$14.60 for a seven course Michelin star meal?

Yep, that happened. I went to Tim Ho Wan (the original), which has a Michelin star for lunch yesterday. Check it out:

Tim Ho Wan menu

Once I finally found the place (I could tell based on the crowd gathered outside), I put my name on the waiting list. I was number 105, party of one. They were calling number 63 to be seated, so I was pleasantly surprised when she told me it would only be a one hour wait, as she’d been telling everyone else two hours. I wandered around for about 40 minutes through the Ladies Market that was just a couple blocks over, and came back, just in case they’d call my number early. And after about 15 minutes they called number 84, party of one. He was a no show!!!! He called 105 next, and I was there, jumping with my hand up! Wooo! It pays to be an eager beaver.

I was seated in a middle seat at a six person table. Two ladies at the table on my left, a girl about my age across from me, who was with the two boys to my right. We all nodded hello. I was a little scared and excited at the same time, adrenaline still pumping from getting to jump the waiting list. I looked at some of my neighbor’s food thinking “Fuck.really hope I didn’t order that” (I’d ticked off the items on the menu before I even went in. So efficient). The two ladies to my left didn’t speak much English, and the party of three next to me seemed quite friendly. We chatted a bit (well the word “chat” might be too generous). Given the low prices (about $2 – $3 per item) I ordered a ton of things, much to the amusement of my neighbors, as it wasn’t quite clear until I had about five plates that I was just going for the tasting menu approach.

Here’s how it went:

Glutinous rice dumpling

Glutinous rice dumpling. I think I’ve had this in Beijing before, it came wrapped up in a large green leaf, and it was filled with meat. I ate the pieces I could identify as chicken breast. Those bites were wonderful. I wish there had been more of them, and fewer scary looking bites, origins dubious. Luckily I reminded myself that I had six more courses coming, so I didn’t feel too compelled to eat even a substantial amount. Ha.

Steamed beef dumpling with potato

These came out next, and the shop owner had to show me how to eat them with the delicious sauce. Not dipping, as I was going to do, but you put it in the little empty bowl, and drizzle the sauce over. Just as well, I was having trouble keeping the dumpling in my chopsticks and put together from the bowl to my mouth. I loved these and the flavors. The potato was so nice. The beef was slightly strange looking, pinky and squishy. I tried not to think about it as I ate them. Good thinking, if I do say so myself, because they were good.

Fried noodle with soya sauce

The noodles were my favorite dish. I really liked the texture of the noodles and the green onions added such a fresh strong flavor. There were little bits of cabbage (I think) in there as well. I think a part of why I liked this dish so much aside from how it tasted, was that I could identify all the ingredients and could relax as I stuffed my mouth with these. One of my neighbors to my right thought this dish was the worst of everything. He had also eaten chicken feet. Clearly culture plays a part in palates.

Pan fried red bean dumplings

My dessert came next, the pan fried red bean dumplings, another item that I was so happy to have. I love these! Red bean paste in sticky rice dumplings, sprinkled with sesame seeds and pan fried. I need to learn to make these. They are similar to mochi, which aren’t pan fried.

Pan-fried turnip cake

The turnip cake came, three squares of strangely gelatinous white stuff, with things in it, some sort of meat. I took one bite, and instantly one of my neighbors started laughing at me. I realized that I’d made a face that clearly reflected how much I didn’t like it. It was quite funny, and since the jig was up, there was no point in trying another bite to make it seem like I was enjoying it. I left the rest of the dish untouched as I needed the real estate in my stomach for the other billion dishes that were yet to come.

Deep fried eggplant filled with beef

This looked terrifying when it came, and my fears eased only when I could identify the eggplant. This was definitely one of the dishes my neighbors had at the start that made me more than a little nervous. It was so hot, as things are when they come out of the fryer, and I’m embarrassed to admit I ate around the  beef, only getting little bites. The eggplant was so nice, and I wish I’d taken a little more time with this dish, to really get into it. I think the turnip cakes had knocked my confidence a little, and these truly would have been great.

Steamed beef roll filled with enoki and blac preper sauce

This looked quite strange at first, but it was wonderful. I loved, loved, the black peppercorn sauce. There was thin beef wrapped around what I thought was just the enoki mushrooms, but I think it was also some tougher, sinewy beef. I couldn’t get my teeth through it, so I unwrapped the thin beef using my fingers and the chopsticks. It was at this point the girl sitting across from me, who had done most of the translating throughout the meal, asked if this was my first time using chopsticks. Too embarrassed to tell the truth (although now I’m not sure that using chopsticks to fork sushi into my mouth counts), I said yes. She shook her head in obvious agreement. The seasoning in this dish was the best of all of them – complex, really nice. If it weren’t for the strange meat in the center, I’d make this my number one dish.

What a fun lunch – everyone there really wanted to be there – we’d all waited at least an hour. It was a little scary, it pushed my boundaries. I think there were bites in there that I really enjoyed, like when I’m eating some delicious Italian pasta dish or a steak, beyond the thrill of the adventure. I left feeling so excited and honestly, a bit proud of myself. And best of all – I didn’t need my Epi-pen!! I’d love to read the Michelin reviews, and see what dishes they had, and the reasons they awarded Tim Ho Wan a star – perhaps it would enlighten my Western mind. It was an experience so far from what I’d normally expect a Michelin-rated restaurant to be that it’d be nice to know the criteria, and what dishes they had. Not to say the food wasn’t good, it was truly was, but I just don’t think I understand the flavors/background to truly appreciate it. It was truly worth the wait, and worth the trip. I would certainly recommend it to anyone traveling to Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong Day One – Champagne and Caviar, no big deal…

My first day was certainly decadent and indulgent!!! What an amazing day! My first views of Hong Kong were when I was on the airport express heading into the city – tall green peaks rising out of the mist on one side of the train, and a blue green ocean on the other side at dawn. It was beautiful. After a successful adventure on public transportation to Sophie’s apartment, pictured below, with a Starbucks, Subway and Burger King right there, I went on a little mini walk to start my culinary adventures!! I was starving, and Sophie was fast asleep (it was just 8am!), so I ventured out to find some breakfast. I found a lovely little coffee shop/bakery and ended up with a ham and egg sandwich. How Western of me – I know, I know. But the roll was not Western-y, it was light and sweet and fluffy. And it was cheap. My sandwich and capuccino cost me $20HKD. That is right, $2.85.

Amazing! I’m going to eat like a king with those prices!!!! And eat like a king I did all day. Sophie took me to brunch to this place called Harlan’s in Kowloon, the other big island. We walked in to this fancy dinning room, with floor to ceiling windows, and I had the best view of Hong Kong Island, and the ocean and the boats and everything. It was beautiful! Hong Kong is so interesting – it’s a juxtaposition of nature and city, the mountains and the ocean make you feel like you are somewhere magical, and then if you adjust your gaze maybe 5 degrees, you see towering apartment buildings and business towers with their names across the top. And I got to gaze upon this for the entire two hour brunch. Yep, all you could eat buffet, endless champagne (okay, it was sparkling wine) and a main! It was out of this world. The buffet was incredible – and it was just your appetizers. There was a raw bar with oysters and clams and shrimp and crab legs and snail thingys – basically everything that spelled out death to me, but it looked incredible. There were salads, a risotto station with giant truffles (which, after cheekily asking for some shaved bits of one, turned out to be in fact not really that tasty. Disappointing.), a pasta bar, a charcuterie, and caviar! Then there was a second buffet around the corner with sushi and other Japanese dishes. Oh my lord it was insane!!! We went back and forth so many times.

My first buffet plate – foie gras, caprese salad, proscuitto, what’s left of my mushroom salad

Sophie at Harlan’s

Sophie’s first buffet plate

Truffles – surprisingly dry and un-tasteful 😦

Living the hard life

Two of Sophie’s work mates, while we wait for our mains

Then our main dishes came. Sophie had a Boston lobster, there was a pork option, and I got a really delicious steak tenderloin. The meat (it probably came from Kansas) was so soft and tender, it just melted in my mouth. We all got that vegetable side salad – it was nice, but nothing spectacular.

And then it was time to hit the dessert buffet! There was a Cold Stone-like ice cream station, fondue, fruit, cheese cake, mousses, brownies…. So good. My favorite was the chocolate mousse!

And that my friends, was my first main meal in Hong Kong. It was amazing, particularly coupled with the views and the company! We calculated that after about 10 or so glasses of champagne, we think each glass was about $1 haha. And we ate our fill – I’m sure they don’t count on people like us destroying their buffet, else they’d never make any money! Our whole meal was only about $100. Insane.

Sophie and I followed this all up with massages (no happy endings, for those of you who are curious haha), and at about 7:45 the jet lag hit me, and I was asleep in bed. Can’t wait for the rest of my trip!!!

Tortellini and (heirloom) bean soup

So what happens when it starts to warm up in NYC? I get so happy. The sun is shining when I get to and when I leave work, the trees are green and the flowers are in bloom. And I can almost ride my bike without a jacket! It’s wonderful.

And then I get hot. It starts reaching mid-70’s during the day and our apartment just will not get cool until fall. 29th floor? What amazing views of the GW bridge you have! What a terrible hot box I have. A/C is either on (super cold and expensive) or off, and when it’s turned off, its like you never had it on. Oh, how I miss central air.

So what did my brother and I do? We made soup. Something that warms you up even more. We are ridiculous. But this soup was ridiculously delicious AND easy. Perhaps we will crank the A/C, get really cold, and eat up all the soup.

I found the recipe on this new food blog I found (it’s not really new, just new to me), where the author, Jenna, is living my dream. She is a classically trained chef, food photographer, freelance food writer and recipe developer.  Dream job. Her blog is called Eat, Live, Run and she’s fun to read and posts fun things on Facebook (they IPO-ed today, in case you live under a rock). She posted this recipe and I promise I didn’t pick it because it was so simple to make. I liked how it sounded – light and Italian-y, which it is. Here’s the link, since it’s her recipe. 🙂 http://www.eatliverun.com/tortellini-and-heirloom-bean-soup/

Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large fennel, diced
64 oz vegetable or chicken stock
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 package fresh tortellini pasta (either cheese or spinach)
2 cups either pinto, kidney or heirloom beans, either canned or cooked from scratch
3 cups fresh spinach or chopped swiss chard
Parmesan cheese for serving
Directions: 
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot. Add the garlic and chopped fennel and saute for three-five minutes, until the fennel just begins to soften.
Quickly pulse the tomatoes in a blender or food processor to just barely puree (you still want some chunks). Add the chunky pureed tomatoes to the pot along with the stock, salt and pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil before adding the tortellini and beans. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about seven minutes until tortellini are puffy and cooked through.
Add the swiss chard or spinach to the pot and stir so that the greens wilt. Serve soup with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and additional salt, pepper or red pepper flakes to taste.
We made some modifications – I don’t like fennel so we didn’t use that. Matt (my brother, for you strangers, if there are any of you reading this) was disappointed I veto-ed it, and was grumbling about how good it would have been. And we didn’t feel like cooking our own beans from scratch, so we used canned pinto beans. Yay protein. Also, we used vegetable stock, so bonus points to us for being vegetarian. It could only be more delicious with chicken, so I wouldn’t worry if you are vegetarian and constrained to veggie stock because you will still get a great flavor.
As you can read, the recipe was fairly self explanatory, nothing tricky. It was good advice to pulse the food processor (another reason why I really like Jenna’s blog, it’s so informative and takes out the mystery). I only had San Marzano’s on hand, which were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but so not necessary.
We used regular swiss chard – I loved the flavor and the green and red colors were beautiful. Also, we used a whole bunch instead of 3 cups. Matt and I noticed that it was when we added the swiss chard that it really started to look like a delicious soup and it really came together. We initially only added the 3 cups, but noticed that it didn’t seem like very much, and after we’d served ourselves the first bowls, that we hadn’t left very much in the pot! Adding the rest of the bunch solved two problems: the lack of swiss chard left for future servings, and what the hell I was going to do with the rest of the swiss chard.
As for the beans – CBF soaking and making our own. Canned to the rescue! We drained the beans, but didn’t rinse. This brings me to the pasta. Matt thought the tortellini was the best part. I liked it a lot as well – the burst of cheese when you bit into one was yummy. They were also the most expensive part of the soup – something you could easily substitute with another dry pasta to save on calories and dollars. With the addition of pecorino on top at the end, you cover your cheese base. Mmmm.
We seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper in the middle, and added two pinches of chili flakes. I’m never a  fan of seasoning too much before the flavors have had time to develop and meld, so we held off with too much salt and pepper until closer to the end.  I liked the kick the chili flakes added – don’t add too much because you don’t want it to be the focus of the soup. This took us no time at all to throw together. It was really flavorful and it’s quite healthy as well! I’m starting to cool down, and just sent Matt to pick up some ice cream to help!

Basil pesto

A girl at my work, Christen, inspired this post. She and her boyfriend do their best to eat healthily, in between midnight pizzas (hey, no judgement here, our household has seen 3:45am Katz’s pastrami sandwiches). Lately they have been making basil pesto on top of chicken. A lot. So I though I’d give it a go – I love pesto, I’ve got a food processor, what a great idea! She gave me her recipe, and some tips, some after I made my batch, some before.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (see Cook’s Note)

Directions

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese. If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

From the Food Network: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/basil-pesto-recipe2/index.html

You’re probably thinking “2 cups of basil!?!”. Don’t worry, it’s readily available at most grocers. And if you generally rely on a solitary basil plant, Whole Foods sells the plants for about $2 (maybe $3, heck, I’d pay $4 for a plant if I knew I wouldn’t let it die), so you could just get a second plant to nurture, you green thumb you. The bunch of basil goes for about $3 (New York dollars, not sure what it is elsewhere… most likely cheaper).

The next thing you will think, after you’ve put the basil in your cart and have made it to the nuts section, is why in God’s name would I buy a whole container of pine nuts for $30?!? I’m just going to go the the bulk section – I only need 1/4 cup! You’ll do the same, and think to yourself, hey, I need way less than a pound, so at $29.99/lb, I’ll be fine. So, it being 7:05pm at Whole Foods, you’re being jostled by the indie couple getting all their whole grains to the right and the 30-something lady picking out dried fruit to your left, and trying not to get run over by the cart dudes pushing the full train of carts to the front of the store behind you, you measure out what looks to be about 1/4 cup. Victoriously walking away, you congratulate yourself on saving some serious dough, outsmarting those marketers who have tried to convince you to buy a whole container for $30. Then you will get to the checkout, and your tiny portion of pine nuts will ring up to be $6.60!! What?!?! Are pine nuts endangered? Why are they so freaking expensive!?! After I made my pesto, I asked Christen how she could afford a pesto habit, what with pine nuts on par with the price of gold. This is where she gave me the magical tip!!! She uses ALMONDS. Or any nuts she has on hand. Genius! Now, I haven’t tried her tip yet, but in theory, it makes total sense. Almonds are more common than flannel wearing hipsters in Brooklyn!! And the nuts in pesto aren’t the outstanding flavor (that I’m currently aware of, I may be wrong), but they provide more of a texture. Somebody try it and report back – or I guess I could do it and update.

In terms of the actual production process – it’s easy as pie. Well, it’s easier than pie. Tear the basil leaves off the stems, rinse. Cut up 2 cloves of garlic into chunks, so the food processor gets them a bit more evenly. I’ve mentioned before that I love garlic, so I picked two large cloves. Cut back according to your own tastes.

Put in food processor, and pulse (don’t just turn it on, you do want to pulse, to chop it).

I added about 1/2 cup of olive oil all at once, and pulsed until smooth. The recipe tells you to season with salt and pepper – it needs pepper, but easy on the salt, because the pecorino takes care of that saltiness. I left the mixture in the food processor when I added the cheese, and then while the processor was running, slowly added more olive oil so it would mix in. Christen said she uses less olive oil than the recipe calls for – I would say I did the same, although I’ve noticed that the left overs are a bit dry after it’s been in the ‘fridge a couple of days.
This was so simple, and it’s provided me with pesto for days! I am a glutton for pasta, so as could you see in the first photo, I put the pesto on shells and tossed in a couple grape tomatoes. I’ve also used it to add some kick to the new Domino’s artisan pizza’s (quite delicious on its own, by the way, but still, as my mother suggested, an oxymoron), some crackers, or just a spoon. I think putting it on chicken would be really great too, but that would require cooking chicken. And sometimes that seems like it’s a lot of work. Especially when you have crackers.
Oh, and if you know why pine nuts cost so much, please advise. Even if you google it for me. http://lmgtfy.com/