Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trader Joe's Artichoke and Spinach Dip

Let me start off by saying that I love appetizers. If I could eat only appetizers for every meal- I probably would. Sadly though, when I eat out I don't typically order them because of their nasty tendency to drive up the price. When I saw Spinach and Artichoke dip at Trader Joe's ($1.99), one of my favorite appetizers, I was super excited. I got home eager to make it, when I realize that it was microwavable only. At the time, I had no microwave to speak of, so it sat in my freezer for about a month until I was finally able to cook it. I microwaved the dip for 4 minutes, like I was instructed, but when I took it out it was still frozen solid in the center. I put it back in for a minute, only to find the same results. I had to repeat this four more times until it was finally heated through. I had also purchased Trader Joe's multi-grain crackers ($2.00) and after it cooled down, I dipped my cracker in and took a bite- only to be really dissapointed.

The dip was watery and the spinach and artichoke were chopped up so small that I felt like I was eating baby food. I could also really tell that the vegetables were frozen-which I absolutely hate. The cheese was bland, and it was too thin in some parts, and way too thick in others. Gross. I definitely would not recommend this to anyone.
Grade: D

Friday, October 30, 2009

Soup + 1/2 Sandwich Special at Whole Foods

Like most people trying to stay on a budget, I rarely go into Whole Foods. Every time I go, it's like some magical force comes over me and I wind up spending ridiculous amounts of money on something crazy like dried beans. I don't know why I decided to go in again, but I'm glad I did! Turns out, Whole Foods has some amazing lunch deals. Their hot food and salad bar is $7.99 a pound, which is only a tiny bit more than most of the delis close by that serve old tuna and wilted lettuce. There was a huge range of options; they had everything from curried chicken and mango salad to bbq tofu. While the deli and salad bar was tempting, the 8 oz. soup and 1/2 sandwich deal for $7 caught my eye. The carrot and ginger, clam chowder, and roasted tomatoes and basil soups all looked amazing-but I decided to go with the roasted tomato and basil. The sandwich choice was a little bit more difficult, every option looked amazing! I had trouble picking between the chicken, gouda and apple sandwich, and the turkey with basil mayonnaise. I decided to go with the turkey, which ended up being an excellent match with the soup.

The soup had whole chunks of tomatoes in it, and was well seasoned with basil. There wasn't as much meat on the sandwich as I would have hoped, but it was still absolutely amazing. The meat was so fresh, as were the tomato and lettuce. The basil mayonnaise was light and refreshing, as was the sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. For $7, the portion and quality of the meal was amazing! I'm definitely going to go back to try back a different combination soon.
Grade: A-

Trader Joe's Orange Glazed Chicken

After eating about a million bags of Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken, I decided it was time to branch out. On my next visit to the store, I picked up their Orange Glazed Chicken($5.99) instead. When I got home and opened the bag, I was surprised by how little it was filled up. It's really only enough for two servings, which it did say on the back, but I was deceived by the large bag size. Luckily, a friend was over so I just decided to make the whole thing. Start to finish, the meal took 7 minutes to cook. I started by running hot water over the sauce, and boiling the water for rice. Then I heated up the oil for the vegetable chicken mixture and poured everything in. The rice took about twice as long to cook than the package stated (3-4 mins) and I kept having to add more water. The vegetable chicken mixture cooked in the the stated time (5-6 mins), but about halfway through I added 2 tbs of water because the vegetables were looking limp. I also added 2 tsps Madras curry to the rice for a little extra flavor, heated up the sauce and cashews, and was ready to eat! I have to say, I was pretty impressed. the vegetables were crisp and fresh, the rice was cooked quite nicely, and the chicken didn't taste frozen at all. My only complaint was that the sauce was a little bit too thick, but it more than likely would have thinned out with a little bit more cooking time. Overall, the meal was awesome-and came out to be about $3 per serving. Not bad! I'm definitely going to try this out again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Havana Central

I didn't discover how much I loved Cuban food until about two years ago, and for a while there I was OBSESSED. There was an amazing, authentic restaurant pretty close to my house back in Georgia, which sadly burned down this past year, that I seriously still dream about. I've tried a few Cuban sandwiches at various places around New York, but never at a restaurant that actually advertised itself as being Cuban. I decided to stop in at Havana Central for lunch because of its close proximity to my school. I ordered the "Cubano Classico" ($9.00) to go, with a side of black beans and rice (other options were side salad or sweet potato fries). My order took over 20 minutes to come out, which is much more than I am used to waiting. A 10 minute train ride later I was home-and hungry! I opened the bag, and was immediately impressed by how big the sandwich and the rice and beans portion was! For nine bucks, I could easily eat this for two meals.

I started with the sandwich, which smelled delicious. Sadly, it had gotten pretty soggy with the long wait time and I had to pop it in the toaster for a second. This solved the problem, and the rest of the sandwich was pretty good. The bread was sweat and soft, and the cheese was melted to perfection. No complaints! The rice and beans were decent- but under seasoned. I mixed in some onion and chili and garlic powder that I had around, and this immediately pepped it up. My lunch from Havana Central was decent, but I am still searching for the best Cuban sandwich in New York. If you all any tips, let me know!
Address: Union Square location 22 East 17th Street(between Broadway & 5th Aves)
Phone: 212 414-4999
Average Lunch Price: $9-13
Grade: B

Dumpling Man

Anytime cheap food in New York City is brought up, you're sure to hear mention of Dumpling Man. Somehow, it's taken me over a year to check it out, even though I lived mere blocks away! Now let me start off by saying, I am not the world biggest dumpling fan. I'll eat them if they're there, but I don't typically go out of my way in their pursuit. Because of this, I had no idea what to order, even after looking over the menu. There were about 5 varieties of meat dumplings, and about 5 vegetarian as well. The man behind the counter saw my confusion, and recommended the special meat dumpling of the day, the pork soup dumpling. The description said that it was a pork dumpling that was also stuffed with ginger, and cooked in chicken stock. I ordered four dumplings, and my total came out to be a little more than $4. Not bad! I envisioned my dumplings actually arriving in the chicken stock, but when they arrived about 5 minutes later, it turned out they had just been boiled in it. This led to the outside dough having a visibly soggy texture, which I wasn't thrilled with. (sorry about the poor photo quality, it was really dim inside the restaurant)

I took my first bite- and was a little confused. The dough part of the dumpling was too thick and soggy, the pork inside had the consistency of wet cat food, and there was no ginger to speak of. Somehow though, it managed to taste alright! I tried it with Sriracha sauce, the "dumpling sauce", and the vinegar sauce. The Sriracha was too spicy for me, but I liked the dumping sauce and the vinegar-they were a nice tart balance to the sweetness of the pork and dough. Halfway through, I discovered the ginger-which was only a few measly strips. While I wasn't super excited by my experience at The Dumpling Man, it wasn't awful and it really filled me up.
Address:100 St Marks Pl New York, NY 10009
Phone number:(212) 505-2121
Average Price: $4-6 piece, $6-10 piece
Grade: C

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ashom Thang

Inspired by a recent visit to my favorite New York restaurant (Cafe Himalaya, review coming soon!)I decided to make myself a traditional Tibetan corn soup, known as Ashom Thang. I found this recipe on, an awesome resource for hard to find Asian entrees,soups,and desserts.
Here it goes!
* 1/2 onion, chopped
* 1 tablespoon butter (or use oil if preferred)
* 1/4 teaspoon paprika
* 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
* 1/2 inch fresh ginger, finely chopped
* 1 tomato, chopped
* 1 square (12 oz.) firm tofu
* 3 cobs fresh corn and 1 tablespoon cornstarch, or one 15-oz. can creamed corn and 1/2 cup frozen (or canned) whole kernel corn, drained
* 4 cups water
* 1 green onion, chopped
Sauté the onion in butter or oil in a soup pot until brown and soft.Add the paprika, garlic, and ginger and cook briefly.Add the tomato and the tofu, cut into small cubes, along with the water.If using fresh corn, cut it from the cob and add it to the pot, along with the cornstarch mixed in a little extra water. If using canned and/or frozen corn, add them both now.Bring to a boil, and simmer for a minute, stirring to prevent sticking.Sprinkle chopped green onion on each serving

I made a few alterations when I made it by pureeing the finished soup, substituting the green onion for cilantro, and adding a light amount of lemon juice right before eating. I find that this makes the soup more refreshing and less earthy, but it really is just a matter of personal preference. The soup turned out really well,even though it was slightly sweeter than I expected. The paprika and lemon perfectly complimented the corn flavor, making for a soup that was refreshing yet filling at the same time. The soup was great, but I don't think I'll make it again for myself at home. It didn't reheat well, and it was a little too expensive to just cook for one meal, and one person. If I'm ever cooking dinner for a soup lover though, I'll definitely bring this recipe back out.
Total Price: $6
Grade: B- (pricey,lengthy cooking time)

El Moderno

Despite less than amazing reviews on yelp and menupages, my friends and I decided to try El Moderno out for brunch (primarily because of its super close proximity to both of our apartments). I’m glad that laziness won out; because this place actually ended up having the best brunch we’ve come across yet since we all moved to Williamsburg. Granted, it wasn’t anything amazing, but I’ll take what I can get after a late night! We went in around 2 pm, and the place was absolutely empty. The menu had all of your typical brunch fare(eggs benedict, french toast, pancakes,ect) but it also had some options with more of a Mexican flair (huevos rancheros, steak burrito with red pepper and onion, and steak and eggs). All items are priced at 10 dollars, and come with coffee, tea, a mimosa (orange, strawberry, or passion fruit flavored) or bloody marry, not a bad deal at all! I opted for the huevos rancheros with black beans and rice with strawberry juice, while my friends ordered the pancakes with fruit salad and a coffee, and the steak burrito with french fries and a passion fruit mimosa. The beverages came quickly, and although the portions of my strawberry juice and the passion fruit mimosa were small, they were both refreshing. Our food took about 20 minutes to arrive even though we were the only people in there, but it was worth the wait. My huevos rancheros were absolutely loaded with salsa and cotija cheese, and the avocado that topped it was fresh and delicious! The eggs were well cooked, and the rice and beans were well seasoned. The pico de gallo that came on the side was super spicy and a little bit too salty, but I found myself constantly adding more of it to my dish for some reason!

The pancakes were fluffy and topped with powdered sugar, and the fruit salad on the side was generously portioned and fresh.

I didn’t get a chance to try the steak burrito, but both of my friends said that it was well seasoned, perfectly cooked, and all around amazing!

I would definitely come back to El Moderno for brunch; the food was great and the price and location are definitely right!
Address: 519 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn 11211
Phone: (718) 384-6429
Average Price: $10 for any brunch item (includes coffee, tea, or alcoholic beverage)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trader Joe's Tempura Chicken

As much as I love cooking, there are some night when I just can’t muster up the energy for it. Also, I often find myself cooking for one, which can end up being surprisingly pricey if you don’t want to have leftovers for 3 days. When I stumbled into Trader Joe’s for the first time, over a year ago I was ecstatic. Not only do they have an amazing selection of cheeses and meats, but their frozen food is a step above at what you can find at any major grocery store. I’m trying to review as many of their frozen foods as possible, but I’ll start with my favorite: Trader's Joe's Tempura Chicken (5.99),which comes in a one pound bag of all white meat.

To start, I recommend pairing this with Trader Joe’s microwavable rice (3.99) if you’re looking to make a quick meal. There’s nothing worse than waiting 25 minutes for rice to cook when you’re starving-and this solves the problem. (cook time is just under 4 minutes)

I chose to deep fry the chicken, partially because I am from the South and have a weakness for all things deep fried, and partially because tempura is a traditionally fried dish. The sauce comes in a bag, which I recommend transferring to a small tuperware container if you are planning to make this dish multiple times ( each bag has about 4 large servings.) I microwaved the frozen sauce alongside the rice for the last 30seconds of cook time, and they both came out fully heated. I deep fried the chicken for 4 minutes. Honestly, I haven’t had better tempura chicken in any restaurant I have been to. The sauce was tangy and light, and the chicken was crispy and tender-it didn’t taste as though it had been frozen at all. At only about 4 minutes cooking time- Trader Joe’s Tempura Chicken is an easy and delicious choice for dinner or lunch.

Curry Heaven

Curry Heaven is a new (and welcomed) addition to Williamsburg. The area offers few options for Indian cuisine, all of which are over-priced and poor quality. Still, they manage to stay in business because there frankly weren't any better options-until now. Opening only 3 weeks ago, Curry Heaven is the only all organic Indian restaurant in NYC. Their menu is not online yet, so I opted to to order there and wait. The menu has all of your basic Indian fare with an unusual amount of seafood options, ranging from the more typical fish curry to lobster tikka masala, something I have never seen on an Indian menu. The owners will make anything you want though, so even if you don't see it on the menu, just ask and they will be more than happy to accommodate you! I ordered the chicken curry(7.99) and a mango lassi(2.99), which took less than 10 minutes for them to prepare. While I waited the owner brought me a complimentary basket of Paratha with two dipping sauces that I didn't see on the menu. Super nice of him! I took my food home with me, and was surprised at the large portion size of every single thing I ordered when I opened up the bag.

The mango lassi in particular was huge-they had filled up a whole soup container with it! It was so fresh that I honestly think they may have pureed the mango in the back while I waited-amazing! The chicken curry was decent, but I was hoping it would have had a little bit more spice in it. I'm sure if I had asked they would have been able to do that though, so I don't fault the restaraunt. Otherwise, the flavors were all powerful and amazing-and the chicken was tender and juicy. I have to go back and try more of the entrees, but I was overall very pleased with my experience at Curry Heaven.
Address: 513 Grand St. Brooklyn, NY 11211
Phone: 718-388-3021
Typical Entree Price: $7 for Vegetarian, $9 for Meat
Grade: B

Yola's Cafe

It took me longer than it should have to try out Yola’s seeing as I live 5 blocks away, but damn am I glad I did! Somehow New York, the city that has everything, manages to be almost entirely devoid of good Mexican food.
With my discovery of Yola’s though, my search for a decent Mexican was finally over. I ordered the Carne soft taco (3.00) which came loaded with guacamole, onions, and cilantro.

The guacamole was creamy and fresh, and the steak was incredibly tender. I was hoping the seasoning on it would be stronger-but this was quickly remedied by a dash of both the red and green salsas, which were smoky tasting and amazing! My friend ordered the carne enchilada hard taco(3.00)-which was a spicier, saltier version of what I got and came with sour cream and cheese.

I loved the meat, but missed the guacamole, which only comes with the soft tacos. Still hungry- we decided to order another round. We both opted for the carnita soft taco this time, which was equally as amazing as the carne.

The meat was slow cooked and again, incredibly tender. Yola’s is basic-you wont’t find anything fancy on the menu, but that is more than fine with me. If you ever find yourself around the Lorimer stop off the L train, I recommend stopping in at Yola’s-you won’t be disappointed!

Address: 524 Metropolitan Ave Brooklyn, NY 11211
Phone: 718-486-0757
Average Price: $3 for tacos/fajitas/tostadas, $8-10 for entrees

Eat Cheap!

It's no secret that New York has some of the best food there is to offer, but all too often it comes with a hefty price tag. 2o dollars for a hamburger? No thank you! As a food lover on a budget, I've made it my mission to uncover some of New York's cheapest (and most delicious!) eats. I'll also be exploring ways to cook inexpensive meals at home. Check back soon for more updates, but until then, happy eating!