Saturday, February 26, 2011

H Mart Korean Market (Edison, NJ)

This afternoon I discovered a little slice of foodie heaven in Edison, NJ. The newly opened H Mart in a strip mall off of Rt 27 offers a bit of everything for everyone. The 34th store location of this Korean chain supermarket, it offers a food court, bakery, clothes, housegoods, and a store of random Asian tcotchkes all within the massive food emporium.

In a town with close to 100,000 population, Asians make up nearly 40% of Edison's population with Koreans a little under 10%. With statistics like that, it's no wonder there are two other large Asian supermarkets within a 10-mile radius.

What I love most about shopping at an Asian supermarket vs your typical Shop Rite or A&P are the prices, freshness and plethora of options. Asian supermarkets don't try to hide where your food comes from, but displays it in all its glory. Yes, seeing a whole duck (with head) hanging in the window may be a little frightening, but at least I know what I'm eating and can appreciate it fully. It brings the entire concept of farm to table into another light.

Shoppers entering H Mart are immediately greeted to loud, karaoke pop music playing over the intercom coming from the random stage with microphone on the side of the food court (is there a karaoke night here??). It gives a slightly bizarre, disco feel to the place. The random shops of cheap clothes with Asian housewares next door only adds to the surreal quality. That aside, the shopper is then bombarded with well displayed samplings of all the yummy items for sale in the store including dried persimmons, udon noodles, fresh snails, mud fish, and mandoo (Korean dumplings). There is one whole wall dedicated to miso, another whole aisle for seaweed and chili, and Asian snacks galore. Unfortunately, I was greeted with a much hated "no photo" sign at the door so I had to covertly sneak a few shots from my Blackberry.

In the middle of the aisle by the meats, there was a sign proclaiming February was Pork Month and a butcher with a whole pig (I watched in horror/fascination as he neatly chopped off his hind legs in front of me) was cutting off slabs of pork belly to the crowd of shoppers vying to get the best cut. According to the man running the sample demo of the pork belly alongside, that pig had been alive and kicking just that morning. "Very fresh!" he assured me. I can't argue with that. I love pork belly in every which way, so I picked up a pound to make my miso pork belly (I will be posting this recipe tomorrow!).

The best part of the supermarket is all the fresh prepared foods such as the large assortment of sushi and sashimi by the seafood area, salad bar of marinated meats for a Korean BBQ house-party along with all of its accoutrements, and fresh house-made kimchi!

H Mart is definitely a must visit if you have it in your area. Though I have read that some are not as well-curated or laid out as the newest Edison location. You never know what you will find there.

H Mart 
1761 Route 27
Edison, NJ 08817 
Phone: (732) 339-1530

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Hidden Gem in Midtown: Hide-Chan Ramen

With temperatures hovering around the low 30s Fahrenheit and wind chills bringing it down to the teens, it has been a rough January in New York City and the entire East Coast. Since my return from Australia at the beginning of the year, I have been dreaming about ramen.  And once I heard about Time Out New York's "Ramen Rules New York" event held on February 8th, the decision was made and my friend and I braved the cold in search of ramen. 

Being the research freak that I am, I did a little reading before letting my friend know where to meet up with me. Hide-Chan in mid-town East consistently kept coming up as either the best or top 5 of best ramen houses in the city.  In the middle of one of the sweltering heat waves last summer, I had tried its sister restaurant, Totto Ramen, with my own sister. Despite sweating about 10 lbs of sweat in the tiny, un-airconditioned space, I still remember my eyes rolling back in bliss at my first taste of their miso ramen. With that in mind, I shot off a quick text with address to my friend and did a little ramen dance in my head. 

Named after owner/chef Hideto Kawahara, Hide-Chan is located on a quiet street of mid-town in the 50s. If I hadn't been looking for the restaurant, I would have walked past the unassuming storefront. With just a posted menu with no restaurant name in sight, you have to walk back a few steps to the edge of the sidewalk in order to read the name on the red awning above the door. You walk up the stairs to the second floor and are greeted immediately with the smiling hostess and warm incredible delight when you are walking in from the winter freeze. 

First things first, major props to Hide-Chan for posting their top menu items to assist first timers.  I did not order their #1 best sell, the Hakata Tonkatsu which is their traditional pork-based broth noodle.  But I did get the Hakato Kuro Ramen aka "Black Garlic" Ramen.  I had seen multiple postings about this dish and it was just calling out my name. 
I started off with the $10 Beer Tasting special which is a bargain. It comes with a pint of their draft beer (Sapporo) and a chef's tasting of 3 sides. That night, they served us a side of charred pork, BBQ squid, and seaweed with sesame seeds (pictured above).
We followed it with some silky homemade tofu and Tako Wasa raw octopus marinated in wasabi sauce (both pictured above). The octopus had a perfect bite. Most times I've ordered anything in a wasabi sauce, there is always too much wasabi that it is pretty unbearable.  Hide-Chan's had the right amount to give it a nice nasal-clearing kick. 

By that time, our ramen arrived including my Hakata Kuro Ramen (shown above) served with original "ma-yu" roasted garlic oil. Its inky-colored glory (from the blackening of the garlic) was magnified by the intense smoky, garlic smell coming from the broth. I was drooling even before one bite reached my mouth. The first taste did not disappoint.  Like most really good Japanese food, it is incredibly light to the tongue with clear flavors. Yet, there is a complexity with the broth and achieving that strong flavor without overwhelming the natural taste of the fresh ramen noodle. You will all be pleased to hear that not one drop or ramen noodle was left behind!

Usually I never order dessert in a traditional Japanese restaurant as it never looks so appealing or interesting. However, this time around we decided to share a bowl of their almond tofu topped with mixed berries. Delicious! Nothing mind-blowing, but comforting and a nice way to end the meal without putting us over the edge.  Rubbing our now slightly rounded tummies, we paid our bill, put our coats on, and happily headed back out into the cold with bowls of steaming ramen dancing in our heads. 

Hide-Chan248 E 52nd St between 2nd & 3rdNew York 10022; Telephone: (212) 813-1800

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pesto Tortellini with Fennel and Sausage

Today is National Tortellini Day! In celebration, I decided to make a bowlful for dinner using ingredients I love. I am going to preface this by saying I did not make my tortellini from scratch. Not today! Sometimes you need a quick, hearty dish that takes less than an hour for you to put together and out on the dining table. This is a perfect recipe for that!

Serves 4-6

1 package tortellini (any kind you want, I used Trader Joe's pesto tortellini)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thinly
1/2 lb spicy sausage, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Fennel fronds from bulb for garnishing


  1. In a large pot, boil water. Season the water liberally with salt. When water comes to a boil, add the package of tortellini. Make sure to separate the tortellini if it is stuck together. Stir once after it is all in the water to make sure they do not stick. They are all cooked when they float to the top. Drain and set to the side.
  2. While pasta is cooking, slice the onion, fennel and sausages.
  3. Once tortellini is drained, use the same pot and add the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel.  Season slightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Once slightly browned, add the fennel seeds and sausage. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Then, add heavy cream, parmesan, salt and pepper. Reduce sauce slightly until slightly thickened, approximately 10 minutes. 
  5. Put the tortellini back into the pot. With a wooden spoon, gently fold the mixture together so that each tortellini is covered in the creamy sauce. 
  6. Plate a small amount on each plate, making sure there is an equal amount of the fennel-onion mixture and sausage. A full serving is usually 10-12 tortellinis; if you want to serve it as an appetizer, 5-6 tortellinis is sufficient. 
  7. Garnish with grated parmesan and fennel fronds. Serve hot.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Winter's miracle: Icewine Tea

A few years ago, our family made an unconscious decision to stop buying tourist junk souvenirs when we travelled. Instead, we replaced it with culinary treats that brought back tastes and smells from our adventures.

This past weekend, my parents went for a quick weekend getaway to Quebec and brought back a few souvenirs for me and my sister. One of the items they brought back was
icewine tea. Anyone that knows me understands that I will always come back with locally made tea from any city that I am visiting. Always.

Now, my sister had introduced me to icewine a few years ago after she had ordered a bottle at
Gramercy Tavern for dinner. But icewine tea?? I was intrigued so I opened it immediately and set a kettle of water to boil on the stove. Once I opened the tin, I was immediately hit with the intense sweet smell of mango, apple, honey, and plums. It was AMAZING. If you are a lover of ceylon teas, you must RUN to buy some icewine tea just for the aroma alone! Even better was when I poured the hot water into the cup with the tea bag and saw it fizzing! The icing on top was when I went to smell the tea and realized the steam was hot AND cold at the same time. It was one big sensory overload for my soothing morning cup of tea. 

After I got over my giddy delight in discovering a new tea, my immediate question was obviously: how was the tea produced to create that kind of reaction?

To figure that out, I headed to my trusty MacBook and started hunting. Despite the thousands of pages devoted to icewine though, I could find nothing about the process of making icewine tea and what could cause that hot/cold steam, other than pages on where to purchase it. So disappointing! Chemistry was never my forte. However, I did get a great background on how icewine came into existence and how it is made.

Historically, icewine originated in Germany after grape growers were forced to harvest their fruit due to an early frost in the late 1700’s. Spelled as one word “icewine” in Canada or called “Eiswein” in Germany, icewine is a dessert wine made from frozen grapes that are hand-picked from the field and then processed at night when temperatures are never higher than -10°C. 

Pressed before thawing, the grapes produce a super-sweet liquid with a residual sugar level of at least 125 grams per liter. A table wine can be fermented in a matter of days or weeks, but because of the high sugar content of frozen grapes, the fermentation process for icewine takes months. Due to its labor intensive process, icewine is one of the most expensive wines available in the market, retailing at approximately $50 for a 375ml bottle.

In 1973, German Walter Hainle was accredited for producing the first icewine in Canada. By law, icewine can only be produced by people who belong to a Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) association in their respective province. The grapes must also be frozen naturally in order to be called icewine.

Today, Canada is the world's largest producer of icewine with 75% coming from Ontario. According to John Scheiner’s The Wines of Canada, Canada produces nearly a million liters annually. A good way to taste various icewine vineyards is to attend the annual
Niagara Icewine Festival that showcases nearly 30 wineries. Many venues have an outdoor bar made of ice, statues made of ice, and some excellent food creations to eat along with the fantastic icewine. Unfortunately readers, 2011's festival JUST ended! However, mark your calendars as the next festival will be held from January 13-29, 2012!!

For additional information about icewine and where to purchase it:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Meditteranean Ciabatta Sandwich

Lunch is not one of my favorite meals. Brunch, yes. But lunch, no. It always seems so boring to me. So I'm always looking for a way to keep it fresh, inventive and tasty.

During one of the snowstorms in New York last week, I was working from the comforts of my home (don't you love modern technology!) when my stomach started grumbling. I decided to keep it close to the apartment and remembered Orwasher's Bakery that I kept passing by on my walks with my dog. The yeasty yumminess of freshly baked bread was definitely calling my name on that winter afternoon.

In 2007, Oven Artisans purchased Orwasher Bakery that had been open in Manhattan's Upper East Side for over a century! Using old school techniques with modern, they created a line of artisan wine breads using wine as the yeast starter. One of the breads that came out of that is their olive bread which uses Chardonnay grapes. Unfortunately, I will leave this to taste for another post, since on this day their beautiful ciabatta was beckoning me.

This Mediterranean sandwich was what came from discovering this little neighborhood gem. For my veggie readers, the chicken can be easily substituted with some grilled zucchini or portobello mushrooms.

Serves 2

1 medium ciabatta loaf, cut into 2 4-inch loaves
1/2 cup herb mayo (see below for recipe)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 tsp herbes de Provence

For herb mayo:
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 cup parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup light mayo, use a good quality

1. Season chicken thighs liberally with salt, pepper and fennel seeds. Let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
2. Heat skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Add chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden brown crust forms. If the chicken feels firm to the touch, it is done. Do not cut into the meat as it will release all the juices into the pan.
3. Remove chicken from skillet and let sit on a plate for a few minutes. Resting your meat before cutting is very important to have a nice, juicy cut. Then, slice chicken thinly.
4. In same skillet,add tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and herbes de Provence. Cook over medium heat until charred and tomatoes pop from heat. This should take roughly 5-10 minutes.
5. Cut ciabatta bread in half. On one side, spread 1/4 cup herb mayo; on the other, add half grilled tomatoes. With back of a spoon, press down and smear tomatoes and juices over the bread. Add half of sliced chicken on bottom half of bread. Top with the other half and repeat process with the last half loaf of bread.

For herb mayo:
1. In food processor, add parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil. Pulse until mixture is semi-smooth.
2. Scrape paste from processor into small mixing bowl and fold in mayo until fully incorporated.
3. Herb mayo can be made up to 3 days in advance. It is good for a week.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Braised Moroccan-Style Short Ribs

I love cooking one-pot dishes whenever I can.  It's especially great for the weekends while I am cleaning up around the house or any other chores because once I put it together I can just forget about it. And when you finally come back into the kitchen or house, you're just surrounded by the amazing smells and warmth coming from the stove.  

I was at the local butcher and saw these beautiful short ribs and knew what I would be cooking that evening. Serve this easy, decadent dish over couscous.

Serves 4


Salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 pcs short rib
2 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, quartered
4 cloves whole garlic, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cinnamon stick
I bay leaf
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp all-spice
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 14.5 oz diced canned tomatoes
2 cups red wine, preferably Shiraz
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 apple quartered, preferably Gala or Pink Lady
1/4 cup dried apricots
1/4 cup raisins or currants
4 tbsp cilantro, roughly chopped


1. Put flour, paprika, salt and pepper in Ziploc bag and shake to mix. Place cleaned short ribs in the mixture and shake to coat. Remove ribs and shake ribs to remove excess flour.
2. In a braiser, heat oil to sizzling over medium-high heat and sear short ribs on all sides, approximately 3 minutes for each side. Remove ribs and put to side on a plate.
3. Turn stove down to medium heat, add onions, garlic and carrots to the same braiser until slightly brown. Add cinnamon, bay leaf, cumin, coriander seeds, and all-spice to the braiser.
4. Add tomatoes and cook together for a few minutes, stirring only to keep mixture from sticking to the bottom.
5. Increase heat to medium-high and add red wine. Bring to boil and then lower to medium-low and reduce mixture by half.
6. While waiting for the wine to reduce, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
7. Add beef broth and bring to a boil. Then, add short ribs back to braiser.
8. Throw in apricots, raisins and apple. Put braiser into the oven with lid on and cook for 1 1/2-2 hours. You will know it is done when the meat pulls apart with a fork and the meat falls off the bone.
9. To serve, mound a small amount of couscous on a plate. Hollow the center and place one short rib on each plate. Top with sauce and fruit-onion mixture. Don't be stingy with the sauce!! Garnish with the cilantro if desired.