Friday, March 30, 2007

Latin American candy

Brownie came back from a trip to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico with a bag of silly candy for me. Do you think Snickers and Milky Way sound as silly to people from other countries as Rockaleta, Pulparindo, and Bubu Lubu do to us?

But the best has to be crunching into King Carlos V's Explosive Balls!!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lunch at Szechuan House in Lutherville, MD

My parents and I love to eat at the Szechuan House in Lutherville, MD. The place caters to white people as well as Chinese customers, but the real secret is the section of the menu called the Country Side Taste. It's where the good stuff is.

Today, we started with an appetizer from their sushi menu, the baby octopus. It's got a nice sauce with sesame seeds, and you just eat up these octopi up whole.

We then got the Ginger Manila Clam soup. It's simple really- clams, onions, and sliced ginger in a soup. The ginger flavor is strong.

This is the Wuu Geng Niou Naan. It's beef with some tendon cooked up in radish and tofu. It comes to the table on a metal elevated tray with a blue fire underneath so it's bubbling hot. The sauce is rich and it's just a tad spicy.

We also got this Sea Bass dish. The fish was nice and fatty, and the sauce- just fantastic with some white rice.

Szechuan House
1427 York Road
Lutherville, MD

Jerk Chicken at Trinidad Gourmet

Local NPR show, The Signal, did a profile on a restaurant in Waverly called Trinidad Gourmet. The owners make authentic food from Trinidad which has an Indian influence. I'm went there for a late lunch and ordered the Jerk Chicken plate with a side of steamed cabbage and rice with peas. I got all dark meat, my favorite, two drumsticks and a thigh piece. The chicken was delicious, and the jerk seasoning was great.
The owner came out and gave us samples of Trinidad Cheddar Cheese which was yummy. He said it's really good melted on Coco Bread.
I'm going to come back here for their Roti sandwiches for lunch, and I will post that then.

Trinidad Gourmet
418 E. 31st St.
Baltimore, MD 21218

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mekong, New Brunswick, NJ

I went back to Mekong in downtown New Brunswick, this time with my camera. This place has been lighting up the boards on Chowhound and was featured in the Digest a few weeks ago. So in two trips, I've tried a good smattering of dishes off the menu and while I'd definitely go back here because of proximity, I still think Philly Vietnamese is better.

Here's a roundup of stuff I've tried --

Fried spring rolls -- ok, but unexciting. I like the ones at Vietnam and Xe Lua in Philly better - more flavorful filling, crispier skins.

Shrimp summer rolls -- less rubbery skins than some places, but at the speed that these came out, you could still tell that they were pre-made. I felt the need for basil or mint or something fresh inside.

Banh xeo (Vietnamese crepe)
the egg crepe was nice and light and unusually for me, I actually liked the vegetarian version better, which had a nice mix of shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts. The pork and shrimp version just had bean sprouts.

Bun Bo Hue -- a thicker spicier beef noodle soup. Noodles were more akin to udon -- good, but I think I still prefer pho. Same goes for the broth -- it was nice and spicy, but I think I still prefer pho broth -- more subtle.

Pho -- this is my litmus test for Vietnamese restaurants, and it just didn't excite me here. I'm still loyal to Xe Lua in Philly -- noodles are fresher, broth more flavorful, rarer beef more thinly sliced. And Mekong didn't even have my favorite pho combo on their menu - rare beef with tendon!

Banh Hoi Bo Lui (Grilled Rolled Beef with Onions) and another Banh dish with grilled pork and shrimp cakes (pictured above) -- These were by far my favorite things. The little rice noodle sheets that you use to wrap the meat in were perfectly made, the perfect texture. They were soft, but completely held together when dipped in sauce.

Grilled Pork chop with shredded pork and crab patty -- This was just alright. I thought the pork was kind of dry. The pork-crab patty was interesting, but didn't have any real discernible crabmeat - I think I was hoping for the wonderful pork-crab combination achieved in soup dumplings.

My friend, who had lived in Vietnam over the summer, was disappointed at the number of times he had to ask the waitress to bring us more fish sauce, and especially disappointed that they didn't have chopped green chilis in the sauce. I did, however, have a delicious banana shake, and one day want to try the fried banana dessert here...

If you have the time to drive to Chinatown or Washington Street in Philly for Vietnamese, do it. But if you live in central Jersey and need a fix, find Mekong (351 George St., New Brunswick).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Thai Dim Sum at Rabieng, DC

I met up with my friend, Mike, in Falls Church, VA to try Thai style Dim Sum at a restaurant called Rabieng which I had first read about on Suburban Tasteland a few months ago.
I arrived a little early, so I ordered with a Singha beer and an appetizer of spicy wok fried cashews that went great with the beer.

I was most looking forward to the pan fried jumbo chive dumplings. The skin was actually made of sticky rice and the dumpling was packed with chives. It was really tasty.

This is the sticky rice with marinated beef strips. It had a nice sweet flavor.

The grilled green curry shrimp satay was next- it was not as sweet as most green curries I've had, but the shrimp was good.

This was followed by the shell sea coconut crab wonton. The sweetness of the coconut tasted good with the crabmeat inside.

I really loved the rice cake with coconut pork sauce. The slight chili flavor in the sauce was really great with the crispy rice cakes.

We ordered the Tod Mon or "fish cakes" which were really delicious. They reminded me of fish balls in texture, but sliced thin and then dipped in a sweet chili sauce.

The Bangkok St. Peking duck roll was just ok. This was probably because the duck was not freshly cooked, nor was the pancake it was wrapped in.

These are the fried sesame plantain bananas. Their flavor was nice and their texture was nice and light.

Our tenth and last dish was the Som Tom crabmeat papaya salad. It was straightforward and yummy- a nice close to the meal.

Rabieng Thai Restaurant
5892 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041
(703) 820-5775

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Girls Cooking Night 2: Mexican

The theme for our second cooking night was Mexican. I decided to try to make tamales for the first time. I missed this class during my Mexican cooking course, so I was just relying on the recipes we received at the end of the course. I had to start the night before cooking the meat and making the sauces.

I made a red and a green salsa, and had to roast fresh tomatillos and a variety of dried and fresh peppers. Here's a tip: do not attempt to roast jalapenos on your range unless you have a hood and vent. Lazy me, I thought I'd save time and do them on a cast iron skillet on the burner instead of in the oven... five minutes later, I could barely breathe -- my eyes were watering, nose running, coughing -- and I had to open windows in the dead of winter! The tomatillos I did right on the open flame of the gas burner and that seemed to work fine. Once roasted, you peel and dice the tomatillos, and de-stem and de-seed the peppers. Then into the blender -- red salsa was 4 guajillo peppers, 2 tomatillos and 2 cloves garlic; green was 2 tomatillos, 4 jalapenos, 2 cloves garlic, and cilantro.

Then the meat. So based on our teachers calculations, I cooked 3 pounds of meat for 30 tamales. But then the next night, only made masa for 16 tamales... so yep, I had a ton of shredded chicken and pork left over. At any rate, the meat is brought to a boil then slowly simmered over low heat with just some onion, garlic, and whole peppercorns. Then after the simmering, you just let the meat cool in its own broth. I cooked the 1 lb of chicken for about 20 minutes, but I ended up forgetting all about the 2 lbs of pork for about 2 hours, when a friend of mine dropped by. It was supposed to be 40 minutes, but I think it was alright - the meat just fell apart really easily when it came time to pull it apart.

That just left mixing the masa and constructing the tamales for the night of the party. I soaked the corn husks in water, while making the masa dough, mixing 2 cups of the broth from the cooked meat, with 2 cups of the coarser maseca for tamales, and 1 cup of oil.

For each corn husk, hold in your hand narrow end down, spread 2 tablespoons of masa dough in the middle, top with some meat and sauce and then fold the sides in first, then top and bottom. I used the green salsa with the chicken, and the red salsa with the pork. Still operating on the mistaken assumption that my recipe made 30 rather than 16 tamales, I probably made mine on the small side, as I ended up in the middle with 23 tamales total. I still think I made way too much meat, even for 30...

I put all the folded tamales in a double-decker steamer and then set it to steam for 40 minutes. In the meantime, brownie arrived with her incredible looking and smelling chicken mole!

The rest of the meal was equally delicious -- Kim had made guacamole and salsa, Danielle made a beautiful watercress tomato salad with this amazing creamy garlicky shallot dressing (see above), and Marian topped everything off with a wonderful flan.

Funnily falling into patterns here, I think Marian's becoming the dessert queen, while I seem to like making things that involve stuffing and wrapping... We'll see what's in store for next time... Italian? Indian? Vietnamese?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Mighty THOR?

As a treat to the beginning of my spring break, LBT offered to take me to the restaurant of my choice on Friday; I picked Thor, located in the hipster-busking Lower East Side. We are both fans of Kurt Gutenbrunner, master chef of Wallsé and Cafe Sabarsky, but early reviews I read about Thor made it out to be über-trendy, loud, and just plain obnoxious.

Even though the large, open room was fairly empty, the mood of the place did not reflect the streets outside. We started with a surprising bibb salad, and a tuna and potato pancake appetizer; the tuna turned out to be the only dish we didn't relish, mainly due to excessive use of cumin.

For entrees, we shared duck ravioli over swiss chard and pear, and a lobster and cauliflower puree and truffle oil. Both went down without a fuss. We added french fries and green & white asparagus sides *(asparagus is the french fry of the vegetable world, after all), both eagerly anticipated and finished.

Thor's dessert special couldn't have been more up my alley: a peanut butter ice cream sandwich. All the time, our waiter was attentive and genuinely nice. I can't wait for Spring Break next year...

The Olde Malt Shop, Baltimore

Right in my neighborhood in Baltimore, I wandered into this malt shop and ice cream parlor and grabbed a frosty chocolate mslted milk shake.
The place is called The Olde Malt Shop/Earl's Beauty Inn, and I ended up chatting with one of the place's owners. He mentioned their place has been on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, and that the place originated as a pharmacy, but has been an ice cream place since the 1940's. The decor is pretty classic with all these knicknacks all over the walls and shelves. I sat in a great old wooden booth to have my shake. Reviewing the menu, I saw that they also have snowballs, egg cremes, floats and sundaes as well as hot dogs and burgers.

The Olde Malt Shop
635 E. Fort Ave.
Baltimore, MD
(410) 752-3680

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Chicken Pot Pie at Rose's in Hampden

In the Hampden neighborhood in Baltimore, there's a great local cafe called Soup's On at Rose's Cookies. You can get great cookies and cupcakes there, but I went there last weekend for lunch. I had a homemade chicken pot pie with a wheatberry salad side. The crust of the pie was flaky and delicious and the filling was nice and chunky.
I took home some of tasty soups as well - a black bean with sweet potato soup and a tomato, fennel, fish chowder.

Soup's On at Rose’s Cookies
842 W. 36th St.
Baltimore, MD

Thursday, March 01, 2007

We Love Scrapple!!

For anyone who didn't grow up in the Pennsylvania/Delaware/Maryland area, I'll explain. Scrapple is, to put it simply, all the parts of the pig left over after they've made sausage -- i.e. organs, ears, snout -- ground up and mixed with corn meal and spices. The mixture is formed into a brick, which is kind of grey-colored in raw form. To cook it, you cut it into slices and fry it.

This may sound gross to some, but it's one of Philly's most beloved foods, behind cheesesteaks of course. Ed Cunningham of WHYY made this video of how to make your own scrapple (albeit with not-so-scary pork products).

One place that makes really great scrapple -- cut to just the right thickness, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside -- is the Art Museum diner on Fairmount Avenue and 24th. Don't let the sign "Demetri's Pizza" on the outside of the restaurant fool you, everyone calls this place "The Art Museum."

We took our friend and her Scottish boyfriend there the other weekend. He'd never had scrapple before, but we figured with a heritage of blood pudding and haggis, it'd be right up his alley. It was -- he polished off his plate in about as much time as it took me to put sugar in my coffee!