Nixon’s 1st Birthday & a Monster Cake

My nephew turning one is a pretty exciting thing.  It wasn’t until I was compiling this blog that I realized just how excited I was as evidenced by the 3 cakes and 300 mini cupcakes I made in celebration for him.  One cake was even made especially for him with the best in toddler nutrition in mind.  While his cake was made with organic fruit and greek yogurt (sans eggs and refined sugars), the grown-up cakes were made of a moist chocolate olive oil cake with a salted cookies-n-creme frosting.  Making his party cake as a monster themed cake was also super fun. I may have gone a little overboard… naked untitled-4 untitled-3 untitled

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Cooking at 220 Grille

220 Grille is an awesome concept restaurant.  It is both a working restaurant and a culinary classroom where students do the cooking.  The best part of this culinary class, besides our super awesome chef, was getting to make specials.  Thanks to this class I got to live out my cafe menu fantasies by creating some really cool specials:

1.  Black Sesame Chiffon Cake with a Honey Anglaise Sauce and Braised Pineapple

black sesame chiffon cake | toni woo + food

2. Romesco, Arugula, and Provolone Grilled Cheese Sandwich served with a kale, red onion, cranberry, walnut, and caper salad with a balsamic vinaigrette

 romesco, arugula, and provolone grilled cheese | toni woo + food

3.  Ginger-Soy Soba Noodle Salad served with panko fried tofu, butter lettuce, avocado, and tomato with a soy-ginger vinaigrette and an avocado-miso drizzle

ginger-soy soba salad | toni woo + food

4.  Pork Liver Pate Crostini with a homemade local pork pate, fresh sliced apples and micro greens with a fresh lemon vinagrette

pork liver pate crostini | toni woo + food

5.  Ginger Pork Bao Buns with homemade bao, thinly sliced ginger-marinated pork, caramelized onions, and green scallion curls

ginger pork bao buns | toni woo + food

Art Nouveau Wedding Cake

Art Nouveau Wedding Cake | toni woo + food

Besides all of the other cool things I got to do in Chef David Brown’s class, I also entered the Student ACF (American Culinary Federation) Competition.  I entered the wedding cake category and submitted an art nouveau inspired cake inspired by the amazing stained glass of that art era.  To date it is the biggest cakes I’ve ever made and could have fed about 175 people.  An even bigger challenge was that everything, except for the wooden dowels supporting the inside of the cake, was made of edible materials.

Even the white and blue art nouveau panels are made of sugar.  The white is made of a sugar clay known as pastillage, a material that isn’t used so much in the modern world anymore.  Some of it I cut, dried, and sanded into art deco designs.  While in other instances I hand-made embossing tools to stamp in custom design into the pastillage.  The blue, is actually poured isomalt sugar, the same sugar used to make pulled sugar designs.  I learned that blue is the hardest color to get because if cooked too long the sugar begins to caramelize creating a greenish color.  Therefore to get a true blue color the sugar needs to be cooked to the right temperature.  Pretty neat, eh?  And because of it’s glass like nature, the light was able to pour through the blue sugar panels making a really beautiful effect.

The coolest thing about this cake was that everything I did, I did for the first time.  This was my first time using pastillage, gumpaste, royal icing, isomalt sugar, and fondant.  I learned tons of new skills, some under the guidance of Chef David Brown and others self taught like making gum paste flowers.  I also learned to use an industrial roller, my new most favorite machine in the world, to roll my fondant.  I now dream of owning my own industrial roller machine, in addition to a 20 quart mixer.

And just as cool as learning all these new skills, I got a gold medal and a scholarship for my cake entry.  🙂

Art Nouveau Wedding Cake | toni woo + food

Art Nouveau Wedding Cake | toni woo + food

Winter: Makes & Bakes

Winter was a productive season full of new projects including beautiful and delicious plated desserts, gingerbread houses, pastillage pieces, and a culinary competition with the largest wedding cake I’ve made to date (blog coming soon).  All of which wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance, support, passion, and wisdom of my chef instructor Chef Brown.

This blog post is as much a tribute to my current works as it is to the great teaching ability of my mentor and role model Chef David Brown.

PLATED DESSERTS

This past winter I made a number of plated desserts in my Patisserie class.  We made perfectly rolled green tea roulade cakes with yuzu whipped cream, baked chocolate mousse cakes that melted in your mouth, and fried lychee stuffed with marscapone cheese served with fresh lilikoi ice-cream (just to name a few) .  We made gelees, tempered chocolate by hand, and piped filigree designs.  I learned that cinnamon curbs tartness and that rose water is delicious when used in just the right amount.

By combining all of my favorite flavors I even created my own plated desert from start to finish.  My plate featured Indian inspired flavors and consisted of 11 elements including a lilikoi curd, crispy coconut japonaise, raspberry-rosewater meringue, coconut-cardamom ice cream, bruleed bananas, and roasted mango.

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BUTTERCREAM WEDDING CAKES

For an unusually lavish rehearsal dinner, our class was turned into a wedding cake factory.  We made 15 decadent three tired buttercream wedding cakes.  The tiers consisted of a 4″, 6″, and 8″ cake.  This was the first time I even seen a 4″ cake in person and it was darn cute!  This rehearsal dinner was so lavish, that the top two tiers of the cake were just for show with only the largest bottom tier for eating.  Therefore the two top tiers were sadly tossed out.

buttercream wedding cake | toni woo + food buttercream wedding cake | toni woo + food

GINGERBREAD HOUSE

Truth be told, I’ve never made a proper gingerbread house beyond some graham crackers and an individual sized milk carton.  I had no idea how much fun it is!  The most work was in making the cardboard structure made with precisely planned angles and vents for steaming.  Thanks to an extremely sturdy 24-hour gingerbread recipe, a giant 80 quart mixer, and a roller machine I was able to design and build my first house in a matter of a few days.

Behold my first true gingerbread house!

gingerbread house | toni woo + foodgingerbread house | toni woo + foodgingerbread house | toni woo + foodgingerbread house | toni woo + food

Momofuku Saam, NYC

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

When planning my NYC trip I had only one thing on my agenda – eat at Momofuku.

After watching the first season of Mind of a Chef, it is hard to not be a fan of David Chang.  Humble, good natured, a total food nerd and all around cool guy, David Chang seems like the type of person you would want to get a beer with.  The likelihood of that happening — none.  So the next best thing was to eat at one of his restaurants.

Reservation-less and on a Friday night we decided to take our chances and headed to Momofuku Saam in the Lower Eastside.  Inside, the restaurant was surprisingly small, dimly lit, and packed with people.  We were informed the wait time would be two hours.  Not sure if our stomaches would be able to hold out for two hours, we weighed our options.  And then through the open kitchen window was the real-life image of David Chang, cooking.  The decision was made for us, we would wait for David Chang to cook for us.

In the meantime we wandered the streets bordering Soho and had a couple of drinks.  About an hour later we were back at Momofuku Saam, all seven of us happily crammed onto a table meant for five.  The waiter informed us that there was only one special left — a 32 ounce double pork chop that was brined for two days, served sliced with sautéed peaches, corn, spinach, and a blue cheese dipping sauce.  Yes, of course we will take it!  Served perfectly with it’s interior still pink, it was more than just a dish, it was a whole platter of food.  The pork was juicy, peaches tangy, and the corn wonderfully charred.  Everyone at the table agreed, this was the best pork we ever had.

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

We also ordered a number of other shareable dishes including Chang’s famous Bao Buns.  Filled with thick slices of succulent pork belly, hoisin sauce, fresh pickled cucumbers (namasu style), and scallions.  These buns did not dissapoint.  They were so good, we devoured them before I could get a photo.  For the vegetarians dining with us, there were also bao buns filled with sautéed mushrooms (pictured below).  This must have been just as delicious since they were eaten just as quickly.

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

The Wagyu Tataki was another standout plate with thin slices of raw Wagyu beef, sweet grapes, and mitsuba leaves in a matsutake mushroom dashi broth that was poured over the dish at the table. It was a delicious and playful dish that was perfectly balanced.

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

One of the most surprising dishes was the Spicy Pork Sausage with Rice Cakes.  This delightfully fiery dish was not at all what I expected with chewy, almost mochi-like rice cake pieces topped with crunchy fried shallots.  If you can handle the heat this dish is sure to please.

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

And the best part, the dishes were cooked by David Chang himself.  Right?

After sneaking peeks in the open kitchen and taking photos like a stalking fan, the waiter informed me that it was actually not David Chang cooking, but a look alike sous chef named Nick.  However I’m not entirely convinced and sort of think it was a cover up to avoid fanatic eaters like me from hovering around the open kitchen.  Either way, the food was delicious.  But can you really look at this photo and tell me this doesn’t look a bit like David Chang?

Momofuku Saam | toni woo + food

Authentically Jewish, Authentically New York

While I’ve had many amazing food experiences in New York, the absolute best meals were the one’s that could not be bought in a restaurant.  These were the meals spent with the Sivan family.  Delicious and steeped with culture, my first experiences with home-cooked Jewish and Israeli food was indeed grand.

BRUNCH

The morning after a lovely wedding (the reason for my being in New York), the two sets of parents hosted a lovely brunch in the Upper Westside.  Brunch was a celebration of succulent and wholesome foods.

Tomatoes, onions, and chive cream cheese was laid out to accompany a variety of bagels.  Also present were lox and salted fish, four types of cheese, and a variety of nuts and seeds (including cashews, almonds, walnuts, and whole hazelnuts).

It felt like every kind of fruit was present, whether in dried form or fresh — dried dates, dried kiwi, fresh berries of all kinds, fresh melon, and fresh pomegranate just to name a few.  There was also a mysteriously delicious fruit.  What I thought was an inconspicuous date turned out to be green fleshed.  A baby kiwi, perhaps, with skin so tender you could eat it whole.  Turns out, it was a whole new fruit all together — a kiwi berry.

Ima Dahlia also baked up a storm making four types of pies (apple, plum, peach, and blueberry) and her famous honey nut bars which were truly delicious with coffee.

The company was a lovely gathering of new and old friends. The setting also couldn’t be more perfect — set high up in an 11th floor apartment overlooking Central Park and the city line.

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DINNER

We were also lucky enough to be extended an invitation to a family dinner in the Lower Eastside, which was happily and quickly accepted.  Dinner was a veritable feast of traditional Israeli food, served family style.

The star course, made by Charlie, was a baked Chilean Sea Bass with tomatoes and onions that melted in your mouth.  Not outshined, were the other amazing side dishes including a cucumber avocado and tomato salad, brown rice with brazil nuts and pomegranate, sautéed green beans with cashews, sweet potato puree, fried tilapia, and boureka — a delicious pie of spinach and cheese layered between phyllo dough.  Ta’im!

Dinner was followed by games, an invitation to a second wedding celebration in Israel, and ended with the host family singing Shalom.

Stuffed and full of heartwarming feelings, we headed back to our apartment, packed our bags, and got on a plane headed for home.  Our last meal in New York was indeed memorable and could not have been spent with more wonderful people.

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Eating Manhattan

New York is THE eating city.  There are restaurants, cafes, food carts, and food trucks of every type everywhere you look.  It’s basically a food paradise and I wish I could have eaten everything I saw.  Even though I was only there for 4 days and know that I only barely scratched the surface of NYC cuisine, I was able to get a good taste of it thanks to some awesome new friends.  Here are some of my highlights.

LENNY’S GOURMET

While out and about on my own I was too intimidated to try some of the authentic looking delicatessens.  I even had a hard time identifying which places were the deli’s since many are often located within local grocery stores.  So when I stumbled upon Lenny’s Gourmet I was estatic.  This New York Deli style sandwich shop was bright, friendly, and obviously a deli.  Even though it’s a chain, it isn’t at all drab like many chain food shops.  The menu selection is also huge with many delicious sounding sandwich combinations and salads of all kinds.  My turkey, corned beef, coleslaw, and swiss on sourdough was as amazing as it sounds.  I will definitely have to come back and have another sandwich next time I visit.  Probably something with pastrami.

Lenny's Gourmet | toni woo + food

ARTICHOKE PIZZA

The streets are alive at all hours in New York.  To not have open food shops would be a huge loss of an opportunity.  Thankfully this isn’t the case.  After a long night of wedding celebration, dancing, and late night speak-easy drinking we ventured out into the Lower Eastside with pizza on our minds.  With fearless Yuna leading the way, we navigated the densely populated streets and deceivingly cheap $1 pizza shops to get to Artichoke Pizza.  At about $5 a slice you can get more than just the standard pepperoni pizza.  At Artichoke’s they offer their signature artichoke pizza with white sauce, vodka sauce pizza, a classic margarita pizza, and even crab pizza.  With very limited seating, we ate our piping hot pizzas on the street in the cold crisp night air.  A perfect ending to a wonderful evening with great people.

Artichoke Pizza | toni woo + food

Artichoke Pizza | toni woo + food

ROOF GARDEN at the Metropolitan

You can’t beat the view at the Rooftop Garden at the Metropolitan Museum and I was very surprised at how delicious their chicken cobb salad was.  In my opinion, museum’s don’t need to (and often don’t) provide delicious or interesting food but this is New York City after all.  The chicken in the salad was well seasoned and tender.  The corn kernels cut straight off the cob and the salad fresh and crisp.  The blue cheese dressing was also mild, creamy, and didn’t punch me in the mouth as blue cheese usually does.  Washed down with a prossecco, it made the perfect second lunch.

Roof Garden at the Metropolitan | toni woo + food

Roof Garden at the Metropolitan | toni woo + food

Roof Garden at the Metropolitan | toni woo + food

il laboratorio del gelato (ILDG)

After an amazing dinner at Momofuku Saam (blog coming soon!), I thought I was too stuffed for dessert.  However I am so glad that we did not pass on the incredible gelato at Il laboratorio del gelato.  ILDG has taken gelato making to a whole new level.  Starkly white and bright inside, the “store” resembles a laboratory where the tastiest and most unusual gelato flavors are concocted.  With so many unique flavors, it can be hard to decide which flavors to try.  Thankfully they have thought of the solution.  At ILDG they serve between 2-4 small golf-ball sized scoops in little white rectangular cups.  Between the three of us we tried 5 flavors for about $12 including earl grey, acacia honey, black fig, prune armagnac, and tarragon and pink peppercorn which was definitely the favorite.  And don’t expect to see the same flavors when you come back, the majority of the flavors change daily.  While 48 flavors are available daily, I am told there is a total of 200+ rotating flavors.

il laboratorio del gelato | toni woo + food

il laboratorio del gelato | toni woo + food

JACOB’S PICKLES

Jacob’s Pickles is more than just a trendy spot that serves pickles and beer.  It also has an excellent brunch on the weekends.  Serving southern inspired brunch dishes, the menu had the potential to be heavy in nature.  My boyfriend’s meal of biscuits, sausage gravy, cheesy gritz, and crispy fried chicken could have been a greasy and salty nightmare but that wasn’t the case at all.  Everything was balanced and surprisingly light.  There was not a trace of grease to be found.  Especially delicious was the sausage gravy of which I was never a fan of.  Either this gravy is exceptionally good, or I have only had terrible sausage gravy in the past. My own meal of biscuits, homemade sweet breakfast sausage, local New York eggs, and a heaping handful of shredded mild cheddar cheese was also delicious and not at all as greasy as it sounds.

The biscuits itself were something to behold.  Instead of dense and heavy like most biscuits, these were incredibly light and airy.  I have no idea how they made this biscuit masterpiece but I must find out.  Another must try dish, their matzo ball soup with the lightest matzo balls served as a portion large enough to be a meal.

Jacob's Pickles | toni woo + food

Jacob's Pickles | toni woo + food

Jacob's Pickles | toni woo + food

Jacob's Pickles | toni woo + food

Salted-Caramel Espresso Cake, aka, Flavor-Town

I think long and hard about cake flavor profiles.  So I was estatic when my latest creation, a Salted-Caramel Espresso Cake, was a success.  While I can’t take credit for the Caramel Espresso Buttercream (oh, how wish I could!) from magazine editor and cake whiz Tish Boyle, I was able to layer it with other amazing cake components resulting in a completely delightful concoction.

This perfectly sized 6″ cake was made with layers of deeply rich chocolate cake, a middle layer of sticky hot fudge, and a covering of Caramel-Espresso Buttercream.  However the ingredient that really made the flavors in the buttercream stand out was a sprinkling of Maldon salt.  Bright and clean, this sea salt is by far my favorite salt to top onto sweet treats.

Salted Caramel Espresso Cake | toni woo + food

Salted Caramel Espresso Cake | toni woo + food

Salted Caramel Espresso Cake | toni woo + food

Salted Caramel Espresso Cake | toni woo + foodSalted Caramel Espresso Cake | toni woo + food

“Sun-dried” Tomatoes, DIY

I can’t imagine a better gift than a box full of vine ripened tomatoes and that is exactly what we were presented with the other day.  It was an unexpected gift from our farm-owning friends, and what a gift!  Although not attractive enough to make it to market due to skin blemishes, these tomatoes were still perfectly good for eating and ripened to perfection.

In my opinion, nothing is better than a fresh home-grown tomato and these tomatoes are bursting with bright flavor.  But what to do with these reverent little tomatoes?  There must be 40+ tomatoes and I refuse to let them go to waste.  After searching online it seems that oven-roasting them would be best.  By roasting the tomatoes at a low temperature for 3-4 hours, I not only preserve but also enhance their flavor.  The end result would be the equivalent of sun-dried tomatoes that are quite pricy when bought in stores.  And, oh, the flavor!  You can eat them like candy with their sweet and tart essence.

And as for cooking,  these “sun-dried” tomatoes can be added to soups or sauces, chopped up and sprinkled on salads, or soaked in good olive oil and topped on toasted baguettes with cheese. They would also be perfectly at home on a charcuterie board or antipasto platter.

Oh, tomato, is there anything you can’t do?

Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food

Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food
Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food

Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food

Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food

Oven-dried Tomatoes, DIY | toni woo + food

OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES, PROCEDURE:

Preheat your oven to 250 F and line your baking sheets with foil.

Wash and dry your tomatoes.  Half and core your tomatoes.

Place on lined baking sheet and coat with good olive oil.

Face the tomatoes cut side up and then sprinkle liberally with kosher salt.

Bake/roast for 3-4 hours until tomatoes are slightly dried but still juicy.  In the beginning of the roasting process the tomatoes will leach a lot of liquid, but will eventually evaporate.

Let cool, then place in a jar, cover with olive oil, and place in the fridge.  This can be stored for up to two months in the fridge.  Or, place tomatoes in a freezer safe bag or container and place in the freezer (without olive oil).