All posts by Lida Weinstock

London Fare: Globetrotting Edition

For all you London lovers out there, I apologize. This week I’m going to write about some country hopping I’ve been doing and all the cuisine I’ve gotten to try. Never fear, there’s plenty to eat and write about in London for the rest of the semester.

A little background on the schedule here. I had only ten weeks of classes, which ended at the end of March. Then I have finals in May. So basically what is known as Easter break here consists of the entire month of April, or if you’re like me and your finals aren’t until the end of May, your break is pretty much two months long. Talk about a foreign concept.

So this extremely long break has given me the opportunity to do some traveling. I visited Marrakech, Berlin, Vienna, Athens, and Santorini over the span of 18 days. In a comic twist, almost every place had unseasonably cold weather for the days I was there. There were hailstorms in Berlin, snow in Vienna, and wind strong enough to knock you over in Santorini. Even with the unfortunate weather I had the time of my life. The history, architecture, and of course food in each city was unique and unbelievably amazing to immerse myself in.

I definitely enjoyed the food in Greece the most. I ate fish the most fresh and local fish of my life on a pier in the town of Oia, had a traditional lamb dinner at a restaurant on Santorini’s highest point, and gobbled down what my waiter referred to as “the best of the best” lemon soaked potatoes. The salads were light and refreshing, the cheese plentiful, and the baklava soaked in the most fragrant and delicious honey. It also helped that most meals were paired with a breathtaking view of the ocean, a nearby volcano, and more islands in the distance. My only complaint was the coffee. For some reason the Greeks seem to be very partial to NesCafe instant coffee and watery filter coffee. Not really my thing.

 

This little guy was swimming that morning!
This little guy was swimming that morning!
Traditional Greek dessert made from a boiled apple soaked in syrup
Traditional Greek dessert made from a boiled apple soaked in syrup
See what I mean about those views?
See what I mean about those views?

The rest of the trip featured much heavier fair. The food in Marrakech was a bit too much for me. I am a sugar fiend and would eat dessert with every meal if I could but even this cuisine had me dreading sweetness. Most dishes featured lamb, couscous, and maybe some vegetables, usually smothered in caramelized onions, raisins, and dates. Fabulous the first time but enough to give you indigestion the next. The famous mint tea might have been syrup and a lot of the traditional Moroccan salads even had candied vegetables on them. Way too much sugar if you ask me.

A selection of traditional Morroccan salads
A selection of traditional Morroccan salads
Lamb couscous
Lamb couscous

Vienna was stocked full of homey and heavy food. Bratwurst, bread dumplings, and schnitzel were just a few. The portions were big, the meat sliced thick, and the vegetables less than plentiful. Given the cold outside though, often meals like this were warranted. I had some absolutely delicious sauerkraut served piping hot in a big bowl and some perfectly salted beef dumpling soup. Boiled beef was very popular there, which admittedly is not my favorite way to cook beef because I think it strips it of its flavor, but sometimes it was served alongside the broth it was cooked in, which was positively packed with meaty flavor.

Traditional Viennese breakfast
Traditional Viennese breakfast
Roasted pork, bread dumpling, and sauerkraut
Roasted pork, bread dumpling, and sauerkraut

Berlin was the curveball of the trip. I had gone expecting the traditional German food I found in Vienna. Instead I got French, barbeque, Vietnamese, and Italian. I found Berlin to be a city brimming with growing and youthful culture. It was by far the trendiest and most cosmopolitan city on the trip. The Jewish quarter brimmed with art galleries and museums, Mitte was Williamsburg’s twin, even the oldest section of the city was covered in adorable little cafes set along the bank of the river.

French food in Germany!
French food in Germany!

For the architecture lovers I recommend Vienna, the World War II buffs Berlin, the outdoorsy Greece, and the adventurous Marrakech. For the foodie, all of them and more.

London Fare: Bread Ahead

If there’s one thing London does well, it’s baked goods. From the cookies to the cakes to the plain old bread, there is always something around to shatter your gluten-filled expectations. So when the opportunity arose to take a baking class entitled “Quintessentially English” at the famous Bread Ahead baking site at Borough Market, I just knew I had to do it.

Fun doesn’t even begin to cover the time I had. Sim Cass, one of the founders of Balthazar, taught the class. We made three different things: cathedral bread, sweet rolls, and lardy cake. Cathedral cake is so named because of the cross incisions made in the dough before baking. It takes two days to make and the kneading process made my arms feel like they were going to fall off but the final product was so unbelievably worth it. The crust was dark, thick, and crunchy and the inside was a delightfully doughy, very butter-able white.

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The sweet rolls and the lardy cake were made from the same dough. The dough was simply put into the oven as is to make the rolls. The lardy cake was much more complicated. Lardy cake is a very British dessert that you might expect from somebody’s grandmother. Each region of the country has a different take on it. Unfortunately it can’t be found a lot anymore, according to Cass because those grandmothers I was just talking about never wrote down the recipes. We made a London version with raisins and lemon zest. It is a layered pastry, similar to a croissant, but with a different fold. Within all those layers is a mixture of lard, sugar, raisins, and lemon zest that melted into the dough in the oven. The word “lard” may sound pretty gross, but let me tell you, it tastes pretty good.

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I’m really not much of a baker but I did learn some useful tips. For example, depending on the type of dough you are making, you should knead it on a floured surface and steam helps create a nice crust on breads, which can be achieved at home by the use of a spray bottle.

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I left with a supply of bread that froze easily and lasted me for delicious upon delicious weeks.

London Fare: NOPI

After a full day of classes, a pharmacy without Band-Aids, and an alarming run-in with the London premiere of 50 Shades of Grey, it was with great relief that I stepped onto a quiet side street just north of Piccadilly Circus. At the end of the street, past a small French bookstore and several stationary shops, was my destination, NOPI. NOPI, which stands for “north of Piccadilly”, is one of four London restaurants owned by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Jerusalem, Plenty, and Plenty More.

Upon arrival, the hostess escorted me to the bar area to wait for my friend. She handed me a plate of marinated olives and spiced nuts and informed me that there was a photographer present to take photos for Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook. Casual.

Marinated olives and Ottolenghi roasted spiced nuts
Marinated olives and Ottolenghi roasted spiced nuts

After my friend arrived a couple minutes later (most of the olives were gone by that point) the hostess led us down a flight of stairs. The downstairs seating stood in stark contrast to the traditional upstairs set-up; there were two large communal tables fitted into a small, darker room lined with jars of olive oil, bread, and preserved lemons. We could see into the open kitchen, where, sure enough, a man with a huge camera snapped actions shots of the cooking staff.

Sweet potato, burnt aubergine yoghurt, pomegranate seeds
Sweet potato, burnt aubergine yoghurt, pomegranate seeds
Golden and candy beetroot, labneh, pistachio
Golden and candy beetroot, labneh, pistachio

My father grew up in Israel and when my grandparents were alive I spent a lot of time there so suffice it to say I’m quite picky about my hummus. What the menu offered was not traditional Israeli per se, but rather an eclectic and modern take on Mediterranean cuisine. In an effort to try as many things as possible we opted to order several small plates as opposed to one entrée-sized dish apiece. Each plate was a seamless combination of flavors and textures, each ingredient melting into the rest in a way both surprising and satisfying. The flavors of pistachios, labneh, and tahini were all still there, but amplified in new and exciting ways. Needless to say, the food exceeded my palate’s very demanding expectations and Yotam Ottolenghi instantly became my hero.

Skordalia, chilli, garlic confit
Skordalia, chilli, garlic confit

I’m looking forward to trying out all the other Ottolenghi locations around town. My next stop on the quest for the culinary Holy Grail will be for brunch at the Islington location. I hear they do a killer take on French toast. My taste buds are already dancing in joy.

Twice-cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt, chilli sauce
Twice-cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt, chilli sauce
Pork belly, apple pureé, pickled cedro lemon
Pork belly, apple pureé, pickled cedro lemon

London Fare: Claridge’s

I finally got my classic British high tea. When you picture Claridge’s, a famous and old London hotel, think quintessential English. The tea room might have come right out of a Downton Abbey episode, and the rest of the hotel, in all of its splendid glory, could pass as the inside of a palace with its sweeping spiral staircase and intricate marble finish. Add three hours, a red-haired waiter, finger sandwiches, and a photograph of the queen and you can pretty much imagine my level of euphoria.

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It is not easy to get a reservation at Claridge’s. We had to settle for a Wednesday afternoon, which as it turns out, is just as buzzy as it would be on the weekend. The tearoom is split into two sections, a large and airy, high-ceilinged room with a view of the lobby and a cozier backroom complete with sofas and mood lighting. We were seated in the back, at a small round table near a pillar, adorned with a lamp emitting a soft, buttery glow.

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Claridge’s is expensive, but as I found out, completely worth it. I would recommend it for a special occasion. It’s a place to get dressed up for and to take your time enjoying. It was all about the atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, the food was absolutely stellar, but it wouldn’t have tasted so good if I hadn’t been eating under a black-and-white photograph of Audrey Hepburn cutting a cake in what undeniably was the very room I sat in. There was something about it that transported me back in time, gave me a respect and awe for this historic institution that made its way from the 1800s to today at the height of fashion and respectability. The grandeur of it was enough to make me dizzy.

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The highlights of the meal were definitely the seasonal finger sandwich, which consisted of a mouth watering combination of a cheesy scone, the lightest whipped cream cheese I’ve ever had, and tart, braised apples, and the rightfully famous jam, a “Marco Polo gelée infused with Calabrian bergamot and Madagascan vanilla pods.” Trust me, you’ve never had anything quite like it.

I left the hotel full to the brim with all the delicious and well-varied sandwiches, scones, and pastries, feeling very British and intoxicatingly happy.

 

http://www.claridges.co.uk/uploadedFiles/Claridges/Restaurants_and_bars/Afternoon_tea/ClaridgesAfternoonTea-NEW2014.pdf

 

London Fare: Borough Market

It was miserably cold and wet, thick droplets of persistent rain soaking into my jeans. The harsh wind twisted the umbrella in my hand and a man had to quickly step out of my way so that it wouldn’t hit the small girl riding on his shoulders. I could barely feel my feet anymore. But I was happy as could be, and judging by the looks on their faces, the hundreds of other people wandering the twisting labyrinth of food stalls were too. On one shoulder I carried a bag full to the brim with fresh, inexpensive vegetables, and in my umbrella-free hand I held a venison sausage in a sesame bun topped with caramelized onions, greens, and spicy tomato sauce. Life was good, horrifying weather and all.

 

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Borough Market is a foodie’s paradise. Not only is it a very sizable market selling anything you could think of, but the streets surrounding it are lined with hip cafés, bakeries, steakhouses, noodle shops, and more. The market itself is a haphazard mix of specialized stalls, some as specific as artisan honey sellers, others as general as produce. There’s a juice bar, wine shops, gluten free bakeries, organic meat shops, a stand selling coffee with a smell so intoxicating I got a caffeine rush from passing by. I was very tempted by the specialty olive oils, pates, and granolas. And don’t even get me started on the stalls upon stalls of sweets. I could go every weekend for the time I’m here and not hit them all.

 

Just a few highlights. There’s a bakery called “Bread Ahead” on one of the streets surrounding the market. They also have a stand in the market, which sells, among other things, cream-filled doughnuts. They come in many flavors, including caramel, hazelnut, and praline. For me, the cream to dough ratio was a little high, but the flavor was still excellent and the size quite satisfying. The actual store was pretty small, but when I walked past I noticed that the bakers were leading a cooking class. I wouldn’t mind learning how to make a cream-filled doughnut.

 

And then there was the pain aux raisin I got from one of the many bakery stands. Most of them sold this delightful treat, but the stand I went to served it with a crumble sprinkled on top. I got it to go and grudgingly forced myself not to eat it on the bus ride home. My self control was all used up by the time I got back to my room and it was with a great effort that I waited another minute to eat it so that I could warm it in the microwave. The buttery bread wound around layers of perfectly proportioned cinnamon and raisins. Each bite was the perfect combination of texture, sweetness, and saltiness. I can honestly say it was the best rainy day pastry I’ve ever had.

 

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It’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll be back at Borough Market this weekend and many more to come. I just need to try that wonderfully aromatic coffee, one of the quintessentially British meat pies, and maybe a scotch egg or two. I look forward to warmer days, when I won’t have to wear multiple pairs of wool socks to stay warm, but still, rain or shine, you’ll know where to find me on a Saturday morning.

London Fare: Teanamu Chaya Teahouse

If there’s one thing I was determined to do in London this semester it was to have high tea. What’s not to love? Small sandwiches, scones, sweets—this is the stuff of dreams. I imagined my first high tea would be at the Ritz or some other venerable institution with frilly white tablecloths, three-tiered trays, and waiters in suits. As it turns out, that’s also how everyone else imagines their tea experience, so I wasn’t able to get a spot at Claridge’s, a London institution, until mid-February. After searching through many Buzzfeed posts and “Top 10” articles in local papers, I found an intriguing spot that could seat me and a friend within a few days. Enter Teanamu.

 

Located in a residential area of Notting Hill, Teanamu is easily missed among its neighboring houses. This restaurant offers a Chinese twist on the classic British experience. You still get your tea, sandwiches, scone, and dessert, but with variations representative of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

 

I decided on a jasmine tea, which the tea master approved of. Apparently jasmine tea, which is actually a white and not green tea, is perfect for a relaxing afternoon get-together. Green tea, he advised, is far too “frisky” for such an occasion. Unusually, the more times you steep jasmine tea, the stronger the tea becomes. It’s meant to be drunk lukewarm, not hot. The actual process of steeping the tea was a bit complicated. Boiling water from a kettle had to be mixed with cold water from a pot, at which point it was then poured into another pot to steep, poured back into the first container, and then each mouthful of tea poured individually into the smallest china cup I have ever seen. I’ll admit, I’m not the best at pouring and transferring hot liquid from one pot to another, but luckily there was a sort of basin at the center of the table with a grated top. As long as you poured over that, it didn’t matter how messy you were about it.

 

But onto the food! The first two “courses” were dim sum. The first was a lo mai fan lotus leaf rice parcel. It was my favorite dish of the meal. Sticky rice filled with a red bean curd and braised mushrooms, it oozed a sweet fragrance. I had a bit of difficulty eating it with chopsticks, but that has more to do with my chopstick handling abilities than with the food itself. The second dim sum plate were vegetarian dumplings with sze chuan chili oil. The dumplings were filled with a mushroom mixture, so even though they were vegetarian they still seemed nice and meaty. The tangy sauce contrasted beautifully with the umami flavor.

 

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The next course was a take on the finger sandwich. Instead of a traditional egg salad there was an egg mayonnaise sandwich covered in chili-soaked bamboo shoots. Cucumber and cream cheese was replaced with a more flavorful garlic miso-pickled cream cheese (tangy and a little spicy) with thinly shaved cucumbers and schichimi pepper. The “cheese sandwich” was an extremely bold clash of a sweet and spicy ginger and plum preserve with a creamy and salty mature white cheddar. All of the sandwiches were served open-faced on thick slices of wakame seaweed brown bread.

 

The final course was a dessert tray featuring snow skin marzipan with guava, sze chuan peppercorn and peanut honeycomb (a new addition to the menu), chocolate hazelnut truffles covered in coconut shavings, mango seed cake, and what our waiter somewhat ruefully referred to as “the obligatory scone,” which came with clotted cream and rose petal jam. I don’t much like coconut shavings but everything else was very good. Each item had a unique and interesting flavor profile with subtle hints of Chinese flavors. The marzipan had a texture similar to mochi and the honeycomb smelled of spices when you brought it close to your mouth. By the end of the meal I understood why the scone was only there out of obligation; it was the most boring part of the entire experience, although still a melt-in-your-mouth, biscuit-like beauty.

 

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I left feeling incredibly satiated. Everything about the experience, from the small wooden tables to the wafts of incense and tea had taken a quintessential British experience and turned it into a more lazy afternoon full of chatting, laughing, and of course, good food.

 

Teanamu

Coach House
14a St Lukes Road
(Lancaster Road)
Notting Hill
London W11 1DP

 

Peanut Butter Cups

I’ve always been a bit of a schizophrenic baker. I seem always to burn pre-made cookie dough to a crisp and yet, largely by failing to follow instructions, I’ve produced some unbelievable banana bread. I’ll make a perfect chocolate souffle one time and then the next, even though I’d swear I hadn’t done anything differently, the top will be nearly burnt off and the inside barely cooked at all. I have a friend who marvels at my incapability to achieve the simplest of baking endeavours when I’ve apparently made the best cookie she’s ever had (burnt butter oatmeal with peanut butter and caramel).

Out of frustration, I tend not to bake that often, which is a pity, really; I love sweets more than is socially acceptable and even though I crave them absolutely all the time, I still end up eating more than is strictly necessary to quash my appetite. So you can imagine how excitable I am at the idea of no-bake desserts. The best by far of the confections I’ve attempted are peanut butter cups. They are so simple, require less than a half hour of active time, and most importantly, turn out unbelievably delicious each and every time.

Recipe For Peanut Butter Cups:

Filling:

  • 1 ⅓ cups fresh roasted/salted peanuts

  • 2 tsp honey

  • 1 tsp neutral oil

  • 2 tbsp confectioners sugar

  • ½ tsp vanilla

  • ½ tsp kosher salt

Coating:

  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Instructions:

  1. Blend all filling ingredients together using a food processor

  2. Using your  hands create disc shapes with the filling

  3. Line cupcake tin

  4. Melt chocolate

  5. Put a small coating of chocolate on the bottom of each liner

  6. Place peanut filling disc into each

  7. Cover disc completely with chocolate

  8. Let harden (approximately 5 hours)

Lobster Rolls

Nothing screams summer like a lobster roll. I can’t claim that lobster rolls are in abundance where I’m from. I live in a landlocked town in Northern New Jersey with the closest beaches on the Jersey Shore. But I love lobster and most fortunately for me my brother went to college in a Connecticut town on the water and one of my mom’s best friends lives in Cape Cod.

You definitely have to be in the mood for lobster to have one of these but nothing satisfies a lobster craving like they do. There are variations on them; some come with a lobster salad, others with only chunks of lobster drizzled with melted butter. I usually go for the plain lobster and ask for them to go light on the butter. Sometimes the lobster can really be drenched in butter, which is a popular way to eat it, but if you’re like me and have a sensitive stomach you may not thank yourself later, no matter how delicious it was.

The places to get the best lobster rolls tend to work a bit like a fast food restaurant. You go up to the counter to order, give your name, and when your food is ready you are called and free to enjoy your meal in an outdoor seating area. Most of the places I’ve been also have a selection of clam dishes as well as some of the usual sides like fries, coleslaw, and onion rings. A lot also have an ice cream counter for dessert. It’s one of my favorite ways to eat, just you and your food on a dock overlooking the water, watching the sun sink behind the clouds.

Fire Pits and Fireflies

The greatest thing that ever happened to my backyard was a fire pit. While the swing set that used to stand in its place was great and all, its lack of monkey bars was less than spectacular as was its inability to produce food. So eventually down came the swing set and in came the fire pit and with it some highly improved summers.


S’mores became that thing that was done at my house. We’d always had a working indoor fireplace that was perfect for roasting marshmallows but somehow that wasn’t the same as getting a fire going outside in the dark, the twinkling lights of fireflies bobbing all around.  My yard was the place my friends would come to play manhunt; my deck was always the most crowded. It was at my house that we spent lazy summer afternoons, threw together potluck dinners, said our last goodbyes before college. I think you’ll find there’s really nothing like a graham cracker, a slab of Hershey’s, and a marshmallow roasted on an outdoor flame to bond people and get everyone coming back for more and more.