Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Bread Project - Bagels!

I made bagels today! If I can't get proper bagels in California, I'll have to learn to make them myself (although, I hear the secret is New York water, so maybe I'll have to import that.)

While I'm still no Terrace Bagels (frankly, I'm probably not even a Lender yet), I'm determined to get there some day. In the meantime, these little fellows are nothing to turn one's nose up at, if I do say so myself...

Butter + Cream cheese + Chocolate = Yum

I had wanted to make a little babka this weekend, but after scouring literally a dozen recipes, I realized that to make it properly, I really needed a proper stand-up mixer with a dough hook. So I went for the next best thing - rugelach! I went with the Joan Nathan version.

It was quite a process. First a very rich dough of butter, cream cheese, a little flour and some sugar. Then that sat in the fridge for an hour or so, while I created the filling. I had a choice between chocolate and apricot, and while I love fruit cookies, since I'd been craving chocolate babka, there was really only one way to go - I grated eight ounces of bitter sweet chocolate and combined it with sugar. The thing I really wanted to achieve here was aesthetics. I'm a decent enough baker in terms of taste, but I really need to bring up my points for presentation. I just have no patience for rounding edges and smoothing dough. So I concentrated a lot on making these guys look pretty.

Rolling them out

Arranging the filling

Finished product

In the end, I'm pleased with the way they came out. I may search around for a slightly chewier recipe (these are very sophisticated.) But I feel that I'm on my way to being a neater, prettier baker.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You didn't know I was Post Punk?

I love a good "healthy" nutty, fruity cookie. Even though I know they're usually full of calories and fat, if they're brown and have some dried fruit, I like to fool myself into thinking they're good for me.

So I decided to go vegan and make some pumpkin cookies from the Post Punk Kitchen website. I adjusted the recipe by using half whole wheat flour, half oil/half applesauce, and cranberries instead of raisins. And I've been eating them (almost) guilt free.

The Bread Project - One for the Round Bin

I was trying to make an orange scented bread from the King Arthur website, which has treated me so nicely in the past. This one was an utter failure. The dough would just not hold together. I'm not yet at the point in my bread making where I can figure out exactly what to add when such a problem occurs. So into the garbage it went. Oh well. Can't win em all.

"Tired of eating eyeballs"

My goal before leaving New York is to eat in as many outer borough stars as possible. I want to return to Spicy Mina and Sri at least once more. I want to finally get to Di Fara and Tangra Masala, and I had wanted to get to Kabab Café (sort of).

Kebab Café, a tiny Egyptian kitchen with only about 15 seats, is infamous for serving large amounts of offal (the parts of animals that we Americans usually throw away.) Equally infamous is the chef Ali. He is known for chatting up his customers with little regard for politesse or boundaries. It was a place I had to try, but at the same time, it's a love it or hate it kind of place. Some people find the food (especially the innards pretty gross); others find it overpriced; others find Ali overbearing. Anyway, I'd been putting it off for a while, but my youngest niece Lily is studying the Egyptian dialect of Arabic with plans to go to Egypt for her junior year abroad, so I promised her I'd take her, and so last Friday night, she, Daniel, and my middle niece, Anna, and I headed out to Astoria, and to Kabab Café…

People are not exaggerating when they describe the place as tiny. We arrived at about 7:40, and all of the seats were filled, so we had to wait in the miniscule area near the door, moving out of the way so that Ali and his one bus boy could grab silverware and napkins from behind where we were standing. The wait gave us time to run across the street for beer (and cash) and to observe Ali in action. He does all of the cooking himself, in a tiny oven and a few hot plates. On his counter are tubs of unindentifiable pieces of meat and tons of fresh veggies. In between sips of wine, he holds court with all of the customers as he cooks, turning his attention from one table to the next, thereby giving each table a chance to enjoy his "Egyptian magic," the same "love" he says he puts in each dish he cooks.

When we sat down at a table cozily placed in a little nook directly across from Ali's cooking station, we were showered with that magic. First he quickly took a fancy to the lovely Lily and Anna, and off we went on a culinary journey, the likes of which I've never experienced before. We weren't given a menu; rather Ali gave us a list of what was good that night – beet salad, red fish, shrimp (no shrimp, I shouted), lamb shank. Then when I told him that we were there to give my niece Lily a taste of Egyptian food to prepare her for trip, his eyes lit up, "Oh you have to come back during lunch," he said. "Then we'll really talk. Dinner is for amateurs." Amateurs or not, after he determined that we were adventurous eaters, we and he decided that he should just choose our meal for us, basically go Omakase, Egyptian style. So here's what he gave us:

Combo plate – hummus, baba, foul, and falafel, with pita and hot sauce, and a mysterious piece of lightly fried lettuce

The verdict: the whole process of waiting to be seated, waiting for Ali's attention, waiting for the combo plate took a while, so when it arrived we were ravenous and ripped right into the mass of yummy goodness Ali put in front of us. Although the pitas were clearly from a bag, they soaked up the delicious, slightly chunky hummus and the perfect (and thankfully not too rich baba) with ease. The falafels were cruncy and great, with none of the remnant grease that sometimes plagues such creatures. But the hot sauce. Oh man, was that hot sauce good. When I asked Ali what it was I got what I guess is his standard answer, "Egyptian magic." Oh and "love."

Sardines – whole, pretty sizeable sardines, heads and all
The verdict: Daniel, never one for fish on the bone was a little scared, but Anna told him that he could just swallow the littlest ones and I showed him how to fillet it a bit, and then we all enjoyed these oily, succulent creatures. I am my father's (and mother's) daughter. I like sardines. Even when they don't come canned in mustard sauce.
Beet salad - beets, olive oil, some other stuff
The verdict: Anna said she didn't know she liked beets, but she liked these; I agreed.

Lamb cheeks – served in a hot earthenware dish; ground lamb cheeks with a poached egg on top, which Ali mixed all together for us at the table, calling the egg "Egyptian hollandaise sauce"; eaten with whole wheat pita and hot sauce

The verdict: for me, the best of the night; rich, almost like a pate with the texture of almost the moist meat of a Bolognese sauce; really, really phenomenal

Lamb tongue – we were just warming up with cheeks; this was going to separate the men from the boys; big hunks of lamb's tongue sautéed and then lovingly placed in a thick tomato sauce

The verdict: I was so impressed with the lot of us; I'd had tongue on deli platters growing up (or rather, I'd avoided tongue on deli platters growing up); going into the meal Daniel was pretty sure he wouldn't even taste tongue, Lily giggled about it but made promises to indulge; Anna (in some foreshadowing of the rest of the evening) was unfazed. In the end we all dove in, and then after tasting the rich, crispy meat in the hearty acidic sauce, we dove in again and again, occasionally remembering what we were eating, but then pushing through because, really, it was just so good.

Veal sweetbreads – none of us could remember what is involved in sweetbreads; we knew it wasn't pretty, but when a plate of fried, fatty morsels and green peppers appeared in front of us, we really didn't know what we were getting into

The verdict: too fatty and grisly for me, but I'm glad I tried it; others seemed pleased, even after Daniel guessed that it was brain, and I agreed; turns out its thymus gland or pancreas; either way, still too fatty

Lamb shank – an enormous lamb shank with rice and some sauteed veggies covered in lamb juices

The verdict: this was incredibly difficult to eat; we tried using our fork and puny knives to cut into it, but only managed to get little morsels of the chewy, flavorful meat; but then Ali came by and insisted that Anna pick it up and really eat, and she did. It looked pretty good. I meanwhile kept piling the rice and veggies covered in lamb juices on my plate. Delish.

Red fish - this came in two dishes; first the whole fish minus the head with lots of veggies; then a fish head stew; the whole head in a tomato broth with more veggies

The verdict: the fish was moist and flaky and tender; very subtle flavor typical of a white fish; I also LOVED the well sauteed, crispy veggies that came with it; I couldn't stop picking at them, long after I should have stopped. Meanwhile, Anna had something she couldn't stop picking at either - the eyeballs of our little friend that were floating around in the fish head stew. She picked one up and ate it without absolutely no compunction. Then she picked up the other and slurped it down too. Not to leave a single piece, when she found a remnant (the iris perhaps), that went down the hatch too. She is a total stud.

Full of eyeballs, veggies, and the rest, we couldn't stomach dessert. BUT not wanting to disappoint Ali, we got one of everything and took it to go...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bay Area - Ethnic Eats

Okay, I'm cutting to the chase here. I love ethnic food (whatever that means exactly, as it seems to me all food probably has some -or many- ethnicities). They have good ethnic food in San Francisco. I ate some it was good.

Out the Door - this is the Ferry Building kid brother of the famed modern Vietnamese spot the Slanted Door; after everything outside at the Ferry Building was sold out (AGAIN), we headed indoors for some samples; we had a steamed vegetable bun, a grapefruit and jicama salad with red cabbage and candied pecans, and a grilled five spiced chicken over rice vermicelli and julienned cucumbers.

The verdict: loved the bun, not overwhelmingly bready like some can be, really nicely flavored stuffing; LOVED the grapefruit and jicama salad (after being in Callie - we're on familiar terms now so I can call it that - I'm obsessed with grapefruit in salad, in fact I made one for dinner tonight...); the chicken with rice vermicelli (basically chicken bun) was just okay in my opinion, not a standout, but Daniel seemed to like it okay

La Taqueria: yes we went again; yes once again we got veggie burritos BUT this time we shared a carne asada taco too, so there.

the taco

The verdict: I still love those burritos; they are just the perfect size and the beans and salsa and avocado are so flavorful that I don't even miss the cream. The carne asada taco was good too, but I have to say, not as good as the ones we had in Brooklyn recently (yeah Brooklyn!)

Burma Superstar - we got there at 5:30 determined to finally sample Burmese food after being stymied by the closing of the NY based Burmese Cafe and by long lines at Superstar during our last SF visit. We were seated right away and went straight to work on the menu. It was difficult though as Daniel and I were dining alone and thus couldn't sample everything we wanted. I knew we had to get a tea leaf salad (salad prepared with imported Burmese tea leaves, tomatoes, lettuce, , fried garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts, and split yellow peas) and then we had the waitress help us chose two entrees - Yellow bean curry (Burmese curry with four home made puri breads) and the chili lamb (pieces of lamb with hot peppers). We had sides of coconut rice and jasmine rice with raisins.

The verdict: the Tea Leaf salad arrived untossed and the waiter mixed the components too quickly for me to take a picture pre-mixed and then I ate too quickly to take a picture post-mixed. This lived up to the hype big time; the tea leaves were moist and pungent, but not at all bitter and the rest of the salad's components complemented their unique flavor perfectly

The yellow bean curry - spicy in non-coconut based red curry; perfectly cooked, lovely cruncy vegetables, amazing when paired with the jasmine rice

The spicy lamb - oh man; so perfectly spiced; so tender and yet so chewy; so, so, so good with the sweetness of the coconut rice; we were stuffed and our noses were running, but we ate the whole thing; just look at those chilies, just look at those beautiful pieces of lamb...

so yeah, we loved Burma Superstar. We ate ourselves into a pre-coma state, and so we went for a walk through the Richmond, when wouldn't you know it, the copious amount of water I imbibed to fight Burmese spice took its toll, so I had to stop at Quickly (a "new generation asian fusion style chain cafe") to use their facilities. We purchased this:

Advertized as a peanut butter waffle, it was...

Two Eggos stuffed with creamy peanut butter and condensed milk. Not even being able to deal with its intense peanut butter smell after superstar, I didn't taste it. Daniel did though. He said it tasted exactly like it looked. Next time I'm there I'm trying watermelon and aloe juice and red bean and tofu pudding!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bay Area - California Cuisine

So I hope that from my last post, it doesn't seem as if I hate California and I hate the environment. In fact, I am quite fond of both. It's just an adjustment. But once again, Daniel and I did some mighty fine eating on this trip. In trying to categorize the food we ate, I've decided to break it up into two realms - California cuisine and ethnic eats. Both alliterative, pleasing the ears of this future English teacher.

I'm not sure of the official definition of California cuisine, but to me it puts an emphasis on fresh ingredients, a healthy mix of fruits and vegetables, often with an Eastern or Latin American influence. Does that sound about right?

So here's what and where we ate in that general sphere:

Pomelo - we met a couple of friends in this Noe Valley fusion restaurant, which I'd read about somewhere or other. It was a bit crowded, but very pleasant atmosphere, and if we're going to live in SF, Noe is one of our top neighborhoods. As an appetizer I had the Puerta Princesa - a salad of shrimp, avocado, pomelo, cucumber, mint, cilantro, chiles, and peanuts (very California, it seems to me). For my main course, I had the San Fernando - a Filipino style rice soup with chicken, ginger, garlic, saffron, and some other stuff. Daniel split two dishes with our friend Adam - an egg noodle dish with seared tuna (called the Lanzhou) and the Barinas - pulled beef with plantains and black beans.

The verdict: My salad was really yummy and fresh tasting. I love citrus and avocado together, and the chiles added a nice piquancy. The shrimp was good, but frankly almost unnecessary, as the fruits and veggies were so flavorful. I'd ordered the soup thinking it was going to be light and a good complement to the salad. Boy was I wrong. It was an enormous bowl of almost congee like rice porridge with poached chicken. Very well spiced, the chicken tender and moist and the porridge itself nice and comforting. But it was WAY too much food. Luckily, Daniel and Adam were happy to finish it off for me. I had a little sample of their dishes, both of which seemed to please them. The meat was nice and soft, but I took a tiny little nibble so as not to deprive them, so I don't have much to say on it. The Lanzhou was yummy. Who doesn't like egg noodles? Although as Adam pointed out, naming a seafood dish after landlocked Lanzhou was a bit odd. All in all though, a lovely evening.

Cafe Intermezzo - Eric took us on a tour of Oakland and Cal (that's what those in the know call UC Berkeley), and then we headed here for a little lunch before my interview at a school in San Francisco. This is a favorite of Eric's and it's easy to see why. He urged us to go for the combos - choice of two - salad, half sandwich, or soup. Being the big eater that I am, I'm usually wary of half sandwich and salad combos as I find they're never enough food for me, but he assured me that it would be sufficient and so I took his advice and did a half turkey sandwich on whole wheat with a garden salad.

The verdict: This place is redefining the "big salad." It was huge. Simple, but very good - lettuce, tomato, carrots, etc (no sprouts as there was a recall). I went for the low fat veggie dressing, which was sort of fruity tasting, with lots of sesame seeds. My half sandwich was also on the generous side, with lots of turkey on big slices of sweet, chewy bread. I was good and full by the end of it and the whole thing was only $7.95. And it came with a piece of freshly cut pineapple. Yum.

Cafe Gratitude - I'm really not sure where to begin with this place. So I'll let it speak for itself. "Café Gratitude is our expression of a world of plenty. Our food and people are a celebration of our aliveness." This Berkeley establishment is covered in brightly colored murals featuring inspirational quotations and features a vegan menu consisting almost entirely of raw foods. All of the items have names like "I Am Dazzling" or "I Am Thankful," and there is a lot of nut based "cheese" and sprouted bread represented on the menu. We decided to share "We Are Bountiful" (a cracker and spread sampler plate, featuring live crackers, soft cashew cheese, and spicy hummus) and "I Am Fulfilled" (a large salad with tons of veggies and Brazil nut Parmesan.) Daniel and Ariel each opted for live pizza, "I Am Passionate" and "I Am Sensational", respectively (these are buckwheat sunflower seed sourdough flatbread crusts, topped with sauce and cashew ricotta, Ariel's came with an additional pesto tapenade.) Eric and I decided to share the "I Am Terrific" (live pad thai - vegetable noodles with almond butter) and the "I Am Cheerful" (a Live Sun Burger! - Gratitude's punctuation, not mine...)

The verdict:

"We Are Bountiful":

This was really pretty nice. I would be hard pressed to tell you which spread was which, but they were very flavorful, and generally surprisingly creamy. The tomatoes, which I assume were raw, had a texture much like roasted tomatoes, and added a nice tang to the unexpected richness of the spreads.

"I Am Fulfilled":

A really nice salad. Lots of fresh, well cut or julienned veggies. Good enough that even Daniel, the non-salad eater, had a couple of helpings.

It was at this point in the meal that our waitress came over and informed us that she'd just found out that the restaurant had ran out of "I Am Cheerful." Not being Cafe Gratitude regulars, it took a few seconds to realize that this was the veggie burger Eric and I had ordered. Feeling less than cheerful, we tried to find the sort of zen-like calmness the restaurant specializes in and placed a new order for "I Am Elated," the enchilada of the day. We tried to find elation and take solace in our cashew cheese, but five minutes later the waitress returned to inform us that they were now out of "I Am Terrific" and "I Am Elated." Again, not knowing the menu, these titles meant nothing to us, and suddenly, "I Am Grumpy" seemed more appropriate. I asked the waitress to please explain which of our orders these names represented and was pleased to learn that once again, Eric and I had drawn the short straws. So we abandoned the sharing plan, and I tried to take inspiration in my order by choosing "I Am Accepting" (although I really wasn't) and Eric chose "I Am Divine" (a "fiery carrot and avocado soup)

At around this time, Daniel and Ariel's pizza's arrived.

"I Am Passionate":

I had a bite of Daniel's, which although entirely unpizza-like in nature, was tasty. They both seemed pleased, although Ariel became overwhelmed by the flavor of hers and couldn't finish it.

Finally, Eric's and my food arrived.

"I Am Accepting":

This is one of the few foods from the menu that is heated. It is subtitled "the sushi bowl", and is comprised of red Bhutanese rice, kale, cucumber, scallions, and avocado with a sesame ginger sauce. It was really very good. The rice was nutty and hearty and the kale had a good bit of crunch left to it and was a nice companion to the creaminess of the avocado. Luckily, it was a pretty large portion, so I was able to give about half of it to Eric who had been stuck with a carrot and avocado soup that was among the strangest foods I've tasted. The first bite was okay, but it was so rich and weird tasting that anymore would have been pretty gross.

We finished up with a couple of desserts - a key lime pie and a chocolate cream pie (both involving nut creams and crusts). I'm too tired at this point to look up their official Gratitude names. They came with nut ice cream.

All in all, in spite of the ordering problems and the slightly cloying atmosphere, the food was good. Our waitress, although entirely earnest and seemingly dedicated to the restaurant's mission, was nice and sensing our black hearts, began calling our table "Cafe Smarty-Pants."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A New Yorker in California

So it looks official. Daniel and I are moving to California. It remains to be determined whether we will be in Palo Alto for convenience or San Francisco for fun and ease of transition, but regardless of the specifics, that behemoth state on that other coast seems to be in our future.

I'm excited. Really. It's just that in thinking about this move, I've been focusing on moving TO California and not as much on moving FROM New York. It's the leaving that's starting to get to me. And as is often the case for me, a good part of the emotional experience is linked to food. (not that I won't also miss my brother, friends, the theater, museums, bustle, Eloise, Prospect Park, easy access to South Carolina, New Haven, Massachusetts, and really everything else I've ever known.) But food is a good metaphor, and the purpose of this blog, so I'll stick to that.

Anyway, we spent our week staying with the hospitable, lovely Ariel and Eric in their home in Berkeley. I've really grown quite fond of Berkeley and all its quirks, so Sunday morning, I went out for a walk to explore a bit on my own. Although we were having a barbecue later in the afternoon, I was starving so I wandered into a New York style deli called Saul's near their house on Shattuck. And it was here that I realized California and New York are just really very different. The realization came in two waves.

1) California deli just ain't the same. I'd heard this before, but really, why should California not be able to create a reasonable simulacrum of a NY deli? It's not that the food was bad. Honestly, I only had a turkey sandwich on rye, so I certainly didn't sample everything. It just felt very theme parky, with checkered floors and New York memorabilia around. The big disappointment, however, was that it didn't live up to what one often needs from a deli, which is a reasonable selection of parve side dishes and desserts. I don't care so much if the option exists to have cheese with pastrami for those who don't know any better, but there should at least be some good dairy free cole slaw and babka. That's all I'm saying.

2) There is guilt associated with getting take out. While this is probably good, it is certainly different from New York, where we subsist on delivery and take out and could probably, once a year, fill our tiny apartments from floor to ceiling with all of the take-out containers we accrue annually. Bad. Clearly very bad. But last Sunday, I wanted to get my turkey sandwich to go and to go sit somewhere in the California sun and read my out of town edition of the NY Times and enjoy the best of both coasts. But once I'd asked for my food to go, suddenly, an enormous sense of shame washed over me. I just knew that everyone at the counter was thinking that I was single-handedly destroying 25 100-year old Red Woods and creating mounds of trash that my children would someday be forced to ship to Pluto in solar powered Green rockets. So, while I had planned on eating my food at the little tables just outside of Saul's, I realized that this wasn't going to be an option. After all, it was only a few feet away, and I should have just carried the sandwich in my shirt, thereby avoiding paper trash AND using water to clean any standard dishes or plates. So instead I took my devilish plastic bag filled with two cardboard containers and went to find a spot where I could hide from the castigating eyes of the superior Berkleyites (as penance I didn't take any napkins or a fork with which to eat my side salad).

I found a nice sunny spot far away from the Saulites. In a bank parking lot. There was an old woman there too, drinking coffee in a paper cup. Guilt loves company. On the plus side in California, being outside is almost always pleasant, even beside an ATM. And the pickle from Saul's wasn't half bad.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Study Break

So when I was in college, during Reading Week, the period before exams, study breaks were a very big thing - and they always, always involved food.

Sometimes they were official, organized by the dean of one of the residential colleges. These were the most exciting as they involved pizza or Chinese or Thai. They were held around 10:30 at night, so you'd head over from the library or your room or wherever, stuff yourself with a tremendous amount of grease, sugar, and caffeine, and then head back to further attempt to stuff your brain with the thinking man's equivalent of moo shoo chicken.

There were also less formal breaks. Trips to the Nood, or Pizza and Breakfast, or a simple run to Durfees for Swedish Fish and Otis Smunkenmeyer cookies. (And if you were my friend Suset, several bottles of Sprite.) When I think back to how much crap I ate in those days, it's a wonder I didn't emerge fatter than I did. Sigh. It was kind of wonderful.

These days in studying for these California teaching exams, I've returned to the study break, but now I'm older and slightly wiser. Yesterday, it was a trip for authentic taco/torta magic. Last night it was baking muffins from the Tassajera cookbook (whole wheat, sweetened with apricot jam, one batch to which in a moment of collegiatesugar-craving madness, I added chocolate morsels and dried cranberries.) Today's study break - why eating the muffins of course.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Right this way for tacos

As a break from my hours of studying for these horrible teaching exams, Daniel and I drove out to Sunset Park, Brooklyn to grab some real brain food - tacos, baby. We had planned to go to Restaurante Taqueria Guerrero, which was reviewed in the Voice recently. Supposed to be spicy and delicious. But of course it was closed. Luckily, we had a few other options in mind, and so, undeterred, we made a trek through the pouring rain in search of Mexican goodness.

First Stop:

A fairly large, brightly lit family spot. Our waitress didn't speak English, and when she discovered our depressing lack of Spanish, she went and found someone who could help us interpret the menu. The man she sent over clearly found our questions about queso and crema a little strange, but he obliged, and we eagerly ordered. Here's what we ate:

Carne Asado Taco - served in a double tortilla, very simple, with beef, a thick helping of guac, some onions, and a nice green salsa and limes on the side

The verdict: This was Daniel's favorite; I liked it, but found the beef greasier than it needed to be; still though, the tortillas were great as was the guac, and it was hands down the best taco I've had in NY (well at least for the moment...)

Pollo Taco - same thing, but with pulled chicken

The verdict: surprisingly flavorful for chicken, and I found it really refreshing after the greasy beef

Tamale roja - chicken tamale

The verdict: My goodness, do I love tamales; just my style; a big thick helping of carbs with a little bit of moist chicken, then a little green salsa poured on; oh happy day.

Next stop:

Much smaller; a little divier, but filled with local families - all signs that something good was happening inside. And it was.

Pollo torta - this is what we came for, having read in the Times that they have the best tortas in the neighb. This was poached chicken, a thin layer of refried beans, avocado slices, pickled peppers and carrots, and mayo (which I wiped off) on a toasted Kaiser roll

The verdict: having had no other tortas in the neighb, I can't compare, but if there are better, let them come forward and present themselves. Again, the chicken was surprisingly moist and tasty, the avocado plentiful, the peppers perfectly spicy, and the roll at once perfectly crunchy and soft. Loved it.

Huarache con carne - we asked for an huarache with beans, but this came instead; huarache covered in beef, lettuce, and a little cilantro. We drizzled it in red and green salsas.

The verdict: similar beef to the taco at Matamoros, but less greasy. The huarache on the other hand was grease city. I couldn't eat more than a few bites, but Daniel was happy to dig in. Unfortunately, he found it very difficult to maneuver, and as he tried to cut it, the paper plate it was resting on kept sliding all over the table. Very charming.

Cecina taco - a taco with special dried, salted beef (one of the specialties of the place we were originally intending to try, so we decided to get it here); double tortilla-ed taco, with onions and little bits of tomatoes; I sprinkled some lime and green salsa on my half

The verdict: AMAZING; the beef was like slightly moist jerky; tangy and chewy and salty and fatty and phenomenal; with the delicious tortillas and the onion and the salsa on top, it was the best of the day. Cecina is my new best friend.

In spite of the torrential rain and traffic that we had to brave to get these tacos and friends, it was a great aftertnoon. How exciting to know that such delectable Mexican is a ten minute drive away. And how sad to know that we're leaving in a month and a half. Although I guess moving to California, one can't really worry about lacking good tacos. But there's something about getting them in Brooklyn that makes it all the sweeter (and saltier and spicier and chewier and beefier and altogether delicious.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Bread Project - whole wheat "focaccio"

Well I wasn't going to make any bread this weekend because I am studying my tuchus off for these upcoming California state teaching exams. I ask you, is it really necessary to be able to talk in great detail about pragmatics when teaching sixth grade English? And when is the last time a fifth grade teacher made use of organic chemistry? I know, I know, subject mastery is important, and really I'm just angry at myself for not having started studying earlier. But I digress.

I had thought about doing a quick bread over the weekend and had been eying the walnut honey bread in Tassajara, but then I saw this foccacio. It seemed quick and easy, and I had the ingredients, so I decided to keep with tradition and make a good weekend yeast bread.

I was pleased with the results. They are good and soft with a nice crust, and Daniel says they make for a good sandwich roll. The next time I may add a bit more sage and salt than the recipe calls for, and perhaps I'll roll them out a bit thinner. My only real question is what on earth do these lovely dinner rolls have to do with Italian focaccio? I have no idea...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Outer Borough Eating Club -Yemen Cafe

So maybe given the fact that it took almost a year after moving to Carroll Gardens for me to make it to the much anticipated Yemen Cafe, it is appropriate that it's taken over a week to report on my first sublime encounter with this Atlantic Avenue den of deliciousness.

But two Fridays ago, 7 of us made the trek through the rainy Brooklyn streets to sample some of what is hailed to be the best lamb in the borough. Luckily, I had called earlier in the restaurant earlier in the day to check on its BYOB status, quickly realizing that this place was the real deal and that alcohol was not allowed. Although dissapointing, the alcohol probably would have served as a distraction from the feast that was about to unfold.

Right after we placed our order, they brought us two complimentary treats

Lamb soup and a house salad

The verdict: the salad was surprisingly fresh, with a really nice dressing; the soup was sublime; salty and rich, a thin broth into which we squeezed lemon juice that as my friend Nina pointed out would be the perfect remedy when sick. We were off to a good start.

We moved on to some appetizers, which were served with this bread:

The verdict: amazing; it was warm and soft and chewy; with little crunchy brown bits; as soon as we came close to finishing one, another piping hot pieces would emerge; I easily could have eaten a full loaf (for lack of a better word) of this all on my own, and through the course of the meal, I probably did...

Hommus w/ tahini - need I say more?

The verdict: Daniel, the hummus expert, deemed it not as good as the kind we get at Damascus, just across the street from Yemen Cafe on Atlantic, but he wasn't turning his nose up at it either; creamy, smooth, and besides, it served as a vehicle for eating more of that bread, so really what's not to like?

Foul madmas - mashed fava beans cooked with olive oil; they came bubbling in this iron pot

The verdict: surprisingly rich for fava beans; thick, warm, savory; and again, I got to dip pieces of that bread in it, so I was very, very happy.

White kidney beans - cooked with tomato and onions

The verdict: this was a favorite of the table; wonderful texture, the beans just on the brink of mush, mixing with the tomatoes to create a kind of hash; really subtle nice flavor, sensational.

Eggs served with tomatoes and onion - Yemen style

The verdict: we'd expected something closer to Israeli style shakshouka, but this was actually closer to Chinese style eggs; scrambled, with big pieces of tomato; it was really nice though, with the lovely hot sauce they kept bringing us, and of course, the BREAD

On to the entrees. Daniel and I split two.

Yemeni House Salta - mixed vegetables and soup houlbeh served with lamb and bread

The verdict: this was another dish in an iron pot; a kind of vegetable puree with fenugreek and on the side a big old piece of lamb; this was very good, very comforting, again pretty subtle flavor; the roasted lamb was a delicious, fall off the bone, melt in your mouth, this is why i love lamb situation

Special Yemini Fateh with Lamb - homeade bread bits cooked in gravy topped with minced lamb

The verdict: for the second time in recent weeks (the first being Sri Lanken) I have learned that flat bread saturated with some sort of meat gravy and spices to the point that it becomes chewy and a little mushy is one of the great wonders of the world; this one was without eggs like the dish I had at Nirvana a couple of weeks ago, but the lack of egg was no problem; the little pieces of lamb were just the right level of chewiness, the gravy itself was rich without being overpowering, and my Lord, there is something that happens to bread in this sort of dish that is just divine. Daniel and I slapped some hot sauce on this bad boy and ate the entire bowl, even though we were stuffed from appetizers.

Yemeni Fateh - homemade bread bits cooked with honey & butter

The verdict: maybe bread for appetizer, bread for main course, and bread for dessert is excessive (but probably not); this had a strange flavor though, which no one at the table could place. It reminded me of French toast. Not sure I'd get it again.

A great evening all together. It's so close to our house, I hope to be back several times before we move. The waiter was lovely and on request gave lots of tips about the proper way to eat the dishes (don't dip the lamb in the salta).