Tag Archives: Musings

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.

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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.

A Food-Lover’s Guide to History: Apple Pie

‘Tis the season for journeying out to an apple orchard and picking a bushel of apples, and arguably the best way to consume those apples?  Apple pie.  Nothing is quite so American as that particular New-England-y scene of autumn leaves and a warm pie in the oven.

But as it turns out, the original apple pies date back to the 14th century, and apples themselves go back even further.

Fossilized evidence of apples date them back as far as the Stone Age.  The closest ancestor to modern apples can be found as early as the time of Alexander the Great, who supposedly found dwarf apples in Kazakhstan and brought them back to Macedonia.  Later, the Romans introduced apples to England, where they hitched a ride to the new world with American colonists.  They didn’t flourish until the European honey bee was shipped to the Americas in 1622.  This was good news, since colonists would have only found crabapple trees in their new home.

So if the apple isn’t American, maybe the pie is?  Nope.  Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, when they were made in inedible “reeds,” not crusts.  Once again, the Romans spread the word about their culinary delight, and by the 14th century, the word pie was in the popular vernacular.  However, the early pies were mostly savory pies, filled with fowl.

… mostly filled with fowl.

America isn’t even the originator of the combo of apples and pie.  The first recorded recipe for apple pie dates to 1381, and called for figs, raisins, pears, and saffron to be thrown into the mix.  Back then, apple pies didn’t include sugar, since sugar at the time was scarce and very expensive.  Also, ye olde consumers of apple pie generally didn’t eat the pastry, then called a coffin, that held in all the apples.

So how exactly did apple pie become so “American”?  Apple pie recipes came across the Atlantic with British, Dutch, and Swedish bakers in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Folk hero John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, did much to induct apples into the American legend – even though the variety of apples he typically planted were rather sour.  During Prohibition, the American government pushed apple pies as one alternative for hard apple cider, and later, during World War II, American soldiers helped to popularize the stereotype of American apple pie, claiming they were going to war “for mom and apple pie.”

So, through a classic American combination of immigration and advertising, the apple pie became the culinary mascot for all things ‘Murica.

If you have a hankering for a real old fashioned apple pie, use this medieval recipe “For to make Tartys in Applis,” redacted by godecookery.com.

From The Forme of Cury: XXVII For to make Tartys in Applis.

Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd with Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and yt forth to bake wel.

 

Filling:

  • 8 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 4 Bartlet pears peeled, cored and sliced
  • ½ cup of raisins
  • ½ cup of figs, sliced
  • 2 tsp cinnamon,
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • a pinch of saffron

Pie Shell:

  • 2 cups of wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of butter
  • ½ cup of milk
  • egg yolks for glazing

Note: the pie shell recipe is for a “coffin,” a generally tasteless pastry made to hold in the filling.

Rub a tablespoon of the butter into the flour and salt with your fingertips. Take the remaining butter, and add it to the liquid. Heat the liquid over med. heat until it just breaks a boil, and the butter is melted. Make a well in the flour, dump in the liquid and melted fat, and stir quickly with a wooden spoon to combine. Cover with a cloth to keep it warm, and let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so in a warm place.

Pinch off two thirds of the very warm dough. Reserve the remaining  third for the lid, in a bowl with a cloth covering it. We will aim for a six- inch base, with sides approx. 4-5 inches high. Pat the dough into a circle. With knuckles, thumbs, palms, and any other means possible, mold the dough into a bowl shape or cylinder. Splay out the top edges slightly.

Roll the remaining dough into a circle. Flatten out into a seven-inch circle. Cut a one-inch circle in the center. If you have any excess dough, use it to decorate the lid or sides with rosettes, leaves, vines, etc. Score the bottoms of these with a fork, and moisten, then attach to a scored section of the lid. When the pie has been filled, moisten the edges of the base. Put the lid on top. Pinch the edges together. Using a small knife or kitchen shears, cut small, inch deep cuts into the edges, making an even number, all around the edge. Fold every other “notch” down, to make a crenellated edge. Pinch the crenellations to ensure they stay down.

Mix all of the pie filling ingredients together. Pour into the pie shell and cover with the pie lid. Bake at 350º F for one hour. After one hour, glaze the pie shell with the egg yolk for a lovely golden brown color. Return to the oven for another twenty minutes.

 

 

 

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.

Austin

This year, I spent Memorial Day weekend in Austin. It wasn’t quite the same as my usual small town parade and hot dog sort of weekend, but a wonderfully delicious experience all the same. In fact, the trip consisted mostly of eating with the few scattered landmarks thrown in. I saw the capitol building, visited the University of Texas (the things they’ve managed to put longhorns on was truly amazing), and swam (sort of) in Barton Springs. Other than that, my time was spent mostly with a fork in my hand. There was one day I literally ate six meals. It was fabulous.

Austin is known for many things, its music, its growing tech industry, but all I really cared about was Austin’s food trucks. So to Torchy’s we went. We didn’t actually go to the food truck; there was a non-movable location closer. Torchy’s started out as a food truck but, by popular demand, opened actual restaurants. The menu was gigantic; had it not been for the long line I wouldn’t have had time to decide. I ended up getting two tacos, The Democrat, and the fried avocado taco. That Democrat, let me tell you, I never knew shredded beef could taste so good. It was juicy in the way braised meat is, just the right amount of salty, absolutely melt-in-your-mouth awesome with a little bit of freshly squeezed lime juice. Normally I won’t go near a raw onion with a ten-foot pole, but I didn’t pick a single piece out of that taco. There was just a smattering of queso fresco, only a little bit of avocado. Everything was a perfect complement to the MVP of the taco, the beef. So simple, so delicious.

There was a lot of food I tried in Austin: two separate barbeque dinners, an enchilada or two, a snow cone with condensed milk. However, our trip to Qui, named for the head chef and owner Paul Qui, absolutely knocked my socks off like nothing else had. A trendy Filipino restaurant in an up-and-coming neighborhood, Qui was artistic in both its food and interior. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu, the best decision we could have made. We were treated to eight entrées and three desserts. I’m an adventurous eater but there were some things on the menu I wouldn’t have necessarily ordered, for example, beef tongue or gnocchi in a blood sauce. I ended up not being the biggest fan of the tongue but I loved the blood sauce, a bit like a mole but with a meatier, smokier taste. There was a stupidly good ceviche with coconut milk and lemon, a just the right amount of spicy venison tartare served in lettuce cups, and a cuddle fish rice with mushrooms that just about made my taste buds fall out of my mouth. Who knew that cheddar ice cream tasted so good? Or that spare ribs and pickled green papaya are the perfect combination? Apparently Austin does. And I thank you, Austin. I thank you for taking my palate by surprise and giving me a weekend full of memories I will always savor.  

Pad Thai, Dorm Style

I was lucky enough to grow up really close to an excellent authentic Thai restaurant. There’s nothing trendy about this one. It’s nice and all, but in a way that makes you feel like you’re in someone’s living room. Some of my earliest memories involve that place- drinking coconut milk, holding spoons on my nose, making the bespectacled owner smile in delight while I greedily gobbled up the Chicken Massaman he had been sure I wouldn’t like, and feeling complete wonder at the delightfulness of sweet sticky rice. And the curry puffs, oh the curry puffs.

I’ll admit I was never a big Pad Thai person until I came to college. But soon after arriving I guess you could say it became my ramen noodles. And then a couple of weeks ago I made the most wonderful discovery- Pad Thai is actually pretty easy to make and totally doable in my tiny dorm kitchen.

The great thing about making this dish is the minimal cleanup and cooking time. The worst part is the prep time, but there are a couple ways to cut down on it, such as using pre-minced garlic and ginger. The preparation is by no means awful, but you do need to prepare the peanut sauce and wash and cut the raw ingredients, so depending on how experienced of a cook you are it may take longer for some than others.

But onto the wonderful things. Making Pad Thai requires a pot to cook the rice noodles and a pan to cook the rest, which you then add the noodles to at the very end. But that’s it. It’s not quite a one-pot meal but its pretty close. Then the noodles cook while you cook the chicken and vegetables, which goes quickly because they are cut into small pieces. Lather on that sauce and voilà!

I kind of, sort of followed a recipe, but that’s one of the marvelous things about cooking: you can make it your own. The trick to this dish, for me anyway, is to get the peanut sauce right. After that it all tastes delicious and tangy. I have a friend who has some dietary restrictions so she couldn’t eat the noodles. I just sliced some cabbage to a noodle length as a substitute and made a noodle-less version. And you know what? Covered in that smooth nutty sauce with a little bit of kick, it was almost as good as the noodle version! You can bet I’ll be making this one again and I think you should too. Time to get your Thai on.

Last Bite

To nobody’s surprise, when I was twelve years old I announced to a room full of eighteen people that Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. My mom winced, thinking, no doubt, of all the years worth of stress-filled days thrust upon her in that instant by my declaration. If it really was my favorite, she had to make it good. And let me tell you, it really is my favorite.

I’d like to think I’ve alleviated a bit of the stress as I’ve grown; each year I take on more and more of the cooking. This year I actually made most of the dishes: the sautéed Brussels sprouts, roasted root vegetables, roasted herb potatoes, and red cabbage and apples. The most notable dishes, however, are always made by my mom: the turkey, the cornbread dressing, and the sticky toffee pudding.

Sure, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the turkey. But it wouldn’t be our Thanksgiving without a portion of mealy, mushroomy dressing so large it takes up a third of your plate, or the last bite of the night being a huge spoonful of ooey-gooey, melt in your mouth sticky toffee pudding so good it might have come from a stone cabin in the highlands of Scotland.

So I guess Thanksgiving is about the food, but it’s also about the tradition, and ours is quite simple. We cook like crazy. The turkey comes out, my cousin carves it, and we all sit down to eat. We raise our glasses and my dad says a “Thanks,” that gets followed by a chorus of “Cheers!” which is stifled so quickly by the sound of china that it is a wonder it ever happened at all.

Last Bite: Bite Size

I’ve always loved when restaurants give you a little something sweet with the check. The fortune cookie method, if you will. It certainly helps with the dessert debate: I shouldn’t get anything. But I really want something. Should I get something? Well, now I don’t have to because I see some bite-sized cookies with a check at the table next to mine.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is not as common an occurrence as I would like it to be. In the past six months I have been to only two restaurants that provided such treats: Oceana and The Dutch. At Oceana they served little banana fudge lollipops that I had a great time eating, not least because they got stuck all over my brother’s teeth. At The Dutch it was little dark chocolate cookies with a gooey white chocolate center. Definition of melt in your mouth.

I’m of the opinion that every restaurant should adopt this policy. It’s a lovely little “thank you for coming,” and leaves you with a sweet taste in your mouth and even sweeter thoughts to boot.

Street Food Wonders: Craving Some Craffles

In the chaos of my first midterm week at Columbia, this freshman thought it would be wise to stick close to home. Thus, in my first installment of Street Treats, I didn’t stray far from 116th and Broadway to find something über delicious.

Approximately 20 steps outside of the front gates sits Craffles, a French crepes and Belgian waffles pushcart. Walking between Barnard and Columbia during class rush, you might have smelled the sweet aromas of sugar, berries, and cream wafting through the air. As each day brings colder and colder weather, my longing for a warm, sugary crepe has become increasingly overwhelming.

Thus, in a moment of weakness, I found myself in line outside the cart last Tuesday debating between a classic sweet crepe filled with every berry they had, and a savory garden crepe, packed with mushrooms, spinach, tomato, mozzarella, and pesto. In the end, I went with The Crepe Deluxe, a classic combo of strawberry, banana, and Nutella.

I watched as the crepemaker began assembling my afternoon snack — using a cool crepe spreader to make a perfectly crisp circle. Then came the toppings. A quick flip with a spatula, and a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon and powdered sugar, and my crepe was complete.

Words to describe it? Warm, deliciously rich, a perfect combination of crispy and chewy, gone in under 5 minutes. The strawberries and bananas were fresh and managed to perfectly balance the richness of the Nutella. The sprinkling of cinnamon gave another level of spice that melded well with the sugariness of the crepe.

Will Craffles be my new Crepe stop? Yes. Will it be contributing to the freshman 15? Possibly. Still, I can’t resist!

Find them everyday right outside the gates of College Walk, or online at www.craffles.com.