Monday, June 23, 2008

Fast Food - Taqueria Patzcuaro

So today I'm starting a new feature. Fast Food. Quick write-ups about restaurants I visit that are deserving of mention, but maybe not a long post. Or else a way to mention a place that I happen upon without my camera in tow. Or, let's be honest, a way for me to discuss a restaurant when I don't have time for the whole shebang.

So our first entry - Denver's Taqueria Patzcuaro. Daniel, his very old friend Ben, and I went there for lunch on Friday. We usually stick to El Taco de Mexico when in Daniel's hometown (their chile relleno burrito is t-d-f), but this time we decided to be adventurous and followed Ben's recommendation to TaqPatz.

On my insistence, we all shared an order of Tacos Albanils, four tacos on homemade corn tortillas with slices of grilled steak, fried potatoes, onions, and jalapenos. With a bit of lime drizzled on top. So delicious. Good greasy, flavorful beef. And really thinly sliced pieces of lightly fried potatoes, thus combining the taco and the French fry. What could be better?

I had the Camaron de Mojo de Ajo - shrimp sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and lime juice, served with rice, lettuce, guacamole, and tortillas. I went for this because it had been recommended on some online forums and because my stomach was, as always, pushing me away from the legumes I so badly wanted. But the shrimp were delicious, really moist and perfectly cooked, if a bit greasy. The guac was rich and creamy and those corn tortillas were just right.

So there you have it. I'd go into what Daniel and Ben ate (chile relleno burrito and chicken fajitas respectively), but I'm trying (and not succeeding) to be FAST. Tomorrow is the first day of school, after all. (eeek).

Oh well. The next installment will be faster. My goal will be to get these entries down to 150 words. Let's see if I can do it...

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Bread Project - Challah French Toast

The Bread Project was back in full force last week with an old standby - challah, the bread that launched my desire to learn how bake leavened goodness in the first place.

I tried a new recipe this time as I was doing the baking at 10,000 feet in Keystone, CO and needed to make adjustments for the altitude. But even with a recipe tested in mile high Denver, the two loaves still cooked a full twenty minutes faster than the 45 minutes the Denver recipe called for. Luckily, the nose knows when something in the oven is in danger of burning. In the end, the loaves stuck a bit to the pans, and I lost some of the bottoms, making them pretty fragile. But they served their purpose for Friday night dinner, and even did double duty in Steve Berson's famous challah French toast for Father's Day brunch on Sunday...

Mmmm. It was delicious. The brunch also featured...

Turkey sausage (casing free) and...

A lovely fruit salad (notice that the bananas are on the side, respecting my extreme banana fear.)

The three handsome Berson men celebrating Father's Day in the fine Colorado sun. Good company. Good eats. No complaints. (notice Daniel's Madras shorts!)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where the Buffalo Roam...

When I was a kid I thought the old song went "Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the envelope play..."

So clearly, I am probably not a cowgirl at heart. But that didn't stop Daniel and me from attending a real live rodeo last week while we were staying in Keystone in the Rocky Mountains. This being a mountain resort town, the rodeo itself was probably not the most impressive display of cowboy-manship ever (the participants had a lot of trouble roping the tiniest bulls I've ever seen) However, I think we did manage to get a taste of what rodeo life is all about.

And of course I mean "taste" literally. I had some lovely grilled corn on the cob with good crunchy charred bits. But in an unusual turn of events, I wasn't that hungry, so I relied on Daniel to do the real sampling.

For his first round, he went for a meat and two. He gobbled up this amazing barbecue turkey sandwich complete with white barbecue sauce and cole slaw. I had a wee bite and it was very good despite the mayonnaise-based sauce.

For his sides, he went for a hearty looking, southern style mac and cheese and some delicious looking grilled cornbread.

Sated, we headed into the rodeo to watch several events, including something called mutton bustin' in which children under the age of four "ride" large sheep, bucking bronco style. The toddler who stays on the longest wins.

The winner in this round clung to the sheep for a full five seconds. Again revealing my city slicker nature, I was horrified.

Having worked up an appetite comforting his appalled girlfriend, Daniel went back for another round, taking advantage of the presence of non-porcine ribs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In honor of Willie Randolph

Okay, it's not about food, but at least there's a hot dog in the picture...

Woke up this morning to the news that the Mets had classlessly fired Willie Randolph on the road, late at night. This picture is from the first game I saw at Shea with Willie at the helm. We sat in the bleachers, we ate hot dogs, the Mets won. It was a happier time.

Willie, you deserved better.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Polish Palate

Okay, if I don't finish up talking about Poland I'm going to go crazy. So here's one final post on our trip. Fine writing and good organization be damned...

In Krakow, one of our favorite places was this student hangout, where for very cheap, you got to choose either four or six salads and/or hot dishes from a buffet (plus you got unlimited bread! Just like the Olive Garden!). Some of the salads were too mayonaisey for my taste, but the discerning palate could find some good options. Although most Poles seemed to go for the four combo plate, Daniel and I always went for six each. We are greedy Americans after all...

There was a soup festival in Krakow, which of course we missed. As has been mentioned, I love soup, so I was sad to miss the festivities, but I did snag one these handsome posters for our new kitchen.

My breakfast the morning after a bad migraine forced me to subsist on salty sticks alone.

Daniel's big old plate of herring.

My big old plate of kasha.

A big old plate of pig lard. I am not a wimp. I tried it. Then I spit it out in my napkin.

Daniel's enormous zakoplanki. Basically a French bread pizza. Very popular with the Krakow drunken hipster. Daniel chose one covered in corn, cheese, and red barbecue sauce. Daniel soon himself was covered in corn, cheese, and red barbecue sauce.

The best lamb consumed in Poland.

{This picture won't load. I'm impatient, so I'll try to add it again later. But the gist is it's Daniel with a big lamb bone...}
He who consumed the lamb.

This bonkers contraption is full to the brim with sauerkraut. There is so much sauerkraut that this man must stand on a chair to stir it.

Just a couple of Poles out for a walk in the country side. Dziękuję Poland!

The smell of cheese was thick in the air...

After spending sometime in Krakow, we headed down to Zakopane, a small village in the Tatra mountains, the Polish part of the Carpathian range, on the border with Slovakia. Zakopane is a holiday mecca for Polish tourists, offering skiing in the winter and mini golf, alpine slides, and loads of drinking in the summer. As with most touristy towns, street food is key. Some of the recurring stands hawked food that resembled Polish versions of American carnival staples - waffles topped with loads of whipped cream and chocolate instead of elephant ears and funnel cakes; greasy roast potatoes instead of French fries dripping in ketchup; enormous pigs spinning on spits instead of hot dog stands. Soft serve ice cream though was refreshingly familiar.

However, one type of stand was more ubiquitous than all of the rest. And these offered something for which I can think of no American equivalent - smoked cheese.

Called oscypek, this cheese was sold sometimes in Krakow as well, and because of it's molded shape and burnt brown hue, we'd mistaken it for mini loaves of bread. But because it is so prevelant in Zakopane (you literally cannot walk five feet without running into an oscypek stand), the smell of smoked cheese is unmistakable and inescapable.

It comes in several varieties, but we weren't ever able to determine the difference between the options. (except for the string cheese version). And amazingly each stand sells seemingly identical offerings, and yet business seems to be booming.

We bought a small piece from a promising looking vendor, and while we enjoyed the chewy texture and the very salty smoky flavor, there's really only so much smoked street cheese we could eat.

We spent a lot of time in Poland wondering why the locals weren't a bit more friendly toward us. We'd thought that it was perhaps the language barrier and our inability to master even a simple thank you. But in retrospect, at least in Zakopane, perhaps it was because we weren't constantly carrying around little baggies of oscypek. Perhaps without being armed with smoked cheese we were clearly not Poles...

Monday, June 9, 2008

You say pretzel, I say salty stick

All over Krakow, there are little stands selling round, soft looking bread products. Almost like bagels but stretched out. You have a choice between sesame, poppy, or salt covered. The salespeople set up first thing in the morning and in general stay open all day, although we learned quickly trying to order one in a restaurant, that they are thought of primarily as a breakfast food. We also learned that these round bready wonders are called pretzels in spite of their untwisted nature.

Inspired by their ubiquity, I had to try one, so I chose a good looking stand in the Rynek Glowny and selected the pretzel that looked the softest and chewiest.

I tried (and failed) to say thank you. It was another three days into our time in Poland that we learned to pronounce it correctly (jen-cooo-ya)...

I ran over to Daniel to share the wealth...

Bit in...

And forcing myself to swallow the stale, hard sesame covered cardboard, promptly...

It wasn't until our last day in Poland that I dared to try another pretzel. This one was delicious, and I live in regret that I so easily abandoned what could have been many happy pretzel filled days.

A quick side note. On one of our last days in Krakow, I got a migraine that led to some severe nausea. When I'd recovered enough to eat anything, I asked Daniel for something salty and crunchy. Being the wonderful provider that he is, he went down to the restaurant in our hotel and asked for pretzels. The waiter frowned, and said apologetically, "We don't have any pretzels, but we do have salty sticks." He returned with a cup of something like these...

They were exactly what I needed, and I will always have cozy memories of being warm in my Krakow bed with a cup of salty sticks and some water with gas.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tea (and vodka) and Sympathy

I'm not really sure how to begin discussing our last week in Europe, which we spent in Poland. The whole experience was great, but very strange, and at this point, although we've only been back a little over a week, the trip seems like years ago.

So instead of launching into a great detailed review of what we ate and saw and ate, I'm going to stick to a sketch - major themes that emerged in the culinary experience that was our Poland trip. The first major theme - beverages.

They love their beverages in Poland. Not just the alcoholic variety. Tea is also very popular. Krakow is filled with dozens of cozy little cafes that would rival any hipster joint in New York or any Left Bank intellectual haven in Paris. A major recurring decorating motif is "antique tailor chic" with lots of establishments displaying sewing machines, sometimes employing Singers as actual tables...

Singer, a very popular, much imitated cafe in the Jewish quarter

At these cafes, there are plenty of choices for what to drink. We regularly saw the most delicious looking beverages moving past us but were generally unable to determine exactly what they were based on the menus and the varying degrees of English available. So, like many of the Poles around us, we stuck to basics - tea, hot chocolate, vodka, and beer. Some notes on each -

The Poles love tea as much as the Irish, only they take it without milk. You can get it with milk (which is how I prefer it), but you'll pay for it (quick note, you also have to pay for table water when eating at a restaurant). So being the frugal traveler that I am (or try to be), I quickly learned to appreciate tea without milk. And luckily they make this transition pretty easy on you. The basic tea just comes with lemon, but there are many, many other options. One that I learned to love was the basic tea with a fruit juice served on the side that you could mix in to add sweetness. The best was fresh Polish cherry juice (the top picture). Other options included raspberry preserves (too sweet) and cherry infused vodka (too bizarre).

Sipping cherry tea on the day my belly rebelled, forcing me to subsist on tea and bread

After some experimenting, I tended to stick to the cherry juice with a dash of lemon, but feeling brave toward the end of our trip, I went for a "Pina Colada" tea - freshly mixed by the cafe in question. It was an herbal tea flavored with coconut and pineapple and something red, and it was the most fragrant, delicious thing I've ever sipped.

The pina colada

Hot chocolate
Daniel, who had only started to learn to like tea and milk during our stay in Ireland, was not interested in the milkless Polish tea phenomenon, so he stuck to the occasional coffee and some serious hot chocolate.

Some sort of marriage between coffee and hot chocolate

Hot chocolate so thick, he had to eat it with a spoon

Vodka in Poland is generally imbibed straight and with great regularity. And while they are certainly fans of the high proof, unfettered vodka, they have no compunction in adding a little flavor to the mix. As with tea, berry juices are very popular additions to the drinking experience, but instead of adding ice and juice to the stuff, American style, they let the vodka sit in the juice for months, creating some of the strongest alcohol I've ever swallowed.

At the hip bars, they are willing to mix a vodka cocktail for you. This one was plain vodka with Sprite and cucumbers. It was too sweet for me (I don't like sweet liquor drinks), but I might try to alter it slightly at home with club soda instead of Sprite. I love getting my veggies and my booze in one go (hence my loyalty to the Bloody Mary.)

A picture is worth a thousand words. Really what can I add?