I know I’m going to disappoint you with this post since it’s about hanging out at Helen’s place in Staten Island. If you hate me for writing about this you may turn your back at me and wait ’til I write another restaurant review. I’m sorry but we made tons of sweets from scratch that I think it’s blog worthy.
Earlier this month, I planned to have a baking day with Helen. You know, the girl who loves to take portraits of me with my camera and she eats out with me pretty often? In case you didn’t know, she doesn’t know how to cook or bake. Unless you consider cooking instant ramen cooking, which does not count at all in my world. Poor thing. So, I’m willing to dedicate at least a day just to give her a lesson or two on baking techniques since it’s a Saturday that we’re both free and we our baking theme was based on our obsession – CHOCOLATE.
Around 9 AM, I managed to haul my butt from Queens (that’s where I reside, in case you didn’t know) all the way down to Battery Park so I could catch the Staten Island Ferry at 10. I wanted an early start since I had the eerie feeling that Helen forgotten to pick up a few things and we have to prepare stuff (like chopping two pounds of chocolate) in order to make stuff (cake, pudding, and brownies).
Strangely, most of the people who were surrounding me in the photos you see above, were mainly tourists since they all scrambled to the windows when it’s passing near the Statue of Liberty. The fifteen to twenty minute ride was surprisingly tranquil. The boat was relatively clean, roomy and it doesn’t rock to the currents of the East River so I don’t feel sea sick, not like I am sea sick but it’s just for your reference.
Once I touched solid ground in the foreign borough of Staten Island, I called Helen to pick me up. When she’s drove us back to her house, I thought Staten Island is a hybrid of Long Island and Queens. It’s suburban, you can’t go anywhere without a car, and real estate is relatively cheap compared to any other borough in New York City.
When we finally got to her house, I met her adorable grandparents who were visiting from Korea and I took a brief tour around her place. As we started to prep the chocolate in her kitchen, letting Helen do some chopping, I’ve started reading through the recipes’ ingredients out loud to check she has bought what we needed but she realized that there’s no sugar in her house…
At Helen’s place?! That’s unheard of!
Yes, the exclamations and capitalizations were necessary because if you hanged out with Helen long enough, you know she’s a sugar freak. The only sweetener in her house was Equal and I will not allow any artificial sweetener touch the desserts or I will protest. Since she knew that and we’re both getting hungry, she proposed eating lunch at a pizza place that she thought as an equivalent to John’s Pizzeria and pick up some sugar on the way back.
Helen drove for ten minutes or so to Goodfella’s. When we walked in, requesting for a table for two, the waiter told us that they were hosting a private party apologized and turned us away. We’re both saddened with that message. Since I’m dying of starvation, I told her just drive us back to her home and re-heat her grandma’s beef stew since I love delicious homemade food, even if it’s leftovers. But Helen was determined to go to the other Goodfella’s location that’s in the southern part of Staten Island (another 25-minute drive) and lo and behold we have PIZZA.
Ordered our pizza to-go since we have to drive back to the ferry to pick Giulia up to join us. While Helen’s driving I’m eating half the personal sized, “Old World” cheese pizza. I was pleasantly surprised that the thin crust was quite tasty and it held the cheese and tomato sauce well. Actually, the cheese was the base and there’s dollops of sauce around the pie so the crust wouldn’t be soggy. The mozzarella cheese was creamy and a bit stringy at each bite that I was eating in content silence. Was it similar to John’s? Not really. It lacked that charred flavor that John’s has.
We picked up Giulia from the ferry (nearly ten minutes late) and went to the nearest supermarket to pick up a bag of sugar and some fresh mozzarella to snack on later. We finally started cooking the custard (which was the milk chocolate banana pudding, using this recipe) and I worked on the base of the bittersweet cloud cake (recipe here). Giulia was Helen’s aid in terms of cooking the custard as well as working on her own food project – making salmon onigiri, which I’ll talk about shortly.
Fast forwarding about ten to fifteen minutes of cooking the custard to the desired consistency, I started to work on plating them. And it looks like this: [points down]
Once I was done plating, Helen was tempted to grab a spoon and dig in but thankfully, Giulia and I persuaded her not to by informing her that puddings and custards have to set up by cooling. Also letting her lick the spoon that scooped the pudding prevented her from doing so as well. Yes, we bribed her.
Giulia wanted to make bento boxes filled with salmon onigiri and vegetables for a friend of hers since she’s planning to go to Brooklyn Botanical Gardens the following day to look at the cherry blossoms. Since she doesn’t have a recipe, I can’t tell you how much of each ingredient in there. All I could tell you is that there’s soy sauce, salt, and black pepper that marinated the fish and cooked rice is always on hand in Helen’s house. So, here’s the photo splodge of how she shaped the onigiri free-handed (view from left to right for each row) with Helen’s help on tearing up the nori:
When Giulia had made enough for her bentos and made a couple of extras for us to try, I was really amazed how delicious they were. The rice was warm, slightly sticky and firm on the outside. Soft and filled with a good amount of salmon in the middle. This three-bite onigiri certainly whet my appetite for more food.
While we’re waiting for the cake and pudding to cool, Helen gave us a brief run-through of her pantry since she never really look at her pantry. Strangely enough, she plopped this can of silkworm pupae on the table before Giulia and I and she claimed that it’s tasty. I would have tried it if I wasn’t baking everything we’ve made so far. Actually looking through the interwebs, it’s actually a popular Korean snack called beondegi. Is it really good? I won’t know until I visit her house next time…
The cake has finally cooled so we made the chocolate glaze (which does look more like ganache than a glaze). I let Giulia take control of spreading on that silky, chocolate-y heaven on that cake.
When it’s done, we’ve plated and I gilded the lily by adding whipped cream and white chocolate shavings on the cake. Hey, we’re indulging today so might as well add another notch. Anyway, as you can see Helen was dying for a large piece or probably she’s just plain hungry. The cake was light, almost cloud-like but it packed a heavy punch of chocolate with every silky bite. The problem is, after I was done eating my piece I started to feel full…and we didn’t even eat real food yet!
While we were eating the cake, the brownies were getting cooled so we can cut them up into portions. Thankfully, I didn’t overbake them since I don’t like cake-y brownies. I want the fudge-y, decadent, in your face chocolate punch at every bite with walnuts flecked in them for textural contrast, which we did get from the recipe from the Essence of Chocolate. We’re extremely happy albeit sugar and chocolate overloaded women. And we’re just two-thirds through our chocolate dessert tasting.
Helen’s grandmother started to join us in the kitchen by re-heating the beef stew she made a few days ago. As the stew boils away, the savory, meaty scent perfumed the entire kitchen that my stomach started to growl.
While Helen was getting some kimchi for us, I managed to take this photo. For once, this is candid without her posing like she usually does. I just love the expression.
So, we started to set up the table with what normally would be a Korean meal – a bowl of rice, kimchi, and for our dinner, the beef stew.
If you understood why I love meat stews of any type (especially the ones with tough cuts of meat), you see why from that photo above. The luscious texture of melted collagen and fat makes the beef oh so tender and it melts in your mouth. Gah, I was in heaven. The kimichi was spicy enough that gave a pleasant burning sensation in my mouth. It was all delicious with the rice and beef stew that I wish I could borrow Helen’s grandma for a day to make me a batch or two. I would ask for the recipe but she doesn’t speak or understand English. Bummer.
Now we finally complete our overextended dessert flight with the milk chocolate banana pudding. The recipe worked really well. The chocolate didn’t compete with the banana flavor and the wafer gave it a nice textural crunch to everything silky and smooth. We loved it but we’re stuffed to the gills that we became lazy bums and just sat back and let our bodies digest the food. We discussed and regretted starting the desserts with the cake since that’s the heaviest thing – we should have started with the pudding. But no worries, we managed to eat a little bit of everything.
This was a good day of baking and cooking. It’s fun and hell, I want to go back to Helen’s place just for the sake of trying that can of silkworm pupae and have some more stew and kimchi.