Archive for May, 2011

Sample

A few nights ago, I had dinner at Sample Restaurant in Allentown. My group of three went at around 5:30; the restaurant was empty aside from a small group at the bar. Naturally, service was incredibly prompt, attentive, and smart. However, that’s something that could easily change with more than one table filled. And, while the atmosphere was clean and modern, the rather empty nature of the loft-styled space made it loud: laughter and glass clanging alike echoed off the walls. Overall, I saw distinct side of Sample and could easily imagine the atmosphere changing greatly given a later time and different night (Mondays aren’t a huge dining-out night.).

To start, we each ordered 2 or 3 “samples” – bite-sized versions of classic dishes (averaging $3 each). Pictured above are the Steak Frite, the Fish & Chips, and the Jambalaya Cake. While the former two were good, but average – the steak in need of more seasoning and the fish simply nicely done – the Jamabalaya Cake was a standout. The cake consisted of a ball of vegetable risotto covered in Panko breadcrumbs and then fried; it was a heavenly combination of creamy and crunchy, light yet filling.

We also ordered a platter of a Bok Choy Burgers ($8.50) – chuck burgers with braised bok choy and kimchi aioli encased be a black sesame seed bun. The “sliders” were complimented well by the Asian flavors but were nothing extraordinary; better burgers – and sliders – can be had at many other restaurants. The burgers were, though, more filling than any of the other samples; for the same price as a similarly portioned Steak Frite, they felt more appropriately priced.

Sample offers about four specials per night on top of its regular sample menu of about ten dishes. We chose the Stuffed Roma Tomatoes, which came with a “side salad” of quinoa, corn, herbs, and chopped tomatoes. They came filled with a rice, cheese, and vegetable mixture and topped with a charred slice of cheese. While they were as succulent as tomatoes can be, they could’ve used more texture – something like a breadcrumb to break up the constant creaminess. The quinoa salad – almost salsa-esque – though, was refreshing and delicious.

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An Outdoor Dinner

Yesterday, Buffalo got a real taste of summer: temperatures above or around 70º and lots of sun! With the pool open, the backyard and patio somewhat cleaned up, and the grill ready, I decided to throw a small dinner party. The key to cooking in the summer is to keep things light – in both preparation and taste. With the weather this nice (and guests arriving in a few short hours), no one wants to slave away in the kitchen for hours at a time. Outdoor grilling, a fresh side dish, and a no-bake dessert can be just as impressive as a hearty winter meal.

On the menu? Grilled chicken, an Asian noodle salad, and berries & cream. Seems boring, plain, and done before, but it’s really not. First: combating the grilled chicken – something synonymous with chewy, overcooked, tasteless meat. About an hour before I started the grill, I tossed some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a simple marinade: soy sauce, canola oil, sesame oil, and brown sugar. And, when the grill was heated and ready to go, I sprinkled some smoked paprika (from Penzeys) on each side of the chicken. I’m no expert at grilling – at all – but after a 20-30 minute grill on medium-high heat, the chicken breasts were perfectly done: succulent and juicy with a caramelized exterior, all while retaining the flavors of the marinade.

And that was it for the “hands-on” cooking that night! The noodle salad was made well in advance – ready and waiting on the table for when we were ready to sit down and eat. It’s actually desirable to make it ahead of time: the flavors have a chance to blend together and the dish tastes great at room-temperature. I started with the basics of this recipe from The Pioneer Woman. I ended up making a good amount of changes, though; some were due to availability of ingredients, others due to taste. And that’s fine: the whole concept of a pasta salad like this is that it’s easily adaptable – something that fits in right with our summer theme.

I thought – at least for a brief moment – about all of the extravagant desserts that could be made for the party: fruit tarts, a quick ice cream or sorbet, etc. But, what better than strawberries, blueberries, and homemade cream? Light, delicious, and easy to prepare ahead. Before we even sat down to eat, the berries had been washed and dried and the bowl for the whipped cream was sitting patiently in the freezer. Upon taking the dishes from the main course inside, a quick two-minute whip of the cream was all that was left to do.

“Cooking” all of this – with the help of my friend Avery – was easy and enjoyable. Between the warm air and the smells of fresh fruits and vegetables, it feels like summer again.

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Spring, Life

I haven’t really done any “personal” posts on CIWNY so far, but now’s the time! Over the past few weeks, I’ve been extremely busy: exams, graduation preparations, proms, traversing New York State, etc. With summer right around the corner (first Elmwood-Bidwell Farmer’s Market of the year happened today!), I’m excited to get back to cooking on a more regular basis – something about using fresh, local ingredients makes it much more enjoyable… plus the added free time. Meanwhile, a quick synopsis of my life…

I turned 18 during April, and – being stubborn – my friends and I baked my own cupcakes. I hated the idea of spending upwards of $30-40 on a cake that I truly wouldn’t enjoy as much as my own. So, my friend Devyn (who is on track to become a pastry chef!) baked dark chocolate cupcakes; then, she, my cousin, and I proceeded to frost them the next day. The frosting? Caramelized white chocolate buttercream. If you’ve never tasted caramelized white chocolate before, read this. It’s unbelievably delicious.

Luckily, the Swiss meringue buttercream didn’t break; it turned out perfectly! And dusted with a bit of Dutch cocoa powder, they were picture perfect (literally).

Just 5 days after my cousin flew back home to NYC, I went to Albany to visit Skidmore College, the school I’ll be attending next year. The campus was beautiful – classic but modern and updated. The dining hall was beyond impressive: it features a dozen or so different “restaurants”, all backed by CIA-trained chefs, that offer a plethora of options – gluten-free, vegan, cook-your-own-meal stations, etc. And, in an effort to keep both students and the environment healthy, Skidmore is tray-less; students take one china plate instead of a tray full of food. Less food is wasted, less energy is consumed in cleaning, and students eat less and healthier!

On a related note, I’ll actually be spending my first semester of Skidmore in London through their First-Year-Experience London program. I’ll be living right on King’s Road in Chelsea from the end of August until December. In short: I’m ecstatic! More specific details are coming in the mail within the next few weeks, but I’m already prepping to go!

Finally, I’ve spent my last two weekends going to prom! Organizing a dozen or two people is never easy, but it all worked in the end. Now, onto graduation…

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