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Birthday Cake Ideas - Fruity, Custardy and/or Cheesecake-y

My go-to fruity festive cake is the Mango Trifle from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. I bake the batter in a jelly roll pan and then cut it into three rectangles which I stack with the mangoes. Much easier and fewer pans to clean up. I also skip the step where you are supposed to cook the mango and it tastes just as good, maybe even better. I cover the whole cake with whipped cream and then sprinkle toasted sliced almonds on top. It is light, refreshing, and delicious.

My aunt made it for her friend's 50th birthday party and it was such a hit that someone immediately offered her $200 to make three for her daughter's baby shower. Since then, she has reported back that adding a layer of lemon curd with the mangoes helps keep the mangoes in place and adds a custardy element that is well received.

What else to serve with oyster stew?

Pinehurst, after you suggested it, I couldn't get fennel out of my mind, even though I rarely cook with it. Ended up making just that, an arugula and fennel salad and it was DIVINE with the creamy oyster stew! I'm picking up more fennel this evening and making it again. Thanks for the suggestion!

Dec 27, 2013
metaphora in Home Cooking

What else to serve with oyster stew?

Heh, we actually were lucky enough to visit Benton's last October. Didn't get any ham on that trip, but we did walk away with 10lbs of that unbelievable bacon and several pounds of sausage.

Dec 20, 2013
metaphora in Home Cooking

What else to serve with oyster stew?

Wow, you guys are all AMAZING! I forgot to check back after posting and sat down this evening to discover such a wonderful list of suggestions! Thank you, everyone, who took the time to respond. I hadn't thought about ham, and that will definitely be on the menu.

Dec 20, 2013
metaphora in Home Cooking

What else to serve with oyster stew?

My boyfriend's mom loves oyster stew and we are going to make it for her birthday dinner, which happens to fall on Christmas Eve. Right now it's looking like we'll have rolls and/or cornbread, oyster stew, a light salad, and angel food cake for dessert, but it seems like we should have something else. Any thoughts?

Right now I'm leaning towards either a light pasta after the stew or several different finger foods leading up to the stew.

Nov 06, 2013
metaphora in Home Cooking

Need the ambience says "Wow! We're not in Kansas anymore!"

I second the suggestion to swap in Doughnut Plant, but only the one in the Lower East Side. The Chelsea one can be brutally unfriendly.

With regards to Chinatown, I skimmed the many responses you got and am not entirely sure why Noodletown fell off the list, but it definitely is a good choice, pricewise and foodwise (get the roast pork lo mein). I just took a large out of town group to Joe's Shanghai and it was the runaway hit of our 9 stop food tour. There's a place called Fried Dumpling on Mosco street where you can watch them make dumplings by hand and buy 5 for a dollar. If you want to try bubble tea, Vivi's on Bayard is one of the best places (they have the giant Homer Simpson outside their door) and very patient with questions (grapefruit and taro are the flavors my out of town friends like the most). Chinatown Ice Cream factory has amazing flavors. Note that NY Noodletown, Vivi's and Chinatown Ice Cream Factory are all on the same street and within steps of each other.

For dim sum, I haven't seen anyone recommend Sunshine 27, which is my favorite place, but with relatively long waits. You are almost guaranteed to be the only non-natives if you go there. However, the service can be downright rude by western standards which is exactly why I'm putting it on the list. i.e. I once got yelled at in rapidfire Cantonese for not speaking fast enough to the waiter :-) Ambiance? It's in spades here.

Village Yokochu in the East Village has been patient with the large groups I've gone there with, has a wide variety of kid-friendly food (yakitori, fried rice), and has awesome atmosphere.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

Great New York Noodletown
28 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St, New York, NY 10002

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St, New York, NY 10013

Vivi Bubble Tea
49 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

Village Yokocho
8 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003

Fried Dumpling
106 Mosco St, New York, NY 10013

27 Sunshine
46 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

Feb 22, 2012
metaphora in Manhattan

SO MUCH BALSAMIC VINEGAR--what to do with it??

I fourth this suggestion. Just make sure to do it on a day when you can throw a window open or run your vents on high while reducing it. The acid smell is pretty powerful!

Jan 03, 2012
metaphora in Home Cooking

West Village - quick and early dinner before concert

Snack Taverna is close by, plenty of vegetarian small plates, and I often order their vegetarian entree even though I'm a meat eater because it's so freaking good.

Snack Taverna
63 Bedford St, New York, NY 10014

Jan 03, 2012
metaphora in Manhattan

Fresh fruit recipe to lighten a heavy brunch menu?

I'm going to a brunch this Saturday and have been asked to bring something light, fresh, and fruity. Right now the current menu is:

scrambled eggs

I'm looking for something to offset the heaviness of this menu that isn't fruit salad yet uses mostly fresh fruit. Because the menu is already so carb heavy, I'd like to avoid anything baked. Anyone have ideas? All I can think of right now is a fresh fruit tart of some sort with a light puff pastry crust, or a fruit and yogurt parfait.

Nov 16, 2011
metaphora in Home Cooking

Best places to buy frozen dim sum - Chinatown

Can't help you with the char siu sou, unfortunately. I don't think I've ever seen them frozen. Have you tried Deluxe Food Market on Mulberry? The other place I'd recommend is Golden Steamer, right across the street from Deluxe, but to my knowledge, they only carry bread buns.

Deluxe Food Market
79 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

Golden Steamer
143 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

Nov 09, 2011
metaphora in Manhattan

Interesting Version of Beef Roll at 4 5 6 Restaurant on Mott Street

Thanks for pointing this out. I used to eat regularly at 101 Noodle Express and have been pining for an equivalent here in Manhattan. Going to head over there tomorrow to check it out. Any other recs for getting my beef roll fix in Manhattan?

Oct 18, 2011
metaphora in Manhattan

What foodstuffs should I buy to bring home?

Hi mrsfury:

I found Tony's at my local grocery store!! Which is great because it's raining up a storm right now and all I want is a giant pot of gumbo or jambalaya. And I will definitely be on the lookout for Scratchmo's. Ever since I got back, I've been buying New Orleans cookbooks and seems that creole mustard is a must-have ingredient. Thanks for the heads up!

Jan 18, 2010
metaphora in New Orleans

Californian needs help understanding country/virginia ham!!

Cool!! Thanks everyone! I guess I'll give it a shot this holiday weekend and see how I like the taste. And if I do, I'll definitely be ordering from some of the links y'all provided. I *knew* you guys would be able to help me identify what this is and how to work with it! Thanks so much.

Jan 15, 2010
metaphora in General Topics

ISO The fluffiest, fluffy, fluff flufferson lemon (layer) cake

I'm craving an airy, fluffy, lemon cake. Something I can serve with berries or layer some berry puree with. And maybe frost with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Frosting and lemon flavor are not as important as the texture of the cake. I'm craving melt in your mouth, lemon flavored air. Something along the lines of those lightly sweet cakes you get at asian bakeries that are inevitably layered with fresh fruit.

I thought about a lemon angel food cake, but those are almost too firm. There are a quite a few recommendations on this board, but nothing that ranks them in order of fluffy dreaminess.

Here's what I've found so far:

mtomto's recipe, unknown provenance:

numerous suggestions for the Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Curd and Mascarpone Frosting on epicurious. I think I've made this cake before and we're on the right track here, but I'd prefer something a little dryer. Maybe I need to bite the bullet and try making a genoise or sponge layer that's meant to be soaked in syrup or rolled into a jelly roll.

There's this thread, discussing the best lemon layer cake: Unfortunately, the link to the cake discussed the most (CI's and/or foodnetwork, hard to tell) appears to be dead. This is a shame because it's mentioned as being lighter than the one posted. The link to the martha stewart recipe is also dead.

Triple Lemon Layer Cake, from Fine Cooking, which according to the poster, beats out CI's cake.

Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake is described as "moist and tight-crumbed," so probably not what I'm looking for.

Does anyone out there have any thoughts on how these recipes rank according to lightness? Or do you have a truly fluffy lemon cake recipe to share?


Jan 15, 2010
metaphora in Home Cooking

Californian needs help understanding country/virginia ham!!

Thanks for the link, Janet. Looks like I might have to just bite the bullet and order myself a small country ham.

I'll go ahead and give it a whirl with what i have here, assuming I can fry it up properly first.


Jan 15, 2010
metaphora in General Topics

Californian needs help understanding country/virginia ham!!

Hi all:

I've been dying to try the Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham recipe on epicurious.

However, finding country ham in Los Angeles hasn't been easy. What I've read suggests that country ham is intensely flavored and much saltier than regular ham, and it seems to be only available via mail order outside the south.

Today, when I was at the asian market, I saw something labeled "Virginia Ham." I bought it (see photo). The asian market seems like a really strange place to find country ham, so I'm extremely skeptical and unsure if this is the same ham I need for the recipe. Yet some posts here seem to say that yes, indeed, the asian markets in CA carry something very close to country ham.

I have a LOT of questions:

1) Is country ham the same thing as virginia ham? The internet and another post here suggests it is.

2) Are there cooked v. uncooked versions of country ham? Is one synonymous with "country ham"? i.e. is country ham as called for in recipes typically cooked?

3) How do I know which type (cooked or uncooked) I need for this particular recipe?

4) And what I really want to know is this: What did I buy and is this what I need for my egg recipe?

Thanks all.

Jan 14, 2010
metaphora in General Topics

cookbooks: hidden gems?

Mrs Witty's Monster Cookies.

I bought this cookbook when I was a kid and it has beat back every single challenger over more than two decades of baking, including Maida Heatter's cookie cookbook.

Great topic, btw! I'm looking forward to picking up a lot of these suggestions.

Jan 14, 2010
metaphora in Home Cooking

What foodstuffs should I buy to bring home?

Thanks, ya'll! I ended up getting only a few items because I wanted to carry my bags, it looked like I could get some items (i.e., Steen's) via the internet, and because of the unseasonal cold that hit this past weekend. I wasn't packed to deal with wind chill, which cut down on a lot of sightseeing and shopping.

I passed on all of your wonderful wonderful suggestions to a law professor friend of mine who was VERY impressed with the range and variety of foodstuffs you had suggested. She was thrilled to have a list of NOLA-only items to shop for, got all her gift shopping done in one trip and left with a huge smile on her face.

I picked up a TON of Camellia's beans (especially after having the black eyed pea cassoulet served with the smoked duck at Palace Cafe), file powder, and coffee. I didn't see any Zapp's Spicy Creole Tomato chips, sadly, even though I looked. And I'm kicking myself now for not picking up any Tony's; for some reason I swore I had seen some here in California and decided to pass, but now it appears I might have been wrong.

I also looked for Scratchmo's Creole Mustard, but not that hard, because it probably would have meant checking my bags, and I didn't think any jar of mustard was worth the $25 bag check fee. I'm kind of on the fence about it now because so many recipes refer specifically to creole mustard and I wish I had it. However, I read about one brand that Williams Sonoma carries, so I guess I'll stick with that till I return to New Orleans.

You guys are the BEST!!

Jan 14, 2010
metaphora in New Orleans

What foodstuffs should I buy to bring home?

Wow, you guys are AWESOME!! Thanks for all the suggestions and keep them coming!

I have no idea what part of LA the boyfriend's family is from, and will make an effort to find out.

Getting over here wasn't as bad as I expected with the new terrorist levels. However, I was asked to repack my carry-on bags or check one because I had, ahem, two bags and a netbook in my hands.

What does one use Steen's cane syrup for? Pecan pies? My boyfriend has a raging sweet tooth, so that will definitely be part of the mix. Y'all have given me such great ideas that I'm considering shipping back a box of olive salad, steens cane syrup, red beans, creole cream cheese, andouille, coffee....argh! The list is too long already! :)

Jan 07, 2010
metaphora in New Orleans

Easy but a-m-a-z-i-n-g cookie recipe??

This past holiday season, a friend shipped over a package of homemade cookies that included Drommer Cookies as posted in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago. When I hit the Drommer cookies, I stopped eating everything else and gorged on those. I would have sworn they were made with ground almonds, but apparently brown butter is what gives these their unique flavor. Make sure to use quality vanilla. I made one batch with cheap mexican vanilla because I had nothing else left and the chemical taste totally showed through.

Drommer Cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) butter
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. good quality vanilla
36 blanched almond halves

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Pour into a large bowl, making sure to add any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; cool completely, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, stir flour and baking powder together; set aside.

Add sugar to browned butter. Beat with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy; beat in vanilla. Blend in flour mixture; beat until just combined. Form into 1-inch balls; transfer to a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Press an almond half on top of each cookie to flatten. Bake until cookies begin to brown, 50 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen.

Jan 06, 2010
metaphora in Home Cooking

What foodstuffs should I buy to bring home?

Hi all:

I'll be visiting New Orleans this weekend, staying in the French Quarter (no car, but willing to cab and hoof it anywhere) from Thurs-Mon. We already have a long list of restaurants to try after reading the posts here. However, are there any supplies/ingredients that I should be shopping for when I'm in town?

Right now the only thing I can think of are pralines, file powder and maybe some local junior league type cookbooks. Bread for po boys probably won't freeze well, right? But other than that, I'm kind of lost. Any ideas?

A little bit of backstory: My bf's family is originally from the Louisiana area, but he claims they aren't very good cooks. It's fallen to me to learn how to make the standards since we live in Los Angeles. I don't know if his family is more cajun or creole, but I'm planning on learning how to cook both styles.

Jan 06, 2010
metaphora in New Orleans

Are there any foods you just cannot bear eating any way except straight up and delicious?

White peaches. The yellow ones are fine for poaching, baking, whatever, but I think the white ones should only be eaten fresh.

Feb 12, 2009
metaphora in General Topics

Game night menu...need your help!

Depending on what games you are playing, I'd stick with things that are easily eaten with one hand. Anything with a lot of drippy sauce = BAD.

Tortellini on skewers with small containers of pesto is good. I have served the Tuna Sates with Wasabi Mayo from epicurious many many times and they are a big hit at game days.

The SD Union Tribune ran a recipe for Indigo Grill's Corn Pudding that has been very well received and is a must-try. I made it in mini muffin tins and the entire batch was devoured before we even started playing games:

And finally, if you have little TV dinner tables, those are great to have for folks to put their drinks, food, and napkins on. Keeps everything away from the gaming area and reduces the risk of things spilling onto the games.

Feb 12, 2009
metaphora in Home Cooking

Need lemon or caramel birthday (cake) ideas

A friend's birthday is coming up and I'm in charge of making the cake. His two favorite flavors are lemon and caramel. He also likes pound cake. Anyone got tried and true recipes that would be good for a birthday?


Aug 08, 2008
metaphora in Home Cooking

Cocoa Nibs for brunch

I'm hosting a brunch this weekend and would like to use up some of the cocoa nibs that have been sitting around in the pantry. Any suggestions?

Jul 25, 2008
metaphora in Home Cooking

Best of LA's Asian Foods...

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I went on a 2 week sampling of every Malaysian place in the LA area. At each place, we'd order Satay, Roti, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, and Ice Kachang if they had it. Not surprisingly, every place has its strengths and weaknesses, and depending on what we are craving, we'll pick different restaurants.

Several folks have mentioned Belacan Grill, and it's pretty decent. Some items are very similar to what you get in Singapore, and others strike me as just meh. I never walk away thinking they had the best version of anything, but I also have never had a bad meal there.

My favorite is Little Malaysia in El Monte. Everything we order there is great, especially the Tofu Goreng, which you cannot get anywhere else. They also have stingray curry on the menu; however, I've heard that it is just so so. If you choose to drive all the way out there, make sure you get there well before their close time. We got there once about 20 mins before closing and they had already closed their kitchen. Normally that would be a huge ding against a restaurant in my book, but the food is too good and their place remains our favorite.

Avoid Singapore Banana Leaf at the Farmers Market unless you want truly authentic Ice Kachang. Theirs is the best in all of Los Angeles. Fling off the jackfruit that it comes with and it tastes EXACTLY like the ones you get at the hawker stands in Singapore. Good good stuff, especially now that it is warmer. I believe they also are the only place in town to serve little rice cubes with their satay like they do in Singapore.

My memory of Yazmin is fairly weak. It was the first place we tried and we only went there once. I remember that we weren't crazy about one dish in particular, but everything else was fine. General consensus was that we'd go back if we were in the neighborhood, but it wasn't worth the drive.

I've only been to Penang Malaysian once, and it was pretty good. They had the second best Ice Kachang of all the Malaysian places. However, it's a little too far for us to make the drive on a regular basis. And if we are going to drive that far, I'd rather go to Little Malaysia.

The most recent place we ate at was Singapore Express, which is a tiny, hole in the wall off Marina del Rey. It's very hit and miss, and their menu is a mix of different Asian dishes. They have the BEST soup, and I generally loathe soup. Their Char Kway Teow was amazing last time we were there. Chicken Rice is passable, but it's very difficult to get the sweet soy sauce that most places serve it with. I had to ask several times and they seemed surprised by my request.

One little find was Laksa Malaysian Cafe, in Artesia. I was pleasantly surprised by the assortment of dipping sauces they brought out, including the fresh ginger dipping sauce. Their chicken satay was deep fried though, which was very disappointing. Note: One reviewer on Yelp mentioned that it is now closed, so I'd double check before going.

My favorite place for Satay and Roti is Tropika. I like my food slightly sweet and their satay delivers charred, sweet goodness! They also have two different versions of roti which was nice. I've brought friends there and they have been only ok with the Thai offerings on the menu. It's one of the nicer looking places of all the Malaysian ones, and service is always good, but I don't remember being blown away by anything else on their menu. It was very difficult for us to find it, even with a map, so bring their phone number and be prepared to get lost.

The one place we've found but haven't eaten at yet is JC Cafe in Chinatown. We only ever go there for their Strawberry Green Tea Smoothies with boba, which I swear, they lace with crack. It is amazing! I've seen food on their menu and noted that everyone in the kitchen was Asian; a fairly good sign.

Savoy Kitchen gets a lot of hype for the Hainanese Chicken Rice. It slipped past our radar because we were looking for Malaysian, not Singaporean places, so we haven't been there yet. My experience has been that if you do not already love Hainanese Chicken Rice, then you may be disappointed. Friends who try it for the first time universally describe it as bland and tasteless.

Enjoy your trip!

Little Malaysia Restaurant
3944 Peck Rd
Ste 8
El Monte, CA

Singapore's Banana Leaf
6333 W Third St Ste 122
Los Angeles, CA

Yazmin Malaysian Restaurant
27 E Main St
Alhambra, CA

Penang Malaysian Cuisine
987 S Glendora Ave
West Covina, CA

Singapore Express
4248 Lincoln Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA, 90292

Laksa Malaysian Cafe
11622 1/2 South St
Artesia, CA, 90701

17460 E 17th St
Tustin, CA 92780

JC Cafe
843 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Savoy Kitchen
138 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801

Jul 11, 2008
metaphora in Los Angeles Area

Hall of Fame Desserts?

Hi Alice:

That recipe looks VERY similar. The one I was referring to did not have bananas, nor cream cheese. Also, after making it a couple of times, I realized that you could do without the hot water in the eggs, and I stopped cooking the mangos; the latter step was a big improvement, IMHO.

I usually cut the sheet of cake into thirds and layer with fresh mango. Then I finish the cake off with sweetened whipped cream and press toasted, sliced almonds into the sides.

All this talking about the trifle has made me crave it! I have six mangoes ripening on the counter and am going to make it this weekend. Let me know when you make it and what you thought!

Jul 11, 2008
metaphora in Home Cooking

Cookbooks for taking it to the next level?

I second "Simple to Spectacular." It will most certainly help you bring it to the next level. I picked it up after working in the kitchens for some time and it still is the only cookbook I know that does a nice job of replicating the thought process that most cooks start developing via working in a professional kitchen. Excellent for anyone interested in learning how to develop recipes and start thinking like a pro.

Once you are comfortable with the process of developing your own recipes, the next cookbook to buy would be "Culinary Artistry." It has pages and pages of charts listing flavor combinations that work well. The charts are organized by main ingredient, i.e. shrimp, artichokes, cherries. It's great when you have a lot of one ingredient, have an idea of how you want to prepare it, and just need to know what flavors to add to complement the main ingredient. The authors describe the charts as replicating the knowledge that most professional cooks tend to absorb/intuit after years of cooking. I couldn't agree more.

"Culinary Artistry" is very much like what you are looking for in terms of it not being just a list of ingredients and a recipe. There are some recipes in it, but I've never used them. Think of it more as a set of guidelines to keep you headed in the right direction.

Cocktailhour mentioned Rick Bayless and I have to agree that he is tops when it comes to Mexican. His first cookbook changed how I looked at Mexican cooking, but his sauces can be challenging and require a lot of time and equipment. He offers nice suggestions for substituting ingredients and making different variants of each recipe, but his advice is somewhat recipe-specific and I don't think will broaden your horizons in quite the same way as "Simple to Spectacular."

Jul 09, 2008
metaphora in Home Cooking

Hall of Fame Desserts?

Hi Alice:

The Mango Trifle recipe is not posted anywhere online as far as I can tell. You can find it in Rick Bayless's first cookbook.

Jul 09, 2008
metaphora in Home Cooking

Sushi and other suggestions for family of 6

Help! We are entertaining a family of 6 from Chile who are here for their first trip ever to LA. The entire family LOVES sushi, and it's the only thing they have asked for so far.

What reasonably priced sushi places are close to the Manhattan/Redondo Beach area and would be fine with kids? I'm not looking for refined authenticity so much as Americanized variety; a place with lots of different, crazy maki would be ideal. Is there anyplace like Boss Sushi but a little more modestly priced?

Any other recommendations for cool places to take them would be most welcome. We already have Korean BBQ (followed by shave ice), dim sum, and Pink's on the itinerary.


Jul 06, 2008
metaphora in Los Angeles Area