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Review: Le Train Bleu

Deep inside the recesses of Bloomingdale's flagship store on 59th Street in Manhattan is a gem of an upscale diner called Le Train Bleu. Located on the 6th floor and up a steep stairwell, the moment you hit the top, you're transported to another continent and another time.  The decor is decked out to look like a high-end railway dining car - including the exterior "loading platform" and the windows looking out over the East River (okay, so now they look out over a skyscraper but let's not kill the visuals).

The waitstaff is fast and efficient and the menu finely French. The food was good, though a bit under-salted for me (which is highly unusual).  The best part of the place, though, is that the late afternoons are quiet so conversation is easy and comfortable.

Steak Frites

Duck Breast

Side Salad

Spinach Salad with mushrooms

Le Train Bleu
Inside Bloomingdales, 6th Floor
1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street
New York, NY 10022

Open Daily - check Bloomingdales website for hours

Images by MadeForJen


Guacamole, Round 2

This one was made with late summer California Hass avocados.

Image by MadeForJen


More Mini Cupcakes

A little decoration never hurt anyone.  Chocolate cupcakes, from scratch, with vanilla.

Image by MadeForJen


Cauliflower Soup

Comfort food for a chilly day or a late suppery-snack.

Cauliflower soup

Boil a head of cauliflower in water with a dash of salt until very soft, then blend with 1/2C chicken or vegetable stock, 3 Tb butter, and some spices (marjoram, ground rainbow peppercorn and parsley here) until smooth. Serve with some bacon (to offset the creaminess) and toasts.

Image by MadeForJen


Review: Niçoise at Artisanal

This weekend we stopped for a quick bite at Artisanal - a French wine and cheese bistro in midtown Manhattan. Jen was in the mood for niçoise and has declared theirs as the best ever.

While I personally don't have much taste for the sardines, the dressing was fantastic and the beans and tuna were perfectly cooked. PS - it's actually much larger - they split it for us.

Image by MadeForJen

2 Park Avenue at 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016


Chinese Meatballs and Noodles from Leftovers

When I finished making the potstickers, I had some leftover filling that turned out to be perfect for some little Chinese-inspired meatballs that we tossed with some perciatelli (super thick spaghetti, my favorite pasta), chives and cilantro (and a tablespoon of soy to flavor the noodles).

This got paired with a rice vinegar dressed salad of arugula, cucumber and marinated red onions to bring up the acidity.

Images by MadeForJen


Sprinkles Cupcakes

No, of course I didn't make this (I bought it) but I couldn't resist the photo. S'more cupcake by Sprinkles - graham cracker base, chocolate cake, toasted marshmallow top - perfect.

Image by Janis Nicolay


Egg, Avocado and Sprouts

Mmm. Avocado, alfafa sprouts, fried egg, toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel.

Image by MadeForJen


Dark Chocolate Bacon Strips

A lot of chocolate this week. After the salted chocolate, the next phase was marrying the dark chocolate to my favorite bacon. Here it's a quick snack served with ripe black Mission figs.

The idea for it started as a garnish for a dessert (coming up) but after I made them, they were so good I ended up just eating them as is. And I wish I could say there is some incredibly complex preparation for this but in fact it was so simple!

3oz good dark chocolate (70% minimum - for this I used 85% Green & Black)
6 strips thinly sliced smoked bacon (tastes better smoked)

Microwave the bacon in paper towels until all the fat has come out and the bacon is pretty crisp all through, then cool in fridge. Meanwhile, melt good dark chocolate (preferably in a double boiler, but if not, melt it in a bowl in the microwave in 20 second shots until just starting to melt, then stir until complete). Carefully break the bacon strips in half. Use chopsticks or a fork to dip the strips into the chocolate, place on some parchment, and cool in fridge.

Image by MadeForJen


Sweet, Savory and Salty

Most chefs agree that the best dishes have mixed flavor and texture profiles that both compliment and offset each other.  The basic idea is to have no single flavor dominate because it becomes overwhelming.

Here's a simple snack plate that you might try: a piece of salted chocolate paired with blue cheese and a juicy sweet fruit. In this case, a 1/2 oz chunk of homemade dark chocolate with sel gris (grey sea salt) is plated with a piquant blue (Bleu d'Avergne) and a juicy, ripe lychee.  Mix to your taste - if blue is too strong, go with more mild, like a cheddar or gouda. If lychee is too sweet, figs or pear are also good.

Image by MadeForJen


Gilt Taste

The other day, I showed Jen this rather amazing site, Gilt Taste, and she nearly bowled over when she saw these amazing chocolate figs.

For those who have never seen Gilt Taste, it's a site that features mostly artisanal and hard-to-find culinary treats at cheaper-than-retail but the items are generally available only for a limited time.  I leave the sweet stuff to Jen, while I prefer to hang out in the meats and pantry sections.  My personal favorite was the (now sold-out) bacon jelly (yes, bacon jelly), but now I have my eye on a set of Artisan Bacons (see a recurring theme starting here?) to use as a base for some homemade bacon-flavored chocolates (sshh, don't tell Jen).

One more thing - as a software guy, I have to say that the site is so well done - clean and simple to use and with amazing attention to detail from the animated page headers (check out the flaming barbeque in the meats) to the super easy checkout.  Great job, Gilt!

What do you think you'd buy at Gilt?


Cupboard Essentials: Gnocchi

Stocking your pantry well is something of an art; being able to have enough things to whip a new creation out of a mixed bag of ingredients can be exciting but it starts with knowing what to keep on hand.

One item I highly recommend having is a couple bags of gnocchi.  I admit that fresh gnocchi is, despite its origin, an amazing delicacy. Nonetheless, a vacuum-sealed, store-bought bag can provide some amazing dishes (this brand, by the way, you can get at Walmart and many supermarkets).  Like any pasta, you can pair it with almost anything.  Guess I'll have to post some of those recipes soon :)

Image by MadeForJen


Birthday Wish

Today is my birthday and having started this blog to show one way I express my love for her, I am writing a very public love declaration to Jen.

Image by Janis Nicolay

Jen, as probably all of you know, is an incredible woman - she is talented, creative, beautiful, generous, ambitious, honest, loyal and loves Jesus.  We've been together for a very long time, against an enormous set of odds and I love her more every day.  Through everything, I've always told her that it was her smile that caught me, her eyes that captivated me, but her heart that kept me.

And that's the truth. Jen, above all, is heart. She puts her all into everything she does - whether it's running her business, playing around, or giving to someone in need. She is always first to reach into her pocket when she sees someone needing, and grieves for them privately after as she prays. She thanks me for all the things I do for her, and keeps an incredibly tidy house. She expresses her faith from the depth of her soul, and never misses a chance to do it. She treats everyone with respect, with dignity, and yet asserts herself with confidence.

Image by Yvonne Wong

I love that she notices the little things. I love that she hates my corny jokes and isn't afraid to tell me. I love that she is driven. I love that she twitches to do work while trying to relax, yet finds enough time to spend close to me. I love that we can walk and talk for blocks on end in the afternoons, that she loves her family with fervor, and that it's always authentic, always genuine.

I love Jennifer. I always have. She is my world and everything in it, and she's made that everything even better than I could have imagined.


Smart Snack

Buttered whole grain bran muffin, pecans and an apple.

Image by MadeForJen



Potstickers. Potstickers. Chinese dumplings. My favorite food, bar none, of all time.

Growing up with a Chinese mother, potstickers (jiaozi) were served frequently. Jen loves them too but hates the mess so unfortunately today the kitchen is going to get a little messy while I show ya'll how to make these tasty treats.

Just to be clear, we're making real potstickers here - traditional, juicy (read between the lines - fatty), pork-filled, fried potstickers.  However, these can be easily steamed or boiled, and can filled with nearly anything you like, so try some different things out.  The key to good potstickers is the dough, which is both the easiest thing to make and the easiest to screw up. And it takes some elbow grease, so get ready. Download recipe card here.

Dough Ingredients:
2 C all-purpose flour + 1/2 C for dusting
1 C boiling water
1/2 tsp table salt

3/4 lb ground pork
1 egg
1/4 C chopped scallions
1/2 C napa cabbage*
1 Tb finely diced ginger
1 Tb soy sauce
Oil (use a high-smoke point oil, like peanut)
1/2 C water

Mix the filling first. Blend the egg and put all ingredients together. In place of the cabbage, you can use almost any cruciferous or sprouted vegetable (in this one I used diced pea shoots for a little spiciness).  Set aside covered with wrap in the refrigerator.

Mix the flour, water and salt in a bowl and knead until smooth - about 5 minutes. Add flour if the dough is too sticky but it can have a slight tackiness. Mold into an even ball.

On a dusted surface, split the dough into 2 halves and roll them into 1" diameter tubes.  Using a sharp knife, cut 1" segments and ball them.  Keep dusting to prevent sticking. With each ball, flatten on the surface then use a pin to flatten the dough into 3" or 3 1/2" flats. Put 1 heaping teaspoon of mix into the center of the dough, fold over, then pleat one side, pressing into the other as you go.  This is what creates the traditional crescent shape.

In a hot skillet (over medium-high, and as always, I prefer cast iron). add 1 Tb oil and spread. Place the flat side of the dumplings into the pan.  After about 90-120 second, they will brown on that side (don't lift them until after they have had a chance to brown).  Once they are golden brown, add 1/4 C water and cover.  Cook for another 5 minutes, then remove and serve.

The sauce you use is really to taste and you can use all kinds of them, but they are just as good plain.  However, some of the simple sauce mixes that you might consider are: sesame oil with soy sauce, duck sauce (apricot) with soy sauce and chili flakes, or my favorite - cider vinegar with soy sauce (1 part each).

Good potstickers take a bit of practice and patience but once you get the swing of it, they become easy and pretty quick to make.  They freeze well and are good for at least 2 days in the fridge.

Images by MadeForJen and MadeByGirl


Sweet somethings

Chocolate sorbet with candied pecans. Oh my. Image by MadeByGirl.


Leftovers Puff

This is in honor of all the leftovers that seem to linger in the fridge uneaten. Here we had a few pan roasted baby potatoes, plus some leftover chicken and ham. To that I added some copped celery and sauteed them with some red onions and parsley, mixed it all together and wrapped it all in some puff pastry rustically, then baked it following the instructions until it was nice and golden brown.

I'm pretty sure you could fill it with nearly anything and you'd have a really cool new dish.  I think we're going to try:
  • Petite green peas
  • Roasted turkey
  • Shredded skirt steak (with a little chimichurri)
  • Cheese (soy cheese in our case, of course)
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Portobello mushrooms
What can you think of?

Image by MadeForJen