurant is $120/pp and the bar is $150/pp). Nakazawa is absolutely adorable and does his best to keep you entertained throughout your meal.

Also, if you like sake - do the $40 sake pairing. 5 pairings, so a great deal!

We begin.

Chum Salmon.
Lightly smoked, sockeye salmon.
Thanks chef for the scallop!
This was possibly horse mackerel.
Mackerel torched with lemon and sea salt.
Yellow tail.
Mackerel aged seven days.
He was moving around...but then....

Nakazawa was like "Saynora Shrimp!"
Giant Ebi.
I'm not all that sure what came next.
The sake pairing was getting to my head by now.
Photo break!
Tuna - from less fatty to o-toro!
Santa Barbara
Salmon Roe.
Salt water eel. My father would be so jealous.
Tuna hand roll.
Tomago! He took so long to perfect it. Liz and I had no idea that this was what Tomago is supposed to taste like!
Finished off with some lychee sorbet and a hot green tea.
A great meal with even better company.