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19 June 2013
Wanderfood Wednesday: Bab El Mina in Byblos

Lebanese tabbouleh is the BEST
Lebanese tabbouleh is the BEST

After our Jordan adventures, we took a quick side trip to Beirut to visit our Habitat teammate Hanine. We were treated to an amazing whirlwind tour through an amazing city by an amazing friend, who reinforced the notion of Arab hospitality through force-feeding. After stuffing our faces at breakfast the first day, Hanine and her boyfriend Hadi drove us out to the town of Byblos for a late afternoon meal of seafood treats.

Byblos is quaint and more than a little touristy, and as such it evokes nearly all Matador's "words and phrases we never want to see in travel writing again."

It's "sun-dappled." Really, look at this:
sun-dappled


It's both a "gem” and a “jewel.”
gem!

jewel!


It's "breathtaking." Might even be "nestled" into the hillside.
breathtaking


And, as we were about to find out, it "boasts" phenomenal seafood.
boast!


Hanine and Hadi took us to Bab El Mina, a lovely restaurant in the heart of Byblos's fishing port. Since we're total omnivores, we let our friends order whatever struck their fancy. While they assured us it'd just be a few small plates to sample, in true Arab fashion the ensuing cavalcade of deliciousness was a wonder to behold.

and so it begins
and so it begins

shrimp and calamari
shrimp and calamari

baba ganoush
baba ganoooooooush

saucy shrimp
saucy shrimp

just a few nibblies
just a few nibblies

crispy salty goodness
crispy salty goodness

somethingorother fish
somethingorother fish

a spot of dessert
a spot of dessert


Hanine entertained us with some coffee ground fortune-telling, and Mark got in on the act.

apparently we're all destined for a long, happy life
apparently we're all destined for a long, happy life...

...or maybe a mudslide
...or maybe a mudslide


After all that pigging out (yet again) we needed to walk it off a bit, so we took a stroll through the historic quarter of Byblos. Lots of cool stuff to explore... medieval buildings, an adorable little souk, a funky Maronite Catholic church.

Crusader Fort
Crusader Fort (unfortunately not open so this was as close as we got)

love this cobbled courtyard
love this cobbled courtyard

creepy-cool stonework
creepy-cool stonework

Eglise Saint Jean-Marc
Eglise Saint Jean-Marc


Not a bad way to spend an afternoon/evening.

Hadi and Hanine


If you find yourself in Beirut with a hankering for fresh seafood, it's worth the drive out to Byblos.

Bab El Mina Restaurant
Byblos Port, Lebanon
+961.9.540475


No, I didn't use all 10 forbidden words in Matador's list, but if you're curious about what they are, the link's below. For more mouthwatering travel food photos, check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday.


RELATED LINKS:
* browse all Byblos pics

* Wanderfood Wednesday: epicurean despot
* all Jordan posts
* all Jordan pics
* Matador Network: 10 words and phrases we never want to see in travel writing again 

A love note to Team Pedro

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments


09 May 2013
Wanderfood Wednesday: Epicurean despot

[Hey, waitaminute, it's not Wednesday! Le sigh. Some of you may have noticed that the site's been down for over a week. Massive server issues last week. Special shoutout to my crack tech team -- ehm, that would be Mark -- for pulling some incredibly long hours and working tirelessly to get everything restored. I'd say we're about 95% back on track but there's still a few bumps to work out. Thanks for your patience! And now, only a week plus one day later than I'd intended to post, it, onward to the latest Wanderfood Wednesday...]

Before coming to Jordan, I was aware of -- and, I thought, prepared for -- legendary Arabic hospitality. Boy was I wrong! The food was amazing, without exception. And even an allegedly small snack got turned into a copious multi-course feast. These people don't mess around. And they don't take no for an answer.

Y'all know I suffer for my art, but the dinner that capped off our team outing in Amman tested even my limits. It was redonkulous.


I blame these two:

Adnan, our gracious host
Adnan, our gracious host

Rawan, our handler
the lovely and talented Rawan, our handler


After a brief tour of Amman, the team got dropped off at the Amman Marriott. Apparently the restaurant we were headed to didn't serve alcohol, so we were instructed to get liquored up at the piano bar. Amidst the snark teambuilding banter, the strains of various showtunes floated up from the lounge. Also a little Metallica. Lemme tell ya, you just haven't lived until you've heard "Nothing Else Matters" as interpreted by a Jordanian piano player in a long red dress.

rawking out at the Amman Marriott piano lounge
cuz why not play Metallica in a floor-length red dress?
f'shizzle


Onward to the restaurant! Rajeen is a phenomenal Armenian restaurant located in the heart of Amman's entertainment district. Siderant: Why are there no Armenian restaurants in DC?? In a town that has more Ethiopian joints than Addis, and even covers cuisines like Burmese and Afghan, why no Armenian? That's just criminal.

Rajeen Armenian restaurant
Armenian decor


As with most meals in Jordan, the feast started with a number of small plates, dips, and awesome bread.

appetizer thing
bread, om nom nom
more appetizer things


We didn't order off the menu, so I must confess that I have no idea what most of this stuff was. It was just om-nom-nommy. And the dishes kept on coming!

the pusher
meeeeeeeeat


With a brief stop for this digestive...

digestive


Annnnnnd then a whole batch of desserts. Ooof.

dessert thing
more dessert things
this dessert thing was a little sketchy


Bonus points to any foodies out there who can correctly identify any of these dishes. All I know is that we ate till we nearly exploded. It was deliciously grueling.

Overheard on the ride back from our team dinner in Amman:
"There's no democracy when it comes to food in Jordan!"

Epicurean despot. It's not only a great name for a band (or maybe a Food Network show) it's also how they do things in Jordan.


For more mouthwatering travel food photos, check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday.

 

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment


18 July 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: foxy overindulgence in Middleburg

 snacky treats at Briar Patch

Back in January, we took a jaunt out to the countryside for a change of scenery. Virginia wine country in the dead of winter can be a drab destination, but fortunately some local businesses go out of their way to plan convivial events to chase away the winter doldrums.

[I know, I know... with all the blistering heat of late, it's hard to think back to a time of winter coats and frosty chill. This post got lost in the shuffle of Rio in February, and the chaos of life in general since then. Better late than never!]

Our home away from home for the weekend was Briar Patch Bed & Breakfast. I'm trying really hard to resist using the word "cozy" to describe this place, but the moniker totally fits. Between the Peter Rabbit thematics and the fresh-baked cookies in the kitchen, Briar Patch is cozier than a snuggly blanket in front of a roaring fire. (Which they also provide.) They do a brisk wedding business, and judging from the many photo albums the place is also gorgeous during the spring/summer/fall months. But we scheduled our visit to coincide with something near and dear to our hearts: cooking classes!

appies with Chef Bernard

Chef Bernard Henry helped kick off the festivities with an appetizer class and wine tasting on Friday night, right in the Briar Patch kitchen. We learned the secret to preparing an easy escargot-like dish -- impress your friends! -- and sampled a range of tasty treats paired with wines from local Fox Den Winery. Chef Bernard is quintessentially French, with a big Rollie Fingers moustache and a wry sense of humor. I could listen to him talk about food prep all day. And the end results? Om nom nom.

Chef serves up a taste

musselicious

We spent the next day roaming around downtown Middleburg and winery-hopping. Bash Virginia wines all you want; I love hanging out at these small vineyards, chatting up the winemakers and taking in the beautiful scenery.

First stop, Delaplane Cellars, with dazzling views even in the dead of winter:

Delaplane Cellars

Onto Fox Meadow Vineyards -- Middleburg is rife with fox references -- which happened to be serving up a delicious Tuscan Bean Stew that weekend to complement their wines:

Fox Meadow Vineyards

And finally Naked Mountain Winery, where the fireside lasagna threatened to put us into a food coma:

going... going... gone!

Boof. We had just enough time to rest up before the evening cooking class back at Briar Patch.

Chef Bernard once again informed and amused us, running through something like six courses (I lost count) and bringing up volunteers for some audience participation.

audience participation

From the simple (pureed carrot ginger soup? can I get a hell-yeah?) to the exotic (pineapple roasted in a huge mound of salt, served over ice cream), each course was paired with a different Fox Den wine. By the end, they pretty much had to roll us outta there a in a wheelbarrow.

carrot soup!

steaktastic

Om... Nom... Zzzzzzzzzzz...

Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
* browse all Middleburg pics
* Briar Patch Bed & Breakfast
* Chef Bernard Henry
* Fox Den Vineyard

* Delaplane Cellars
* Fox Meadow Vineyards
* Naked Mountain Winery

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14 March 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: fried, fried, pink stuff, fried
you win some, you lose some... culinary adventures in Arraial do Cabo

crack in a can
crack in a can

There were several times during this trip where we bumped headlong into the realization that we really should have learned more Portuguese. Getting a handle on the local language is typically something we enjoy doing as part of our trip prep. For whatever reason, it didn't happen this time around. We got by with charades and a phrasebook and just plain ol' winging it. For the most part, this worked OK, but it backfired a few notable times.


scary clownsscary clowns
the scary clowns shoulda clued us in

One such time was our first evening in Arraial do Cabo, a beach town outside Rio where we'd arrived for a scuba junket (more on that in a few days). We weren't in much of an exploratory mood after a long battle with our crappy rental car, so we found a brightly-adorned place near our hotel for a quick bite. The menu listed something called "misto de frango," which purported to be an aggregation of three different types of chicken. Sounds harmless enough, one please!

The waitress proceeded to launch into a lengthy discussion in Portuguese that made absolutely no sense to us, but she seemed trustworthy so we stuck with our order. And this is what showed up:

frango mixto, or just mixed up?
misto de frango, or just mixed up?

Let's ignore the fact that the third item is french fries, and not chicken of any sort. What in the world is that pink stuff in the middle? Our best guess was some awful mashup of ketchup and mayonnaise. Ew. We dumped plenty of hot sauce in there, plus some "African" sauce Mark found on top of the buffet table, and that did improve the pink goo a bit. We were hungry, so we ate it, what more can I say? All in all, not a total debacle, but hardly a wildly satisfying repast.


On the other hand, we did have some great meals in Arraial do Cabo. One of my favorite things to do in a new city or country is browse the grocery store aisles for unusual local treats. (Side note: This is particularly fun in places with non-Western alphabets where you may have no idea what's inside the package but are still seduced by bright colors and shiny happy graphics.) By far our best Brazilian find was Cheese on a Stick, known locally as queijo de coalho.

on a steek
on a steek

Normally this would be grilled -- common fare at street stalls -- but since we were sans hibachi at our hotel, we just ate the cheese straight from the package, with crackers and some excellent Chilean wine. Ensconced in snugly hotel robes and enjoying the nighttime views of town, this was the perfect way to unwind after our scuba adventures.

life is good
life is good
(and photogeeks, check out that bokeh!)


The other stellar meal in Arraial was, unsurprisingly, at our hotel's restaurant. We thought about giving the clowncar restaurant a second chance, but instead went with the swankier option. A wise choice, rewarded by a lovely view of the pool and gardens, a nice cold bottle of wine, and some delicious fresh seafood dishes. Redemption!

swanktastic lunch
swanktastic lunch at Pousada Caminho do Sol


Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
* Impersonal Jesus
* The sun sets on another epic trip
*
Photo Friday: Sambódromo favorites
*
Dois Gringos em Dois Irmãos


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01 February 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: Brazilian Füdism

In honor of the two-week countdown to our Brazilian junket (can I get a woot-woot?) I decided to post a recap of our last Füdism, a monthly foodie gathering where we throw down the food-geek gauntlet with a group of friends. In January the theme was Brazilian food, and as usual everyone brought their A-game.


"just" a potato salad
"just" a potato salad

feijoada!
feijoada!


Our contribution, besides hosting, was two dishes: codfish balls, and pork empanadas. Om-nom-nom, if I do say so myself.

codfish balls
codfish balls... easy to make and fun to say!

balls in the oven
balls in the oven

mmmm, crispy balls!
mmmm, crispy balls!

Mark chops the meat
Mark chops the meat

empanada filling
empanada filling

empanada-rific
empanada-rific


Part of the fun of these events is poring over cookbooks and internet recipes for just the right dish. It's even better to get an authentic recipe from an expat friend.

arrumadinho
arrumadinho

authentic recipe
authentic recipe, quaintly quoted straight from the source


These photos capture only about half of the total feast, but at some point I stopped snapping and started chowing down. The caipirinhas flowed, the gorgeous dishes kept coming, and we had plenty of meaty goodness.

meaty goodness
no Brazilian meal would be complete without a big hunk of meat


I'm a bit chagrined to note that I focused solely on the "food porn" shots, and neglected to take a single picture of the delightful people who not only prepped these dishes but also made the gathering extra-festive. My bad! Brazilians are legendary for their hospitality... I think this group of gringos made a good run at it. Saúde, fudistas!


Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
* We're going to Rio!
* browse all WanderFood Wednesday posts


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18 January 2012
WanderFood Wednesday: minestrone

I'm a big fan of salad, but when the weather gets blustery, nothing beats a big bowl of homecooked soup. To get back into the WanderFood Wednesday groove, here's a quick homage to a recent masterpiece: minestrone!

According to The Kitchen Project, "minestrone means 'Big Soup' to Italians and means a soup with lots of goodies in it." For me, it's all about the beans. Traditional minestrone usually calls for cannellini or great northern beans, but I happened to have a delightful melange of dried beans on hand from last year's garden.


beans, glorious beans
Jacob's Cattle, Cherokee Cornfield, Black Turtle, and "Big Red Ripper" cowpeas


I was a little sad that these beans mostly reverted to a standard brown color when cooked, but it was fun to see them all mixed together in the pot. One love!

The final product was an adhoc mix of whatever veggies we happened to have around, elbow pasta, plus some beef stock and a dash of tomato juice just to give it some extra oomph. The crowning glory was a cube of frozen pesto, made last year at the height of summer basil production. As the pesto cube melts into the hot soup, it provides just the right splash of garden-fresh flavor.


ahhhhhhhhh
ahhhhhhh


Snuggle up by the fire with a bowl of this homecooked goodness, and all the world's cares melt away in a haze of basil and garlic. Soup IS good food!


Be sure to check out Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


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14 December 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: play with your food!

time to make the ducks!
time to make the ducks

For our combined Zamborsky Thanksmas this year, we didn't do a full Slovak Christmas Eve meal. However, we did tweeze out a favorite tradition: the making of the ducks!

a serious business (not)
a serious business (not)

even Jack gets into the act
even Jack gets into the act


Without Grandmom Gallo around to award a shiny nickel to the best duck, we were reduced to our own catty judgments, and maybe even a little trash-talking. The wine flows, the kitchen steams up, and the gloves come off. It's all part of the ritual.


the making of the ducks is followed by the judging of the ducks
the making of the ducks is followed by the judging of the ducks

some ducks are just winners
some ducks are just winners


I didn't get any pictures of the finished product, which have been brushed with egg and baked to a nice golden brown. They got gobbled up with the Thanksgiving meal. Because, at this time of year, you can never have too many carbs.


the Boogerduck stands alone
the Boogerduck stands alone


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
*
I'm Dreaming of a Slovak Christmas
* browse all WanderFood Wednesday posts

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
05 October 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: funky Asian fruits

From the archives, just 'cuz, some funky fabulous favorite fruits from our time in Southeast Asia...

mango and sticky rice! like buttah!
mango & sticky rice! like buttah!

custard apple
custard apple

name those funky fruits
name those funky fruits

bean paste
actually made out of bean paste... but so purdy!

durian, the most notorious fruit of them all!
durian, the most notorious fruit of them all!

a medley of fruit funk
a medley of fruit funk

 

For more great foodie posts, be sure to visit Wanderlust & Lipstick's weekly WanderFood Wednesday blog carnival!

RELATED LINKS:
* all Thailand photos and blog posts (2008)
* all Malaysia photos and blog posts (2008)


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24 August 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: summertime yum

one of these things is not like the others!
one of these things is not like the others!

Today's WanderFood Wednesday post didn't require much wandering, just a stroll out to my front yard, plus a quick trip to our local farmers' market.

Happily, I've been too busy out in the garden to do much documenting this year. But rest assured, the goodies have been rolling in! Above is a selection of heirloom squash, tomatoes, and hot peppers surrounding everyone's favorite cephalopod. Below is one of my favorite summer salads, a classic caprese, with Woodle and Black Plum tomatoes, two kinds of basil, and some heavenly mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy Company.

say it with me: om nom nom!
say it with me: om nom nom!

I had a little success growing potatoes this year, although the resulting crop was a bit paltry. Never mind, we had enough yield to whip up some roasted blue and purple potatoes with garlic and rosemary. All ingredients straight from the front yard, except the olive oil & salt.

what's taters, precious?
what's taters, precious?

Paprika, grown like other peppers, has been another fun experiment this year. I've already picked a few and once they're dried they'll be ground into powder. Until then, they make a spirited addition to the front walk.

paprika, salvia, kale
paprika, with some salvia & kale in the background

I've always been a big fan of carrots, and although they don't tend to grow all that big in my yard, I have managed to pull up a fun sampling of heirloom shapes and colors. In the salad below is a combination of chantenay, deep purple, sunshine, and cosmic carrots, plus a few types of lettuce, mustard, kale, and chard.

heirloom rabbit food
heirloom rabbit food

This has been another challenging weather year (earthquakes! hurricanes! drought!), but the front yard veggie garden experiment continues! How does your garden grow?


For more great foodie posts, be sure to visit Wanderlust & Lipstick's weekly WanderFood Wednesday blog carnival!


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22 June 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: Finger Lakes finger food

On a recent trip to upstate New York for a family wedding, we took a brief side trip to the Finger Lakes wine trail. I'm working up a whole post about that, but in the meantime here's a quick tease... a few snaps from our afternoon snack at Bully Hill Vineyards in Hammondsport.

baked brie with an accompaniment of house wines
baked brie with an accompaniment of house wines

We went in with the intention of ordering a small snack, but the allure of baked brie was impossible to ignore.

Bully Hill Vineyards overlooks Keuka Lake
Bully Hill Vineyards overlooks Keuka Lake

I had the chard (butterific!) but Mark took a walk on the wild side and tried the daily special, a tart and tasty Verdelet with the crisp tang of green apples. Only slightly less green was the waitress, who was working her way through her first day on the job and was impressed when we mentioned how this wine reminded us of a Portuguese Vinho Verde. We're such winos.

For more great foodie posts, be sure to visit Wanderlust & Lipstick's weekly WanderFood Wednesday blog carnival!


RECOMMENDED:
Bully Hill Vineyards
8843 Greyton H. Taylor Mem Dr.
Hammondsport, New York 14840
607.868.3610

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27 April 2011
Eponymous dining in Philly

Earlier this month we spent a quick weekend in the City of Brotherly Love, and got to check out two fantastic restaurants in South Philly:

bitters at Fish

Fish
1708 Lombard St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
215.545.9600

Fish serves up amazing seafood (I know, shocking!) in a cozy neighborhood setting. We ate at the bar and had some of the freshest mussels I've ever tasted, awesome octopus, and halibut to die for. Plus anyplace that has such an extensive selection of bitters is all good in my book. Even more exciting, the wine list included a bottle of Verdicchio from Jesi. It wasn't from one of the wineries we'd visited, but of course we had to give it a try, and had a fun conversation with the sommalier about agriturismos and lesser-known Italian varietals.


pigging out at Cochon

Cochon
801 East Passyunk Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
215.923.7675

Our truth-in-naming tour continued the next night with a visit to Cochon, which specializes in -- you guessed it -- all things piggy! And pig out we did. I channeled my inner Tony Bourdain and ordered the pork trio, figuring this was a rare chance to try grilled cheek (along with some scrumptious sausage and braised bacon). Om nom nom! Cochon is one of many BYOB restaurants in Philly, where bizarre liquor laws make it easier for eateries to thrive when patrons bring their own booze. Just be sure to stock up before you cross the PA state line, as wine can only be purchased at state stores and from what I understand the selection tends to be less than stellar.

I highly recommend both of these restaurants as a way to sample the best of Philly's burgeoning foodie scene.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

RELATED LINKS:
* Up to the challenge - winetasting in Jesi
* Fish
* Cochon


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05 January 2011
WanderFood Wednesday: Aebleskivers: Danish for om-nom-nom

aebelskivers, ja!
aebleskivers, ja!

 

Keeping up my recent theme of Skandinavian Christmas treats, I bring you aebleskivers, the Danish version of pancakes. Or maybe they're more like doughnuts. No matter, aebleskivers (also spelled "ebelskivers") are deeeeeelish! And they're a perfect way to brighten up dreary winter days.

 

Like all good culinary delights, this one requires special equipment. We were fortunate to receive an aebelskiver pan from a friend who works at Sur La Table -- it's good to have friends in delicious places! -- and busted it out recently for its inaugural voyage.

aebleskiver pan
aebleskiver pan

The basic recipe (see below) is pretty straightforward. But the real fun comes into play when you decide what to stuff these tasty nuggets with. Sure, they can be plain, but what's the fun in that? Our recent aebleskivers housed a medley of fresh blueberries, fresh currants (leftover from another Christmas recipe), and melted dark chocolate.

aebleskivers with currants
aebleskivers with currants

I really liked the simple tanginess of the fruit, although next time I might try a chocolate + fruit combo for the ultimate antioxidant power punch. Mark has threatened to make a seafood version, but I voted that down as not-quite-right. However, aebleskivers are sometimes stuffed with savory ingredients like ham and cheese, so who knows...?

image from Trendir.com
image from Trendir.com


Aebelskiver recipe
taken from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients
    * 2 egg whites
    * 2 cups all-purpose flour
    * 2 teaspoons baking powder
    * 1 tablespoon white sugar
    * 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * 2 egg yolks
    * 4 tablespoons butter, melted
    * 2 cups buttermilk
    * 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

Directions
   1. In a clean glass or metal bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they can hold a stiff peak. Set aside.
   2. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, sugar, egg yolks, melted butter and buttermilk at one time and beat until smooth. Gently fold in the egg whites last.
   3. Put about 1tablespoon of vegetable oil in the bottom of each aebleskiver pan cup and heat until hot. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of the batter into each cup. As soon as they get bubbly around the edge, turn them quickly (Danish cooks use a long knitting needle, but a fork will work). Continue cooking, turning the ball to keep it from burning.


Hope on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
* Photo/Video Friday: Helan Går
* Aebleskiver recipe on Allrecipes.com
* Aebleskiver pans from Nordicware.com


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15 December 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: I'm dreaming of a Slovak Christmas
just like the ones I used to know

Growing up in a Slovak household, we had lots of unusual holiday traditions that seemed weird and embarassing when we were kids, but have evolved into cherished rituals. Since my entire family was together for Thanksgiving this year, my sister had the brilliant idea to prepare our Slovak Christmas Eve meal that same weekend.

Julia gets down and dirty with the dough
Julia gets down and dirty with the dough

The traditional Christmas Eve dinner is a simple, meatless meal, centered around fish, soups, and carbs in several formats. Our favorite part of the preparation was always making the ducks, which are basically dinner rolls where the dough is rolled and shaped sort of like a pretzel. One end of the pretzel is formed into a duck bill, with raisins for eyes. The other end becomes the tail. Back in the day, Grandmom Gallo presided over the duckmaking, awarding a shiny nickel to the "best" ducks. I have to say, my second cousin Julia (or is she my first cousin once removed?) shows enormous promise, even though this was her first year making ducks!

duckmaking is a family affair
duckmaking is a family affair

who will win the nickel this year?
who will win the nickel this year?

Julia brushes the ducks with egg
Julia brushes the ducks with egg before popping them into the over

The other part of the meal involving some artistry is the soup. We make big batches of lentil and mushroom soups. True to form, these are pretty simple dishes, but the basis of both is zapraska, the Slovak version of a roux, made from browned butter and flour whisked together over high heat.

Kathy and Mark rock out some zapraska
Kathy and Mark rock out some zapraska

There's no recipe for zapraska, and even though I had lots of years apprenticing until my mother and grandmother, the first time I had to do it myself was pretty nerve-wracking. So of course this job has become a right of passage for non-native family members! Kathy and Mark did an admirable job, aided by just the right amount of wine.

Dad preps the fish
Dad preps the fish

The meal is rounded out with fish. This was always reviled when we were growing up, but now it's something I actually enjoy eating. It's prepared with paprika and dried parsley, plus a generous amount of butter. There has been some disagreement in recent years about the specific type of fish to use; this year we went with pollock.

see, it's not so bad!
see, it's not so bad!

When we were little, the dinnertime ritual began with a procession where the grandchildren brought in key parts of the meal and presented them to my dad at the head of the table. As each child approached, he'd ask "What do you bring me?" and we'd answer something carefully scripted like "I bring you honey, for sweetness." This was abandoned shortly after the year I came up with "I bring you nuts, because you are what you eat."

Even without the procession, things progress in a very specific order:

1) Oplatky - a rectangular wafer similar to a Catholic communion wafer, but spread with honey in celebration of the joy of Christmas.

2) Soup - either mushroom or lentil or sometimes both! Delicious, and also useful for creating amusing flatulence later on during Midnight Mass.

3) Nuts - everyone selects one and cracks it open, and if you get a good nut, you've got a good year ahead.

4) Bobalky - a dish made with the other half of the bread dough, shaped into little balls and soaked in a mixture of milk, honey, and poppyseed. Supposedly this was sometimes served as a dessert but we include it with the main dish.

5) Fish, green beans, and ducks also come out at the same time as the bobalky.

6) Dessert of nut & poppyseed rolls (nobody takes any drug tests after Christmas Eve dinner!) and a selection of Christmas cookies. If we're lucky, someone makes kiffles -- folded pastries filled with jam and dusted with powdered sugar -- but because we did Christmas dinner a month early this year, sadly, no kiffles in sight.

obligatory awkward table shot

And no holiday meal would be complete without the obligatory awkward shot of everyone stuffing their faces! Note the scary old Slovak lady photo in the background; I hope we've done her proud because she looks like she could jump straight out of the frame and kick all our asses.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


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01 December 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: Cuba's Cookin' in Aruba

a little slice of Havana in Oranjestad
a little slice of Havana in Oranjestad

We certainly hadn't gone to Aruba looking for Cuban cuisine. So it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across Cuba's Cookin', a charming little restaurant just a short walk from our hotel. Not only was the food amazing (note the marked absence of "food porn" shots? we scarfed it down too fast to capture any snaps) but the exuberant atmosphere made it impossible to leave without huge smiles on our faces.

live and lively
live and lively

DC in the hizzouse!
DC in the hizzouse!

We visited Cuba's Cookin' with Beth and Robert, a newlywed couple from the DC area we'd randomly met at our hotel. After admiring the eclectic artwork collection and wolfing down our scrumptious meals, we sat back to enjoy the live entertainment. The fun combination of traditional Cuban boleros, Buena Vista Social Club tunes, and Beatles & Stones covers in Spanish eventually gave way to a round of zesty audience participation.

Robert gets his groove on
Robert gets his groove on


If you're in the Oranjestad area of Aruba and want to sample the best ropa vieja this side of Havana, be sure to check out Cuba's Cookin'! And hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RECOMMENDED:
Cuba's Cookin'
Wilhelminastraat 27
Oranjestad, Aruba
(297) 588-0627


RELATED POSTS:
* WanderFood Wednesday: two ends of the spectrum in Aruba
* PhotoFriday: creatures of Renaissance Island


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10 November 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: two ends of the spectrum in Aruba

it's way more fun to say "schenk stroop!" than "syrup"
it's way more fun to say "schenk stroop!" than "syrup"

We took a last-minute trip to Aruba last week, with very little on the agenda except diving and enjoying some beachy goodness. And, of course, we managed to find a number of great places to eat!

Like most Caribbean destinations, Aruba has the full spectrum of culinary options, catering to the cruising daytrippers, families with finicky kids, and those with more discerning palates. On this WanderFood Wednesday, I present to you two very different places we greatly enjoyed. Both happened to be recommended by @mariesworlds when I put the request out to the Twitterverse, so thanks Marie!


oktapodi <3s poffertjes
oktapodi <3s poffertjes

Humbertus crepe...pot roast for breakfast!
Humbertus crepe...pot roast for breakfast!


Dutch Pancake House (Pannekoekhuis)
Slightly cheesy, definitely frequented more by tourists than locals, but we loved it enough to go back twice. The range of sweet and savory crepes will make your head spin, and the silver dollar "poffertjes" pancakes come with a range of delicious toppings too. I couldn't resist trying the "Humbertus" crepe on our second visit,
which turned out to be more like a pot roast with its ragu sauce and deer + rabbit meat. Om nom nom!


Papiamento entrance
Papiamento entrance


Papiamento
This restaurant is nothing short of stunning. Housed in a historic Aruban farmhouse from the nineteenth century, the alfresco setting among the foliage was absolutely dazzling. We didn't even get a chance to tour the inside because we were so stuffed from dinner. The attention to detail and nearly-clairvoyant service reminded us a lot of The Inn at Little Washington, where the waiter fills your wine glass before you even realize it's empty. Once again the extensive menu was a bit overwhelming, ranging from traditional Dutch favorites like keshi yena to the full cadre of grilled land
air & sea options. We both opted for items served "on the stone," which provided an additional auditory treat as the sizzling dishes came to our table. Mark said it was one of the best steaks he's ever had. I was too full to speak.

keshi yena
keshi yena

dining among the trees
dining among the trees

grilled wahoo "on the stone"
grilled wahoo "on the stone"


We're back on the wagon after last week's nonstop pigout, but stay tuned for more Aruba pics and stories. And hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RECOMMENDED:
Dutch Pancake House (Pannekoekhuis)

L.G. Smith Blvd, Oranjestad, Aruba
297-583-7180

Papiamento
Noord, Washington 61, Aruba
297-586-4544


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29 September 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: fine dining in Black Rock City

As has been previously documented, Mark & I eat way better than the Average Burner. Because we're such foodie-geeks, we had a blast cooking for ourselves and our campmates during Burning Man this year. So it was a pleasant surprise to come across other fine dining options in our neighborhood.

Yes, people really do come to Burning Man to cook for their neighbors. And no money changes hands. If one is inclined to contribute something to these camps, in the way of spare ingredients, alcohol, or volunteering to help clean up, that's appreciated. But it's not necessary.

The Sacred Cow Grille, right next door
The Sacred Cow Grille, right next door

Literally next door to our camp was The Sacred Cow Grille, serving (what else?) Indian cuisine! Tasty and fabulous. Mark happened to make our reservation on the same night as a wedding that most of our campmates were attending, so he grabbed some random hotties to join us for the meal.

random hotties, our dinner companions
random hotties, our dinner companions

the Grille's lounge area
the Grille's lounge area

The place was decked out in oasis shabby-chic, with plenty of couches to lounge on and hot chai served as we arrived.

shiny server
shiny server

The playarific waitress came over and pretended to take our order, asking "If you could have anything at all, what would you like to have for dinner tonight?" Mark stumped her with Lobster Malabar. Didn't matter, we all got the same thing, with veg or non-veg options.

yam daal, mango chutney, tofu curry, burning naan, and tandoori chicken on top... yum!
yam daal, mango chutney, tofu curry, burning naan, and tandoori chicken on top... yum!


Another fine dining establishment, this one a few blocks away, was L'Homme Flambé. Zut alors!

L'Homme Flambé
L'Homme Flambé

We didn't get a chance to try this place out, but judging from the signage in front, it was a saucy spot indeed.

snarky signage
snarky restaurant signage

Not sure how much of this is readable, so here's a quick transcription of the snarky signage:

DRESS CODE IN EFFECT
If you're wearing something we don't like you may have to take it off.

FIVE STAR RATING
Not from the Michelin Guide, from some other tire company

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED
Call 1-234-Eat Me

ALL MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
rejected

valet parking, hah
valet parking, hah

Who says you can't eat like royalty while out on the Playa?


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RELATED LINKS:
* Photo Friday: desert eats
* Photo Friday: ab-fab, sweetie-dahling
* Photo Friday: my night with oktapodi
* Photo Friday: this is your brain on Burning Man
* browse all 2008 Burning Man pics

* read all Burning Man blog posts
* check out the Burning Man website


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28 July 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: prezzemolo, a cautionary tale
one man's quest for the perfect Penne Rosate

Penne Rosate and a spritz in Treviso
Penne Rosate in Treviso

It started innocently enough.

Penne Rosate. Four simple ingredients on a bistro menu:
salsa di pomodoro | panna | salmone affumicato | prezzemolo

Little did I know this dish would turn into Mark's Holy Grail. Ever since sampling this delectable fare at Piola in Treviso, he's been obsessed with recreating the perfect penne rosate at home. And in typical Italian style, a deceptively simple ingredient list means the dish can be articulated about a million ways.


mmmm, golden tomatoes
mmmm, golden tomatoes

Renown chef Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington says you should make a dish eight times before serving it to friends. That always seemed a bit extreme. But we're starting to understand. Each time Mark makes this dish, he writes little notes in the margin about how to tweak the recipe next time. Not too much tomato paste. Be sure to use large golden tomatoes. Let the pasta sit and soak up the sauce before serving. He's even asked me to plant extra golden tomatoes in the garden so he can continue his exploration and and near-scientific quest for the flawless formula.


stir, stir, stir
stir, stir, stir

I don't think he'll ever achieve penne perfection. But, as with most things in life, it's about the journey, not the destination! I'm happy to have him keep experimenting with this dish forever.


some cream, a little smoked salmon
some cream, a little smoked salmon

It just so happens that there's a Piola right here in Northern Virginia, and they do have Penne Rosate on their menu. Part of me is curious to try it, part of me doesn't want to spoil the mystique of that first perfect taste back in Treviso.


the finished product, topped with lots of fresh prezzemolo!
the finished product, topped with lots of fresh prezzemolo!

And at the end of the day, I just like saying "prezzemolo." Try it with me: pret-ZEH-mo-lo. It's fun! I think Robin at My Mélange should add it to her list of beautiful Italian words. Who knew that humble parsley could be so entertaining?

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.

 

RELATED LINKS:
* Photo Friday: Treviso spritz

* My Mélange: Italian lessons
* Piola
* our other Treviso pics
* WanderFood Wednesday carnival of foodie blogs


  

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07 July 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: what, no f***in' ziti?
in a NY state of overindulgence

definitely some f***in' ziti!
definitely some f***in' ziti!

I dunno about you, but I associate Manhattan with the world of "clackers" and carb-avoidant anorexic supermodel types. Well, our June weekend spent in NYC — I will post a TBEX recap one of these days, I swear! — proved that starchy goodness is alive and well in the City That Never Sleeps. The above photo was taken at after heading home from one of the TBEX afterparties. I'm not sure if you can quite tell from the photo, but it's a SLICE OF PIZZA WITH ZITI ON TOP. ZOMG, carb catatonia, anyone?

Chocolate-Chocolate at DBGB
Chocolate-Chocolate at DBGB's

Just to clinch it, we spent Sunday night noshing with our DC friends Wil & Sherri, who are in New York for the summer. Apparently, despite an onslaught of visitors, they'd been experiencing a dearth of hardcore foodie goodness, and gleefully took us to DBGB's for a splurge-tastic meal. This fabulous restaurant specializes in delectable small plates and to-die-for desserts. Their notorious "Chocolate Chocolate" sundae was recommended by our waitress and did not disappoint.

And, by the by, we also visited this charming wine bar, although I have no photographic evidence of that portion of the program.

Boof. To the gym!

(But first, hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.)


RECOMMENDED:
DBGB Kitchen & Bar
299 Bowery (btw Houston & 1st Street)
New York, NY 10003

'inoteca
98 Rivington Street (at Ludlow)
New York, NY 10002


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23 June 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: beer & cheese, who knew?
DC Foodies Do Good's May Tweetup

beer and cheese and sausages, oh my!

In honor of DC Foodies Do Good's June tweetup this evening (Macarons & Moscato, yum!) I thought I'd post a few pics from last month's event.

DC Foodies Do Good at Red White & Bleu

The group gathered in May at my favorite local wine & gourmet foods shop, Red White & Bleu, for a tasting of artisan beers and a sampling of cheese and sausage. I have to admit that I'm not normally a big beer drinker, but I am a steadfast admirer of passion and craftsmanship. And this saucy lineup of beers was something else!

om nom nom!

Especially paired with pungent cheeses and melt-in-ya-mouth cinghale sausage. Om nom nom.

Edward loves his beer

The good folks at Red White & Bleu may have made a convert out of me yet. I still have some catching up to do if I want to get to Edward's level though.


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


And be sure to visit the DC Foodies Do Good site to see what tasty treats and feel-good-do-good events are lined up!


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19 May 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: wait for it...

Happiness is plucking a juicy, ripe, red strawberry off a plant in your own backyard, before the birds and squirrels get to it.

so close!

This one is juuuuuuuuuust about ready. It's been taunting me from out on our deck for about a week now. I can see it from my kitchen window. So close!

Ah, the yearnings of springtime.

Technically, this post is a bit of a stretch for WanderFood Wednesday, since I didn't even leave my house. But I'm pretty sure anyone who saw me on the deck this morning, in a bathrobe, meticulously photographing this strawberry, would strongly recommend a trip to the looney bin. So there you go.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


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21 April 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: fish tacos and a fabulous view at George's

I took a llllllllllot of pictures during our recent visit to San Diego, indeed I did. (Hey, it's not my fault everything is so damn gorgeous everywhere you look!) You're going to have to wait a bit longer while I process all those photos, gentle reader. But in the meantime I have a delicious teaser, just in time for WanderFood Wednesday.

Oh, how did I love our lunch at George's at the Cove in La Jolla? Let me count the ways.

ridiculously amazing view
well, there's the ridiculously amazing view

wonderful beer & wine list
the wonderful beer & wine list

pasta with clam sauce
pasta with clam sauce

mmmmm, fish tacos
mmmmm, fish tacos

um, yeah, a good time was had by all
um, yeah, a good time was had by all

view looking up at George's from down in the cove
and here's a view looking up at George's from down in the Cove


If you find yourself in La Jolla, you just gotta check out George's. Be sure to head to the "Ocean Terrace" on the top level, where you get the best views. The food is amazing on all three levels; you just can't go wrong. The ceviche was so good I couldn't even get a picture of it before we scarfed it down. And you can walk off all those delicious calories afterwards by taking a nice stroll down to the Cove to admire the birds, seals, and oceany goodness.

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering travel foodie posts.


RECOMMENDED:
George's at the Cove
1250 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037


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14 April 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: what a pair!
DC Foodies Do Good red wine & chocolate pairing

Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Hazelnut, and 64% Bittersweet chocolates
Tahitian Vanilla Bean, Hazelnut, and 64% Bittersweet chocolates

You can keep your raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens... Two of *my* favorite things are red wine and chocolate. And clearly I'm not the only one who feels this way, as evidenced by the near-maximum-capacity crowd at DC Foodies Do Good's April Tweetup: What a Pair! A Blind Red Wine and Chocolate Tasting at Carafe Winemakers in Alexandria.

Tanisha pours mystery wine #3
Tanisha pours mystery wine #3

Wine educator Tanisha Townsend of The GrapeVine set the stage by explaining that we'd be served three wines in a double-blind tasting. This meant that we would need to pair the wines with both the correct varietal and the correct description on the sheets in front of us. Whew! Fortunately the DC Foodies crew was up to the task, and we diligently set about identifying the merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and grenache (which, craftily, was a fortified wine similar to a port).

handmade goodies
handmade baked goodies

Meanwhile we were treated to chocolates by Artisan Confections and some handmade baked goods from Cakes by the Pound. Heaven! Tanisha explained the difference between “dark fruits” prominent in a cabernet sauvignon and “red fruits” that typically dominate merlot. Darker chocolates, with deep-roasted flavors, pair well with wines having dark, toasty, or chocolatey notes themselves. And the less-sweet the chocolate -- typically those with a higher cacao percentage-- the more likely it will play nice with red wine.

Jennifer, Amy, and Mark do their homework, while Fox 5's Gwen Tolbart supervises
Jennifer, Amy, and Mark do their homework, while Fox 5's Gwen Tolbart supervises

But, let's face it, you can dutifully listen to all the wine education your little pea brain can hold and it still comes down to this: Drink What You Like. Break the rules, it's more fun that way! And I can say without hesitation: red wine & chocolate, me likey! Very erudite, eh?

more fabulous Artisan chocolates
more fabulous Artisan chocolates

This post is part of Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday series. Head on over there for more delicious foodie travel posts!

And if you're a DC-area foodie do-gooder, please join us for one or both of our May events:
* May 6 - Tweetup #5: Stout & Stilton, An Extraordinary Night of Beer and Cheese Pairing
* May 22 - Do-Good Event: breakfast service at Carpenter’s Shelter


RELATED LINKS:
* Carafe Winemakers (where you can blend and bottle your own wines!)
* The GrapeVine LLC | Facebook tasting club
* Artisan Confections
* DC Foodies Do Good


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31 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: DC Foodies Do Good at Miriam's Kitchen
as seen on TV!

It's no secret that I'm both a foodie and a do-gooder, so I was really psyched to find a group that combines both of these pursuits. Started by acclaimed cookbook author Robyn Webb and fellow foodie Line Storgaard-Conley, DC Foodies Do Good gives folks a chance to sample the finer things in life *and* give back to those who have much less. Mark and I helped out at their January event serving dinner at Miriam's Kitchen, and also enjoyed a fabulous chocolate tasting in February. Good times.

DC Foodies Do Good were at Miriam's Kitchen again this week, serving breakfast, and I am so proud to show off the coverage they got on Fox's morning news! Check out my multi-talented man, who not only answers Holly Morris's questions with impressive aplomb, given the ungodly hour, but also pours and flips pancakes like a pro. Is he a keeper or what?

DC Foodies Do Good on Fox

Congrats, Robyn & team, for a great segment! There's also a lovely writeup and link to this video on HuffPo. I hope this inspires people to get out and volunteer, either with DCFDG or another group.

DC Foodies Do Good next events:
* April 7 - red wine & chocolate tasting
* April 25 - lunch service at New Endeavors by Women


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more fantastic foodie posts.

RELATED LINKS:
* DC Foodies Do Good
* Miriam's Kitchen
* WanderFood Wednesday: chocolates around the world
* Holly Morris: DC Foodies Do Good
* Huffington Post: DC Foodies Do Good: Social Club Gives Back, Inspired By Love Of Food


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17 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: I <3 kale

kale veggie stirfry
kale veggie stirfry


This is the perfect time of year to wax poetic about kale.

Still with me? (You're a hardcore bunch of readers and I LOVE you for it!) Allow me to 'splain. We all know that kale is a superstar veggie, ridiculously chockfull of vitamins and minerals and sooooooo good for ya. It's one of the world's healthiest foods. But it's not all that celebrated in its raw form, most notoriously known as salad bar garnish because of the rigidity of its leaves.


nagoya kale
nagoya kale seedlings

Well, I'm excited to be growing several kinds of kale in the garden this year. So I did a bit of research and found some fabulous recipes befitting this fabulous vegetable. One particular recipe, a sausage & kale soup I found in an organic seed company's newsletter, has become my new favorite food and I've been singing its praises every chance I get. The recipe is pretty simple -- spicy turkey sausage, fat-free chicken broth, a ton of kale & garlic, and some cannelini beans, with a dash of your favorite spices to kick it up a notch -- and is really easy to make. It freezes well too. Everytime I eat this soup, I feel like Popeye! It's been a truly awesome tool to battle the nasty colds going around in this season of transition. And the massive amounts of garlic have helped keep vampires away. :)


lacinato kale
lacinato kale seedlings

We'll see how my two types of kale -- a purplish nagoya and an heirloom lacinato -- do in the garden. So far the seedlings seem to be pretty robust, and I've been hardening them off for a few hours outside each day, but I haven't had the chance to actually put them in the ground yet. They'll definitely go in soon, as kale (like fellow brassicas broccoli and cauliflower) flourishes in cool spring weather. I am *so* stoked about the possibility of lots and lots of fresh kale coming straight from my front yard! BTW, the pic at the top is from a kale-barley casserole recipe. It was a bit bland the first time around, so I'm going to experiment with it some more. The stirfry was just gorgeous, though.

If you have any favorite kale recipes, send 'em my way!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

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03 March 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: steamed small meat buns

steamed small meat buns
steamed small meat buns, Shanghai style

Every once in a while, it's fun to go back to an old recipe you haven't made in some time, just to see if your chops have improved. Back in the day, when we were just wee fledgeling foodies, the dish we'd bring out when we really wanted to impress someone came from the "China the Beautiful" cookbook. Steamed small meat buns, while having the added bonus of a kickass name, seemed pretty advanced to us back then. The recipe involves several steps of preparation and assembly, and requires a bit of organization to execute properly. It generally elicited a satisfying chorus of oohs and aahhs from guests, except for that one time our friend Jeannette busted us out for serving Safeway brand duck sauce. D'oh!

assembled and ready to be steamed
assembled and ready to be steamed

Well, I'm tickled to say, we made this dish again recently, and were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pull off! I actually made it nearly singlehandedly while Mark was preparing another dish. OK, we cheated a bit by using store-bought wonton wrappers, rather than making the dough from scratch. But the resulting dish was just as oohh-and-ahh-worthy as ever!

the finished product
the finished product

Shiny and aromatic and fresh from the steamer, the biggest challenge is to wait until these little beauties are cool enough to eat without burning your fingers! This time around, Mark mixed together some soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper flakes for a tasty dipping sauce. No Safeway duck sauce... we've learned our lesson there!

China the Beautiful cookbookThis dish is from the China the Beautiful Cookbook.


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

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24 February 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: chocolates around the world

raw cacao pods and beans
raw cacao pods and beans

Madecasse 63%
Madecasse 63%, from Madegascar


Last night the DC Foodies Do Good group gathered at Biagio Fine Chocolate for an exquisite tasting and education in the art and science of chocolate. Can't have much more fun than that... not with your clothes on, anyway. ;)

Biagio explains the difference between cocoa butter and cocoa solids
Biagio explains the difference between cocoa butter and cocoa solids

Owner Biagio Abbatiello gave us a quick overview on the history of cacao, from the Mayans all the way through the latest renaissance of artisanal chocolates. He also walked us through the complex process of growing beans and producing chocolate, and how many potential points of failure there are along the way. Whew. Don't try this at home!

We learned some fun facts like...

* the Mayans greeted the Spaniards with prized cacao beans, who in turn completely misconstrued this revered gift as lowly almonds

* chocolate played an important role in ancient Mesoamerican culture and great rulers were said to drink up to 50 cups of it per day to increase their potency

* in Dickensian times, all sorts of additives (like brick dust, ew!) were mixed into commercial chocolate, prompting some of the first regulatory measures

* if a chocolate bar has a strong vanilla aroma, it probably means the beans were over-roasted and vanilla was added to cover this flaw

* the percentage of total cacao you see on artisanal chocolates includes cocoa butter as well as cocoa solids, so two 70% bars can have completely different flavors & textures

* there are three types of cacao beans: forastero, trinitario, and criollo; the first is the most common and used in your M&Ms and other "supermarket" chocolate, and you're more likely to see the other two listed on more expensive artisanal chocolates

* listen to your chocolate! good quality chocolate should have a nice crisp snap when you break it, and if you're lucky you and your chocolate might even engage in a conversation

guide to tasting fine chocs
guide to tasting fine chocs

And then, of course, the really fun part... the tasting! Biagio provided 8 different dark chocolate samples and one milk chocolate, ranging from 63% to 75% cacao (and 32% for the milk choc). We nibbled treats from Madagascar to Venezuela and many points in between. As with a wine tasting, there is a distinct multi-step process to allow one to truly appreciate fine artisanal chocolate with all the senses. And indeed we did. I think my favorite was the Hispaniola 70% bar from Rogue Chocolatier, with a surprising burst of burnt orange and hints of cherry. It definitely spoke to me, which was no small feat given that all the arrayed chocs were stellar in their own way.

Bolivia Cru Sauvage 68%
Bolivia Cru Sauvage 68%

Divine 70%
Divine 70% from Ghana

Hispaniola 70%
Hispaniola 70% from the Dominican Republic

Biagio generously provided a gift basket door prize -- as if all that free chocolate wasn't enough! -- and newcomer Amanda was the lucky winner of a sampling of delectable treats from the shop. She promises to return the favor by participating in the next DCFDG, a volunteer session at Miriam's Kitchen.

Amanda and her prize
Amanda and her prize

For those in the DC area, I highly recommend a visit to Biagio Fine Chocolate. The staff is wonderfully knowledgeable, and they're committed to a mission of introducing the best chocolate the world has to offer. And if you're a DC-area foodie, come join the DC Foodies Do Good crew! The group's monthly tweet-ups alternate between educational tastings and community service projects, providing the perfect mix of gustatory comradery and do-goodery.

Michel Cluizel Concepcion 66%
Michel Cluizel Concepcion 66% from Venezuela

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.


RECOMMENDED:
DC Foodies Do Good
organizers: @robynwebb & @storgaardconley

Biagio Fine Chocolate
1904 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202.328.1506

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10 February 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: Penang food court adventures
chowing down at Gurney Drive

squidalicious!
squidalicious!

Inspired by Gary Arndt's recent Operation Street Food, this week's WanderFood Wednesday post is a flashback to our 2008 food court adventures in Penang, Malaysia. Penang is known as a foodie paradise, especially if you're an adventurous eater (and, really, what other kind is there?). The whole town is a treasure trove of street vendors. But Gurney Drive is the mack daddy of food courts, with an abundance of stalls dishing out all manner of Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese delicacies. You just wander through the chaos and point at whatever looks interesting. It's all cheap and delicious, so you might as well experiment!


chicken feet, anyone?
who wants some chicken feet?

treats on sticks
treats on sticks

Sonia slurps some asam laksa
Sonia slurps some asam laksa
 

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.

RELATED LINKS:
* all Penang pics
* all Malaysia pics

* Penang blog stories

* last week's WanderFood post: A few of my favorite things, part four:
small-town restaurants 


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03 February 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: a few of my favorite things, part four
small-town sustenance

mmm, ravioli with duck ragu
mmm, ravioli with duck ragu (Taverna della Rocca, Frontone)

This is the fourth and final installment in a four-part series of my favorite Italian food porn from our recent trip. The other three parts are linked below.

Part four: small-town restaurants
One could argue whether or not some of these sites are actually small towns... it's all relative once you start traveling through the Italian countryside. All of these sites were reached via daytrip from our agriturismo in Le Marche, and each had its own distinct charm. In contrast with our culinary adventures in Florence and Venice, visiting these smaller cities was much more about slow food and slow travel, sampling the local fare, and taking a deep-deep-deep breath to soak it all in. In some cases, we had a recommendation for a specific restaurant. More often than not, we followed our nose and found a place that suited our needs in the moment. Regardless, each of these towns had their own stories to tell; links and recommendations are provided below.

cantucci e vinsanto
cantucci e vinsanto (Vineria PerBacco, Anghiari) 

heart attack on a plate, om nom nom
heart attack on a plate, om nom nom (Agriturismo Olivetano, Perugia) 

panini-licious
panini-licious (Caffe Duomo, Assisi)

Zuppa della Luna
Zuppa della Luna (Osteria Della Luna, Gradara) 

sadly, not the mixed grill… awesome piadine tho
sadly, not the mixed grill… awesome piadine tho (Taverna della Rocca, Frontone)


Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.


RECOMMENDED:
Vineria PerBacco
Galleria girolamo magi
52031 - Anghiari (AR)
+39 0575 788893

Agriturismo Olivetano
Strada dei Cappuccinelli, 18
S. Lucia - Perugia
+39 075 44235

Caffe Duomo
Piazza San Rufino, 5
06081 Assisi
+39 075 81 55 209

Osteria Della Luna Di Ercoles E Cimarelli
Via Umberto Primo
61012 Gradara (PU)
+39 0541 969838

Taverna della Rocca
Via Leopardi, 22
61040 Frontone (PU)
+39 0721 786109


RELATED LINKS:
* A few of my favorite things, part one: big-city restaurants
* A few of my favorite things, part two: festival snacky-treats
* A few of my favorite things, part three: handmade with love

* Anghiari: Tuscan daytrip
* Perugia: full of surprises
* Assisi: saints and sinners
* Frontone: can you smell what the Rocca's cooking?
* Gradara photos

* browse photos by region: Le Marche | Umbria


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27 January 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: a few of my favorite things, part three
handmade with love

first dinner, with fresh veggies from the garden
our first Le Marche dinner, with fresh veggies from the garden
 

This is the third installment in a four-part series of my favorite Italian food porn from our recent trip. The first two parts are linked below.

Part three: handmade with love
We did a lot of self-catering during our time in Le Marche. This was easy to do, given the well-appointed in-room kitchens at La Tavola Marche, not to mention the abundance of fresh produce in the garden out back. We also managed to pick up some fun local ingredients at nearby festivals and markets. And we took a half-day cooking class with Chef Jason, which was truly a wonderful way to learn how to prepare simple, delicious cucina povera.

Here are some of the dishes we learned to make in our cooking class:

pumpkin ravioli
pumpkin ravioli

sardine & sage antipasto
sardine & sage antipasto

grilled polenta, a big slice of heaven
grilled polenta, a big slice of heaven

lasagna made from scratch
lasagna made from scratch
(another guest actually made this, but it was too beautiful NOT to photograph!)


One of the best things about cooking in Italy is the freshness of local ingredients. Not sure how well it comes through in these photographs, but the handmade pasta is actually an orange-y color because the eggs are bursting with Omega-3s and come from happy chickens. The pale sad yellow yolks sold in grocery stores around here just can't compare.


now *that's* what I call a happy ending!
now *that's* what I call a happy ending!
quite possibly the best seafood risotto ever, and other local goodies


Coming up next week: Part four: small-town restaurants!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.


RELATED LINKS:
* A few of my favorite things, part one: big-city restaurants
* A few of my favorite things, part two: festival snacky-treats
* browse all Le Marche pics
* cooking class blog post: These guys can even make fish guts fun!
* browse all market photos


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20 January 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: a few of my favorite things, part two
festival snacky-treats

local pecorino aged in hay
local pecorino aged in hay


As promised, here's the second in a four-part series of my favorite Italian food porn from our recent trip.

Part two: open-air snacks at fabulous festivals
There's no doubt that festivals are *the* place to get the best treats, regardless of where you are in the world. We were fortunate to visit Italy during the fall, which is prime festival season. Two of our favorite fests were fairly close to our home base at La Tavola Marche: the San Sisto Mushroom Festival, and the Apecchio Truffle Festival. They afforded us not only a plethora of tasty snacks, but also a window into small-town life.

get down, get funghi
get down, get funghi

and don't forget the salumi!
and don't forget the salumi!

polenta with ragu and vino della casa
fries, polenta with ragu, and vino della casa

tartufi!
tartufi!

piadine con tartufi
piadine con salsa di tartufi


Missed part one last week?
Coming up next week: Part three: handmade with love!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.


RELATED LINKS:
* A few of my favorite things, part one: big-city restaurants
* San Sisto mushroom festival: story | pics
* Apecchio truffle festival: story | pics
* browse all Le Marche pics
* other blog entries in the "festival" category


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13 January 2010
WanderFood Wednesday: a few of my favorite things, part one
big-city restaurants

pappa al pomodoro, Florence 
pappa al pomodoro, Florence

As a contribution to WanderFood Wednesday, and in preparation for an upcoming exhibit of "food porn" photos, I'm creating a four-part series of my favorite foodie pics from our recent trip to Italy.


Part one: iconic meals in big-city restaurants
We noshed at many wonderful ristoranti, osterie, enoteche, and assorted charming spots during our monthlong gastronomic tour through Italy. Finding affordable food in the major cities was sometimes a challenge, but we ate quite well in both Florence and Venice, as well as nearby cities Murano and Treviso.

patate arroste, Dante, Florence 
patate arroste, Dante, Florence

lardo! il Santino, Florence 
lardo! il Santino, Florence

spaghetti al nero di seppia, Trattoria alla Madonna, Venice 
spaghetti al nero di seppia, Trattoria alla Madonna, Venice

penne al salmone, Trattoria Busa alla Torre, Murano 
penne al salmone, Trattoria Busa alla Torre, Murano

spritz and penne rosate, Piola, Treviso 
spritz and penne rosate, Piola, Treviso

Most of these dishes came from some of our favorite restaurants, which are highly recommended if you find yourself in any of these cities (or suburbs).


RECOMMENDED:
Ristorante Trattoria Dante
Piazza Nazario Sauro, 12/R
50124 Firenze
+39 055.219219

il Santino Gastronomia
Via di Santo Spirito, 60-red
50125 Firenze
+39 055.2302820

Trattoria alla Madonna
Calle della Madonna San Polo 594
30124 Venezia (VE)
+39 041.5223824

Trattoria Busa alla Torre da Lele
Campo San Stefano No 3
Murano (VE)
+39 041.739662

Piola
Via Carlo Alberto, 11/a
31100 Treviso (VE)
+39 0422.540287


Coming up next week: Part two: festival snax!

Hop on over to Wanderlust & Lipstick's WanderFood Wednesday for more mouth-watering pics.


RELATED LINKS:
* browse all Florence pics
* browse all Venice pics
* browse all Murano pics
* browse all Treviso pics

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23 December 2009
WanderFood Wednesday: Fano market

fresher than fresh
fresher than fresh

In this season of snow and ice, it's tantalizing to daydream of greener days when fresh produce wasn't so challenging to find. In honor of WanderFood Wednesday, here are some pics from our October visit to the Fano market, just an hour's drive from our agriturismo. The market cranks into action each Saturday morning, and is sandwiched between medieval churches and ancient Roman gates in Fano's narrow streets.

the hungry crowd wants fresh produce!
the hungry crowd wants fresh produce!

The array of produce, cheeses, breads, and assorted other items for sale is just staggering. And the vendors are just as colorful.

The Egg Guy doesn't mess around
The Egg Guy doesn't mess around

piadine lady servin' up some goodness
piadine lady servin' up some porchetta goodness

phenomenal pepper cheese
phenomenal pepper cheese

This post is part of Wanderlust & Lipstick's mouth-watering WanderFood Wednesdays.


RELATED LINKS:
* browse all pics from our trip to the Fano market
* visit W&L for more great foodie photos


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07 October 2009
These guys can even make fish guts fun!
cooking class at La Tavola Marche
What better way to bide the time waiting for the arrival of our new laptop than take a half-day cooking class at La Tavola Marche? We'll fill in the details soon... sardine guts and hand-cranked pasta and grilled polenta, oh my! But in the meantime here are a few pics to tantalize and tempt and hopefully capture what a truly delightful day we had. First in the kitchen with Jason and then at the table with both Jason & Ashley (and also their hilariously crusty neighbor). Couldn't think of a more splendid way to spend a sunny Wednesday!

la bella cucina
la bella cucina

Sardine antipasto in progress
sardine antipasto in progress

grilled polenta, awwwwww yeah!
grilled polenta, awwwwwww yeah!

lookin' stylish in our LTM aprons
lookin' stylish in our LTM aprons

il Dottore stops by to bust balls
il Dottore stops by to bust balls

Jason is *so* pretty when he serves the coffee
Jason is *so* pretty when he serves the coffee

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15 November 2008
Party time, excellent!

funky Asian fruits
funky Asian fruits

Lots of activity around the house today, as Ma Tuk and her cadre of helpers got the place ready for "a little lunch party." They set up tables by the pool, and ordered enough food to feed an army. We were summoned down to the main house (cell phones as intercom, that's handy!) to watch some of the funeral proceedings on TV. What a huge affair! On par with Princess Di's funeral, methinks. Gigantic parade down the center of town with the body ensconced in an enormous gold boat that is apparently only used for royal funerals. I don't even know how many thousands of peole were involved in the parade -- several squadrons of monks, some high-ranking generals, plus at least a dozen different military divisions, each with their own distinct uniform and silly hat ensemble. My favorite was the tall blue Marge Simpson-looking hat, but the puffy Beefeaterish hats were a close second. It was tough to follow exactly what was going on, except that the beloved Princess, older sister of the king and doer of great charitable deeds, was being paraded verrrrrrrry slowly through the streets of Bangkok.

around the house: Ma Tuk's silk flowers around the house: pool and party room-guesthouse endless buffet table 

Around noon, Bruce & Anne arrived along with an assortment of aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. We showed them around the estate -- they were suitably impressed -- and then it was time to eat. The usual ridiculous feast, and everything was insanely delicious. The assorted fruits were particularly lovely... everything from mango and watermelon to jackfruit, dragonfruit, star fruit, and Thai pears. Yum!

chai vendor at Chatuchaklanterns at Chatuchak MarketWe hung out for a bit, and then took a trip out to Chatuchak Market. It was about as frenzied as expected, although not as manic as the flower market, which is still the gold standard for completely loco. Chatuchak is one of Bangkok's biggest markets, pretty touristy, with rows and rows of just about anything for sale you could possibly imagine. Lots of cheap clothing, tacky tchotchkes, crafty goodness, and of course tons of food! It was difficult to even think about eating after the afternoon's feast, but I did buy a Thai iced coffee, which was delicious and served with much aplomb. We picked up a few souvenir items, and eventually found a taxi that would take us back to the house for a reasonable amount of baht. Yes, we are walking dollar signs, I realize that, but do we really need to be raked over the coals EVERY time we get into a cab?

Back at the house, it was time for another meal of the leftovers from lunch. Bruce & Anne were incredulous, like "are you kidding me? we're eating AGAIN??" We just shrugged, knowing it's useless to struggle against the indomitable force of Ma Tuk's hospitality, and dug into another plate full of treats. Life does not suck.

RELATED POSTS:
* Not-so-divine comedy
* Happy Loy Krathong!
* Chachoengsao and a river cruise (+ night flower market)
 

 

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