Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lucky Eight Restaurant

A few weeks ago, a bunch of us headed down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to a restaurant called Lucky Eight to celebrate Gideon's birthday. Sunset Park has a sizable Chinese population, and 8th Avenue, where many of the Chinese restaurants and shops are concentrated, is sometimes referred to as Brooklyn Chinatown. I've been eating out in this area for years, thanks entirely to my friend James, who is Chinese and lives in the neighborhood. Starting in high school, James would periodically lead a group of intrepid eaters to some fabulous restaurant for dim sum. We would almost never consult a menu; rather, James would just ask our server (in Chinese, of course!) what was good that day, and a parade of sumptuous (and, for most of us, exotic) dishes would soon crowd our table.

Now that I live one neighborhood above Sunset Park, I've been shopping and eating there much more often. The grocery stores, vegetable stands and fish stalls are incredibly bustling and lively, with vendors shouting out offers and attempting to lure customers to their wares, making for an engaging shopping (and people-watching) experience. Recently, James, our friend Sam and I ate dinner in a fantastic restaurant called Lucky Eight that James (of course) picked out. The dishes we ate were unlike any Chinese food I had ever had before--much, much cleaner and lighter than the greasy takeout a lot of us are accustomed to, and with smooth, nuanced and balanced flavors. The restaurant also happens to be especially welcoming to non-Chinese diners: all the servers speak English (often not the case in other restaurants in the area), and the menu features large, full-color photos of all its specialty dishes, making it a lot easier to order. Lucky Eight made such an impression on me that when Gideon asked for a restaurant recommendation for his birthday it was the first place that came to mind.

What follows are some photos of the food we ate that night. I have to say that I don't remember the individual prices of each dish, but what I do remember is that we ordered 6 dishes and a bunch of beers and we paid $18 each, including tax and tip. For the quality of the food and the hospitality of the service I'd say that's a pretty remarkable deal. So go! You won't be sorry.

We started with some duck's feet. Yes, the idea of eating feet might be unsavory, and the gelatinous, chewy-crunchy texture of the dish is likely off putting for those of us not used to consuming such things. But I have to say that this dish is truly delicious. I first ate it with James and Sam, and made sure to order it again. The feet are served cold, deboned, and, along with some sweet, lightly pickled shreds of carrot and daikon radish (and a few slivers of red chiles for a touch of heat), tossed in a vinaigrette-type mixture of sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. It's a very refreshing dish and a gentle introduction to the nose-to-tail type eating that is so common in all regions of China:

Next up was a stir-fry of impossibly tender and juicy jumbo shrimp with sweet, crunchy candied walnuts and large pieces of warm, ripe pineapple. The vegetables included crisp green beans and chunks of onion. A scattering of toasted sesame seeds tied everything together:

For a vegetable dish we chose eggplant with abalone, a species of giant sea snail (!). I had never eaten abalone before and I was a little intimidated by the thought of it--I figured that it would be plain-tasting and very chewy. I was totally wrong; it had a mild, but tasty, flavor and a smooth, soft texture that matched beautifully with the creamy Japanese eggplants. The mix was coated in a sweet soy-based sauce and crowned with a few slices of scallion:

For a meat dish we chose a lamb hotpot. Again, I had eaten this previously with James and Sam and couldn't get it out of my head. The stew is brought to the table over a little gas flame and continues to bubble away as you eat, wafting its succulent aroma over the whole table. The dish included tender, falling-apart pieces of lamb, some chewy, delicious slices of bean curd skin (one of my favorite ingredients in Chinese cooking), slices of lotus root and thick leaves of Chinese cabbage. The broth surrounding all of those tasty ingredients was thick, meaty and rich:

And lastly we ate a simple, straightforward dish of baby bok choy with garlic and ginger. The glistening little globes reminded me of emeralds:

Oh yeah, I told you we ordered six dishes, right? Some of those among us with less adventurous palates ordered a type of rice noodle dish, but I didn't like it--it was heavy on curry seasoning but also somewhat bland at the same time. So I'm not including it here. Artistic license, doncha know?

Lucky Eight Restaurant
5204 8th Ave. (between 52nd St and 53rd St)
(718) 851-8862

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blog's first birthday

It's true: For the Love of Food turned one year old yesterday. Since March 17, 2008, I've graduated from college, moved into my first apartment, completed one internship at a food magazine and started another--and through it all, I've kept cooking and writing in this space. I think that's pretty great. I haven't always written as often or as well as I would have liked, but what's important is that I've stuck around--and you've stuck around, reader, whoever you might be. Thanks for that; please keep coming back for another year.

I figure that since it's a birthday here on Blogspot I might as well share a cake with you. I haven't made one recently, but, digging into my photo archives, I found an image of a chocolate layer cake frosted with peanut butter ganache that I made for my friend Malcolm's birthday party back in January. If you like peanut M&M's, Reese's peanut butter cups and the like, then this cake is definitely for you. Both of its components deliver on the promise of intense flavor: the cake, made from a recipe from an old Hershey's pamphlet that my mom has had lying around forever, has been my standard birthday cake for, oh, twelve years or so. It's called Black Magic Cake, and there's definitely something magical about it: incredibly moist, fluffy but rich at the same time, this cake packs a powerful hit of cocoa--and a subtle hint of coffee--in every bite. For the peanut butter frosting, which I had never made before, I turned to the doyenne of simple, elegant baking: Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself. She didn't let me down. Her recipe takes sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, salt and heavy cream, and turns them into a thick, oozing, coat-your-spoon (and lips, and fingertips) ganache that nevertheless manages to heighten--not obscure--the flavor of the chocolate in the cake. Consider this combination for the next birthday in your life--whether you're celebrating a website or, you know, a real person.

Black Magic Cake
Adapted from
Makes two 9" cake layers


1 3/4 cups unsifted flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup strong coffee
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (1 tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice plus milk to equal 1 cup)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla


1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans, tapping out excess flour.
2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes (batter will be thin). Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.
3. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks and cool completely. Frost as desired.

Peanut Butter Ganache
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa
Makes about 4 cups


1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup heavy cream


Place the confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Irish eyes are smiling

Being that there is nary a drop of Irish blood in my Eastern European Jewish body, I don't make a habit of celebrating St. Patrick's Day (well, save for the fact that March 17th also happens to be the birth date of my longtime friend and fellow snacker--and, I might add, Jew--Gideon). But because traditional holidays are a great excuse to indulge in national cuisines, I decided some time ago that I couldn't let another St. Patty's Day pass without making colcannon. As Wikipedia dutifully informs us, colcannon is a mix of mashed potatoes and shredded, cooked cabbage or kale. In its most basic permutation, the potatoes are mashed with just salt and pepper, and combined with simply steamed greens. More elaborate preparations call for a touch of milk or butter (or both) in the potatoes, and for the greens to be sauteed--possibly with a small amount of bacon or ham--before joining the potatoes in the pot. Whichever way you choose to make it, colcannon is a hearty, filling side dish that's perfect for the winter months--or for providing a solid base for pints of green beer, if that's your style.

I had never made colcannon before tonight, but, as you can see from the above description of the dish, it's dead simple. After browsing through a few "recipes" online--it's more of a method, really--I settled on a slightly more detailed version. I enriched my mashed potatoes with a small amount of scalded milk, and I also sauteed the strips of kale with some butter and a few slices of green onion (you can use any type of onion you want; I happened to have the green ones lying around, and I needed to use them up. Alternatively, some chives snipped into the finished dish would provide a nice allium flavor). From start to finish, the colcannon took about 20 minutes and required almost no effort. Piled high next to two burnished sausages (what's more Irish than potatoes and sausage?), I'd say it made a meal fit for Patrick himself.

Colcannon with Kale
Serves 4

1. Peel and quarter 2 lbs. of starchy potatoes, such as Idaho or Russets, and place in a medium pot. Fill pot with cold water, covering pototoes by about an inch. Set the pot on the stove over a high flame, cover it, and allow it to come to a boil. Drop the heat down to medium, uncover pot, and allow potatoes to cook at a low boil until they are just tender when pierced with a knife, about 10-12 minutes.
2. While potatoes are cooking, strip the leaves of one medium-sized bunch of kale, discarding the tough stems. You should have about 2 cups of kale leaves. Place the kale in a steamer set over simmering water, cover, and cook until kale is tender but still bright green, about 6 minutes. Remove steamer to the sink and rinse the kale in cold water. Drain well.
3. Squeeze all excess liquid from kale and transfer it to a cutting board. Cut it into wide strips.
4. In a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat 3 tbsp. of butter over a medium flame. Add 6 green onions, white parts only, sliced, or 1/4 cup diced white or yellow onion. Cook until slightly wilted, about 4 minutes, then add sliced kale. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 more minutes.
5. Drain potatoes and return to hot pot. Add 1/2 cup of milk, preferably not nonfat, and cover pot to allow milk to heat up. Uncover pot, season heavily with salt and pepper, and mash potatoes coarsely, leaving some chunks. Add sauteed kale and mix well. Add two small pats of butter, mix, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if neccessary. Serve hot.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

O give me a home...

Working--even just interning--at a food magazine has its perks. So far, at Food & Wine, I've gotten to sample (and take home for dinner later) countless numbers of delicacies that the test kitchen turns out daily; I've picked up a bunch of loot (a set of drinking glasses; some delicately painted Japanese plates) that the magazine had to give away when its offices changed floors; upwards of 15 bottles of wine. Not too shabby, right? Yet another perk concerns the large quantity of product samples that various food producers send to the editors to test out. Often there is far too much food for just one person, so an editor will share the wealth among the staff, asking only for our opinions in return. Last week, one of the editors received a large shipment of buffalo (or bison) meat products, and passed along both a package of sausage and a tenderloin to me. I was more than happy to put them to use in my kitchen.

I've eaten buffalo a number of times; my dad really likes it, and often uses the ground meat to make burgers. It's leaner than most cuts of beef, and, to my taste, has a more intense flavor--possibly because it's not churned out in the massive quantities that beef is today. I'd only ever eaten it in the aforementioned burgers, though, so I was eager to see how it held up in other applications. With the sausage meat, I mixed up a meatball-type stuffing with egg and breadcrumbs and packed it into halved tomatoes and zucchini for stuffed vegetables (tasted delicious but photographed poorly; otherwise I'd share). For the tenderloin, I threw together a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese cooking wine and red pepper flakes, then tossed the meat into a smoking hot cast-iron skillet, cooking it until it was just medium rare, about 3 minutes per side. I let it rest for a few minutes, and then sliced it into thin strips. The meat was incredibly tender--buttery would be a good descriptor--and had taken on the marinade really well; it was salty, smoky and spicy. I served it up with a quick Asian slaw of carrot, daikon radish, red pepper green onions and cilantro; cool and crisp, it was the perfect counterpoint the the warm, savory buffalo slices.

Asian Vegetable Slaw
Serves 2 - 3

1. Peel and trim 1 large carrot and 1 large daikon radish. Cut the vegetables lengthwise into thin planks and then cut them again, into thin matchsticks. Place in a bowl. Remove the seeds from 1 large red bell pepper and cut it to match the carrot and daikon strips. Add to bowl.
2. Slice 4 - 5 green onions (white and green parts) thinly. Add to bowl.
2. Dress the slaw with 2 tsp. sesame oil, 2 tsp. light soy sauce, and 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings.
3. Chop about 1/2 cup washed cilantro and mix it into the slaw. Place in refrigerator and allow to chill for about 15 minutes, then serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A craving, satisfied

I don't think there's anything more satisfying--when eating, at least--than recognizing a craving, shopping for the ingredients needed to prepare it, cooking it, and, finally, sitting down to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Sure, it's a great feeling to go out and order a juicy, medium-rare burger when you get a sudden yen for beef, or to hunker down in a diner booth and slurp an icy chocolate milkshake when it's late at night and you're looking for some comfort food. But to really take that craving into your own hands--to see it through start to finish, making little tweaks here and there to ensure that what you'll eat is tailored precisely to your craving--for me, that's where it's at. Sometimes, when you have to work for your food, the payoff is that much greater.

That was precisely my experience earlier this evening, when, arriving home with an empty stomach, I was met by the sight of an equally empty fridge. Since I have to go shopping anyway, I thought to myself, I might as well figure out exactly what I'm in the mood for, and then shop around my craving. I wanted something light, crisp and refreshing; my usual winter go-to of a soup or a braise felt too heavy for the unseasonably warm temperatures in New York this weekend. I also wanted to make something packed with vegetables, as I planned to stop by Rossman Farms, an incredibly cheap, 24-hour fruit and vegetable wholesaler and retailer located right nearby on 25th Street. I thought noodles sounded about right, and an Asian-style rendition was particularly appealing. I had it: cold sesame noodles. A staple Chinese takeout favorite, I knew I could make my own for a lot less money, and that I could adapt the standard recipe to better suit my tastes--namely, by making it less sweet and gloopy than many of the versions I've tried in restaurants.

I already had peanut butter, sesame paste, and various Chinese seasonings in my pantry, so at Rossman's all I needed to pick up was a box of spaghetti, a red bell pepper, a bunch of green onions, a carrot, some cilantro, and, finally, as an impulse purchase, a daikon radish, a vegetable that I love but with which I'd never cooked. At home, I set a pot of water to boil, and then I set to work on my ingredients. I sliced up a chicken breast and slipped it into a quick marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese cooking wine and red pepper flakes, and then I cut the bell pepper, carrot and daikon into long, thin strips, and sliced a few green onions into thin rounds:

After I added the pasta to the water, I mixed up my peanut sauce, which I've made a few times before and can by now more or less improvise. What I chose to use was a mix of peanut butter, Chinese sesame paste (akin to tahini, but with a sweeter, darker-roasted flavor), light soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and fresh ginger, plus hot water to thin the sauce out. What you're looking for is a smooth, thick (but still pourable), creamy paste that's sweet but not overly so. To that end, you will need to continually taste it as you mix it, adding more soy sauce if it's not salty enough, more vinegar if it needs some bite and acidity, and more hot water if it's too thick. Here's the finished concoction (please forgive the splatter-stained bowl; it's a messy, sticky process):

When the noodles were just al dente, I drained them and rinsed them well under cold water, both to cool them down as well as to stop them from sticking. I tossed them with the sauce and added the prepared vegetables, and then I stuck the bowl into the fridge to chill it well. While waiting, I sauteed the chicken slices and laid them out on a plate to cool. Finally, I arranged my portion in one heaping bowl, showered the whole with more green onions and some torn cilantro, and dug in with my chopsticks:

As I had hoped, the toothsome noodles were cloaked in a velvety, peanutty smoothness which was punctuated by the crisp, cool sweetness of the pepper and the carrot, as well as by the peppery bite of the daikon and the green onions. The juicy chicken, although a nice touch, is not absolutely necessary here, and this dish would make a fabulously satisfying vegetarian option, either with or without some cold, pristine cubes of tofu. The one element that I forgot was a scattering of chopped, salted peanuts. Don't make my mistake: they would have contributed a rich, salty crunchiness. No matter, though: this meal was still absolutely delicious--craveable, even.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Vegetables
Serves 3-4

1. Set a large pot of water to boil.
2. If using chicken (optional), slice one chicken breast down the middle lenthwise, and then slice again, into small strips. Place chicken strips in a bowl with 1 tbsp. Chinese cooking wine, dry white wine or sherry; 1 tbsp. soy sauce; 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil; and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Set aside.
2. Slice 1 large bell pepper into thin, narrow strips. Peel 1 small carrot and 1 small daikon radish; carefully cut them lengthwise into long, flat planks and then slice them into long, narrow strips. Set vegetables aside.
3. When the water reaches a boil, salt it and add 1/2 pound of spaghetti, whole-wheat spaghetti, or Japanese soba noodles. Cook until al dente, about 8 - 10 minutes.
4. In the meantime, mix the peanut sauce: in a small bowl, combine about 2 tbsp. all-natural creamy peanut butter and 2 tsp. Chinese sesame paste or tahini. Alternatively, if you do not have sesame paste, you can use a mixture of about 3 tbsp. peanut butter and 1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil. Combine well, and then, using the hot pasta cooking water, add it about 1 tbsp. at a time, stirring all the while, until the paste is smooth and uniform. Add about 1 tbsp. light soy sauce, 1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, and 2 tsp. granulated sugar. Mix well and add more hot water, if needed, to achieve a sauce that is thick but still pourable. Taste the sauce and adjust it by adding more soy sauce, vinegar, sugar or hot water, if needed. Add 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger and stir.
5. Drain the pasta and rinse it well under cold running water. Drain and then add the peanut sauce, tossing to coat. Add the prepared vegetables, stir, and place in the fridge to chill, about 20 minutes.
6. If using chicken, heat 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet set over a medium flame. Add the chicken and cook, stirring, about 6 - 8 minutes. Spread out on a plate to cool.
7. Serve noodles in bowls, adding chicken, if using, and garnishing with torn cilantro leaves, chopped scallions, and chopped salted peanuts.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


At a glance, the word in the title of this post might appear to be another invented portmanteau à la caponatatouille, suggesting some magical combination of calamari and kalamata olives: a Mediterranean pairing that, indeed, sounds highly appealing. In fact, calamarata refers to a pasta shape seldom seen outside Italy. Large, thick, and hollow, like a magnified version of ziti, calamarata resembles tubular slices of squid. Attending a fancy foods show a few months back, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pound of the beautiful imported pasta featured on the website above, and I'd been keeping it in mind for a special occasion. That occasion presented itself last night, when my friends Kate and Andrea stopped by for a long-overdue visit.

In order to take best advantage of the calamarata's unique shape, I wanted to prepare a thick, chunky sauce that would take refuge in the roomy cavity of each piece of pasta. Additionally, as Andrea is a vegetarian, my sauce would have to be meat-free. Eyeing a jar of white beans sitting on my counter, I decided to simmer them with some aromatic vegetables, cherry tomatoes and broth. I let this mixture bubble away slowly as my friends and I worked our way through a plate of runny French cheeses, a bowl of guacamole, and the better part of a large baguette. By the time I was ready to combine the sauce with the pasta, the white beans had become soft and creamy, and the tomatoes were slumped a
nd candy-sweet. I think that my humble, off-the-cuff creation made a perfectly respectable partner for the luxurious Italian import it found itself next to in the bowl.

Calamarata with White Beans and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4 - 6

1. Place 3 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan set over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 a red onion, 1/2 a carrot, peeled, and 1 stalk of celery, all finely diced. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, season with salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and dried thyme, and cook until vegetables are wilted and have begun to caramelize, about 6-8 minutes.
2. Drain and rinse a 15.5 oz can of small white (canellini) beans. Add them to the pan, along with 1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, most halved but some left whole. Add most of a small can of vegetable or chicken broth and simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 15-20 minutes.
3. In the meantime, cook one pound of calamarata, ziti, or rigatoni in heavily salted water until al dente. Combine the sauce and the pasta, garnishing with chopped fresh parsley, more olive oil, and grated cheese, if desired, and serve.