Thursday, December 31, 2015

Our Year in Food: 2015

2015 is almost over and we had a great eating year. We made our first visit to London, and we explored a lot of the country we had never visited together before. Here's our quick year-end summary:

The first restaurant meal we ate in 2015: After encountering crowds at most places, we ended up at Steak 'n Shake Signature for some burgers and fries. What a healthy way to start the year!

The first homecooked meal we ate in 2015: In the South, they eat collard greens and hoppin' John on New Years for good luck, so we decided to do the same. It was a delicious start to the year and we hoped that it would bring us good fortune.

The last restaurant meal we ate in 2015: Mushroom and chicken gorgons from our local Otto's Tacos. We love the gorgon (more here), and eating those puffy tacos while people-watching was a great way to end the year.

The last homecooked meal we ate in 2015: NYE dinner - shrimp and grits, Charleston-style, with a side of Southern greens. It's always fun when we get to cook together, and this meal, especially the shrimp and grits, was something A's been wanting to make for a while.

# of different restaurants we tried in 2015 (together and separate): 235. More than last year which is surprising since we cooked so often at home.

Cities explored (outside the NYC metro area): Baltimore, MD; Savannah, GA; Beaufort, SC; Raleigh, NC; New London, CT; Maumee, OH; Chicago, IL; Hobart, IN; Cleveland, OH; London, UK (and other places along the interstates between some of those cities and towns).

Most visited restaurant of 2015 (together): Qdoba in Staten Island (7x), followed by Genki Sushi in Staten Island and New Spring Garden in Brooklyn (both 6x). Those are all meals that we went to with family, and we tend to go to a lot of the same spots regularly. For non-family meal spots, it would be Dough at City Market (5x). If you don't consider doughnuts a full meal (which I don't), then it would be Red Hen (4x). Just like last year, the most visits we made together to a non-family meal place was 4. Crazy.

Our first visit to Red Hen

Favorite food memories of 2015: A's list is here and mine is here, but we had a few in common, like the awesome berry picking adventure at an Indiana farm, the delicious cheese toastie in London, our English Sunday roast, and amazing chicken livers with grits in Savannah.

The most amazing blackberries we've ever had

Least favorite food memory of 2015: Without a doubt, the bowl of jellied eels we got at Goddards of Greenwich. More details when we get up to that in our London recaps (relatively soon, we hope), but that is something we have no desire to eat again.

Jellied eels, never again

Progress on WorldEats challenge: In total, we've posted about 42/196 countries (with many more not yet talked about). Some of the countries we've ticked off the list this year (and will eventually cover if we haven't yet) include Egypt, Eritrea, Finland, Lithuania, Nigeria, Syria, and Tunisia.

Our first Eritrean meal, which we will hopefully write about next year

2015 blog series that will someday be completed: Savannah road trip; Connecticut getaway (which will also someday be started...); Great Lakes road trip; London vacation.

Favorite overall meal of 2015: Sunday roast at The Pig and Butcher in London. That's our next post in our London recaps, so stay tuned!

Sunday roast and the "board"

We can't wait to see what 2016 will bring. We're really grateful for all of the amazing eating adventures we've been able to have this year and all the wonderful memories we made. Happy new year everyone!

A's Favorite Food Memories of 2015

So it's that time again! Another year is coming to a close, and I'm coming up with my favorite food memories for 2015. In years past I've focused more on just my favorite dishes of the year, but this year I embraced more of the actual feel of this post and chose my favorite food experiences. This list is going to be alphabetical by restaurant (except for the last entry) as I'm not in the mood to try and rank all of these as it was hard enough to pick them all.

1.   Shrimp and Grits - B. Matthew's Eatery (Savannah, GA)

I've had shrimp and grits in my day, but the one from B Matthews? My god, what a dish. Perfect balance of saltiness from the andouille sausage and spice rub, richness and creaminess from the cheese and butter, and texture from the grits. The peppers and scallions added an element of freshness to an otherwise heavier dish.

2.   Celebration Meal - Danji (NYC)

This meal, while very good, was not chosen for any one particular dish. As a whole it was a very good meal, but it probably wouldn't have made the list in any of the previous years. This meal as a whole made the list because of what it represented. This was the meal that M and I had to celebrate me leaving my previous job near the beginning of the year. I was glad to have finally made that move, and it has thus far been the best move of my life professionally. The food also happened to be really good.

3.   Tamal de Elote con Camarones - Dove's Luncheonette (Chicago)

This year I had something of a theme to a lot of my food choices, grits and grit-like consistency dishes. This is the second of those on my list. I had a rough morning that day. A migraine kept me laid up for hours, and I was still in a fog when we got to Dove's. That all changed when they brought out the food, though. This dish is a collard green filled tamale with chili garlic shrimp, and banana peppers on top of soft scrambled eggs and garnished with fried garlic and cilantro. The eggs were soft and creamy, and the entire dish was an explosion of flavors. It was a blend of heat, acid, and salt rolled up into one delicious dish. M and I both agreed that we would totally get this dish again, but unfortunately a scan of their menu shows that it is no longer there.

4.   New England Clam Shack Feast - Fred's Shanty (New London, CT)

Ever since M and I moved to NYC, she'd always regaled me with tales of summer New England clam shack meals. Essentially they're clam strips or bellies fried to perfection and often served with fries and cole slaw as well. It's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it's a damn delicious one. Fred's Shanty was our first such stop on our trip this past summer. It wasn't the best fried clams we had on the trip, but they were the first I had ever had in New England during the summer. I'd had fried clam strips before in my life, but this was my first time having them while sitting out near the open water on a nice, hot day.

5.   Berry Picking - Johnson's Farm Produce (Hobart, IN)

One of my fondest memories while growing up were going to the grocery store with my mom and learning how to pick out produce. On our departure day from Chicago this year, my family decided to go out to a berry farm in Indiana that my brother and his family had been to earlier. Aside from being the juiciest and sweetest raspberries and blackberries I had ever eaten, it was so much fun being out in the fields with my mom. M remarked later how happy we both looked while working together to find and pluck the best berries on all of the bushes. My only regret for the day was not taking more of the boxes of berries. M and I inhaled our two boxes within an hour of being on the road.

6.   Toasted Cheese Sandwich - Kappacasein (Borough Market, London)

I like grilled cheese sandwiches a lot, but what we got at London's Borough Market was other worldly. Kappacasein is a local dairy farm that produces some amazing cheeses, and their stall pumps out the most amazing toasted cheese sandwiches (aka three cheese toasties) in the world and also raclette, a small pile of potatoes smothered in melted/seared cheese. We didn't get the raclette, but that cheese toastie haunted our dreams for weeks to come. So much so that M made her own version later on (more on that later...). The sandwich itself is rather simple. It has three types of cheese shredded to allow for better and more uniform melting and leeks and onions, both red and white, pressed between bread in a sandwich press. The melting cheese crisps up on the sandwich press, and the whole experience of eating these is heavenly.

7.   Lithuanian Festival (Catonsville, MD)

This was our first ever experience eating Lithuanian food, but that's not what made this so special. Sure the food was pretty good. Both dishes we got, Cepelinai, the national dish of LIthuania, and Kugelis, both seemed like potato and bacon dishes at their cores, but they were really delicious because... well... potato and bacon. While the food was tasty, the whole experience of being at the festival was so amazing. There were stalls selling traditional jewelry and clothing and also traditional Lithuanian folk dancing which was such fun to watch. It was a great entrance into both the food and culture of Lithuania.

8.   Sunday Roast - The Pig and Butcher (Islington, London)

One of the things we knew we wanted to try to do in London was have a proper Sunday Roast. Thankfully we were able to get into Pig and Butcher. My prime rib (which was only allowed to be ordered rare) was sublime. The meat was super tender, and it had just the right amount of seasoning. I got the horseradish with it, and the pairing was perfect. It also came with a massive Yorkshire pudding, carrots and cabbage, fried potatoes, and some jus. All of the flavors were so fresh. On their wall they also had a map of Great Britain which also showed where they got all of their ingredients from. It was amazing to see that everything was local, and we loved the down-home, rustic vibe of the entire restaurant. We also ordered a board to share, and they brought out creamed leeks as an additional side to our roasts.

9.   Fried Chicken Livers - Planters Tavern @ The Olde Pink House (Savannah, GA)

I've always been a fan of offal, and M is starting to come around. These fried chicken livers sounded so good. They were fried and put on top of Geechee Boy grits (there goes those grits again...), bordelaise, and fried spinach. The rich and slightly sweet bordelaise topped the mineral-y chicken livers to form a creamy, decadent dish. The grits were amazing. They had just the right amount of texture to give some bite to the ensemble, and the fried spinach gave things such a nice crunch. This was easily one of the best dishes we had all year.

10. Home cooking

Similar to last year, M has been doing a lot of cooking at home. There were a lot of amazing dishes that were made, and I know I'm missing a ton, but I've selected 4 to highlight.

Cheese Toastie: Shocking right? After loving the cheese toastie we had in London M wanted to try her hand at making her own. The results were beyond anything either of us could have imagined. While it didn't taste quite as good as the ones we had in London, these sandwiches were incredible. Shredding the cheese for the sandwiches makes a massive difference.

Bacon, Leeks, and Mushrooms: What do you get when you cook bacon in butter and then use all of that to cook leeks and mushrooms? Something ungodly unhealthy, but soooooooo delicious. M even made it again for Thanksgiving.

Larb Gai: A traditional Thai salad with ground chicken, mint, cilantro, lime, and a bunch of spices. It's one of our favorite dishes, and M had always wanted to make it. Well, she finally did. It turned out great, and she's made it again at least once since.

Hawaiian Pancakes: This was one I actually did. We bought some Trader Joe's Toasted Coconut Pancake Mix, and I wanted to make it one day. Instead of stopping there, though, I decided to turn it into a full-on Hawaiian memory for us. I took one of our remaining bananas and made a banana syrup for the pancakes and then topped it all with chopped Macadamia nuts. I would love to make this again, but pancakes are too heavy for just the two of us.

Overall we had a really good eating year in 2015. M and I are really excited to continue our eating adventures even if we're really slow at writing about them. Maybe in 2016 we'll actually get better about that, too!

M's Favorite Food Memories of 2015

2015 was a pretty great eating year for us. We went on road trips to both the South and the Midwest, and went across the pond for a week in London. We also had some great food right here at home in New York City. The year went by pretty quickly, but it was nice taking some time out this week to think about what my 10 favorite food memories were. In no particular order, here are this year's favorites.

1. Fried chicken sandwich from Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter (New York, NY)

2015 seemed to be the year of the fried chicken sandwich. As that is one of my favorite foods, that got no complaints from me. I ate a bunch of them this year - the Southern style sandwich from Delaney Chicken, the very hyped (and in our opinion, overhyped) sandwich from Fuku+, the old standby chicken sandwich at Manhattan's first real Chick-fil-A, a fried chicken biscuit from Southern chain Bojangles, a bunch of sandwiches from Do-Rite in Chicago, a bunch more sandwiches from Hill Country Chicken down in Flatiron, and probably more that I can't even recall off the top of my head. But my favorite of all is the fried chicken sandwich from Bobwhite down in the East Village. The chicken is fried perfectly, is so juicy, and is just the right size for that soft buttery roll. This year wasn't the first time I had it, but previously I had it with pimento cheese instead of the bread and butter pickles, and I like the simple pickles version so much more. It's my perfect chicken sandwich.

2. Freshly picked raspberries and blackberries from Johnson's Farm Produce (Hobart, IN)

As we started our return journey east from Chicago on our Great Lakes road trip, we went with A's family to a farm in Hobart, Indiana to pick some berries. Raspberries and blackberries were in season, and they were so good. It was great to get out of the city, be surrounded by open fields, and indulge in some really tasty berries. I'm not really one for picking them (takes too much patience, lots of bees, etc), but I loved watching the care that A (and his mom) put into selecting the perfect berries for us. We started snacking on the berries in the car after lunch and they didn't even make it halfway to Cleveland (our stop for the night). The blackberries especially were this perfect balance of sweetness and tartness unlike any blackberries I had ever had before. I'm not sure I'll ever get blackberries as fresh and ripe as these.

3. Cheese toastie from Kappacasein at Borough Market (London, UK)

I already wrote an ode to the cheese toastie from Kappacasein back during the Week 45 cooking challenge when I made my own version of the toastie at home. Not as good as the original in London, but I didn't have the exact same cheeses or the griddle that they used with cheese remnants of the hundreds of sandwiches that came before it. The toastie was delicious. The 3 cheese blend they used was extremely high quality, and the little bits of cheese on the side of the crusty bread were fantastic. The sandwich had a nice crunch to it. On top of all that, the onions and leeks that they mixed into the cheese made it so different from most cheese toasties and incredibly addictive. We wanted another one so badly after that, but forced ourselves to go try other things. 

4. Smoked bluefish fried rice from Kin Shop (New York, NY)

This fall, we sadly bid farewell to Kin Shop with a goodbye dinner where we got some old favorites (like the duck larb and brussels sprouts) and tried some new things, like this smoked bluefish fried rice. This hadn't been on the menu on any of our previous visits, and it was incredible. Garlic, shallots, smoked fish, hot sauce, perfectly cooked fried rice, so much good stuff here. We're so sad that we'll never be able to get this again.

5. Nandocas Choice sandwich from Nando's Peri-Peri (Woodbridge, VA)

We had been looking forward to our Southern road trip for many reasons, and one of those was our plan to stop at Nando's Peri-Peri on the way down to Savannah. The Baltimore/DC area has quite a few Nando's, but they haven't made it up to NYC yet. We had been obsessed with them for ages and couldn't wait to try the chicken. For my first taste of Nando's, I opted for a sandwich called Nandocas choice - chicken breast topped with cole slaw on their buttery garlic bread. It sounded amazing, and it really was. The flavor of the chicken itself might have been a little bit better on A's regular flame grilled chicken, but all together, this combination was great (and after trying many different things, those are still my 2 favorite sides for the chicken). We completely understood why people from England were so obsessed with Nando's. It's pretty amusing how 2015 has been, in some ways, the year of Nando's for us. We got our first taste in Virginia on the way down to Savannah, then again on the drive back in Maryland, and then we went to one of the new Nando's stores in Chicago. On top of that, we also went to Nando's in London and got to try some of the stuff there that is different from what we can get at home. Now all we need is a Nando's in NYC.

6. Scallops from Nopi (London, UK)

When I saw the scallops on the menu at Nopi, one of the Ottolenghi spots in London, I thought they sounded interesting. We were trying to narrow down our choices from a gigantic menu that sounded good, and it was tough to decide what to get. Then a few dishes arrived at the table next to us, and one of them was this scallop dish. The aroma of the scallops overpowered anything else in our area, and we both knew we had to get it. The scallops came with an apple yuzu puree, some soft roasted endives, and little bits of pork, and they were cooked perfectly. We expected nothing less from an Ottolenghi spot, but this dish was amazing. I can still taste it today, the rich scallops, the bright purees, the hearty pork, and the comforting endives. So good.

7. Mentaiko spaghetti from Noreetuh (New York, NY)

We went to Noreetuh to celebrate our anniversary this year, which made complete sense since we got married in Hawaii and Noreetuh serves elevated and inventive Hawaiian cuisine. One of our favorite dishes was this mentaiko spaghetti with smoked butterfish (clearly, I love smoked fish), aonori, and chili. The pasta was just right and al dente, the fish was soft and silky, and the entire dish was really smoky and so rich and buttery. The balance of the seasonings was spot-on, and we cleaned every bit of sauce off that plate.

8. Sunday roast pulled pork from The Pig and Butcher (London, UK)

The Sunday roast at The Pig and Butcher was one of our favorite London experiences. You got to choose your meat - I went with pork - and then it came with standard sides of leeks, roasted vegetables, fried potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding.  The pork was a roasted pork shoulder that came with a side of applesauce and also a side sauce of your choosing (at their suggestion, I went with dijon mustard). This was the best roasted pork I have ever had in my life. It had the texture of a good pulled pork, but it wasn't barbecue like most of the pulled pork here in the States. It felt like comfort food, and was such a great way to experience classic London.

9. Fried chicken livers and grits from Planters Tavern at the Olde Pink House (Savannah, GA)

We had a lot of good Southern cooking in Savannah and I had quite a few dishes as possibilities for this top 10 list. In the end, the one that won a place was this dish of fried chicken livers, Geechie Boy grits, bordelaise, and fried spinach from Planters Tavern, the downstairs old school tavern under one of the most famous Savannah restaurants, the Olde Pink House. We loved the vibe of the tavern as we sat at the bar having a few appetizers. While the chicken livers were really tasty, the best part of this dish was the grits. I love grits and these were possibly the best grits ever. I liked them so much that while I sat at the bar eating them, I was researching on my phone where Geechie Boy grits came from (Edisto Island, SC) and how far it would be from our planned driving route in South Carolina (almost an hour detour each way). They were so good that we were really tempted to change plans to get some of these grits, but in the end, just didn't think we could fit it into the trip. The fact that we even considered it I think says everything about how highly we thought of them.

10. Home cooking and the 52 week cooking challenge

As has been the case for the past few years, I'm devoting one slot on the top 10 list to home cooking, and just like last year, it's to dishes from the 52 week cooking challenge. I have become a much better cook than I was 2 years ago, and I think part of that is due to pushing boundaries and making myself try new things instead of making the same old, comfortable dishes week after week. Some of my favorite things from this year were the loaded baked potato salad, cocoa jerk tofu, Chilean butternut squash casserole, the cheese and leek toastie, leeks with bacon and mushrooms, and of course, one of my favorite dishes in the entire world, larb gai. The fact that because of the challenge I can now make larb at home is alone one of the highlights of my year. I'm incredibly grateful that something like this challenge even exists to get me out of my comfort zone and give some structure to my cooking journey (which has in many ways taken place on this blog; reading some of the early cooking posts, I've really seen how far I've come).

There it is - my top 10 food memories of 2015. Hoping 2016 brings some excellent food adventures!

104 Weeks

The 52 week cooking challenge for 2015 is finally complete! I'm pretty proud of completing all 52 weeks without skipping any, and mostly doing them on time, even if some of the posts went up pretty late. I'm planning on taking part in this again next year, so hopefully I can keep the streak going. In case you missed any of the posts, here's a summary list of all the challenge posts for this year:

Week 1 - diet foods (carrot and farro salad)
Week 2 - dairy (swiss chard and goat cheese custard bake)
Week 3 - alcohol (beer braised BBQ chicken sliders with Asian style slaw)
Week 4 - offal (liverwurst and provolone grilled sandwiches)
Week 5 - Native Australian (mango and macadamia chicken with macadamia garlic spinach)
Week 6 - two+ ways (carrots and Greek yogurt 3 ways)
Week 7 - chocolate (cocoa jerk tofu, chocolate green beans, chocolate vegetable tarts)
Week 8 - canned/preserved (strawberry fruit leather)
Week 9 - one color (green tofu patties and lentils)
Week 10 - book inspired (Harry Potter Christmas feast-inspired roast chicken and stuffins)
Week 11 - bananas (Southeast Asian banana curry)
Week 12 - hangover cures (bangers and colcannon with sausage onion gravy)
Week 13 - spicy food (Korean stewed chicken)
Week 14 - Easter (leek and bacon tottins)
Week 15 - surf and turf (tuna and bacon melts)
Week 16 - Cuban (picadillo-stuffed potato balls)
Week 17 - herbs (dilled crunchy corn salad)
Week 18 - bento boxes (Mediterranean chicken bento box)
Week 19 - flowers (hibiscus iced tea)
Week 20 - barbecue (BBQ chicken pizza)
Week 21 - ground meat (larb gai)
Week 22 - fusion (taco pasta)
Week 23 - concession foods (chili cheese wedge fries)
Week 24 - Portuguese (caldo verde)
Week 25 - your first foods (chicken lettuce wrap)
Week 26 - one bite (crab toast)
Week 27 - picnic food (loaded baked potato salad)
Week 28 - Alton Brown (best ever green bean casserole and creamy garlic mashed potatoes)
Week 29 - Eid al-Fitr (Moroccan style chicken)
Week 30 - freezing (fruit and yogurt frozen mini popsicles)
Week 31 - represent your region (street meat)
Week 32 - bacon (BLT salad)
Week 33 - Indian (chana dal with kachumber salad)
Week 34 - Indonesian (nasi goreng)
Week 35 - pizza (sausage, mushroom, and onion pizza)
Week 36 - signature dishes (baked goat cheese with spring greens salad)
Week 37 - mushrooms (mushroom rice soup)
Week 38 - Mexican (soy chorizo tacos with homemade tortillas)
Week 39 - heritage (ma po tofu)
Week 40 - coffee (coffee rubbed baked salmon)
Week 41 - omelettes (Western omelettes)
Week 42 - whole spices (chicken jalfrezi)
Week 43 - hit for the cycle (Chilean butternut squash casserole)
Week 44 - Welsh (leeks with bacon and mushrooms, smoked salmon and leek soup)
Week 45 - sandwiches (cheese and leek toastie)
Week 46 - faux-stess (nutella brownies)
Week 47 - ginger (ginger-garlic baked salmon and mixed vegetables with scallion-ginger sauce)
Week 48 - stuffed (spinach and artichoke dip stuffed garlic bread)
Week 49 - roasting (roasted carrots of many colors)
Week 50 - junk food (Irish fries)
Week 51 - raw (guacamole)
Week 52 - cookies (savory masala cookies)

Some of these challenge meals were among our favorite homecooked dishes of the year. Our favorite food memories lists will be going up later today, so stay tuned to see which ones we chose. Looking forward to the 2016 challenge!

Week 52 - Cookies

The last cooking challenge for 2015 was all about cookies. Most people doing the challenge did some sort of sweet cookie, but I really wanted to do a savory cookie because I wanted to make cookies for dinner. I found an option for a ham and gruyere thumbprint but that was a lot of work, so when I found this recipe for savory masala cookies, I decided to do that. Unfortunately, getting this challenge completed really wasn't as simple as it should have been.

First, I planned to make the cookies along with the Indian chickpea salad. I scheduled it for the Tuesday before Christmas, but then we had to change the day/time of our haircuts to Tuesday night, so no cooking on Tuesday night. So I decided that even though it would be a ton of food, I'd just make it an Indian night on Monday instead, and make the dal (I would have pushed the dal off to another day, but it had already been soaking overnight) along with the chickpea salad and the cookies, and have lots of leftovers for lunch for the week. But when I went to take out the ingredients for the cookies, I realized we didn't have any flour, or at least not enough for the cookies. Who plans to make cookies and then forgets they're almost out of flour?

We bought the flour over Christmas weekend (after having to go to 2 stores to find some), so I planned to make the cookies the day we returned. The only problem was that I didn't have any cilantro. The last time the cookies were on the schedule, there were other recipes with cilantro that week, so I had plenty of cilantro on hand. This time, no cilantro, and of course I didn't realize that until dinnertime when I was about to make the cookies. You would think I would have learned from the flour incident. Since we had already bought ingredients for every other meal this week, now the cookies were just going to be an add-on and not dinner. At this point, I might as well have just made sweet dessert cookies - except I had already bought the onions and jalapeños for these cookies. What a mess. If I didn't actually like the cookies as much as I did, I would call this the PITA cookie challenge.

The ingredients for the cookies (mostly following the recipe) were:

- 2 cups flour ($0.22)
- 1 tsp baking powder ($0.10)
- 2 tsp sugar ($0.05)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.05)
- 1 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 2 onions, finely chopped ($0.70)
- 2 jalapeños, finely chopped ($0.26)
- 1 bunch of cilantro, leaves finely chopped ($1)
- 1/3 cup coconut oil ($0.65)
- 4 tbsp butter, melted ($0.37)
- 1/4 cup water ($0)

The total cost of the cookies was approximately $3.45. That would have been a pretty cheap, under $10 dinner if I had combined that with the chickpea salad like I originally planned.

The steps for making the cookies were:

1. Prep vegetables - finely chop onions, jalapeños, and cilantro leaves.

2. Mix dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, sugar, cumin, and salt. (NB: The original recipe said dry ingredients, but had listed the cumin and salt in a separate section under spice blend instead of with the other dry ingredients, so I missed them until I was ready to put the cookies into the oven (will address that later). If I make these again, and I might, then I would put the cumin and salt into the mixture at this point, so that's why I'm listing them here now even though it's not what I did.)

3. Add onions, peppers, and cilantro to the dry ingredients, and mix well.

4. Add the coconut oil and melted butter and stir well. (It was all very crumbly and dry at this point, but I think it's supposed to be.)

5. Add water to create the dough. Cover for about 30 minutes. (Mixing the dough with the water at this point almost felt like mixing mashed potatoes. It certainly looked like mashed potatoes.)

6. Uncover dough and roll out cookies. (The dough at this point had the consistency of stringy white cheese.) The first section of dough that I picked up, I rolled it out and then picked up sections to create cookies. Considering I wasn't using a cookie cutter and was just putting them together in clumps anyway, I just decided to make cookies with my hands after that. They weren't all the same size, but that was okay with me.

7. Put cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. (It was at this point that I started wondering where the flavoring of the cookies would come from. The onions? Cilantro? Maybe, but I realized the cookies didn't even have any salt. Then I realized I hadn't made the spice blend and didn't remember it being in the recipe. So before I put the cookies in the oven, I mixed up some cumin and salt and sprinkled it on top of all the cookies.)

8. Bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

I wasn't sure if these cookies would be any good when they came out of the oven, but when I tried them, I really liked them. It probably helps that onions and cilantro are 2 of my favorite ingredients, and I love cumin. The cookies were really soft, not like most cookies we bake (well, A does most of the baking, but it's not like eating one of his chocolate chip cookies). They kind of reminded me of eating a baked mashed potato cookie with onions and herbs in it. I would try this again - but for dinner.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Greens, Beans and Grains

Greens, beans and grains are some of my favorite food groups, so it's no surprise that I was very interested in the Greens, Beans and Grains frozen item at Trader Joe's ($2.99). We bought one a few months ago which we ate as a side dish with dinner, but at the time I thought it would work better as an entree than a side. I tested out that theory at lunch this week, and it definitely makes for a good light lunch. 

This was basically a kale, garbanzo, and peanut stew with a side of couscous, inspired by the stews of West Africa. The main ingredients were tomatoes, garbanzo beans, kale, roasted peanuts, garlic, onion, cilantro, butter, cumin, coriander, vegetable stock, and some other seasonings. It reminded me a little bit of the African peanut stew I made for a previous challenge meal.

The stew here tasted just like comfort food. It was hearty but healthy, and really good over the couscous. While eating it, I just kept thinking that I should try to make something like it for dinner one day, as it was just the type of thing we would enjoy.

Buy Again? Yes, unless I figure out how to make this and end up freezing single sized portions of it for lunches (highly unlikely). I love that it's healthy and filling with lots of flavor.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


After driving through the majority of Pennsylvania and Ohio, we stopped in Maumee, Ohio (a suburb of Toledo) for the night. We had eaten a lot of junk on the road between our McDonald's lunch and the giant bag of onion rings, so we definitely wanted to eat something fresh and healthy for dinner. We weren't tremendously hungry after the onion rings, but the nearby places we found in Maumee weren't open super late so we had to eat soon after arriving. Luckily the place we chose, a Mediterranean restaurant called Sahara, had half orders for all the entrees, which was perfect for how we were feeling.

The first thing to arrive was a complimentary basket with a small bag of fresh pita and some fried pita chips. We tried some of the chips, but didn't eat too many of them since we were really more in the mood for healthy, clean stuff. They were pretty good, but we might have eaten more of them if they had come with some sort of sauce, like a Mediterranean style chips and salsa.

The next dishes to arrive were salads. Both of our entrees came with side order choices, and we both chose salad. We were expecting something on the boring side, mostly lettuce, since it was just a side order, but we were pleasantly surprised when what came was a big plate of salad with romaine, tomato, red onion, green peppers, cucumbers, and vinaigrette dressing. This was exactly what we were looking for after a day on the road, and the salad was very good, very fresh, and well-dressed with a simple olive oil and lemon dressing.

M chose a half order of the chicken shawarma ($10.95), described on the menu as "charbroiled chicken strips marinated and served over rice with garlic sauce," and also served with one side (she chose the salad). M wasn't sure what the garlic sauce was going to be, thinking it was just going to be some sauce drizzled over the rice, but was pretty happy when she saw what it actually was - toum. As a garlic lover, she had always loved toum, that thick, creamy garlic whip, and was pretty excited to see that on the plate. The chicken was pretty good, not too dry, the rice was buttery and soft, and the garlic sauce was full of strong, delicious garlic flavor. The entire dish felt so healthy, and it was exactly what she wanted out of dinner.

A got a half order of the hummos with meat ($12.95), which had meat options of gyro, beef or chicken saute, and he chose the gyro. His half order also came with a choice of 2 sides, so he got the salad and rice. This type of dish is the type of thing A really likes. The combination of meat and hummos always seems to hit the spot for him, and this was no different. The saltiness of the meat combined with the nutty creaminess of the hummos paired together perfectly. It was heavier than what M got, and A ended up using some of the aforementioned pita to wipe up the remaining hummos, but it was still a healthy dish. The rice was a basic pilaf with a nice buttery flavor and some spice that A couldn't quite place.

We both were pretty surprised and pleased to find a good Mediterranean restaurant in a relatively small town in the middle of Ohio. The flavors were solid, and we loved that they offered half sized portions, perfect for what we needed. We wish places in NYC would do that as well. Overall Sahara was a very good, healthy eating option, and a great end to our day.

Heineken Experience

We missed the "5 years to the month" self-imposed deadline on our 2010 Europe trip recaps, but maybe we'll be able to finish them before the end of the year? (Unlikely, but we can dream.) Time to reminisce a little bit about being back in Amsterdam...

When we recapped the entire Amsterdam portion of our 2010 trip (way back when), we skipped over the Heineken Experience. Apparently at the time, we thought it was "not really about food," but thinking about it now, we're not sure why it wasn't worthy of a post. Not only did the exhibition go through the history of the company and how to make beer, but we also got to drink beer. That's not really very different from a visit to an active brewery, which we would definitely include, so we're jumping back a little bit to briefly show you what we saw on our visit to Heineken.

The Heineken Experience was high on our list of places to visit back then. We liked Heineken beer, so it only seemed logical that we would stop by. It also seemed like a fun way to spend an afternoon learning more about one of the Netherlands' most famous exports, so we headed over after having our delicious burgers at Burgermeester.

The Heineken Experience was in a huge space and there was a lot to see. One of the things we liked the most was the display of old Heineken posters and advertisements. This one was probably one of our favorites, but there were a lot there to see.

There was also a section of the exhibition where they took you through the process of making beer. They told us about all the ingredients and why they're important. A already knew about the process and ingredients that go into making beer, but he still learned quite a bit.

You were also able to go out on to a sample production floor to see all the different steps involved in making the beer and even try doing some of them on your own. For example, you could stir up this giant vat.

They let you try some of the ingredients, like at this station, you could try some wort. Wort is the boiled water and barley which provide the sugars for the alcohol to ferment. The wort itself has a pleasant, subtle sweetness and tastes nothing like the beer it becomes.

You could also learn a lot about the history of Heineken. One of the more interesting parts of the history to me was seeing the evolution of the Heineken bottle and its design. They also showed all the special edition bottles which was pretty cool. (Probably goes hand in hand with my interest in the advertising posters.)

It wasn't all educational. They also had lots of fun stuff. The sections with games were the most crowded, as they had foosball tables and video games and more. On top of all that, there was something they called Brew You, one of those motion rides where you pretended you were the beer ingredients getting turned into beer. There was a lot to do at the Heineken Experience so it's no surprise that we were there for hours.

The end of the exhibition was basically a giant bar where you could drink your Heineken with virtual coasters if you liked. Our general thought about the beer was that it was Heineken just like we had always had, but better. That probably had to do with the freshness of the beer since it didn't have to travel across the ocean.

Once you finished going through all of the "experience," the last stop was of course the gift shop. We picked up a few things and generally just enjoyed browsing around. Some of the stuff was definitely an "only in the Netherlands" type of thing, like these blue Delft mugs. (Never made it to Delft on this trip, but certainly saw the products everywhere!)

Overall, we had a really good time at the Heineken Experience. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, learning about and tasting some beer. If you have any interest in beer generally or Heineken more specifically, we'd definitely recommend a visit.