Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snowed In: 2010 Christmas Edition

Doesn't this picture look familiar? ....Oh wait...yeah, here it is...

Some of us wanted to have the White Christmas, and think we had our wishes, well almost, come true. The snow storm came roaring in NYC on Sunday, the 2nd Day of Christmas, and it did not stop until the next morning. As always, all the drifts from adjacent school parking lot ended up in our yard. It measured 80cm pileup.

We did not step outside since Christmas Eve - busy cooking and baking and playing with the new cat - but finally emerged to get to the grocery store and saw the street is snow-blocked. This photo is just taken this afternoon, around 2:30pm on 12/29. And when did it snow? 3 days ago? We kept hearing some parts of the City was neglected in terms of snow removal, but didn't think our street was one of them... The blockage spans almost 2 blocks. Sure we had some heavy snow storms in the past, but can't really remember the street was left untouched for 3 full days after it stopped!

Glad we didn't have to go anywhere. But for those who had to travel, please be careful!

Ku Cake

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

He Came in Peace...

The backyard kitten of the summer is now officially welcomed into our household.

For weeks we contemplated the manner of taking him in. The process of indoctrination started as we put the food dish inside and leaving the window open. The kitten comes inside but he jumps back outside as soon as finished we weren't sure if it would stay indoors. Then one weekend, we were hearing a whiny meow all night without seeing the kitten. Turned out he was trapped by the neighbor (he keeps a sizable flock of pigeons in adjacent backyard) and was about to be sent far away, who knows where! Sensing the urgency, we went to retrieve the kitten, even though it was not technically ours, yet. The kitten escapes the cage and hides in the backyard for another day.

Next day he came inside the house to eat the food. That moment the window was closed shut.

To make the long story short, he has not stepped outside since. Well, except for the trip to ASPCA... Maybe when the weather gets warmer we'll let you run around the front yard.

Ku Cake

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pumpkin Goodness

I love butter. And eggs. And sugar. And cream. In other words, I love any dessert comprised of these sweet ingredients. But lately I am slowly branching out, exploring alternative recipes because some of my colleagues are vegan, lactose intolerant, allergic to nuts, etc, etc... I want to bake something they can have a taste, too. Although I will not convert all my recipes, I am finding some good ones that are not compromising my taste buds.

This pumpkin bread is one of those happy recipes. It is dairy-free, so light, moist and delicious as is. But with cream cheese-y frosting (made with Tofutti, vegan friendly!) it really sings! I'm so glad to add it to my roster.

Ku Cake

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Autumn Baking

I think I mentioned this before, but this apple coffee cake is the hands-down my favorite. I must have found this one while looking for a basic pound cake batter recipe, and somewhere along the line stumbled onto it. It well could be a newspaper clipping. Or maybe from Penzy's catalogue? (This catalogue is a treasure trove of quintessential 'home made' recipes....) Original recipe calls for a cinnamon streausel topping. I omitted that, and with a whim, mixed in a bunch of chopped apples. And the result was... oh it was so good, I instantly fell in love. Since then I am using this batter recipe for various flavors and mix-ins. Really, it's that versatile. So far I've made: blueberry, strawberry, apricot, pear, Earl Grey, Green Tea, rum & raisin... the possibilities are endless!

This time I baked it in a sheet for the masses. Apples and cranberries are baked in the batter, and thinly sliced apples and pears adorn the top, adding the caramelized crunch. I had to secure my own piece before the whole thing is devoured.

Ku Cake

Sunday, August 29, 2010


This year, all the stone fruits taste particularly wonderful, surely due to a hot & relatively dry weather during August. Apricots, plums, nectarines and yes, peaches... every one of them are plump, juicy and fill the mouth with deep sweet-tangy flavor.

My favorite sweets to bake in the summer is this Peach Crostata. Its crust can be prepared in 5 minutes. The best part is you can just press it against the baking dish and pop right into the oven. No need for resting and kneading and more resting like a regular pie dough. I clipped the recipe from the Daily News may many years ago (by Arthur Schwartz) and ever since it became almost a ritual to bake this dish, at least once, in summer.

So I grabbed the window of opportunity last week when the heat cooled a bit. It's fantastic as is, but adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream is the height of decadence. (And I should stop doing that... soon!)

Ku Cake

Sunday, August 8, 2010

More Bounties from Yard

I had this blueberry plant for 15 years that never produced a fruit. So this spring I transplanted it to another spot where it can get a little more sun. Boy that made such a difference! The new branches started shooting up, and yes, finally I was able to collect a handful of blueberries. It wasn't even a bowl full; but enough to adorn the morning cereal. So precious!

These brown heirloom tomatoes are called Cherokee Purple, about a size of palm full. I kept making the simple sandwich of toasted English muffin, schmear of cream cheese, basil and thick slices of these sweet tomatoes for the morning. Lettuce leaves, also picked from the yard, accompany many sandwiches during the summer.

Each year my landlord (we share the yard) plant three things: tomatoes, hot peppers and cucumbers. And this summer they are particularly bountiful; perhaps benefiting from the hot weather. So, yeah, something good does come out of the sweltering climate...

Ku Cake

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Foraging the Yard

There are a lot of weeds growing in the yard. Most of them are systematically pulled before they get out of hands. However, there are few weeds that I intentionally leave alone because they are edible.

On the right: Dandelions, hated by many homeowners with meticulous front lawn. On the left: Purslane, unfamiliar and indifferent until I learned they are edible and good source of Omega-3.

The salad of purslane and tomatoes is very simple. All you have to do is make a dressing (a clove of garlic & small chili pepper minced, olive oil, vinegar, salt & pepper), chop the parslane and tomatoes, and mix them in the bowl. It was delicious, albeit pungent! I waited until most of the co-workers have left the building to start the meal.

Ku Cake

Gratuitous Kitten Pix

The Backyard Kitten is growing up fast! Somewhat feeling responsible, I am putting out the food twice a day. I think they know they hit the jackpot! For the feral cats not have to worry about food and shelter must relieve a huge percentage of their daily struggle.

Protective mother still approaches with hissing and caution. The baby is imitating the cute hiss, but then comes running toward the food bowl. So much for the lesson in caution...

So I'm calling the mother Nom Nom and the kitten Jumpy, for now. I don't think they know nor don't really care, though.

Ku Cake

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot Weather, Cold Noodles

Oh my, it's too hot to even stand in the kitchen!

Every morning I prepare all the food for the day. For breakfast I pack either cereal or oatmeal, for lunch I make a sandwich with whatever the protein I have in the fridge, and cook a supper. Well, in 100+ degrees temperature, no one wants to turn on the gas. And if you absolutely must use the stove, let's minimize it.

So I turn to this cold noodle dish "hiyashi-chuka", the dish that personifies Summer. It's basically a cold noodle salad. You cook the noodle and just add any toppings you like. Drizzle the tangy sesame oil dressing and voila! I like it because I can use just one pot to make the whole thing.

Yes, a true life saver when the heat is on.

Ku Cake

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yard Update: June 2010

So...a month later, the yard looks much more lush in green. Thanks to cleome (pink & white flowers) and orange mint, the garbage can is now invisible beneath the thick green curtain. The hostas are about to flower (foreground). Lettuce plants in the green planter (mid-right) are providing enough young leaves for a sandwich everyday.

Some of the early tomato plants are getting bigger! Next to the tomato pot, sunflowers are totally loving this spot where strong sunshine is abundant.

Closer look at the cleome flowers: in between you can see the deep purple cluster of lavender flowers as well. Orange mint is really going strong - almost too strong - so I cut back quite often. Then I let the bruised leaves infuse the water, mix in some lime juice and bit of sugar. Very refreshing.

So far, so good. It's easier to control the weeds this year because the allotted area is significantly small. Yeah, that was a good plan.

Ku Cake

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To The Dad...

Mother's Day gets all the attention...

Ku Cake

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rooftop Farm!

A few Sundays ago I participated in the free composting seminar held at the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. I heard about this place a while ago, and ever since I have been very curious. So it was a great reason to finally check out this operation.

I used to get invited to watch the rooftop viewing of glorious July 4th Fireworks up close when this building was an AIR. Now it is a converted shooting studio and full-fledged, albeit small scale, farm overlooking the East River on top. Somehow it feels fitting; to see the rows of growing vegetables against the Manhattan skyline evokes comfort and strange satisfaction.

Yes, chickens live there, too!

Plenty of practical information was given at this seminar. Now I'm ready to fill my compost bin in the yard! Sounds like I can put almost anything from the kitchen and the yard: fruits & vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds & filters (great!!!), seaweed (wha...???), and food-soiled paper towels & napkins (good news because these cannot be put out to recycling in NYC), dead leaves, pine needles, etc. Technically grains, cereals, breads are OK to compost too, but probably wise not to because these foods attract unwanted attention from certain small creatures. Well then I can feed them to the sparrows, blue jays and cardinals instead.

Now, let the compost begin!

Ku Cake

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Faux Gras

Ok, ok, I have to admit it's not the greatest pun... Well, the point is: I love monkfish livers! I consider them as "foie gras" of the sea.

In Japanese restaurants you may encounter them as "ankimo", often steamed and with grated daikon radish and dipping sauce. But my favorite way of cooking this rich, sweet liver is to quickly pan fry it (dredged in thin layer of flour) and marinate a la escabeche, in hot & sweet soy sauce vinaigrette - nanban style.

Its flavor is thick, almost sea urchin like briny sweet mousse, so a few pieces goes a long way. Not metallic or bitter at all; the characteristic sometimes associated with the liver from other species. This dish came together as I sometimes get the illogical craving for spaghetti. So I simply combined the said marinated monkfish liver and broiled squids. For the green, because you need some greens in your lunch, I sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and hot pepper flake. A pickled ramp bulb completes the ensemble.

Ku Cake

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kitten Dilemma

Look at this cute kitten! Just look at it!

Well, we spotted it (not sure if it's a boy or a girl) in the backyard with its nursing mother on Friday morning. Then it got us terribly worried: The mother disappears hours at a time, leaving the baby by itself. The internet tells me the baby should be fed every few hours at this stage (we're guessing, about 3 weeks old). What should we do? Intervene? Leave it alone as the nature takes its course?

There are numerous cats roaming our neighborhood. Some are house cats allowed to spend time outdoors. Others are feral, fending off on their own. This kitten's mother is clearly the latter. That means this little one will follow her pawsteps and grows to become another feral cat, procreating the offspring at will. But if it's given the proper food, shots, necessary surgery and home, we think it may live a long and considerably happy life. Or is it just our arrogance to think that...?

Well, right now we're leaving it alone. It's probably better to have the mother nurse it until it can eat the solid food and learn about the certain facts of life. But the situation is closely monitored. And we're ready to step in when necessary.

Our weekend was totally ruined! Total distraction! Oh well...(but we didn't mind.)

Ku Cake

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Getting There...

The month of May is, perhaps, the most crucial. Because this is when the decision is made: what to plant this year.

Right now it looks like this. The perennials are almost reaching their full size: you can see two kinds of hosta plants in front. Farther back, you can see the long, narrow leaves of, what I think are related to, day lilies. Their leaves grow so fast in early spring (seriously a few inches in a day!) till June, by when they become all yellow, brown and eventually dry up. Suddenly in early- to mid- August, bunch of stalks shoot from the ground, almost overnight. And only for a few days the delicate pale pink flowers blossom. There are three kinds of evergreens in this tiny yard too. They provide the partial shade that is much needed in this otherwise totally sunny yard. Some of the weeds - peppermint, lemon balm, aster and green/red shiso - are allowed to stay, though in 'designated' areas.

This year's big addition is the compost bin. It is really exciting that all the vegetable scraps that used to go to waste can be recycled! Also a big change in planting location this year: normally occupied by the tomatoes (and eventually overtaken by evil, evil weeds), I'm experimenting the front area to be flower- and herb- centric. You see; the plantable area is not that big because there are many perennials already staking the room. On top of it there is a chunk of concrete foundation buried in the middle. So when I found a discarded metal trash can on the street the other day (yes, I am a proud dumpster diver!), I got an idea to use it as a raised planter that can also cover the foundation. Right now it still looks like a trash can half sticking out of the yard (=ugly!) but, I'm hoping, in a few months, the creeping rosemary and orange mint will nicely trail down the side. The cleome flowers, supposed to grow tall, are all around it.

Well, it was utterly satisfying planning, clearing, buying and planting for the past few weekends. But the 'instant gratification' moment is over. Now you have to be patient. I will post another picture in a few weeks to see the progress...

Ku Cake

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Au Naturel

The scene at the Union Square Greenmarket is getting robust each time I visit there. Ramps showed up a few weeks ago and they are still going strong. Asparagus made its comeback this week. Flowers & herbs are everywhere. I just saw rhubarb, too!

To welcome back these vegetables, today I prepared a dish that is uncomplicated, minimally seasoned. So ramps, whole carrots and a Yukon potato (both skins intact) are pan-roasted with little olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. I also sprinkled some dried thyme flowers I harvested from the yard last season. After 20 or so minutes of roasting, arrange the vegetables in the container. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and about a tea spoon of Ronnybrook garlic butter into the pan, and continue cooking down until it thickens. Then drizzle the sauce over the vegetables.

That is it! How much simpler could it be?

Ku Cake

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Red Velvet

There is definitely something very seductive about this cake... The color (=red), the aroma & flavor (=hint of cocoa), the texture (=moist and fluffy) all come together to usher a moment of such pleasure.

The basic cream cheese frosting compliments the cake perfectly... The color (=white), flavor (hint of sweet-tangy), and the texture (creamy) truly enhance your sensation.

Ku Cake

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mike & Son Sharpening Service

These knives are over 20 years old. It started as a very basic variety; a chef's knife, a boning knife, a carving knife and a paring knife. One by one, a Santoku knife, a bread knife, a cleaver and a small paring knife joined the line up that makes up the entire set today. Naturally, some of them are becoming dull, even though they went through professional sharpening numerous times. So, reluctantly I had to consider retiring these old ones.

A few weekends ago I noticed an old-fashioned truck parked across the street. As I am always curious about everything 'antique', I took a closer look of this vehicle. Turns out: it is a mobile knife sharpening service operating out of the truck that goes around all over Brooklyn. The truck is barely big enough for one person to move between work tables (equipped with several grinding machines and sanding tool). Its interior is lined with wooden panels that are covered with small tools, dusts and grease. The father operates the machines while the son deals with customers. I also counted three bull terriers keeping their company. Apparently they are the 5th generation in business since 1941.

I ran home, grabbed the knives and returned to the truck. "It'd be a few minutes wait" while they finish someone before me. Sure! I used to employ the sharpening service in the City that requires a week to complete. So I can definitely wait for "a few minutes", no problem! Mere 5 minutes and $12 later, my knives are all sharpened as good as new. The old man told me to be careful now that these are "very sharp". Well, the knives are more dangerous when they are NOT sharp!

I am very happy to report; Mike and his son saved my knives. And how would you find them? Call the number: 212-365-4903. I know I will.

Ku Cake

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bunnies! Carrots!

An untested carrot cake recipe turned out quite lovely...

Happy Easter!

Ku Cake

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gnarly Beets

Yo-y0 weather continues throughout the months of March and early April. One of those past weekends when we pulled the short end of the stick, I made beet soup. I'm not sure which came first - the sight of beets or the cold weather - for this sudden craving. Or perhaps I was yearning for the gorgeous ruby red color.

The beets I bought at the Union Square Greenmarket were large, and frankly even from the farmers market's standard, looking unruly. Far from the uniformly smooth and round ones you would normally see. They cried out "free-range", and I wanted to treat them with utmost respect. I could simply cooked the beets in the broth and puré them. But this time I decided to make clear soup instead.

First step is to make the beef stock. Sear the shanks in the big pot until they are brown all over, about 15 minutes. Then add water, throw in a few halved onions, bay leaves and peppercorn. Because it always produces multiple batches of stock, I would refrain from adding the salt. I prefer any stock to be flavor neutral for the later use. Cover the pot and just leave it on the gentle simmer for a few hours until the meat fall off the bone. While waiting for the stock, I steamed the beets. The end of Day 1.

So, dinnertime at the Day 2: this is the result. Add diced beets in the stock, salt & pepper to taste, a dollop of Crème fraiche adds a cool tang to the sweet & savory soup. You may ask, where's the meat? Well, the meat is in the freezer...waiting for the later reincarnation.

Ku Cake

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Comes Running!

What a difference one week makes! Last week, the Union Square was cold, wet, windy, and desolate. Only here and there stand the brave farmers tables, displaying the bounty of mostly brown colored produce & products... We could see our breaths. Our hands were stiff from cold. As we exchanged words, all were wishes for the warmer weather to arrive soon!

And the Daylight Saving Time began.

Suddenly, as if it were waiting for the sign, the clouds parted. The sunshine is strong. We shed our long boots and heavy winter coats! Will this be it? Will we be able to welcome the spring this weekend without further delay?

We'll see... The spring of New York City is notoriously capricious. We always get the one last hurrah of the winter storm in late March or early April - always after the early starter narcissus blooms - to remind us who's the boss. One day it's 70 degrees temperature, and the next day it's back to low 40's. It continues like this for a couple of months; this is the season when you have to keep both winter and summer clothes ready in our closet.

Just give us ramps! And all will be well...

Ku Cake

Monday, February 15, 2010

Heart & Chocolate

...the heart-shaped vanilla cake with chocolate frosting...

...the chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate ganache...

The Valentine's Day without chocolate is a sacrilege!

Ku Cake

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Message in the Cup

Happy Valentine's Day...

Ku Cake

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ice Sculptures

The Wednesday's blizzard is already a distant memory in the heart of Manhattan. But, step out to the outer boroughs you'll encounter the snow country. Sun during the day melts away some of the ice, then it freezes over the chilly night. Look at these beautiful ice sculptures all over my yard! Let me enjoy them for a few days.

Ku Cake

Saturday, January 23, 2010

大根足(=daikon ashi) !!! 

"Daikon radish legs": Since childhood I always had them, and I always will. So let's make the best of them. Though I won't have any skinny thighs, at least I'd like to keep the shapely big legs.

I once read a book called "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" by Brian Wansink, PhD (Bantam Books 2006). The book is a culmination of what I already knew (or suspected) but provided "why" from psychological standpoint. It suggests many small changes you can do to influence your overall diet. (What I mean by 'diet' is 'the way you eat', of course!) I really like the idea: it's sensible to implement 'little' things that can make a big difference rather than to try a drastic one that will not last. And those 'little' diet changes may lead to a change in your life style or philosophy.

So, let's make those little changes. After a month-and-a-half long of holiday feasted in sugar (desserts), salt (snacks), and fat (practically everything I ate!), I will watch what I eat, when I eat and how much I eat. Simple, right?

1. Eat when hungry.
To me this will be the biggest change. We are all creatures of habit. Once you set the routine, it's hard to stray away. And that includes your food and meal time. Some mornings I wake up starving. Another morning, not so much. So I just listen to what my belly says: if it's hungry I will eat. Not because I have to eat this and that now. Luckily I work at an office that permits the flexible lunch time. So it's easier for me to moderate the "demand (= hunger)" and "supply (= meal)" during the day.

2. Know what goes inside the body.
Look at the food/meal you are going to eat/drink. Really, look at it and see what they are made of. And know what you are going to put in your body. It's easy to 'imagine' the food going down if you can see and know what they are. But it may require a lot of imagination on your part if you don't know your food. I normally buy produces at the farmer's market so I know where they come from. But if they come from supermarket, you will never know where they come from, how they were handled, and worse, what's in it. Buying the raw ingredients, will probably lower the 'unknown' ratio. But the higher the processing, the more unknown, and many cases undesirable, stuff are inside that food. So, the rule is really simple: Try to reduce the unknown. Think if you can tolerate the thought of consuming that unknown stuff. Because they are going inside your body.

3. Eat fruit at the end of meal.
When I saw this motto on the list of "Rules to Eat By" (by Michael Pollan, published on the NY Times Magazine last October), I immediately remembered my mother used to giving us fruit at the end of dinner. (She still does). It could be apple, pear, strawberry, whatever it is in season. She'd peel them, cut up and put on the table. Now I am reviving that tradition myself, it seems to make a lot of sense. Fruits provide many vitamins to help digestion. Also they suppress the immediate craving for dessert. So nowadays, every time I eat, I end my meal with a bite to an apple or clementine. I will munch on chocolate only when I REALLY NEED them.

4. Don't eat too late. Don't eat too fast.
Apparently it's not the actual time that's crucial. It's how much time between your last eating and your going to sleep. So I try not to eat after 9pm - giving it at least 2 hours before I become dormant. This seem to help regulating the digesting cycle...well, just take my word because I won't go into detail! I am also slowing down the speed of my eating. This relates to #1 and #2 above: I eat slower so I would know when I no longer feel hungry. Also I want to enjoy the food as I am eating; really savor it with eyes, nose and the mouth.

5. Cook what you eat.
I guess this summarize all of the above. It's not a change I want to implement, rather, it is a renewed pledge.

Here's to the shapely big legs!

Ku Cake

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year Greeting

Wishing you the happy arrival of year 2010.

Ku Cake