Anna Blume (Berlin): A Towering Brunch

Brunch,” I was told my first day in town, “is big in Berlin.”

Having just come from New York, a city where weekend brunch is practically a religion, I almost snorted, wondering how different or striking this meal could possibly be in Berlin.

As my host led me down the cobblestoned streets of the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, however, I quickly realized my folly …

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Razor Clams: A Southeast Asian Kitchen-Sink Tale


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The dinner gathering has been impromptu and Chef Simpson of Cafe Asean is feeling a little guilty that he hasn't had time to plan what to cook.

Calmly but quickly, he zips about his spacious Manhattan kitchen, pulling out bags, inspecting his fridge. "This is a good time to eat razor clams, you know," he stops to say, showing us the big bag he acquired from the farmers' market that very morning. "They taste really good right now."

Now, while I've eaten razor clams — or bamboo clams as they're called in some parts of Asia — I've never even thought to cook them at home. A slab of steak, pieces of chicken, a whole turkey — those I can comprehend. Razor clams? They had just always seemed a touch too exotic for my abilities.

Simpson, however, shares none of my apprehension, looking at me like I'm crazy and then shrugging when I ask, "How are you going to cook them?"

"It depends on what I have in the kitchen," is his simple answer. With that, Simpson fires up his stove and away we go …

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Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


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Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

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Eataly (Il Pesce): A Mixed Bag Of Fish


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Eataly can be a hard place for the hungry.

For starters, chaos rules the moment you set foot in the door of this cavernous Whole Foods-meets-tony-food-court Italian emporium in New York City that opened at the end of summer. Believe me, you’ll need all the strength you can muster to bulldoze your way past the bodies before you can get at any food.

And while you’re pressed up, body against body, there are the displays of cheeses, desserts, milk and coffee you’ll be breezing past. You’ll want to stop, of course — but the mosh pit all around owns you. All you can do is cast longing glances, hoping for some private time with that fetching taleggio later in the evening perhaps, as the crowd carries you helplessly along.

Our destination on this particularly mobbed Saturday evening is Il Pesce, the fish restaurant within this 50,000 square foot-place that partner Mario Batali has famously billed as a “temple,” where “food is more sacred than commerce.”

Amid the sections where you can buy pasta, bread, cookbooks or stand around tall tables in a “tasting piazza” and nibble on cured meats, there are a few eateries devoted to specific categories — vegetables, pasta, fish, meat. Our dining companion for the evening, the insatiable Gael Greene, has already eaten her way through a few of those places. “I was curious to try the fish restaurant …” she says.

So, Il Pesce it is …

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Portuguese Sweet Bread: True Crack Bread


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There has been no small amount of grumbling in this household recently.

The complaints are rather monotonous — they all go something like this: What happened to the bread baking?

It is true that not too very long ago, there had been great ambition on this front. The idea had been to make a bread every week along with dozens of bakers around the world in a quest to bake our way through The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

But then, of course, life intervenes. (In my case, that would be the months spent traveling for research and then writing The Book.)

Gradually, my smoke-filled kitchen (thank you, ciabatta) and bygone bagels were becoming faded adventures in our memory.

During a break in the hubbub, however, I decided this nonsense had gone on long enough. The bread-baking bible was dusted off and my trusty KitchenAid mixer was resuscitated.

On the docket was a bread I’d been curious about: Portuguese sweet bread, a type of loaf, lovely, soft and sweet, that’s popular in Hawaii and New England. (It was introduced to those regions by Portuguese immigrants.)

Now, in the times that I’d tried it, it had always reminded me of the slightly sweet buns and loaves I grew up eating in Hong Kong and Singapore. It was time to see how this recipe would turn out in my own kitchen …

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Top 10: The Memorable Eats Of 2009


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You know it’s been a good year when you are able to say this: 2009 was when I began to eat for a living.

I’d always been a devotee of affairs of the stomach. I may have written about fashion and other lifestyle areas for a living but baking, braising, trying new recipes, eating out — those were what consumed me when weekends rolled around. 

Luck has its ways of finding you, however. Now, on the precipice of 2010, I’m beginning to close out a lunar calendar year of cooking and eating with my family in Singapore as research for my book, “A Tiger In The Kitchen.” 

My journey so far has taken me many places – France, where I had the loveliest gingery champagne cocktail with friends old and dear; China, where my father and I went in search of my great-grandfather’s footprints in the village of his birth. And, of course, Singapore, where my aunties and maternal grandmother have been plying me with meals, recipes and much, much love along the way.

With all that I’ve packed into 2009, it’s hard to decide what the highlights have been. But, inspired by some stellar Top 10 gastronomic lists out there (definitely check out Sam Sifton’s list of Top 11 dishes in New York in the New York Times), I decided to give it a go.

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 memorable eats of 2009. 

Enjoy, buon appetito and listen, let’s do this again in 2010 …

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Pane Siciliano: One Sexy Bread


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The same thing always happens when I’ve been on my weeks-long trips for book research in Singapore.

When I’m away, I find myself overcome with intense longing for something in my Brooklyn home. By the time I return, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running toward it (cue slow-motion romantic comedy music here) and getting it all hot and, well, hot.

My family home in Singapore doesn’t have an oven, you see — so when I’m away from my trusty hunk of stainless steel, a major itch to bake starts taking over.

When I returned this time, I was determined to jump back into the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where bakers around the world are making a bread each week from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.”

On the docket that week was pane Siciliano, a beautiful, golden Italian bread formed in a voluptuous “S” shape.

It seemed like just the thing to scratch my itch.

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Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread: A Matter of Balance


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Earlier this week, I found myself obsessing over balance.

Specifically, how on earth was I supposed to piggyback one braid of cranberry-walnut dough atop another and expect it to be balanced enough to stay on?

I’d heard of difficulties in this area; I’d even seen one picture of a mutant cranberry-walnut celebration bread in which the top layer of this double-decker braided bread had slipped off, forming an “Alien”-like doughy growth.

Given my recent mishaps while baking my way through Peter Reinhart’s bread bible, the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was certain that Alien bread was in my very near future.

But if this weekly baking challenge has taught me anything, it’s that the trying is what’s important.

So I pulled out the bread flour and let the baking begin …

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Cinnamon Raisin Bread: Devil in a Loaf Pan


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It was only as I was licking cinnamon sugar off a plate after rapidly devouring three slices of bread that I managed to put a finger on the word I was looking for to describe the cinnamon raisin walnut loaf I had just made.

Trouble.

And this is coming from someone who has generally preferred savory or plain loaves to sweet cinnamon-raisin breads.

Peter Reinhart’s recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread? It’s trouble.

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