Friday, December 30, 2011

Non-traditional Christmas Dinners

361 days until Christmas 2012! I hope you all delighted in holiday festivities this year and enjoyed and embraced with loved ones.

This year, we split our time between hubby's family and my family, and lucky for us, that means not one, but TWO Christmas dinners!

Our families are prime examples of how there are many different ways to celebrate the holidays.  One tradition is Asian style (over Korean BBQ or Chinese food), while another is the traditional American feast at home.  Here are some pictures of how we feasted over the holiday.  After all, remember food is just the accessory when you're surrounded by the people you love!

While visiting family in New Jersey on Christmas Eve, we wandered over to Chung Sol Bat in Edison for a fantastic Korean BBQ dinner. The portion sizes were plentiful and the quality of food was very good.  Everything is shared amongst your party and the meats are cooked right in the middle of the table.  If you're ever in the area, this place is a solid choice!

Assortment of banchan (small side dishes) were shared with the table
Kalbi cooking over hot coals
Almost ready to eat!
The whole spread.  Plentiful? YES!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NJ: So Kong Dong

This week between Christmas and New Years is one of my favorite times of year.  I usually take the week off and spend it with my mommy shopping and eating our way through New Jersey.

One restaurant that I've been recommended to try over and over again is So Kong Dong in Fort Lee, NJ.  They specialize in Korean soft tofu stew (soondubu jigae) which is perfect for a cold winter day (or even on a hot summer day - I love it all year round!).  I've recently been hit with a cold so nothing better than some hot soupy soondubu!

Front of legendary tofu institution So Kong Dong

When you first pull in, its a small and unassuming restaurant.  Although its commonly called So Kong Dong, the sign outside says Soft Tofu Restaurant so keep an eye out for that!

The simple menu only offers two things - tofu stew (which you can get in all different flavors and/or customize by combining flavors), and Kalbi BBQ short ribs.

Simple menu offering only soondubu and kalbi

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smith & Wollensky

Even though I've been living in NYC for over 8 years, it's actually taken me this long to try one of our city's staples - Smith & Wollensky!  Admittedly not a fan of big steak dinners (I like variety in my entree!), this was a pleasant surprise.

Compared to other steak houses in the city, it's not as modern as places like Del Friscos or BLT Prime.  It feels like an old school steakhouse, but at the same time doesn't exude the same old-time bare bones feel as Keane's does. 

The service was pleasant and our server was attentive.  My only qualm was when he cringed his nose and shook his head when I ordered the Filet Mignon instead of the Rib Steak.  He can cringe all he wants, but I really enjoyed the Filet!!

Appetizers: we ordered the Fried Calamari and the Tomato with Bufala Mozzarella.  Basic choices, they were good but nothing special to note.

Fried Calamari
Tomato & Bufala Mozzarella
And now for the main event - our steaks!  We had the Cajun Spiced Filet Mignon and the New York Cut Sirloin (On the Bone).  The Filet was tender and the cajun sauce was flavorful but not overpowering.  Thumbs up!  The New York Cut Sirloin also got stellar reviews from my fellow diners.
Cajun Spiced Filet Mignon
New York Cut Sirloin (On the Bone)
For sides we had the creamed spinach and onion rings.  Both were good, and before I remembered to grab a picture, there were only bits of food left on the plate! Oops :)

Last but especially not least, what steak dinner is complete without a bottle of red wine?? We loved the Sequoia Grove 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.  Before even tasting it, I knew I would love love love this bottle.  2007 was a stellar year for California Cabernets.  To top that, this wine hails from the Rutherford region in Napa, which I have a biiig soft spot for!

Fun fact: That region yields wines made from grapes which have a distinct character referred to as "Rutherford Dust".  Don't worry, it doesn't actually taste dusty!  In my opinion it does taste earthy, mineral-y and you pick up the tannins that are in the wine.  My favorite wines are from this region, and Sequoia Grove's 2007 Cabernet was no exception.  It was so good that we got another bottle!

Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley
Smith & Wollensky is a traditional steakhouse and the food was done well.  The service was spot on.  Also good wine puts me in a very good mood, so I'll give this a...

Piggy says yes!

Piggy KL

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brunch @ Little Giant

As much as I dislike making my way down to the LES ( its just so hard to get there!), I inevitably find myself heading there all the time for all sorts of reasons.  Recently, thought, its primarily been food and drink related (no shocker here). 

This past weekend, I made my way there for an early brunch at Little Giant.

Front facade of Little Giant
I love that you can make reservations here (even for brunch).  Readers take note though - even though their website says they open at 10am, we had to wait outside until they "opened" at 11am.  Not sure what that was about, but just wanted to give you all a heads up that if you have an 11am reservation and get there early you may end up waiting outside for a bit until they're ready.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baking: Peppermint Layer Cookies

Are you still searching for cookie recipes to round out your assortment this year? These Peppermint Layer Cookies (recipe via are so pretty and perfect for the holiday season! They also taste delicious too, it's like eating a candy cane in cookie form.  The peppermint flavor from the extract and also the crushed candy canes give it an extra special twist.

This recipe involves a lot more steps than my recipe for cookie press cookies, but the extra effort does show.  Look how pretty they are!

Peppermint Layer Cookies

Peppermint Layer Cookies

Makes ~70 cookies

1 cup Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup Sugar
3 cups Flour (have more on hand for rolling the dough)
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 Whole Egg + 2 Egg Yolks
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Peppermint Extract

20-25 drops Red food coloring
15-20 drops Green food coloring
10 oz. White Chocolate, melted
4 Candy Canes, very finely crushed

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Le Comptoir

I've just had another wonderful meal in Williamsburg and I can't wait to share this little gem with you!

My fellow eater recently returned from a trip to Europe where she enjoyed a meal at a restaurant called Le Comptoir.  When perusing (for those of you unfamiliar with, its a site where you can make reservations at certain restaurants for a nominal fee and receive 30% off your bill), she found a restaurant in Williamsburg with the same name.  Although it's unrelated to the one in Europe, she thought it was a good omen and quickly snatched up a reservation for our dinner date.  Plus, who doesn't love a discount on dinner?

So off we went to Le Comptoir in Williamsburg.  Dont' be discouraged by its location - Le Comptoir is only a short walk from the L-train Bedford station. When you get to the restaurant, you are greeted with this sign out front:

$1 oysters?  Great food?  Sexy chef?  I love it all!  Without setting a foot inside, I already have a good feeling about this place! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Baking: Butter Cookie Recipe for Cookie Press

Yesterday I got on the step stool and pulled out my collection of sprinkles, holiday cookie boxes, and all my baking tools from the top shelf of my cupboards.  You know what that means! It's time for holiday cookies!!

I love gifting baked goods for the holidays - it's thoughtful and delicious too!  One of my basic staples for the holidays (and not just Christmas!) is butter cookies made with a Cookie Press.  Some poo-poo cookie press cookies as an easy way out, but I totally disagree! These wind up taking me just as long to decorate as it would to bake a more complex cookie.  Besides, they're so delicious, you can't have just one!

Here is a butter cookie recipe that has been passed along from my mom.  It calls for minimal ingredients, all of which are kitchen standards anyway.  This is also a great holiday activity to do with kids!

Basic Butter Cookies
1 Stick of Unsalted Butter, left at room temperature for 15-20 minutes
1/4 cup Brown Sugar (packed!)
1 Egg Yolk
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 cup Flour

For decorating:  Sprinkles!!!

Cream butter and sugar. (Begin by cutting the butter into the sugar using two knives, until the butter is is tiny chunks.  Then finish off with a pastry blender).

*Baking tip: Don't throw away that butter wrapper just yet! Use it to grease your cookie sheet.*

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tea @ Harney & Sons

All this holiday shopping is wearing me down!  After a long afternoon of perusing the shops in SoHo, I was desperately in search of a nice cup of tea and possibly some baked goodies to go with my drink.  Lucky for me, Harney & Sons was right around the corner!

Harney & Sons is a tea shop in SoHo that offers an incredible assortment of loose teas.  I am talking shelves up to the ceiling filled with teas!  They even have one of those rolly library ladders so that they can get to the teas up top.  Take a look:

Harney & Sons shop with the wall of teas on the right!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dutch

There is a lot of buzz going on now about The Dutch, and after going on a Friday night, I'm definitely a fan too!

The Dutch exterior (Source:
I had a late dinner reservation at 10:15. Even still, I had to wait for a table. One opened up in the front room at 10:40, but I opted to wait for one in the back room which is generally a bit quieter and more spacious. It wasn't much longer and we were sitting by 10:50 in a cozy booth.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rodeo Bar


I’ve been going to Rodeo Bar for years now.  Not sure why I love it so much, but I do.  In fact, I’m not the only one – Rodeo Bar was also mentioned in the opening chapters of Something Borrowed (on page 198 Rachel stops by Rodeo Bar for a drink!). 

Entrance to Rodeo Bar

Upon first look, Rodeo Bar doesn’t look like much. And then you go on inside...

Inside of Rodeo Bar - "Make Beans Not War!"

...and you realize it still doesn’t look like much.  A bit of a dive-y feel to be honest.  But its got a great bar area, big seating with more room in the back, and it begins to grow on you. 

The menu offers a bit of BBQ, a bit of Mexican, and a bit of Southern comfort food.  Basically, if you’re having a bad day this is the best place to console yourself.  Or if you’re having a good day, feel free to throw down with a margarita or beer.  Isn’t it just perfect for all moods? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cooking: Gai Lan with Garlic Sauce

Next to being a super duper carb-monster, I'm a pretty fabulous veggie-inhaler as well.  My parents never had to tell me to eat my greens twice.  No problem!  These days, I tend to position myself closest to them at the dinner table.  If you ever wind up eating with me, consider yourself warned! I may or may not be the reason why the veggies are disappearing :)

One of the vegetables I grew up eating are Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli).  It's green and leafy and good for you too.  My Dad still makes this pretty often and I've finally learned how he makes it taste SO darn good!  He serves Gai Lan with his wonderfully fragrant Garlic sauce, which is quick and easy to make, and very versatile.  It can be mixed with almost any vegetables (think bok choy, string beans, or a mix of zucchini/mushrooms/baby corn, etc).  I love Garlic and am pretty generous with it when cooking, so don't be afraid to throw in a few extra cloves like I do!

Here's a quick, easy and pretty healthy recipe (courtesy of my Dad aka my greatest cooking teacher!).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brunch: Virage

The East Village is filled with hidden gems and tasty hole-in-the-wall joints.  After making the rounds of my usual favorite brunch spots, I stumbled upon Virage which is quickly becoming a top favorite of mine!

Touting itself as a restaurant that offers a "French/Italian/Middle Eastern menu", I love that it represents just what the East Village is - a smorgasbord of things I like.  But let me be clear - Virage is not fabulous and filled with glitterati, it's not the next up and coming posh spot, nor is the food all organic and locally sourced.  But its me and I love it.

Inside of Virage

Upon entering, you get a feel of a great neighborhood spot.  I love the straw backed chairs, cozy bar area in the back, the black and white checked floors, and the eclectic decoration.  Plus, its packed!  Clearly a neighborhood favorite!

Scouting out my options...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cooking: Roasted Chestnuts

Bring on the holiday tunes and all the glitter and ribbons!  Roasting chestnuts is just one of the things I look forward to during this season.  What's great is they're super easy to make and affordable too. You can pop these quickly in the oven, but I just use my toaster oven and that works great too!

Roasted Chestnuts

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 20 mins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and thoroughly dry your chestnuts.

Mark an 'X' on the flat side of your chestnuts with a knife.  This is essential, because it allows the steam to escape while the chestnuts are cooking.  Otherwise they may explode in your oven!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Houston's (aka Hillstone)

What happened here???  My go-to spot in the city is what happened...

Everybody has their own “go-to” restaurant in the city.  A place where you can always count on the consistency of the food, you always order the same one or two things, and you always get this sense of happiness when you are there.  First place that comes to mind?  Houston’s is it (I know I know, they changed their name to Hillstone but I refuse to accept)!

Yes, Houston's is a chain.  And yes, I acknowledge that NYC does have a lot to offer in terms of eating options.  But Houston's is one of the best when it comes to great service, consistent quality in the food, nice atmosphere, and manageable pricing.  Most importantly, I have never walked out of Houston's less than satisfied. 

I love the open kitchen in each of Houston's locations

Thursday, December 8, 2011

NJ: Shanghai Noodle House

We all have that one restaurant that you always crave.  The one restaurant that you always find yourself eating at when you are in the neighborhood.  For me, my calling is at Shanghai Noodle House in Edison, NJ.
My favorite meal!  Read on to find out more!

Every time I go back to see my mom in NJ, I definitely have to must be no other option have a meal at Shanghai Noodle House.  My family has been going to the original location, Shanghai Bun in Matawan NJ, since it first opened 10+ years ago.  Even though it was a 45 min drive (was only 20 min before but my mom moved!) we still made the trip for my necessary bowl of noodles each and every time I came back to good ‘ole Jerz.  

Last year, I heard rumor that they were opening a second outpost in Edison, NJ.  And so, one glorious evening, my mom took me to scope out the situation and HUZZAH!  The rumors were true and the new location was only a 10 minute drive from my Mom’s place!  

Front of Shanghai Noodle House in Edison, NJ!! (pic from

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Palm

On the Tuesday before Thanksigiving, the bf asked me to prepare a "Friendsgiving" dinner for a bunch of his buddies, kicking off the holiday eating spree.  I prepared a fabulous home-cooked feast (including the honey glazed ham that I posted about here) and to thank me, the bf took me to dinner at The Palm!

The Palm is a low key steakhouse - laid-back feel with lots of wooden booths and caricatures on the wall.  No stuffiness here!  You could easily mistake it for an Italian restaurant but they offer a traditional NY steakhouse dinner with all the fixings (and a full bar of course)!

Loved the caricatures on the wall!  (Apologies on the terrible picture - no flash)

This year is the Palm's 85th anniversary and to celebrate they were offering a special anniversary special:
The Palm's 85th anniversary special menu

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I've got a soft spot for Italian fine-dining.  In recent years I've realized just how amazing and beautiful homemade sauces and pastas are!  Because of this, it tends to be the cuisine of choice when I'm celebrating a special occasion.  For this recent occasion, the hubby and I originally had a dinner reservation at Chef Michael White's Marea, which we dined at last year.  The food was wonderful (especially the pasta!) but in the heat of the moment, we decided to be adventurous and try something new.  And that is how we wound up at Ciano.  (Boy are we kicking ourselves now!)

Located in Flatiron, Ciano has a rustic feel with a fireplace, dark wood and earthy tones.  We got a great table on the 2nd floor in the corner.  They offer a Pasta Tasting Menu (for $89 per person) which we were really excited to try!
Six course pasta tasting menu at Ciano for $89 per person
Unfortunately it did not live up to our expectations.  The food was ok - while there was nothing particularly negative to note, we both were not wowed by any course.  The downfall of our experience was the service.  I must preface, this is a $$$-category restaurant and is up there in the list of finer dining in NYC.  And with that comes a high expectation for exceptional service.  It fell flat. Here's how my night went...

Upon sitting down, half my place setting was missing.  I asked the server specifically for the missing items, but was brought the wrong ones anyway.  I reminded him I was missing a fork and a plate, not a spoon and a knife.  Perhaps he was just busy and didn't hear me.  *Shrug* let's move on.  I'll sum up the rest of the service later, food first!

First up was the Housemade Egg Caper Noodles with Lobster.  I didn't think the lobster was at it's peak freshness, though hubby thought his tasted fine.  The noodles, sadly, did not seem to be the highlight of this course even thought it was a Pasta Tasting Menu.  Mainly because, there was barely any on the plate.

The little curly-cue you spot are the few strands of pasta

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dinners & Lunches in Taiwan

In my last post I re-lived some of my favorite small eats in Taiwan.  There are endless casual and delicious places to discover! However there are also a ton of sit-down places and finer dining.  The cuisine in Taiwan is very heavily influenced by the Japanese, so it really is a wonderful fusion of Chinese and Japanese. Here's a smattering of a couple of the bigger meals I had in Taipei!

Business Lunch at Sumie
One huge difference between Taiwan and the US is that they actually take lunch hours! While the norm for us (especially in the Financial industry) is that we grab something really quick and work while eating at our desks, the norm in Taiwan is to get away from the office and have an hour+ long meal.  So jealous!  As such 'Business Lunches' are quite popular.  While I was in Taipei I tried the Business Lunch menu at Sumie, in the San Want Hotel.  It cost about $30 to $40 USD per person.  We got a lot of food for the value, check it out:

Prices for the Business Lunch vary depending on the main 'entree' that you choose, but you still get [Before your entree] Sushi, Salad, Appetizer (Eggplant), Mushroom and Turnip Soup, [After your entree] Oden with Miso Soup, Mochi dessert. So much food!

Eggplant appetizer.  Delicious! and Beautiful

Friday, December 2, 2011

Small bites in Taiwan!

I've returned from my trip to Taiwan, and I can confidently say I lived up to my Piggy name!  Taiwan has an abundance of good eats and I was fortunate enough to find amazing hole-in-the-wall places and also experienced some fancier dining as well.  Believe it or not I even found a Beef Noodle Soup Festival.  I've been back for over a week now and am going through withdrawal missing all the yummy Taiwanese treats I had.  In my next few posts I'll share some drool-worthy pics, and if you ever make your way to Taiwan be sure to message me and I'll share some of my favorite spots!

The trip started off great with a surprisingly delicious serving of chicken congee on our flight from JFK to Taipei.  It even came topped with ginger, scallions and mushrooms. Well done Eva Air!

One of the things I love most (and therefore miss most!) about Taiwan is breakfast time.  It's no ordinary danish or toasts there.   We're talking about egg pancakes, radish buns, meat buns, soybean milk, fried crullers, rice 'burritos'... gosh the list goes on, and now I'm totally making myself hungry again even though I just ate dinner :(

There was an awesome family-run Taiwanese breakfast joint right around the corner from my in-law's apartment. Quite literally - a hole in the wall.
Here's the "menu"... I would offer some translation except the only things I can decipher are the numbers!  Don't worry, I took pictures...
Egg pancakes ("dan bing").  Light and fluffy beaten egg is topped with a thin pancake and rolled up.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brunch: Elephant & Castle

Sometimes you give a brunch spot a go and love it.  Then you go back a second time and then finally see it for what it really is.  Total bummer.  I am sad to report that I recently experienced this beauty vs beast type situation during brunch at Elephant & Castle.

Elephant & Castle (pic from nymag)
Beauty experience: The first time I went to brunch at Elephant & Castle, I rolled in around 11am. Crazy I know, but I've recently gotten into the habit of going to brunch early.  Not sure if I've been waking up earlier just to beat the rush, or if I just happen to beat the rush because I've been getting up earlier "naturally".  Either way, that first time brunching at Elephant & Castle was glorious.  We walked right in and got seated right away at a table of our choice.  Score!

The inside was simple and charming.  Yes the service was a bit spotty but I just wrote that off as a one-off occurrence.  My food still came quickly and I enjoyed my brunch.  I promptly put Elephant & Castle on my "favorites" list.

The charming setting inside (pic from nymag)