W is for Wales… not a sovereign state, but a country

Helô

Welsh_flag

Welsh flag

When I started this project a year ago I did some basic research to determine that there were countries that started with most of the letters in the English alphabet. Of course, in this day and age, we all know that the most absolute accurate purveyor of knowledge and authority on all things is Wikipedia (bu- bu- pipe down and go with it!). So, periodically I would look at the Wikipedia “List of sovereign states,” which led me to believe that there is no country that starts with the letter W.

I could’ve panicked, but instead, being the worldly and magnanimous lady I am, I decided I would cook a dish from Wales. So OK Wales is part of the UK, but it’s a place with its own distinct culture and so, it reasoned, it’s own distinct food.

Soon after I made this well-thought out decision I ran in to my friend Paul, a native of Wales, and I couldn’t wait to tell him of my generous gift to the good people of Wales; letting them be their own country for the sake of my blog. And so I excitedly told Paul all about this new project I was starting and then, building excitement as only the finest storyteller can I reached the crescendo and exclaimed, “and since there’s no country in the world that starts with a W, I’ll–”

“I’m sorry, what? There’s no country that starts with W? There is NO country that starts with W?” (You gotta hear that in your head with Paul’s Welsh accent, it makes the story funnier).

“I mean I know that Wales starts with a W,” I explained, “but I mean it’s part of the UK.” At which time Paul reminded me that the UK is made up of four distinct countries; England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You see Wales is in fact a country, but not a sovereign state.

Well there goes my career in diplomacy!

I had invited my friend Anna over for dinner on Friday and since it coincided with the timing of my W recipe, I decided to serve Welsh Rarebit as an appetizer. Despite the name often being pronounced Welsh Rabbit (both are correct from what I hear), this is actually a cheese dish. Basically you make a fondue type sauce, pour it over toast and then throw it under the broiler. Melty, oozey, bubbly cheese and bread; yes please!

Apologies for the lack of photos, I was busy entertaining my guest.

pour

Welsh Rarebit

  • 3 Tablespoons beer (stout or ale)
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard powder (such as Colemans)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Worcestershire sauce; to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 6 oz Welsh cheddar or caerphilly cheese grated
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 slices of bread (can be whatever you like, but I suggest a heartier, crustier variety)

In a small sauce pan mix a bit of the beer with the mustard powder to dissolve. Add butter,  Worcestershire and remaining beer.

Once butter has melted whisk in flour until smooth. Allow to cook for one more minute.

Add cheese, whisking until melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly (mixture should still be warm).

Meanwhile toast the bread.

When the mixture has cooled to warm whisk in the eggs until smooth. Pour mixture over the toast and put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until a bit browned and bubbly. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

spread

FINAL VERDICT: A-

I mean people, do I need to say it again!? It’s melted cheese and bread, could it really not be amazing!?

With some minor tweeks this would definitely be an A+ recipe. Anna and I both agreed that the dish was delish and the texture was pretty fabulous; soft, creamy cheese and nice crunchy crusty bread. I think I need to play with the ratios though as the cheese should’ve been a bit meltier/bubblier. Also because I used a stout and white cheddar, the dish was not the most appealing color brown. I think next time I’d try and get an orange cheddar which wouldn’t effect the taste, but should help the color.

rarebit


Archwaeth dda!

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Where’s the beef? Who cares

Last Friday night was definitely what I’d call a top 10 kind of night. My friend Dawn, who is truly one of the best people I know, was in town from Chicago for a wedding and so we were able to get together.

Dawn asked if we could check out Eataly and I happily agreed because I always enjoy Eataly whenever I visit. There are several restaurants inside the market and I was even more excited when Dawn asked if we could try LeVerdure, the vegetarian restaurant!

As you know, I’m a big believer in incorporating vegetarian meals in to your diet for both health and environmental reasons, but I never ever dine at exclusively vegetarian restaurants because the menus are pretty much always filled with the things I’m most allergic to. It makes sense since vegetarians get much of their protein from nuts and beans, but it doesn’t make sense for me to put myself at risk by eating at a place that’s not safe for me. Le Verdure, however, is pretty straight forward Italian food that just happens to be meatless.

menu

The evening was fabulous. The prosseco, the food and the company really could not be beat and Dawn and I, both omnivores to our core, left very full and very very happy.

We split the fritto misto, fried vegetables, start. My favorite was the fried cauliflower.

app

For my main course I had these unbelievable semolina dumplings with bubbly cheese on top over mushroom ragout. So indulgent.

me

 

This was Dawn’s main course. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but she said it was delicious.

Dawn

Making it right

OMG! I got an email from Bill Telepan. Yes, THAT Bill Telepan! The renowned chef and one of my personal heroes.

Hello,

Thank you for your review. I was embarrassed by our service. We always try to accommodate allergies, as we get many customers who need changes.

I will bring this up my team and please let me know when you come back, I will personally help steer your choices so you can have a better experience.

Thank you

Bill Telepan

I can’t tell you how much this means to me. As I said in my last post, I had every reason to believe that my experience at Telepan was not typical, the food was fabulous and I had every intention of eating there again. This was really special though. The fact that Chef Telepan took the time to write to me makes me want to run back there!

I will definitely be going back to Telepan as soon as possible and of course I’ll report back every fabulous detail for you, dear readers!

Thank you Chef Telepan!

Telepan

If you read this blog at all, you know that there are certain chefs who I consider my personal heroes. One of those chefs is Bill Telepan, chef/owner of the eponymous Telepan.

Bill Telepan doesn’t have a regular TV gig and he’s not famous outside of foodie circles, but he’s widely admired in chef circles. His restaurant garners top marks, including a 27 Zagats rating. Bill Telepan is also a prime example of what I call “a true foodie.” He’s a chef who was sourcing locally and sustainably before that was cool and he is very active with local hunger charities.

His restaurant is also 3 blocks from my house!

I’ve been dying to dine at Telepan, but you may be shocked to find out that working for a social justice organization while living in the most expensive city in America doesn’t exactly leave me with a ton on expendable income. Luckily last week was restaurant week and restaurants across the city, including Telepan, offered a 3 course meal for $38!

I’m not as big on restaurant week as you might think because the special restaurant menus have limited choices which is not a great thing for people with food allergies. However, I took a look at the menu posted on Telepan’s website and saw what looked like many safe items so I messaged my friend Paul and Janet to see if they wanted to join me and booked us a table!

I booked through Opentable because it was hard to get a reservation so I wanted to snap up a table when I saw it. This meant that U didn’t call ahead to tell them about my allergies as I usually do, but rather typed a note about them to the online reservation. I wasn’t worried because Telepan is a high end restaurant which is where I generally have my best experience as an allergic diner. Also, I’ve used Opentable before, though usually for restaurants I’ve dined at before, and found that the maitre d always checks the notes.

I met Paul and Janet at the restaurant. When we checked in with the hostess I was surprised that she didn’t say “and we have a note about food allergies,” but I figured that our waiter would mention it at the table.

After we were seated at the table and our waiter came over I handed him one of my allergies cards and said, “I’m sure that you have this already, but please let the kitchen know that I have these food allergies.” I was greeted with a blank stare. This was clearly the first my waiter was hearing of my food allergies. Fail #1.

Telepan has a cool concept for restaurant week. For the $38 price you can order either an appetizer, mid course and entree, though the whole table has to order the same option. Since Janet is the only real sweet eater of the group we decided to go with the mid course option and then split a dessert off of the regular menu if we felt like it later.

After we’d placed our order and our drinks had been served, another member of the staff (not sure what to call him, maybe a runner?), came over with an amuse bouche of cheddar gourges. I asked if they were safe with my food allergies. He gave me a “how the hell should I know look?” and told me to ask my waiter. Fail #2. At high end restaurants they usually tell all the staff when a table has food allergies and I’ve been told at other high end restaurants more than once that they’s “Never offer me anything they hadn’t made sure was safe first.”

It took an absurdly long time for us to flag down our waiter. When he finally came over and I asked about the gorges his response was not, “I’ve already checked” or, “I’m so sorry I’ll check with the kitchen,” but “Umm, I mean I think there’s just flour and cheese.” Fail #3. Big, huge, fail. First of all that did nothing to make me feel safe. Second, really there are only two ingredients in your gorges, flour and cheese? Can I get that recipe then because I’ll make them every day. Needless to say, I didn’t try the gorges.

The appetizer was the only course I’d had trouble ordering. The only thing on that menu that I could eat was shrimp and grits, which I love, but they came with a coddled egg. I do NOT eat runny eggs. But I just figured I’d order it and eat around the egg, which is exactly what I did.

app

The dish was tasty. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and nice and spicy, though the grits could’ve been a bit smoother.

For the mid course I ordered the egg pasta with smoked brussels sprouts. Which I thought meant egg-pasta, not a pasta that would have another coddled egg on it. Oops! This egg was wobblier than the last. After a good laugh, Paul, a runny egg aficionado said, “I’ll take your egg.” So, with the precision of a surgeon I carefully slid my spoon under the soft egg, slowly lifting it from the dish as Paul held his plate close. We were so close with mere inches between my spoon and his plate when splat! the egg slid off the spoon on to the table and splattered. More laughter ensued though needless to say I was a bit embarrassed when a member of the waitstaff came to clean it up. “Oh excuse me, I don’t get out much.”

mid

Obviously the photo above was taken before the unsuccessful removal of the egg. While I’m sure that the egg would’ve added an unctuousness, this dish was really delicious. The smokey smell was heavenly and hit you as soon at it was placed on the table and the flavor definitely matched.

For my main course I chose the scallop chowder. Which was the absolute standout of the night.

main

It was really a deconstructed chowder. Flavorful comforting broth with a bit of spice surrounded a bed of silky, creamy, buttery potato purée on top of which had been place a generous helping of succulent, perfectly cooked shellfish.

By the time we’d cleared our entree plates we were tipsy and it good spirits so we decided to take a serious look at the dessert menu. Apparently Paul and I forgot that we’re not big sweets eaters because, in solidarity with Janet, we both ordered dessert. In my defense though, lemon is one of my weaknesses and so how could I not order the lemon merengue tart with an accompanying citrus and white chocolate salad.

 

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This was my kind of dessert, tart and sweet lemony custard with just a whisper of meringue encased in a light buttery crust. Yum.

The food at Telepan did not disappoint, which only made my issues with the service more surprising. You may be surprised to hear though, that I very much want to give Telepan another try. Based on everything I’d previously heard and my high regard for Bill Telepan I truly believe that this was just an off night and one not so great waiter. Next time though, I’ll definitely be calling first!

The verdict:
Food rating: A
Service/food allergy accommodations: C
Overall rating: See above

V is for… Vietnam; taste testers and rule breakers

Chào

vietnam-flag

Flag of Vietnam

When I started this project nearly a year ago (wouldjya believe!?) there was never any doubt what I’d be making for V. I’d never had Vietnamese food before what with that whole, I’m pretty much allergic to all of Asia thing, but I’d heard great things. Friends and family raved about the cuisine and years of TV food watching had thought me that Vietnamese was consider one of the great cuisines of the world with it’s melding of flavors from both Asia and France.

With a long history of occupation by the French that didn’t end until 1945, the Vietnamese incorporated certain French culinary traditions in to their diet. One of these traditions was the consumption of baguettes which are now a staple in the Vietnamese diet. Now baguettes are delicious all on their own, but those culinary wizards in Vietnam found a way to make that famous French bread even better; they created flavor sandwiches called Banh Mi!

The salad was underwhelming.

The salad was underwhelming.

There are many different types of Banh Mi, but after some research I decided to make pork meatball Banh Mi and after that… well… a few other things fell in to place.

Randomly my coworker Julie came in to the office one day and reported that she’d started making her own pickled daikon, a key topping for Banh Mi, and she said she would be happy to share. This time around I also have an expert taste tester, Josh, who’s enjoyed many a Banh Mi in his time.

PicMonkey Collage2

Of course when one has an expert taste tester coming for dinner one wants to make it a nice meal. Banh Mi’s traditionally use cucumber as one of their toppings. Now as you know, even though I don’t always succeed, I do try to shop mostly seasonally; of course February in New York isn’t exactly cucumber season. So I was going to skip it, but I also needed a side dish to serve with the sandwiches and I found a recipe for a Vietnamese inspired cucumber and pineapple salad and… well… you can guess the rest (and by rest I mean shrink wrapped plastic with a “product of Mexico” sticker on it. I know, I know!).

On the upside I really liked the crunch that my hypocrisy added to the sandwich. Ah well; nobodies perfect.

open

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 Tablespoons of scallions; finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons mock soy sauce (or real if you’re not allergic)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh mint; finely chopped or torn
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro; finely chopped or torn
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch

For the sandwiches

  • Baguettes (the softer variety)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Finely chopped scallions
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Thinly sliced jalapeno
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Pickled daikon

jsand

Make the meatballs

Preheat oven to 375.

In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients. Do not over mix. Don’t be shy, the best way to do this is with your hands.

Roll in to 1 inch round balls and place on foil lined cookie sheet.

Bake until cooked through; about 20 minutes.

Yields about 14 meatballs

Assemble sandwiches

Slice open baguette and spread mayonnaise on each side. Load in ingredients to your taste. Top with meatballs . Close sandwich and press down a bit. Serve.

Notes: I sliced the meatballs in half before putting them on the sandwich to help them stay in placeTraditionally Banh Mi are spicy so don’t be shy about the jalapeno slices if you can take the heat. They also traditionally have a pile of cilantro on top. I like it that way, but cater to your taste. If you don’t like cilantro, try some mint instead.

FINAL VERDICT: A+

OMG these were so so delicious. They’re receiving only my second ever A+!

I think it’s the combination of flavors and textures that makes this sandwich so great. In each bite you get salty, spicy, sweet and briny and also, crunchy, crusty, chewy, meaty, squishy! I would definitely make these again!

Both me and Josh, my expert taste tester, agreed that the meatballs themselves were fantastic. I would also make the meatballs on their own for a party and serve them with some kind of spicy dipping sauce. If I were to make the meatballs on their own I’d probably pan fry them instead of baking to get a nice crust.

Vietnam definitely did not disappoint!

Playing with my fun new photo editing app.

Playing with my fun new photo editing app.


Tốt cảm giác ngon miệng!

Game Day Quesadillas

Well hello there, remember me?

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I had a nasty case of strep throat last week which brought with it a high fever. The most energy I expended last week was getting from the bed to the couch and then back to the bed. Lucky the antibiotics kicked in in time for the weekend and I was back in business for the Super Bowl and ready to cheer on the Ravens to victory (woo hoo)!

And what better way to celebrate the Super Bowl than with my Game Day Quesadillas. I’ve been making these for years with a pinch of this and a dash of that. I’d love to tell you that before writing this post I took the time to actually measure out the ingredients, but I’d be lying to you and that just doesn’t seem right. Anyway, you seem like smart people so I’m sure that you can figure out what proportions taste good to you.

I always make these with chicken, but they could easily be vegetarian, beef or pork.

gameday

Game Day Quesadillas

  • 1lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • Buttermilk
  • Garlic
  • 1 medium onion; sliced
  • 1 medium bell pepper; sliced
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pimento stuffed olives; roughly chopped
  • Pickled jalapeños; roughly chopped
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Shredded cheese of your choice (cheddar, Monterey jack, a blend, whatever)
  • Flour tortillas (or corn if you’re gluten free)
  • Sour Cream

Marinate chicken in buttermilk, beer and a whole bunch of crushed garlic cloves for several hours to overnight.

Preheat until to 475. Bake chicken thighs until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature and shred. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté peppers and onions until soft. Toss in to a bowl with all spices to your taste.

Add olives, jalapeños, and cooked chicken and toss checking again for seasoning.

Place one tortilla on a plate. Cover with a bit of the chicken mixture, the fresh cilantro to your taste and some of the cheese. Cover with another tortilla. Either bake in the oven or put in a dry non stick pan and cook until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly crisped.

Serve with sour cream

Yields A LOT! This is party food.