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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Well. Where were we? Oh yeah, so after I met Dorie (!), my sister and I went to Norway and Spain, and then I moved from Boston.

Wait, you say. What? you think. Didn’t you just move? you shake your head. Well, yes. Yes, I did just move. But it’s been a complicated multi-stage move and I’ve had a hard time cutting the cord. I sublet a place in Brooklyn for three weeks and then went back to Boston. I returned to Brooklyn to another apartment, for 5 weeks this time. Then I took over a friend’s lease in my old Upper West Side neighborhood, happily living mere blocks from my support system of friends. That lasted four months. The apartment, not the friends. And finally I moved to my current place. And earlier this month, I let go of my lease in Boston and transported the remainder of my belongings – furniture, books, pots and pans, scuba gear, and all – into my place in New York.

In case you’re counting, it’s been a year since I made those first tentative steps away from one career towards the uncertainty of another.

For most of my life, I’ve known what I was going to do next. There was always another school. A better job. A promotion. And now, I’m starting from scratch and for the first time ever, I don’t know what’s coming next. Will I eventually open a cafe? Write a cookbook? Work on the corporate side in a large restaurant group? Teach the principles of hospitality to other industries (healthcare, I’m looking at you!)? Cook for my family? There are all things I’m considering. And in the end, it will probably be a combination of several of these options. Which ones? I have no idea.

I met with a colleague and mentor the other day and we spoke about uncertainty. She encouraged me to just be. Or, in her words, to “grow where you’re planted.” I find myself repeating this phrase to myself multiple times a day. When I question what I’m doing. When other people question what I’m doing.

So, I’m going to make a deal with you. For a little while, I’m going to just be. To grow where I’m planted. To be OK with it. To be happy with it. Now here’s where you come in. Please believe me when I say that I’m happy being where I am right now. Please trust me when I say that I don’t yet have a clear vision for where I’m headed but that everything will work out. Please gently push me out of my comfort zone. And with your help, I’ll continue to believe in myself and trust my instincts and push my own limits.

And in return, I will give you the gazpacho recipe I picked up in Barcelona. How’s that for a win-win?

gazpacho

In Barcelona, my sister was in charge of directions and getting us where we wanted to go, and I was in charge of food. We saw a lot of Gaudí, ate ice cream at least once a day, and took a cable car across the port. We took the elevator to the top of Sagrada Família and wound our way down a narrow seashell staircase. We spent a day at a beach just a half hour outside Barcelona by train. We spent evenings by the pool on the roof of the hotel that we splurged on.

The only traditional tapas bar I went to was on a food tour the first night. The tour was enjoyable if unremarkable until I asked our guide for his favorite place to eat gazpacho. With this question, his eyes lit up. I make the best gazpacho, he said. Before I could ask him for his recipe, he started enumerating on his fingers. Take four tomatoes – make sure they’re really ripe. And then one cucumber. Remove the peel and the seeds. One pepper. Red. Or green. But red is best for the color. Use red. Then one onion, about this size, holding up a clenched fist. And garlic. One or two cloves. Maybe three. Yes, three. And one-third of a baguette. Or half of a small one. It should be the size of the cucumber. Put it all in a blender. Add olive oil and vinegar. Sherry vinegar, of course. But the secret, he leaned in for effect. The secret, he beckoned, is cumin.

Just two days after returning from Spain, I gathered gazpacho ingredients, threw them in a blender, measured and tweaked and substituted. I stuck a pitcher in the fridge, and then I left to pack up the apartment in Boston that I had called home for five years. When I returned to New York, furniture and books and pots and pans and scuba gear in tow, the gazpacho was waiting for me.

Gazpacho

This recipe is based on the one given to me by my tapas tour guide in Barcelona. Here I use cucumbers with thick waxy skin as he recommended. You can use “seedless” Persian or English cucumbers if you prefer. The raw onion and garlic give the soup quite a bite, but it does mellow out after a day or two. Make sure to serve the soup with some chopped vegetables and croutons for garnish and crunch. 

Makes approximately 2 quarts

- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes

- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed

- 1 1/2 red pepper, seeds removed

- 1 small yellow or red onion

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 stale baguette (approximately the same length as the cucumbers laid end to end)

- 1/4 C olive oil, preferably arbequina

- 2 T sherry vinegar

- 1 T cumin

- salt

- Optional garnish: diced tomato, cucumber, and pepper; small croutons

Chop. Roughly chop all the vegetables.

Soak. Tear the baguette in small pieces and cover with warm water until very soggy.

Blend. Add all of the vegetables to your blender and go to town until very smooth. Drain the water from the bread, reserving it for later. Add the bread and continue to blend until very smooth. Add oil, vinegar, cumin. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and then keep adding it by the teaspoonful until the gazpacho tastes good to you. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with the reserved bread water.

Strain. If you want your gazpacho to be silky smooth, do like most restaurants and push it through a cheesecloth lined strainer. I don’t bother.

Chill. Let the gazpacho chill for at least 2 hours or ideally overnight.

Serve. Serve in wide bowls with small plates of diced tomato, cucumber, pepper, and croutons. Drizzle with olive oil.

***

Here are some of the restaurants that my sister and I enjoyed in Barcelona. I tried gazpacho at nearly every single one of them.

Bar Mut
Sam (the General Manager at USC and my boss) sent me here, referring to it as Balthazar meets tapas bar and recommending we show up in the late afternoon after the lunch rush. Beneath a  an unassuming corner in what can only be described as the urban equivalent of the middle of nowhere (particularly in comparison to the bustle of las Ramblas), Bar Mut is truly a hidden gem. There are no menu. The website is little more than an address, a phone number, and a 17 minute video called Intereses Mundanos (Mundane Interests) that gives the restaurant an air of mystery. Daily specials are scrawled on a blackboard above the bar,  but the best way to order is to engage your server in a dialogue about your hunger, mood, likes and dislikes, and let him guide you. Some of the fish entrees can get quite pricey.
Address: Carrer de Pau Claris, 192 (at Diagonal)
Area: Eixample

Cornelia and Co.
Cornelia and Co is part restaurant, part gourmet take-away.
Address: Carrer de València, 225
Area: Eixample

Els Quartre Gats (4 Gats)
Go here for the art work and history as a modernist salon of sorts. The food is decent enough, but overpriced. That said, I had amazing pan con tomato.
Address: Carrer de Montsió, 3
Area: Barri Gòtic

Teresa Carles
Just a few blocks from La Rambla and on a quiet pedestrian street, this vegetarian restaurant is a nice break from meat-heavy menus. You can design your own salads and get a juice fix. My sister particularly enjoyed the seitan and tofu sliders.
Address: Jovellanos, 2
Area: Las Ramblas

Torre d’Alta Mar
This restaurant can be a bit confusing to find. It’s located at the top of the tower from which the Telefèric del Port cable car launches. While quite pricey, we had some of the best and most interesting food of our trip here and the view of the port is spectacular. 
Address: Passeig Joan de Borbó, 88 (take the elevator up)
Area: Barceloneta

 

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howdy

I just got back from a few days in Austin and want to share a few photos of this live-music-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, two-stepping, hot-hot-hot food mecca.

Have a great week, y’all!

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Happy Place

Maria

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fiddle BW base

mura twinkle

Bloody Marys

Jo’s Cafe
242 West Second Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.469.9003
And other locations

Maria’s Taco Xpess
529 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
512.444.0261

The Continental Club
1315 South Congress
Austin TX 78704
512.441.2441

Austin Food Trailers – all over

La Condesa
400A West 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.499.0300

Allen’s Boots – yup, I bought cowboy boots!
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
512.447.1413

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around and around

My last full day in Vienna, I woke up with the city. Before the cafes opened, I stepped out of my hotel into the misty haze hiding the slowly rising sun. I boarded a small bus and sat next to the driver as we made our way through the sleepy streets.  Past the men in light green jumpsuits sweeping the pavement. Past the early pedestrian commuters waiting on the curb for the light to turn before crossing the road, despite ours being the only car in sight.

Less than an hour into the drive, we watched from the highway as Bratislava approached and faded away. Hours before the time I normally wake up on a Sunday, we arrived in Budapest.

We spent the remainder of the morning criss-crossing the Danube from Buda to Pest and back again. We spent some time in the Castle District, roaming around the cobblestone streets and snagging glimpses of the buildings over on the Pest side.

A few minutes scaling the walls and I was ready to eat.

I was planning to step into the oldest cafe in Budapest for a slice of cake and tea, but got sidetracked by the scent of caramelizing sugar wafting from an open window. I entered the little bakery and watched as the woman in the white and black polka dot apron made Kürtőskalács, also known as chimney cakes. She rolled out the soft sweet dough and used a pizza cutter to separate out long strips. She methodically spiralled the strips of dough around a small long-handled rolling pin. She rolled the pin on the counter to smooth out the edges. She brushed the dough with butter and rolled it in sugar. She placed the pins of dough in the oven  hearth. A motor in the back turned them slowly as the caramelizing sugar crept around and around the dough.

Prompted more by my unwavering daze than the several Euros I dropped on the counter with a clink, she placed the still crackling brûléed sweet in a cellophane sleeve and then in my outstretched hands. I walked out, unraveling my snack as steam puffed out of the center like the chimney it was named after.

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I’m back from my spur-of-the-moment weekend in Vienna.  No recipe today, but there’s a sachertorte in our future. Once I translate a few recipes from German.

If you’ve never been, then let me tell you – Vienna is a walkable elegant city. Perhaps the most elegant city I’ve ever visited.

Elegant in a dapper sort of way.

In that shine your shoes, brush off your coat, adjust your tie, comb your hair, and don your hat before heading out into the light drizzle sort of way. The kind of city that holds open the door for you as you pass through.

Alyson and I snagged an amazing room on the Ringstraße, the road that encircles Vienna’s central district. If you’re wondering how to pronounce “Ringstraße,”  I can assure you that it’s not “Ringestrabe.”  Despite what our taxi driver told us, that beta-looking letter is not a “B.” It’s a double-S.

While we’re on the topic, let me just say that we did not have much taxi luck in Vienna. After we walked to Alef Alef in the former Jewish ghetto and found it closed from Thursday to Sunday, we hailed a taxi to take us to Simchas. When we gave the driver the address, he shook his head and pointed to the bridge in front of us. “Just go across the Danube and the restaurant is straight ahead. 10 minutes.” He was the only taxi around, so we walked across the river. And kept walking. And walking. We walked one more block. And then we found another taxi to take us the next two meandering miles.

We visited several cathedrals and a museum and went to a concert (though we were dissapointed that “The Cat’s Duet” was missing from the program). Then we spent the rest of our time eating (and a little requisite shopping). There’s a fabulous line in a book I read a few months ago that could not be closer to the truth, especially in Vienna: “The only reason I travel … is for an excuse to eat more than usual.”

I was determined to taste as many sachertortes as possible. For the record, my favorite one was the first one I tried – that very one staring at  you. It was not particularly sweet, hit the right level of denseneess without being dry, with just a subtle layer of apricot beneath a thin, dark, rich (sounds like a pretty good date to me) coating of chocolate.

Anyway, our days went something like this:

Drag ourselves out of bed.

Coffee and pastry for breakfast, at a kaffeehaus chosen the night before. (It’s no wonder that the French refer to pastries as “viennoiserie.”)

After breakfast, wander around and see a site or two. After about two hours, one of us would say, “are you hungry yet?”

The other one would say, “no…but I want to eat anyway.”

And so we did.

The afternoon? A repeat of the morning.

And then after dinner, plan where to have breakfast the next morning.

One morning, I woke up early and broke tradition: rather than going to our previously-agreed-upon cafe, I asked our hotel receptionist to recommend the best place for coffee. She said to skip the well-known places, walk down a side street, and find a small, old, dark cafe with a grumpy waiter. I landed at Cafe Frauenhuber and drank my coffee a few tables away from that lovely gentleman you see at the beginning of this story.

And one morning, we skipped the kaffeehaus all together in favor of a French cafe across the street from our hotel. I noticed it our first evening, drawn to the long communal table that I glimpsed through the window.

I was very excited to strike up a conversation with the strangers on the other side of the vast table. If I ever open a restaurant, I’m going to call it “à table” – just like that, without caps with a little bit of a French-English pun. It will be grounded around a huge table, maybe two. It will get crowded at times – just the way I like it. And you’ll make fleeting friends with strangers. Maybe not so fleeting. But that’s all a dream right now.

In between cafes, we wandered out to Naschmarkt – once we heard how it was pronounced — nosh market — how could we miss it?

Apparently Vienna is the cool place to go these days — at the very moment we were in town, the New York Times ran a segment about spending 36 hours there. And, before the rest of the Times-reading world flocks to it, I managed to get a seat at Motto em Fluss — their newly-discovered and recommended bar/lounge/restaurant built atop a ferry station on the Danube.

I spent my last day in Budapest, just a 2 hour drive from Vienna. That story to come.

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more later

Guten Morgen from München. Well, the airport at least.

Look what was waiting for me at the Dallmayr cafe an hour before my connecting flight.

Ahhh…

A croissant so good that it left a trail of crispy flakes down the front of my shirt.

Another short flight and I’m off to get wienerschnitzel in Austria.

More later.

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Do you know what these are?

They’re pibá.

Since it’s 6 am and I’m wide awake (did  you hear that? awake!) a full hour before my alarm goes off, I figure I’ll tell you a little about pibá while baking a cake (bread?) to pass the time. Since I can’t fall back asleep. Yeah…I’m wierd that way.

So, here’s the deal. Pibá is a fruit. In fact it’s the fruit of the palm tree. And it started our trip out to Santa Clara.

In case you don’t remember, two years ago, my friend Elvera and I went to Panama and stayed with our friends Joe and Victoria and baby Jack. We ate very very very well. We arrived on the day that a long awaited new road was opened in Panama City, and were some of its first passengers. Midway through our trip was a national holiday as President Martinelli was sworn in. Everyone was off work, so Vic, Elvera, and I prepared a picnic lunch (including some pibá), Joe packed up the car, and we all drove out to Santa Clara beach about an hour southwest of Panama City on the Pacific Ocean.

We stop along the Pan-American Highway at Quesos Chela – arguably the best cheese maker in the country …

… and kosher to boot.

After stocking up on a lot of dairy to supplement the cooked pibá and salads we packed, I settle down with a coconut. And a straw.

(Hold on, the oven is beeping. The cake is done.)

Twenty more minutes in the car, barely enough time for the cheese to reach perfect-for-eating room temperature, we drive up to a house.

We pull up alongside this bicycle.


We walk down a path.

We find our own private beach.

Look what’s waiting for us.

The weather quickly turns from sunny to overcast to downright stormy.

We pack up our bags and bid our oasis adieu.

(There goes my alarm. Time to get ready for work. Do you think my new colleagues will like the cake?)

Pibá

Rinse pibá.

Drop into salted boiling water.

Boil for about 20 minutes until tender.

Rinse with cold water.

Let cool.

With a salt shaker nearby and a sharp knife, peel the orange skin and eat the white, starchy fruit. It tastes a bit like a dense potato.

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Some friends and I are planning an island vacation. We spent hours and hours and hours choosing an island, the right flights, and the best hotel. In just over a week (1 week!!!), we’ll be lying on a beach, being served drinks. By hot men. Well, maybe the last part if we’re lucky.

I haven’t yet told my friends about my last beachy vacation when Elvera and I almost missed our flight home. (Ok, so I just spoiled the ending of the story).

In case you forgot, let me remind you about that trip. For a week in July 2009, my friend Elvera and I stayed with Joe and Victoria and their growing family in Panama City, and were wined and dined  nearly every night. Having quickly found a favorite restaurant and eaten there twice in four days, I was determined to meet the chef. With such a tight-knit Jewish community in Panama, it wasn’t difficult to get the email address of Darna owner and chef, Ayelet. We agreed to meet on the morning of my departure at her newest venture – Darna Bread. Leaving the next day for a few days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro, we settled on Sunday morning a few hours before our flight home.

After arriving from Bocas at nearly midnight and frantically re-packing our over-stuffed bags, we awoke early Sunday morning determined to find Darna Bread. With directions in hand, we found a taxi and in our broken Spanish (read: Elvera speaks medical Spanish and I can pick my way through a menu) tried to get to the cute little coffeehouse we had heard so much about from the locals. An hour later, several pantomime conversations with strangers on the street, and a little bit of a hike, we finally finally finally found our way. In addition to eating a delicious shakshuka breakfast, snapping photos, and checking out the lending library on the walls, I had the chance to sit down with Ayelet. She told me of her plans to open a third restaurant (now open) and how she and her sister ended up in Panama from Israel. We shared recipes and her challah recipe below has become a favorite.

As we were chatting, Elvera kept giving me looks. Tapping her watch. Leaning her head towards the door. I, of course, saw her…and ignored her. She finally came over and said we really had to go. Just a few  more questions? She frowned. A few questions later, I joined her back at our table, ate the last, now cold, bites of shakshuka. We called a taxi, paid, threw our remaining bread in a bag. As we jumped into the taxi, our phone rang — it was Joe, wondering where we were and sounding a bit panicked. We assured him we were en route. We had the taxi wait while we ran up to grab our luggage and hug Joe, Vic, and little Jack goodbye.

We got to the airport 59 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off. That’s one minute after the check-in cutoff. Some spectacular negotiating tactics finally got us onto the flight and on our way home.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these negotiating tactics since then.

Darna Challah

This is Ayelet’s recipe with just a few little tweaks. I use my mixer to knead the dough. And I like Ayelet’s use of a bowl of water in the oven while the challot are baking to help the crust form. This recipe makes 2 very large challot. It’s a little more time intensive than my bread machine challah recipe, but I actually think it has a better texture.

- 3 T dry yeast

- 3 T sugar

- warm water (~2C)

- 1 kg bread flour (aka 8 cups)

- 1 T salt

- 3 eggs

- 3/4 C oil

- 1 egg for egg wash

- sesame seeds

Prepare the yeast. Dissolve yeast in ~1/2 C warm water and sugar. Allow to percolate until frothy. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Mix the dough. Throw flour, yeast mixture, salt, eggs, and oil into your mixer. Start to knead with the dough hook and slowly add water “until you get a nice dough.” OK – I realize these are not the most exact directions, but this is what Ayelet suggested and I’m sticking to it. I added about 1.5 cups of water. Then I had to add some flour. Then a little water. And a little more flour. But it just kind of worked. Eventually the dough came together, stopped sticking to the bowl and completely wrapped around the dough hook.

Knead. I let my mixer do some of the kneading (about 5+ minutes) and then knead it by hand on a floured surface for another 5+ minutes.

Let rise. Roll dough into a ball and let rise in the mixer bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour over a warm oven until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, knead it and let it rise again until doubled. Divide dough into six or eight equal-sized balls, depending on whether you plan to make 3- or 4-stranded challot (or 12 or 16 if you’re planning to make 4 challot).

Braid. Divide dough into equal-sized pieces – the number of pieces depends on how many challahs and what type of braid you plan to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand. If you want to make a four-stranded braid as pictured, start by pinching four strands together at one end. A four-stranded braid is actually weaving and always starts on the same side (rather than conventional braiding that involves alternately crossing strands from the right and left). Weave the leftmost strand over its neighboring strand, under the next one, and over the fourth, laying it down on the far right of the braid. Pick up the new leftmost strand and weave over-under-over as before. Continue until the end of the braid and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Bake. Whisk an egg with a few splashes of cold water. Brush this egg wash over the challah and sprinkle with seeds if you’d like. Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

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postcard

Whenever I travel, my sister asks for a postcard. I always buy a few. I usually write at least one. Sometimes I even get a stamp. Rarely does a card hit a foreign mailbox. Almost always, the cards are hand-delivered. And while one of the postcards has already been signed, stamped, sent, and received, until the others arrive, this post(card) will have to do.

Last month, my friend Sarah and I crisscrossed the Portugal-Spain border. The day I stumbled into Lisbon, still recovering from my red-eye and transfer in Munich, Sarah welcomed me with a box of pastéis de nata. Our time in Portugal revolved around these incredible custard tarts in a caramelized crust. Sarah wanted to sample pastéis de nata from every corner bakery and pasteleria we passed, but once I tried the original from Pastéis de Belém, I couldn’t go back to mere copies. I loved the ones in Belém so much that on our last day in Lisbon, we took a €15 taxi for one final taste. And we did take in a few sights, including ducks, peacocks, and a couple of Portuguese good luck symbols in a little park near our hotel.

If Lisbon was all about the sweet, then Seville was all about the savory and the sensual. (Ahem … tapas and flamenco.)

We started our time in Seville with a tapas tour. Best. Idea. Ever. What better re-introduction to a city I hadn’t visited since college than a four hour (tapas) bar crawl with a virtual local (Shawn) who can find food to satisfy any taste? I like fish and vegetables, Sarah wanted to try everything. And Shawn navigated our preferences as easily as she navigated around the Sunday after-churchgoers vying for space up against the bar under dozens of jamón hanging from the ceiling like the pots and pans that adorn my own kitchen. She also armed us for our own gourmand adventures over the next few days with lists of restaurant recommendations and real-time tweets about where to go and when to show up to guarantee a table early or to catch the kitchen before it closed.

Sarah’s done a great job of cataloging her favorite stops. Just like I can’t stop thinking about the best pastéis de nata in Belém, I keep replaying in my mind our meal at La Azotea until my mouth waters (as cliché as that sounds). After several days of largely fried foods, I was craving more vegetables than salmorejo could offer (more on that cousin of gazpacho in just a bit). La Azotea delivered.

We were greeted and seated just before 1:00 at one of only six tables. Just in time, too, because by 1:15, all six of those tables were filled and the waiters could barely squeeze past the lunching crowd crowding the bar.  Lucky for us, owner Juan helped us choose lunch and wine and dessert. Course after course,we pulled out our cameras and peppered Juan with questions.

When I asked for a recommendation on a good local wine store, Juan slipped out the front door with us, crossed the street and unlocked the door to Vinos y Más. Only open in the evening, the restaurant’s wine bar is filled with some of Spain’s best goodies, from local wines and olive oils lining two walls to cheeses and meats behind a glass case. Wine barrels scattered in the small space serve as high-top tables. I leaned against one as Juan helped me pick out several wines to bring home (to be carried back, as usual, in my suitcase).

When we finally followed the scent of orange blossoms  back to Santa Cruz, it was nearly 5:00 pm.

After days of stuffing ourselves with tapas and walking from monument to cathedral to clothing store, we dedicated our nights to flamenco. We saw one,  sometimes two shows a night: in tablaos like my favorite El Arenal and the more commercial Los Gallos; at Museo del Baille Flamenco – the flamenco museum where I also took a flamenco dance class (!!); at La Carbonería (Levíes, 18), a hidden-from-the-street almost subterranean bar with a nightly flamenc0 gathering at 11:00 pm. Clearly we should have hit La Carbonería before our last night when we had to catch a midnight bus back to Lisbon.

Flamenco is all about the interplay between the dance, the music, and the song. Assuming that I would mainly watch the dancer, I found myself again and again drawn to the guitarist’s fingers strumming, plucking, tapping the strings and reflected in the dancer’s expression and fanning hands.

My dance training always emphasized that even the most difficult step should appear light and effortless. In flamenco, emotion is at the fore and effort-full movement follows. They literally dance from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers. The result is passion. It’s not always pretty, but it’s very very real. (Can you tell I’m planning to take some more classes?)


Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about that salmorejo  recipe I promised. Every day (sometimes twice a day) I ate this tomato-only, slightly thicker with the addition of more day-old bread, riff on gazpacho. Or maybe gazpacho is a riff on salmorejo. Luckily, I love them both.

Salmorejo



Salmorejo is a creamy chilled tomato soup thickened with bread. It is traditionally served with a sprinkle of diced egg and ham.

Gather.

- 8-12 ripe tomatoes

- 2 garlic cloves

- 1/4 C sherry vinegar (can substitute wine vinegar)

- sea salt to taste (I used ~2 t)

- 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- 2/3 day old baguette (~200 gm) — in a pinch, I’ve used pita!

- Fruity olive oil (Spanish arbequina is perfect for salmorejo – if you can’t get it in Spain, Unió is my favorite and available online and at Whole Foods)

- 2 eggs

Purée. Core and roughly chop the tomatoes. You can peel them for a smoother consistency, but I haven’t found that it makes an appreciable difference. Throw them in blender with the garlic and purée. A lot. The mix will be a light red. Add vinegar, salt, and regular olive oil. Keep puréeing until smooth and orange. This can take a few minutes. You might need to do it in 2 batches.

Soak. Tear up the bread and drop into the blender with the tomato mixture. Let soak for about 15 minutes until soggy.

Boil. Hard boil the eggs. Cool.

Purée again. Once the bread is good and soggy, purée until smooth and even lighter orange.

Garnish. Drizzle with a special fruity olive oil and sprinkle with chopped egg (and ham if you want).



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The past month has been characterized by two constants – snow and travel. And unfortunately (or fortunately in some cases) the former has been interfering with the latter. I’ve managed to miss both major snowstorms here in Boston, returning to an icy runway and snow piles well above my waist.

Over Christmas, Meira and I went out to San Francisco to visit her brother and sister-in-law. And their two pups. We ate and ate and drank and ate. It was a gluttonous few days including the times when we did cook at home. In the span of 48 hours, we had three different beef dishes — brisket, Micah’s cholent (hopefully the subject of a guest post), and hamburgers. We rounded out shabbat dinner with a few of my old standbys — butternut squash soup and apple cake — and some new favorites that I picked up from Eliana. Before we get to the recipes and as I pack (yet again) to head out of town, I figured I’d share a little sunshine (I hope it still comes through in my experiments with sepia) on this gray gray Boston day.



Roasted Bites

I didn’t grow up eating brussels sprouts and always avoided them based on reputation. But, Eliana showed me how to make them fabulous. And the sweet potatoes were a concoction that I had been dreaming up as a ravioli filling, but I like them so much on their own that I have yet to mash them to fill some pasta.

Brussels Sprouts

Preheat oven to 450ºF (or even higher). Cut sprouts in half or quarters, toss on a cookie sheet, and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. 10-20 minutes later, they will brown and crisp up, ready to pop in your mouth.


Sweet Potato Candy

The maple syrup caramelizes but is not too sweet and the cayenne really spices things up.

Again, heat the oven to 450ºF. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes.  Toss on a cookie sheet (are you sensing a theme here?), drizzle with maple syrup, a squeeze of lemon, and olive oil. Add your favorite spices – I used turmeric and cayenne. 15-25 minutes later (depending on size of sweet potatoes) they’re ready.

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I  bet you thought I was going to talk about Thanksgiving. Nope. Too predictable. Instead, I have a very special gift for you.

Today, I want to introduce you to Julie. She has been thinking about starting her own food blog, so help me encourage her with this baby step she’s making. Julie has actually been with me on my entire blogventure. We were in Paris together exactly 2 years ago when I met Clotilde Desoulier at a book signing and decided to start little cooking diary. We spent that night figuring out where we were going to spend the next 5 days and how to actually get there, with periodic breaks for me to gush about how excited I was to start a blog. We checked airlines, train schedules, and travel sites, finally formulating our plan at 3 am. We would take an overnight train from Paris to Berlin, spend the day and a night in Berlin, and then go to our main destination, Prague the next morning.

Arriving in Berlin, we toured around, drank some beer (I know, me, beer!), cancelled our hotel, and spent the night in a casino. We jumped on the early morning train, snoozed, and a few hours later, disembarked when we heard commotion in the aisle and the conductor shouting something in Czech (well, we assumed it was Czech). We found a taxi and showed the driver a printout of our hotel address. He loaded our luggage into his trunk and then started driving into a residential neighborhood in the mountains. We looked at each other in the back seat and shrugged; I mouthed to Julie, “I thought we were just a few minutes from downtown Prague.” Neither of us spoke Czech and our driver didn’t speak English (or Russian for that matter). The driver pulled up next to another car parked near the driveway of a house. A quick exchange of words with the driver of the parked car and our driver was gifted with a GPS. Again, Julie and I shrugged at each other. We started driving and driving and finally, from the back seat, we were able to inquire as to why this was taking so long. Turns out, we had managed to detrain right after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic, over an hour from Prague. Our driver returned us to the border station and refused our money. We took another train to the right stop this time.

Prague was freezing. We went to the castle, the opera, the Alte-Neu synagogue. We ate venison (first time ever for me) in a restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. We took a mini-cruise along the Vltava River.

The prior year, Julie and I had spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving together in Amsterdam and Brussels. It seems Thanksgiving has become a bit of a tradition for us. This year, we are both in Miami with our families. I’m hoping Julie and her parents will come over for dessert.

You know, I said this wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving post. But apparently it is. Thanks, Julie, for being a great friend and travel partner!

***

I was asked to write a guest blog a while back by my friend, Gayle, and I procrastinated because I really didn’t know which dish to write about.  I love food, and all cuisines—from the most complex and authentic to the simplest of dishes. Having a wide range of different dishes prepared by my mom, who is one of the best cooks I know, and by experiencing the cuisine of different countries through the travels I’ve done over the years, I’ve developed a special love for food.  And of course, if there is an idea about a dish in my head, I always try to make it at home. As I was deciding on the menu for the blog post, I really wanted to combine something old and traditional with something new and fresh that I could relate to my every day life.

Back in February, I was in Amsterdam for a friend’s wedding and was invited to one of the sheva brachot. The hostess informed everyone that she wasn’t going to be cooking much, just dunne pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I was very excited to try real traditional Dutch food. Finally, when she brought out a huge plate of what seemed to me a stock of typical Russian blini, I was pleasantly surprised to see a taste of home. “This is not Dutch,” I thought to myself,these are Russian blini!” I grew up with blini, topped with caviar, lox, Nutella, jam or whatever other toppings you could think of.  After seeing 30 Dutch people eating their Dutch dunne pannekoeken and folding them a different way, I realized that food is what binds us together; we may come from different corners of the world but we all eat the same food. The only difference is that we call it our own, and by our own names: blini, blintzes, crepes, or dunne pannekoeken. It’s that comfort food that is universal and loved by the whole world.  This is the reason I chose to share the blini recipe with you, along with another episode from my life—that reminded me of my childhood—that would complement the Russian blinis.

Blini

<<note from Gayle: I made these and they came out so well that I ate the entire batch for breakfast. I used skim milk and it worked very well. I think I could have thinned out the batter a bit with more hot water to make the blini easier to spread in the pan. Julie recommended experimenting with the right “ladle size” to give you just enough batter to cover the bottom of your pan. I used ~1/3  cup of batter and made 10 blinis. Julie’s thinner batter made closer to 15 blinis. >>

- 1 cup of milk (or soy milk)

- 1 cup of flour

- 2 eggs

- 1/4 cup of oil

- pinch of baking powder

- pinch of salt

- 2 tablespoons of sugar

- 3 -4 tablespoons of hot water

Blend all the ingredients, except for hot water, with a hand blender until smooth; add the hot water, mix everything well; add more water if needed to get the right smooth consistency.  Heat up and grease a frying pan and pour a ladle full of batter into the center of the pan and quickly move the frying pan in a circular motion, so that the batter spreads evenly all around until it’s all set. Cook for a minute on each side or until brown.

Stack the ready blinis up one on top of the other until all the batter is used. If the first blin didn’t come out right, don’t get discouraged! There is a Russian saying that says that the first blin isn’t meant to come out right: “Pervi blin komom!

Now that you have the recipe for authentic Russian blinis, I would like to share a recipe for home-made lox fillet that you can eat along with your blinis.  Recently, my mom’s friends were visiting from Canada and at one of the meals my mom served lox, one of the sisters said: “Why do you buy lox, it’s so much better to make it at home.” Huh?! Home-made lox? I thought lox was Scandinavian, and one of those foods that can only be bought, like canned tuna. And then I was quickly reminded that her father used to bring fresh and salted fish direct from the Caspian Sea and sell it in my hometown.  I didn’t realize that he was the one salting the lox. It’s almost as if I could still taste of delicious, fresh, and juicy lox in my mouth from when I was about 10 years old. The recipe sounded simple, so I decided to try it—and it was too easy to make and too delicious to not continue making again and again.

Lox

Take a fresh salmon fillet with the skin on, wash it, pat dry it with a paper towel and put it in a glass dish. Cover the fish with salt all around about 2mm (or if you use kosher salt I use 1 layer of salt all around). Cover with a lid and keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 16-22 hours. Wash off the salt, pat the fish dry with a paper towel, dip the towel in some olive oil and smear it all around the fish.  Slice fillet as you like and enjoy it with anything from a cracker to home-made blinis for Sunday brunch, or as a starter for Shabbat lunch. Enjoy!

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