Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Morning Sea Dreams

Breakfast at Henderson Park Inn, Florida
Late Summer 2010

Recently moved across the Atlantic- from one country's "Deep South" to another's. Here in Bavaria, reacquaintance with winter and snow has been quick to come. I now relish Sunday mornings of strong, creamy cups of coffee, croissants or slabs of bread with crab salad and cubed morsels of cheese.

But this morn I had a dreamy resurfacing of the memory of this August breakfast overlooking the sea. Perhaps (just perhaps) the memory also served to span and reinforce the appreciation for all things seen. The late morning here, the the region of Germany we now call home, is quiet and bright. A light snow has been steadily falling for a few hours. Just over three months ago, we looked out upon the sea on a grey Sunday morning, over cups of strong black coffee and perfectly petite little waffles with strawberries. Clouds loomed over the Gulf of Mexico from our vantage point on the deck of a b and b in Destin, and though we knew where we were generally heading, we had no clear idea of exactly where, in mid December, we would be.

Greetings from our new home and looking forward to posting scrumptious morsels about life here....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A bevy of beer at Belga

After a day of requisite and enjoyable sightseeing around the United States capital earlier this month, we met up with friends and family (upon one of their suggestions) at the elegant but cozy Belga Cafe in Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.

The beer list here was jaw dropping, and pricey. Not an on-the-budget watering hole by any means. It is, in fact, the kind of restaurant that you perhaps go to on a special occasion to splurge a bit, unless of course money is never an object in your dining experiences.

I am always partial to open kitchen views. This particular view was taken from the bar, as we drooled, with some confusion, over the beer offerings.

On this particular night, with a rotating table of guests, an appetizer feast was in order. This evening, we reconvened with family and friends who are D.C. residents and there is something very festive and communal about catching up over a spread of appetizers. Pommes frites were obviously the way to go (particularly with children in the mix). As well as a cheese platter. The pot of Garlic Butter mussels lasted through the entire feasting session and I found myself spooning out the delicious celery broth after the mussels were gone. I like mussels though I am no certainly mussels aficionado. But I don't slurp mussel broth for no reason at all. It was indeed that good.

At the end of the day, upon a return trip to D.C., I would try to fit Belga cafe into my culinary adventures. I would also ensure that my wallet had ample funds, so I could sample the Belgian beer spread freely. One of my dining guests settled on ordering Stella Artois throughout the evening, a good but mundane beer in the spectrum of this restaurants offerings. Big mistake considering that a Stella here is an astounding 7 bucks or so a bottle. You are better off spending a bit more for the truly unique beer offerings.

Now that we have moved across the Atlantic, I think a culinary weekend adventure in the Belga Cafe's chef home country of Belgium is in order.

Monday, August 30, 2010

All Appetizers please

Dined at the lovely Henderson Park Inn's Beach Walk this past weekend. The menu had so much deliciousness that I actually opted to dine solely on appetizers, to get a range of tastes.

Kung Pao Shrimp
I was excited about this dish as soon as I opened the menu.
Crispy, peppery, glazy, meaty.

While I feasted on appetizers the hubbie ordered an entree.

New Zealand Venison:
Pan roasted with red wine, basil, tomato and garlic reduction sauce.
Atop mashed potatoes and topped with Tobacco onions.

I obliged to a few nibbles.


Have been a fan of venison ever since 1st tasting it in Upstate New York some years back.

I love crab, but these Crab Meat Spring Rolls were my least favorite tonight.
Not sure what it was, but I thought they could have more kick.
However, they did photograph nicely.

And the star of the evening, for me:
Tempura Lobster Tail.
Served with key lime aioli and mango salsa.
I absolutely loved this dish.

More photos of the Inn over at my other blog, Nomad Dakini.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kitchen Witch, New Orleans

The last cookbook I bought was in an IKEA somewhere in central Sweden about a decade ago. Köksskolan. A lovely and straightforward production with gorgeous photography. I have yet to make all the recipes in the book. I'm either lazy or enjoy the process of slowly devouring the book. Or, perhaps, am mysteriously satisfied by just gazing at wonderful food photography.

Either way, it was the first, and the last cookbook I purchased up until recently. Other cookbooks have entered the home- in the past year in a flurry, either as books gifted to me or that I gifted to others. Either way, the recipe shelf grows. Swedish Cakes & Cookies, What the Big Island Likes to Eat, Swedish Kitchen, Fresh Japanese.... The list will grow. And all these cookbooks will end up featured in this blog in someway, as culinary instruction manuals I learn from. The list will grow out of necessity for expanding the range of culinary taste, but of course, the point is also actually learning from these recipe manuals and not, as is my tendency, to gaze at publications with food arranged ever so beautifully and call it a day.

So, the first cookbook purchase made specifically for my own kitchen experiments in over a decade was a cookbook conspicuously devoid of any photography. The lack of photos is not so conspicuous when you learn that it was originally published in 1901, but it certainly was a conspicuous move on my part to be so attracted to a cookbook with absolutely no images.

The Picayune's Creole Cook Book hones in on that delicious and diverse style of cuisine that has emerged as a result of the merging of Spanish, African, native Choctaw and French flavors and techniques of cooking. Creole was, surprisingly, a somewhat foreign and familiar set of flavors to me, as I encountered it on my first visit to New Orleans recently. I swooned at every meal. I was won over. Not just by the offerings on the menu everywhere we went, but by the jovial and intimate atmosphere that seemed to be layered throughout this city that certainly knows how to eat.

I came upon The Picayune's Creole Cook Book at Kitchen Witch (French Quarter). I am what I would call an intuitive shopper. I am not big on browsing or window shopping. Bookstores are another story though. I know when I enter a bookstore that there is usually a treasure for my mind to be found and this was certainly the case at Kitchen Witch. In addition to the store's ambience (and resident dog's) which I was compelled to photograph, I knew that based on my introduction to the local Creole flavors, I could not go home without a cookbook. And this was the store to find it.

I knew I had met my match when I opened this book to read passages such as:

"Mushrooms constitute one of the greatest flavoring vegetables known to the scientific cuisinier...The Creoles, like the French, think it a crime to cook this vegetable in any form that would destroy its own peculiar flavor, or that which it is capable of imparting to the most ordinary dish."
(Introduction to Mushroom Section, pg 225 in The Picayune's Creole Cook Book)

Rose of Kitchen Witch

Another cookbook sold!

Visit the Kitchen Witch website here.

And stay tuned for some Creole cooking.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Appetizer Extravaganza: Mike's on the Avenue

On our last night in New Orleans we planned on heading back to the French Quarter to dine at Snug Harbor. We had stayed two nights in the French Quarter and then shifted locale to the quieter Warehouse/Arts District for our final night. Before heading out to the French Quarter we decided to feast on some appetizers at the restaurant off the lobby of the hotel we were at.

Stellar spontaneous decision.

Sitting in the outdoor seating of Mike's on the Avenue, next to Lafayette Square, watching the streetcars go by.

From start to finish our experience at Mike's on the Avenue was lovely. In a city where the experience of food and drink is integral to the place, I found myself increasingly intrigued by the life of service industry folk. These folks serve as ambassadors to the introduction and experience of a variety of cuisine that is worth writing home about. And they also often serve as some of the most practical guides to aspects of the city that you want to know more about.

I'm big on customer service. I had my own stints as a hostess in the restaurant industry. But even before this, I knew the value of a restaurant staff who (even if still in training) know the dishes, are professional and friendly and actually appear to genuinely like the establishment they work for. All of this was illustrated by the staff on our appetizer feast eve at Mike's on the Avenue.

A nice bowl of edamame (with grey sea salt) to munch on between bites of other, more complex starters.

'half plate photography.'

Crawfish spring rolls with chili lime sauce.
This was delicious.
It gets even better.

The dumplings.
Oh, the dumplings.

Shrimp & spinach dumplings with tahini sauce.

The dumplings were to-return-for. We fawned over the dumplings.
Let me demonstrate.

Yes, I am happy with the knowledge that I am about to stuff one of these dumplings in my mouth.

Yup, some grilled asparagus to round off the richer dishes with some basic green.

We just kept ordering app's after awhile.
Could. Not. Get. Enough.
Featured in the above (and below) pic:
The delectable Blackened Tuna Napoleon on Chips with Guacamole & Tamari Vinaigrette.

Mojitos to round out the appetizer feast.....

Mike's on the Avenue is in (what seems to me) as a fairly discreet location. I guess after spending two nights in the French Quarter, a block away from Bourbon Street, almost any location would seem discreet.

But it was a truly refreshing change of pace to just relocate about two miles away from the heart of traveller action and experience a centrally located, yet fairly peaceful, quarter in the heart of New Orleans. Apparently, Mike's is big with the weekly local business crowd (no surprise there), so it was with disappointment that we learned that they would be closed the day we left (a Sunday). No hope for a last good bye appetizer quickie before we set off for Alabama.

Whenever I have the opportunity to return to New Orleans, even with the plethora of restaurants left to explore, I would certainly return to Mike's on the Ave for an appetizer feast encore.

Although they were closed on the day we left, the concierge of the hotel was kind enough to open the doors of the restaurant so I could capture the restaurant's clean design by camera.

Thank you Mike's on the Avenue.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jacques-Imo's: Superbe!

As a food blogger, I really have only just begun. My taste buds are not nearly honed enough to be reporting online as an authentic foodie (give me a couple of years). One thing that has already started happening is seeing food, and the experiences that surround it, in a completely new way. I often carry my camera with me, I just never considered documenting the "eating" life.

Continuing on in a series of posts about New Orleans eats, having spent some days last week there. For every place we ate at that I blog about, I could say "This was a true highlight." They all were, in their own way.

Jacques-Imo's in uptown New Orleans.

We were a handful of folks in a cab coming from the French Quarter and the cab tab was under 20$. It's a worthwhile excursion, to check out another aspect of New Orleans space (other than the French Quarter which is understandably an attractive area to hunker down) as well as to have a simply delightful, intimate and delicious time.

I suppose I could throw in "slightly rowdy" there too. Not rowdy in the brawl sense, but the place definitely teems with action. To reach our table we passed through a somewhat crowded bar, then walked through the kitchen (yes, the kitchen is placed dead center in the whole restaurant and getting to your table or the bathroom requires a kitchen passage) to our table.

Our place was in the midst of it all. I can't really describe the experience but in metaphor: like sitting at a festive room of dining tables aboard a small-ish candlelit boat at sea.

Maybe it was the Guinness.

Whatever it was, I arrived sober, had a couple of brews, shared excellent appetizers with the company (fried green tomatoes) and was truly satisfied with my Crawfish Etouffee.

Jacques-Imo's is apparently a real landmark in town. After one single dining experience there, it's clear why.

And one lesson learned for this newbie food blogger is that the importance of food is often just that- the experience that surrounds it. Jacques-Imo's taught me that. I thank the wait staff, kitchen crew, chefs and owner for a wonderful evening. And for all the photo op's!!!

As I was wandering around, Guinness in hand, capturing images of the restaurant and it's livelihood, these folks literally ushered me into the kitchen for the photo moment! I honestly have never met a friendlier restaurant crew. But then again, it's only so often you have the opportunity to actually photograph the kitchen and folks who are whipping up your delicious meal.

Outside of Jacques-Imo's it's gettin' lively.

One of the waitresses noticed my photographic quest and linked me up with the owner for this photo moment. How awesome is that. You. Guys. Rock.

Very happy and satisfied faces of my fellow diners. As we were leaving the owner of Jacques-Imo's was in the kitchen and within moments all of this ensued. Note the owners rockin All Star converse. That's my fellow diners holding him in rock star stance.

Jacques-Imo's: You Rock. Thank you for an excellent and delicious night.

Monday, July 19, 2010

NOLA: The American Sector

To have chosen my first visit to New Orleans to coincide with beginning this blog project was not a bad idea. At all.

The history and appreciation of food in this city, and the culture surrounding it, is, simply put, phenomenal. The reality of this was woven through literally every meal with had.

Walking into the The American Sector was like entering the scene of a movie. After a riveting, very informative and even emotional tour of the WWII museum, entering the museum's restaurant to a scene of many Marines in uniform surrounding the bar and waitress in 50's style dress was a bit surreal.

Starting off with drinks at just about any restaurant in New Orleans is a nice prelude to the meal, as well as a chance to dialogue with the knowledgeable bartenders about the city. The service industry in New Orleans is truly one of the major backbones to what makes this city what it is: flavorful, conversation rich and interesting.

Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo

Shrimp in a cup with spicy aioli

Biting into one of these battered shrimp pieces to savor the tender meat coated with spicy aioli was a treat. If I lived in New Orleans, I could probably cope with simply feasting on appetizers when I went out. As became a trend through our meals in NOLA, the appetizer was distinct and satisfying. A dish I will likely try to replicate at home.

I've always loved wooden dishes so I appreciated seeing the sandwiches of our fellow diners on these wooden platforms.

Stuffed crab- I didn't realize until the last bites that there were little bits of pork in the stuffing. I guess my food awareness needs tremendous work and is by no means honed. Alas, yet another great reason for setting off on this food project of a blog.

There will rarely to never be any pork featured in this blog. I'm not Muslim or Jewish. I just don't do pork.

All of that said, the stuffed crab was pretty delicious.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Prelude: Voodoo Cuisine

I'm a big fan of preludes. And afterludes. And retrospects. Visiting or living in a place wraps in a novella of the senses- often before I have even been there. I have had premonitory moments with places before even seeing the place. And of course, after having visited or lived in the place, the memories include, and extend beyond, the texture of the five senses that laced my experience of the place.

My first trip to New Orleans nears. The taste of creole. The visual rush of the local scene. The din I imagine in what is often reported as a ghost heavy city. The bodily sense of being in a place that seems destined to experience many a rebirth. I smell perfumes, fires and a whiff of riverfront air before even arriving there.

On the sensory notes, we shall see. But I am human, so in New Orleans I will eat. The grub down will be blogged.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The Friday Feast "project" has been an idea simmering for a little while now. A range of inspiration led to this: the global trekking of food discovery in the Anthony Bourdain show, the intense chef challenges posed in the recent spurt of cooking reality shows, reading a variety of foodie blogs and experiencing the beauty of cookbooks with stellar food photography and recipes that read as poetry.

And last, but not least of course, an appreciation for food and enjoyment of the solidarity that feasting with others bring. Be it a backyard barbecue with hearty grilled dishes that have been marinated just right, crafting platters of delicious hor d'oeuvres for a house party or simply concocting a wonderfully cooked home meal- it's all part of the feast and of course bringing together company, be it two or twenty.

Friday night, as the traditional landmark to the end of the work week, has a certain flair to it. Of course the feast can happen at any time. The Friday Feast is my metaphor for that time when you gather with family and friends, light the fire of dialogue and break bread with your company of loved ones. Be it a night of simple home cooking, a pub crawl on the town with good brews and appetizers or a finely tuned and prepared meal, it's all part of the Friday Feast.

One added inspiration to getting the project rolling was the current issue of Travel + Leisure that arrived in the post this summer. Dedicated as "The Food and Travel Issue" the entire mag is a mouth watering, page turning foodie's dream. And I'm not even a true foodie. Yet. The July edition profiles food culture in Sydney, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and reels in social media discussions of readers "ultimate" globe trekking food tours.

A beautifully written article, "Vietnam: The Ultimate Food Tour," had me expanding my mental horizons beyond my sole, yet absolutely wonderful, experience of Pho as well as, for the first time, envisioning travel to Hanoi. How could I have known that this Southeast Asian city is famed not only for reverence and extensive use of fresh and local ingredients, but also coffee culture?

"For all their obsessive eating and snacking, Hanoians tend not to linger at table. Most finish dinner in seven minutes flat. Where they do while away hours is at the local cafe. Hanoians drink a lot of coffee.....The bohemian soul of Hanoi's cafe scene is Nang, a 1956 landmark on Hang Bac Street...."
-"Vietnam: The Ultimate Food Tour," by Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel + Leisure July 2010 edition

And so, the edible and drinkable journey begins.....