Thursday, March 27, 2008

Waiting for Noodles

I love noodles. I also hate waiting in line. So when it comes to noodles, would I bother waiting in line?


Spaghetti cacio e pepe. I'd been hearing rave reviews of this dish from friends for weeks, and one Saturday night, I was lucky enough be invited to dinner with them at SPQR. The restaurant opens at 5:30. We arrived at 5:45, thereby missing the first seating. The wait: two hours. To the restaurant's credit, our table was ready in just that, two hours. The downside was waiting around for two hours. Happily, after all the cute shops nearby had closed, there was as lovely restaurant with a cozy bar just down the street where we had some frites and drinks to hold us over until the pasta course. Was the spaghetti good? It was. The peccorino and pepper combination was spicy in a taste bud dancing sort of way and the homemade noodles were perfectly al dente. Would I wait two hours again? Probably not.

Santa Ramen
This ramen spot has no shortage of customers. I'd been to their old shop several years ago, before I loved non-instant ramen. I remember waiting in the cold, staring at the handful of customers lucky enough to secure tables and willing them to eat quickly. At the time, I wasn't super impressed with their noodles. I decided it was time to give Santa another try since my ramen affinity is much higher nowadays. Our first surprise - that the shop had relocated from its minuscule shop to a 70ish seat restaurant. We got there 30 minutes before opening time. There were 15 people ahead of us in line. It was sort of cold. We waited in line. The restaurant wins points of efficiency; the server took our orders before we even got a table and our food arrived soon after we were seated. Were the noodles amazing? They were good. Chewy and generous in a bowl of steaming broth, but not something I'd wait for again.

Apparently, as much as I love noodles, I dislike waiting in line even more.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

At last...Pinkberry vs. Red Mango

I went to Red Mango first and for a fleeting moment thought that perhaps my whole Pinkberry fascination was a mistake. Their yogurt was good, but it wasn't spectacular. I did like the jaunty red spoons. The yogurt was tart with a bitter note.

Made it to Pinkberry a day later and was again charmed by their product. It had a lemony note that I'd forgotten and that cracktacular quality that I still can't place. The downside...they posted a sign on the door (an artistic sign no less) banning photography in their store. And their coffee flavor was just awful, so plain Pinkberry is still the winner.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Featured Fry: Snickers

The first attempt at battered, frozen Snickers minis tossed into the deep fryer yielded a messy glob of greasy, melted candy. The second attempt with a new frying technique yielded delicious semi-melted bits of batter covered candy bar. It's really good. Gooey, warm, crispy and crunchy. Not to be repeated often due to its richness, and possibly made better with a side of ice cream, but I was feeling guilty since my first dessert had been a gorgeous strawberry shortcake.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Boiled & Baked

In the past I've been lucky enough to check two pieces of baggage when returning home from a foodie destination, but since the airlines shall soon be charging for the privilege, I decided it was time to try making bagels (in case there was no room for bread in my suitcase next time). I actually meant to try bagel making several years ago, especially after someone mailed me a recipe. And then I lost the recipe, which provided a great, if not illogical excuse to put my project on the back burner. It turns out I own multiple books with bagel recipes, but the truth is that I've always been reluctant to deal with yeast.

A standing mixer and dough hook made dough making a breeze. I even found a recipe that didn't call for proofing the yeast! Once I'd formed the bagels, they spent a night "retarding" in the refrigerator.

Fourteen hours later, like a kid on Christmas morning, I couldn't stay in bed any longer and ran to the kitchen to check on the bagel progress. They looked about the same as when I had tucked them into the refrigerator the night before. I was sad, and a little anxious that this was going to be a big bagel failure.

But I continued, determined to deal with failure in the early morning hours if that's what was to pass. Boiling the bagels required some coordination that at moments I seriously thought I lacked, but the bagels survived without incident.

And then the most amazing part. The flatish hard little disks I'd placed on the baking sheet started to rise and take on a real bagel shape while baking. I put on a pot of coffee and tried not to stare obsessively at the oven.

And then, breakfast.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pretty Bland

These cookies have so much potential, but they never turn out quite as I expect. Containing generous portions of chocolate and peanut butter, the dough smells like a peanut butter cup and one would expect them to taste so, but they're oddly bland. Even before the tasting, there were other difficulties. The dough became brittle in the refrigerator which led to imprecise slicing with random broken off bits. Also, because the cookies are naturally tan, it's tough to figure out when to pull them out of the oven. That's a lot of work for a mediocre cookie. At least they look pretty.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fried Food Initiative

As much as I love fried foods, I'm terrified of frying. Vats of hot oil and klutziness can only spell disaster, so I've long resigned myself to eating fried foods prepared by other folks. This usually translates into fried food at restaurants, a great thing, because professionally fried food really is fabulous. The downside is that one loses frying autonomy. So you can imagine my delight when I discovered I have friends who are willing to fry at home. And thus, the Deep Fried Initiative.

It was at the gym that a friend casually mentioned how the roommates were contemplating purchasing a deep fryer. I was surprised since this is the group that usually looks at me askance as I rhapsodize about ice cream, but as soon as I realized the fryer shopping was serious, it was impossible not to do a little happy dance. There was talk about the merits of a charcoal filter and designs conducive to filtering oil. Of course, the discussion soon turned to what one could fry.

From fried turkey to fried Coke, we chatted about the possibilities of what could be battered and dunked in hot oil. "Clearly you're not an expert in frying" was a well-deserved quip when I couldn't fathom the battering methodology for fried ice cream. I wanted to protect the integrity of the frozen interior while the frying expert was all for promoting special toppings. Despite my frying naiveté, I had to make a case for my dream...a fried Snickers bar, closely followed by fried Twinkies, Mars bars, and Oreos. I've tasted none, to the scandal of my friends who said my fancies clearly indicated I need to visit a mid-western state fair. Until that day, I've made a deal with my fry-happy friends to fry my random processed foods. In exchange for these frying privileges, I've promised to try my hand at churros and donuts.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Black & White Cookies

Oddly enough, both frostings taste about the same, with only a hint of chocolate detectable. The cookie itself resembled a dry spongy cake, which sounds sort of terrible, but tasted quite good.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A bagful of..

...bagels & bialys is what forced me to re-pack my suitcase. I'm convinced that the bagels at Murray's have been super-sized since my last visit. I placed my order at the counter and couldn't help but laugh when the shopping bag appeared on the counter. So much for my plan to carry the goodies onto the plane! Instead, I nestled the bread into my suitcase with its reinforced walls and crossed my fingers that my bag wouldn't get lost. Happily, American Airlines doesn't yet charge for two checked bags, and I took full advantage of it. A bag of clothes. A bag of bread. Hours later, I was reunited with both bags, and I've been happily noshing since.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Guess What's in the Bag

What was in the brown bag that caused me to re-pack my black bag?

Hint: The photo is from my return trip.

And no, you cannot guess what's in the bag if I've already told you the answer!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Civil War Waffles at Modern T

Though the waffles were a touch soggy, the cornmeal gave them a certain crunch. The plain yogurt and maple syrup worked together very well and topped off with some dried fruit compote, a wonderfully tart-sweet mixture put a smile on my face.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Three Twins Organic Ice Cream

I tried their cookies and milk ice cream which is supposed to like cookies and cream, but it's different, and so much better. Vanilla ice cream with bits of smooth chocolate cookie swirled throughout. Almost worth the drive to Napa.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Harley Farms

Besides picking up the wonderful home made ravioli on our visit, we had a blast visiting with the baby goats who were surprisingly loud and adorably unsteady on their feet. Better yet, we got to sample lots of goat cheese.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Tale of Two Ravioli

Thyme brown butter is a beautiful thing. More beautiful though, it freshly made pasta tossed in it. We picked up the first batch at the farm. Pillows of chevre and goat's milk ricotta goodness. A second foray into goat cheese ravioli revealed a roasted pepper and cheese interior. The brown butter was nice, but a robust tomato sauce proved a better match. Either way, a lovely wintry meal.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Scenes from La Boqueria

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Scariest Potato Chips Ever

Found while browsing the grocery store in Barcelona. I couldn't bring myself to try them.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Churros y Chocolate

Fried donut-like objects + chocolate puddingy drink = lovely sugary snack masquerading as breakfast. In truth, I only had churros and chocolate for breakfast once. It would accurate to say that my breakfast was followed by an hour of being terrifically hyper and then a major sugar crash.

The best churros ever were the ones we found by mistake during our first day in Barcelona. Wandering through (aka completely lost within) the gothic quarter, K and I came upon a churreria that served freshly fried churros generously doused in sugar. Unlike the American version of sporting arena and Costco fame, these churros were smaller and without cinnamon and it was easy to eat four or five at a time. We shared a cone's worth as we continued down more alleyways, lost but amused, and fortified by our snack. And when we finished, the thought occurred to us, "how will we ever find the churreria again?" We had a photo, but alas no address. We tried to retrace our steps without success and finally reconciled ourselves to never finding the shop again...until we happened upon it the next day (lost once again). This time, we made a plan for how to return.

And return we did.