Monday Musings: When Seeking Excellence in a Dining Companion

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I am an old soul. A nostalgic of excruciating terms. I am basically a cranky old bastard of 81 in a 23-year-old’s body.

I once met a man who told me that he hated it when people were slow about ordering and eating at a restaurant. I rebutted that dining was an experience, no matter if it was at your local Chili’s or at a fine dining restaurant. Dining is meant to be enjoyed slowly with good company. Needless to say, there was no second date with said man.

There is something to be said about a long, slow meal that begins with drinks, appetizers, and good conversation. The noise of the restaurant around you dulls to a gentle roar that you and your companions barely notice as you immerse yourselves fully in each other’s words. Then, the night crescendos as that one friend, who is constantly on the lookout for the delivery of your food like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth (usually I play this role), alerts the rest of the table of the imminent conveyance of the entrees.

The table’s conversation slowly decrescendos as everyone takes their first bite. Soft moans replace words and the act of near-carnal mastication ensues.

And dessert? Well, dessert is the climax, of course. The denouement to an epic, culinary saga. And with a strong, black coffee ? Get outta here.

(And if you are one of those who drowns a good coffee with milk and sugar – come back to me when you grow some hairs on your prepubescent chest.)

Other than that aforementioned man, most of my dinner companions seem to understand how to act when enjoying a meal. One of my friends, when he was still new to me as a dining companion, instantly endeared himself to me when he asked the table, “are we just here to eat and go or are we going to order an appetizer, talk and enjoy ourselves?” We are still friends to this day and I’m not ashamed to admit that moment helped my affection for him along.

So what do I look for in a happy dinner companion?

  1. Timeliness. 5 – 15 minutes late is forgivable – desired, even! Fashionably late will always be a universal truth in dining but any more so and I’ll get hangry. Don’t test me.
  2. If I am cooking or if someone else is cooking, I find host gifts or small contributions like wine or bread to be incredibly impressive. My friends and I are so casual that we usually let each other know if we want/need something brought to the table. Even so, it’s still nice to demonstrate the appreciation of the effort. I think these days, polite appreciation is diminishing slowly. (See? I’m an 80-year-old.)
  3. For restaurant dining – This isn’t terribly important to me, especially if we are going nowhere incredibly elegant, but I think looking presentable and less like the daily grunge is really exciting to me. I am one of the most casual people you will ever meet but I will always dress up in a nice shirt and, at least, pants devoid of nose stains from my dog.
  4. Wine. Please, PLEASE drink with me? PLEASE? We don’t have to get hammered. In fact, I’d rather us not on most days. But seriously, let’s have a cocktail.
  5. Conversation and manners. This seems so old-school but, do you chew with your mouth open? Do you slurp in an environment that isn’t serving ramen?  Do you sit quietly? Withdrawn and uncomfortable? Come on, guys. Listen to the news, read a book, watch a movie – tell me something about your life and keep your elbows off the table!
  6. Mood. Please, oh please, do not come to dinner at my house or with me to a restaurant in a mood. Please do not fight with your significant other over some inane issue that I could care less about at the table. TRY to have a good time?  Life sucks. I know. Sometimes you have to vent. I’m here for you. However, let’s take a break from it for a moment and have a good meal.
  7. And I swear to god, if I see you on that phone for more than a second just to check on the status of your kid, cat, fish, mother or whatever – just don’t bother. You want to be on the phone or whatever device that Chinese sweatshops vomit out the whole night? Don’t eat with me.
  8. Over all, let’s have a good time. I love you. I don’t see you enough. I want to laugh with you, share desserts with you, swap stories, catch up and marvel over plates heaped with food. I want to spoil you with compliments and tell you how much I’ve missed you. Friend, family, lover, dog – whoever you are, if I make a point to share food with you, understand that it is the most powerful sign of affection.

Also – if you enjoy a good cigar and a bourbon – please marry me. Not a dining requirement, though. (Did I mention I was an 80-year-old man? Complete with elbow patches, bow ties, and a permanent scowl.)

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Local Spotlight: Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery

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I’ll be completely honest. I am number one fangirl of ALL foods.

But.

One of the area of the world that holds my constantly-hungry-heart is the Middle East. Israeli food, Arabic food, Palestinian food, Middle Eastern food – whatever you may call it, I lust after it. It haunts my dreams. My eternal nightmare is a word without hummus, hot pita breads, heady spices, pastries soaked with honey and orange water, pistachios, dates – dear god. I’m starving. 

This food, if you have never experienced it, is beautiful and heavily scented of spices, foreign sands, beautiful languages and an ancient culture that I have barely come to understand but desperately want to.

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Fresh pitas, phyllo pastries with sweet cheese and honey, pastries with sesame seeds and date paste, labneh (yogurt), Za’atar (spice mix)

(Also, hi. If you’re reading this and your family makes this kind of food – PLEASE HAVE ME FOR DINNER. I’m very charming, polite, and will pay you in compliments and appreciative mmm’s and aahhhh’s and greedy moaning as I eat. I also am not above buying the groceries, if you need much more convincing!)

When I go to places like Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery, I am instantly immersed in a different world. One that seems so far away but is so present in my daily life. Stores like this are all over my city but it still feels like escaping to a different realm filled with briny olives, grilled meats and toasted sesame seeds.

The store is a one-stop-shop for all the ingredients you would need to make a delicious meal. Jars of tahini (sesame seed paste – commonly used to make hummus), drums of fragrant olive oil, containers of red chili paste and mountains of fresh pita and pastries behind a glass case near the counter – all the stuff of beautiful dreams.

I never leave without spending a small fortune – which gets me quite a bit since prices are much too affordable to be safe around me.

Go. Go to Jerusalem Bakery and Grocery. Go today. Don’t waste a single moment because those beautiful pastries and pita will be gone in a flash and you will have no one to blame but yourself.

Below: 

  1. Delicate phyllo pastry with a sweet cheese filling and drenched in a honey syrup.
  2. Freshly-baked pita with beautifully-spiced beef on top. 

Yes. I realize that it may be a blogging faux-pas to have pictures of half-eaten food but…HOW? How do you expect me to take a picture first then eat? That’s not how my world works. Food comes first.

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Cornish Hens with Apples and Parsnips – Thanksgiving Pregame

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Have you ever had a Cornish Hen?

I feel like anything in miniature-sized is always exciting. Chickens are no exception. I’d say they’re cute but there is something morbid about called a fun-sized, dead chicken cute.

Anyways.

The flavors surrounding this roast is a little unorthodox. It feels very German with the beautiful scent of caraway seeds and the subtle but sweet inclusion of apples. The apples don’t add a dessert-like effect to the dish but rather a break from the savory stimulation of the onions and garlic. Also, we’re basting the chickens with a nice ale. You can’t get more German than beer!

Also – parsnips. Parsnips, though easily found in all grocery stores, are one of the most neglected yet wonderful root vegetables. They taste somewhere between a potato and a carrot and have an interesting herbaceous after-note. The parsnips compliment the caraway seeds and the apples incredibly well. Don’t skip them. You’ll be sorry.

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All of this together equates to a kitchen filled with heady smells and an easy roast dinner that will certainly put you in the mood for that big Thanksgiving meal in your near future.

And in my house, we make gravy. You’ll have gravy or get out.

Just kidding, please stay for dinner. Please?

Cornish Hens with Apples and Parsnips

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 Cornish Hens
  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2  tsps Granulated or Powdered Garlic
  • 1 tsp of caraway seeds
  • 2 medium granny smith apples
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of beer (not dark beer)
  • Salt and Pepper

For the Gravy:

  • Chicken and veggie drippings left in the pan
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 3 tblsps of butter
  • 3 tblsps of flour
  • the rest of your bottle of beer (about 1/2 cup)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cut up your apples and parsnips into 1 inch wedges. In your large roasting pan, toss your apples, parsnips and onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Distribute the vegetables evenly and make a space in the middle for the hens to sit.
  3. In a small bowl, make a mixture of the garlic powder, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the caraway seeds. Pat your hens dry and place them in the middle of your roasting pan. Massage your oil and garlic and caraway mixture all over the surface of the hens.
  4. Place in your preheated oven for 45 minutes. Right at the 30 minute mark, you’ll want to slowly pour 1 cup of your favorite beer (nothing too dark – so no Guinness or chocolate stouts. I suggest a Belgian Ale or a Hefeweizen or any convenient wheat beer) over the hens and the vegetables.
  5. After 45 minutes, raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and let the hens bake for another 15 minutes or until the juices run clear.
  6. When finished, carefully transfer the hens to a serving platter and surround with the roasted vegetables. Cover loosely with foil and work on the gravy.

For the gravy:

  1. In the same pan that you roasted your hens in, place it on your burners ( I generally use the front and the rear burners on one side of the stove). Melt the three tablespoons of butter and sprinkle the three tablespoons of flour over the butter. Stir constantly for 1 minute, making sure that you scrape up those lovely bits at the bottom of the pan.
  2. Pour in your 1/2 cup of beer and stir, letting the flour and beer mixture come to a bubble for half a minute or so. Pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir. Bring the gravy to a bubble and let it simmer for 2 minutes or until the gravy thickens. At the end, salt and pepper that beautiful beast to taste.

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How to eat:

  1. Rip apart those tiny chickens.
  2. Scoop some roasted vegetables generously onto your plate.
  3. Drown in gravy.
  4. Celebrate your life and stuff your face.

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Monday Musings

 

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This week in November is always saturated with trite proclamations of gratitude.

Sorry, did that sound jaded? I didn’t mean for it to be. I suppose what I meant was that gratitude, in my opinion, is a general state of being. Perhaps, you’re thinking, that I’m a stereotypical, entitled millennial whom appreciates nothing so what would I know about being grateful?

Not true. I come from a working-class, immigrant background and I’ve probably worked multiple jobs since I was 17. I know what it’s like to to appreciate. I am, by no means, unfortunate. I know I’m lucky.

So – to save you from an overly-saccharine soliloquy about Thanksgiving and being grateful, I will just say this:

I am grateful to be alive and all that goes along with it.  

Especially for pie. Pie is a miracle.

 

Also – have some good reads to go along with that food coma this week:

The great debate: Dressing v. Stuffing – Thanksgiving around the U.S.

Did you know it is actually healthy for your heart to be grateful?

And I’ll be damned if I’m not making this self-proclaimed Perfect Sweet Potato Pie this week.

Breaking News: Everything Causes Cancer. Just kidding, but apparently meat consumption just might and the temperature that you’re cooking it at may affect carcinogen levels.

Syrian Refugees – a historical conversation?

And if you’re not making gravy, you can’t sit with us. Just kidding. But the pink on Wednesdays is non-negotiable (name that movie!)

 

Happy Eating. I know I’ll be happy and I’ll be eating. You can be guaranteed that I will be soon be bombarding you with the most trite of thanksgiving food posts (and I’m only being half-facetious).

Food and Movies: The Hobbit – Cherry Chocolate and Almond Scones

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

 

There are actually no words for how much of a Tolkien fan I am. If you want to ever get creative with torture, take a non-Tolkien fan and have them sit with me through all the extended versions of the Lord of The Rings movies. I may or may not make you want to gouge your eyes out and rip your ears off.

Yes. It’s like that.

Aside from the beautiful cinematography, gorgeous, bearded men and sorcery – there are the hobbits. THE HOBBITS.

They are the most wonderful creatures that literally do nothing but live leisurely. Any creature that sets aside time for a SECOND breakfast has my heart.

If you’ve never seen The Hobbit, firstly – shame on you, but I’ll just go ahead and brief you. Bilbo is a hobbit and he accompanies a band of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their home in a large mountain. They have the help of a wizard and get into some shenanigans on the way.

There was a scene in the first installment of the trilogy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in which all of the dwarves who stand behind Thorin Oakenshield all arrive at Bilbo’s house and demand food and drink. The first dwarf to arrive, Dwalin, eats all of Bilbo’s personal dinner and an entire jar of what looks like scones or biscuits (hence the inspiration for the recipe below).

The entire scene following Dwalin’s arrival is a food-lover’s dream (or nightmare, if you’re worried about mythical creatures emptying your pantry and leaving you with nothing). The rest of the dwarves arrive for the planning of the upcoming adventure and they storm Bilbo’s pantry and take cheese, wine, vegetables, beer, cured meats and all sorts of wonderful things. The only thing I could think of the whole time is: ‘WHY?! WHY DON’T I HAVE A PANTRY THAT LOOKS LIKE THAT?!’

 

 

The scones below are nice because of the inclusion of sour cream. The sour cream allows for a texture that is somewhere between the normal biscuit texture of a scone and the inside of a muffin.

I’m not afraid to admit – the first time I made these scones, they didn’t turn out quite as well as I had hoped. I actually had to make a second batch because my neuroses would not allow these scones to go public until I fixed them.  They were just too dry for my taste. The sour cream really does the trick.

There were a few other things I did differently the second time around as well: I didn’t overwork the dough, I worked in a quick manner (nothing stressful, just efficient) so that the butter could be as cold as possible before it went in the oven and I lowered the temperature of the oven. I started out at 400 degrees but for the second batch, I lowered it to 375 degrees. I also decided that hydrating the cherries is awesome because it gives you a flavor close to fresh cherries without all the juicy mess of actual fresh cherries. To be honest, you’d probably fine not hydrating them if you’re truly that lazy.

It just goes to show that cooking, no matter how long or often you do it, there is always something to learn. Furthermore, nothing feels quite so good as a recipe you’ve mastered.  At least – to me. I also am a Lord of the Rings nerd and think about things like perfect scone-cooking temperatures.

I have no life.

 

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Cherry Chocolate and Almond Scones

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 cups plus 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup of sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 lb (two sticks) of cold, unsalted butter, diced
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup of cold heavy cream
  • 1 tsp of almond extract
  • 1/2 cup of cold sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups of hot water
  • 1 cup of dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup of milk chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds
  • 1 egg beaten with tablespoons of cream or water for egg wash

Prep: 25 min

Yields: 15-19 scones

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

  1. In a small bowl, put your hot water and dried cherries together to hydrate while you work on your dough. (Sometimes I put a teaspoon of sugar or a small squeeze of honey in the water just give the cherries back some of their sweetness. Totally optional)
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the 4 cups of flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the cold, diced butter and using the pads of your fingertips,  pressing the butter into the flour, work the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (You can also do this in a food processor but I’ve always liked doing it by hand so that some butter chunks remain large.)
  3. Combine the eggs, heavy cream, sour cream and almond extract in another bowl. Slowly pour the liquids into the flour and butter mixture and mix until BARELY combined. *REMEMBER* Do not overwork the dough. You will cry.
  4. Drain the cherries well and mix them together with the chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of flour. (This is to keep the ingredients from settling to the bottom of the scones) Combine with the dough until just combined.
  5. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form gently into a ball. Flour your rolling pin and hands and roll the dough to about 3/4-inch thick square. Move the dough constantly so that the dough doesn’t stick to your surface.
  6. With a floured knife, cut your square into smaller squares. 2015-11-18 11.19.35
  7. Then cut those squares diagonally across the middle so that you get two triangles.
  8. Place onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the triangles with your egg wash and sprinkle sugar and the sliced almonds on top.
  9. Cook for 17 minutes. The tops will brown slightly due to the sugar and the scones will be firm to the touch when done.

 

NOTES:

  • Seriously, don’t overwork the dough. Keep things as cold as you can. This means not taking out your sour cream, heavy cream and butter until right when you need it.
  • Work in a timely manner. Don’t stand around, on a coffee break or whatever because your butter in the dough will melt and you won’t get good scones. Tears will ensue.
  • Flour your rolling surface but don’t go crazy. Adding too much extra flour to the dough will most certainly make your scones tough.
  • Also, hydrate those cherries. It’s worth the extra iota of energy you will expend.
  • I chose milk chocolate chips because the creaminess works well with the tartness of the cherries and the smooth nuttiness of the almonds. If you’re one of those chocolate snobs who can’t bear the thought of anything less than 95% cocoa solids, be my guest. Does it help if I told you I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate? Classy stuff.

 

Pour yourself some tea and watch The Hobbit as you munch away, dreaming of a world where Second Breakfast and Elevensies exists.

Monday Musings

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I know. This is a food blog.

But…let’s take a moment a realize that food, along with many other entities in the world, are all interconnected with each other. How we interact with food or anything else can be very similar in other areas of the globe.

Yes, I want to talk about what happened in Paris.

But just briefly. I won’t inundate your brain with sad words and politically charged phrases. I just want to take a moment to pause and remember that life is sacred, the world is fragile and kindness becomes more and more scarce as I get older – at least it feels that way.

One of my favorite things about being obsessed with food and cooking is that I get to dote upon my loved ones. A meal is just a meal. Bread is just bread. Macaroni with four different types of cheese is just hot carbs (although glorious). The real magic is the love that is injected into the labor of cooking. The camaraderie that is found between slurps of steaming noodles. The heartfelt empathy that blooms over a glass of good wine.  My obsession and food in general would be nothing without that human connection.

I read another article on a different kind of love. The intimate kind that happens in a relationship. However, I think that the basis of the psychological study could apply anywhere.  It is a study done by psychologist John Gottman about the “Masters and Disasters” of love.

Gottman studied closely multiple relationships to see what made them work and, in short, found that at the very foundation of a relationship that lasts – it is kindness that keeps the ties strong.

“There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness.”

“But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

When it comes to food or worldly affairs, I think that it is often as simple as that. Kindness and generosity, though often more work than hate or anger or intolerance, is what keeps all of us connected, moving forward and happy.

We are thinking of you, Paris.

Furthermore – have a glass of wine with a friend while you learn to caramelize some onions. A very important skill, I always thought.

Or, be kind and generous to yourself by making this single, solitary, sensational pancake.

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BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches with Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread: The Best You Never Had

sandwich

So, let’s have it. Let’s hear every mistakenly negative thought you have pondered about “vegetarian” foods.

Firstly – may I say that many a people will have, at one point, may have thought I was a food snob. I violently disagree. You would shudder to hear me enumerate the fast food joints I lust over on a daily basis. I can get down and dirty with the worst of them.

Anyways, my point is – food is food. Vegetarian, unhealthy, too processed, carnivorous, paleo, gluten-free, keto and any other bullshit label you may have for food is unnecessary. Let us, instead, marvel at this wide and wondrous world of edible enticements and how lucky we are to have access to even half the food we do. All food in moderation is key (in my opinion). Food is magical. Food is all you need. Food.

I’ll get off my soap box now.

Just try it. It’s a great bbq pork substitute if you’re trying to cater to a picky vegetarian or just to serve as is. Put your adult underwear on and get over any prejudices you may have. This is just plain good.

Plus, this recipe has the added bonus of being fast to prepare. You’ll be ready to eat before the first excuse of why you shouldn’t cook even begins to form in your mind.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

If you’ve never had jackfruit before, it’s a fruit native to southeast Asia. You can buy it fresh and canned. The ripe, sweet version tastes somewhat like a heavenly cross between a mango and a lychee. Here, we will be using the young, unripe version that is canned in brine. You can find this cheaply at any Asian or ethnic grocery store.

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 20oz cans of young, green jackfruit in brine

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For the BBQ Sauce:

  • 1 chipotle pepper plus 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce it is canned with
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup of ketchup
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 6-7 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup water or chicken stock

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread:

sauce

  • 1/2 cup of creamed corn (canned)
  • 1/2 a medium onion sliced thinly
  • 3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tblsps of honey
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Buns for building your sandwich. (I used those Hawaiian sweet rolls- the hamburger bun version. If you can, definitely use those as your buns. The sweetness of the bread makes the sandwich.)

The Jackfruit:

jackfruit

  1. Drain the canned jackfruit  in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Chop off the tough, middle core of each chunk.
  2. In a food processor, blend all of your ingredients for the bbq sauce together.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet on a medium heat. Put in the drained and cored jackfruit in the pain and saute until the jackfruit browns a little, about 1-2 minutes of cooking.
  4. Pour the bbq sauce over the browned jackfruit and lower the heat to medium low and let simmer for about 35 minutes, or until the bbq sauce has reduced to about a fourth of the original volume.  Stir occasionally and break up the jackfruit as you stir so that it resembles pulled pork. The jackfruit will soak up all that saucy goodness. When finished, set aside.

For the Sweet Corn and Caramelized Onion Spread

components

  1. While the jackfruit is simmering gloriously away, you can start on your corn and onion spread.
  2. In a skillet,  heat 3 tablespoons of oil at a medium-low heat. Put your thinly-sliced onions in the skillet with 1/4 a teaspoon of salt.
  3. Stir onions around constantly, making sure they do not burn in the pan. After about 10-12 minutes, the onions will be translucent and begin to darken to a brown in color. Make sure to constantly stir and scrape the bottom of your pan with your spatula to get up all those good, onion-y bits. If you see the onions beginning to dry out or burn, add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan. You may add more balsamic vinegar later if you feel the need to.
  4. Near the 20-30 minute mark, the onions should be darker in color and will be done.
  5. In a food processor, put the honey, the creamed corn, a pinch of salt and pepper and the caramelized onions and blend together until a you have a well-blended, semi-lumpy spread. Contradiction of terms? Yes, I know. But corn kernels can be resistant to being completely pureed. This is okay. It still tastes beautiful.

Now, I understand that if you have never made caramelized onions before that the idea of spending anywhere NEAR 30 minutes stirring a pan of onions seems ludicrous. Especially after I prefaced this recipe as a “quick” one. Truth be told, you’re waiting and stirring the simmering pan of jackfruit in the bbq sauce and you might as well make an awesome sandwich spread while you wait.

Also – if you think caramelized onions are not worth the work, I don’t know if we can be friends.

Just kidding. We totally can. But, if you think the Lord of the Rings movies are too long, I can’t forgive you.

The Sandwich:

Do yourself a favor and butter and toast your sandwich buns.

Spread the corn spread generously. Heap the bbq jackfruit to the heavens, throw some pickles on there and plant your face into that sandwich.