Shaya – Amazing Israeli food in New Orleans

israelWe always love to get Cajun and Creole food when we are in New Orleans, but we are also impressed at how much international cuisine and fine dining is present in the city. On our latest trip, we were excited to learn about James Beard-winning chef Alon Shaya’s eponymous modern Israeli restaurant in the Garden District, Shaya (4213 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA).

ShayaHummus

The key feature of Shaya is the impressive wood-burning stove in the corner of the bright, airy restaurant. The stove was running at full tilt during lunch, and it was fun to watch the pita being pulled out of the oven and being brought right to the table. The menu at Shaya is vegetable-focused and that shines through the menu. For lunch one of the most popular items is the salatim – where you select from a variety of small plates to share (3 for $15 or 5 for $23). Salatim means “salad” and refers to the assortment of cold dishes that serve as a kind of appetizer for Israeli meals.

Salatim

We were really excited to sample some salatim that we had never heard of: Ikra (whipped cream cheese, caviar and shallots), Lutenitsa (roasted pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato) and the more familiar Labneh (yogurt with peppers and radishes) and Tabouleh (parsley and bulgar salad). Each of the salatim had a unique flavor profile, and we loved the lush, creamy flavors of the Labneh and Ikra, and the piquant peppers of the Lutenitsa (also popular in Balkan and Eastern European cuisines).

ShayaInteriorWe had also heard great things about Shaya’s hummus, which comes in varieties from plain tahini ($9) to more exotic takes with curry, eggplant, or lamb ragu. We selected a variety with asparagus and crispy shallots, which was perfect for early spring. The hummus was creamy and rich and we absolutely could not get enough of the pita, which we sopped up every morsel of hummus with.  Fortunately, you can get as many pita refills as you want.FalafelShayaBeyond the salatim there were soup and salads (including matzoh ball soup and a fresh cucumber salad), small plates (ranging from halloumi cheese to the ubiquitous avocado toast), and sandwiches like the classic Israeli staple, the sabich. For the rest of our lunch we selected L’s favorite: falafel ($12) and the lamb kofte ($15) along with the roasted Brussels sprouts. The kofte was shaped into more of a patty, and was topped with tomato jam, herbs, tahini, and served over a bed of white beans. It was like the best kebab you ever had and a burger had a baby, with a sprinkling of spice. The falafel was our favorite variety, crispy and bright green from the high herb content, and they were each clearly fried to order. KofteShayaThe grand finale was the chocolate Babka cake, served in a small cast-iron skillet. We are huge fans of babka, a sweet brioche loaf marbled with chocolate, and Shaya’s version was divine – and drenched in a caramel sauce (there now appears to be a cinnamon variety on the menu). Shaya reminded us a lot of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, another modern Israeli powerhouse, which is a good thing. However, the fresh pita really sent Shaya over the top. This place is the real deal! Alon Shaya is opening up 2 more restaurants, and we can’t wait to see what else he has in store.

ShayaBabka

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The French Pastries of St. Roger Abbey

In honor of Bastille Day, we are going to highlight a taste of France right here in Chicago: St. Roger Abbey. St. Roger Abbey is a French religious order of Friars and Nuns with a worldwide presence, but an American base in Chicago. We first learned of St. Roger Abbey when we came across the nuns selling macarons at Christkindlmarkt one year. The order has a wide variety of authentic, organic French pastries including palmiers, madeleines, Breton cakes and croissants that they sell to raise funds for their charitable work. They even have a cafe in Wilmette (1101 Central Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091) and an online store where you can support their mission. Sounds like a good reason to buy some croissants!

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News… and A Taste of South Sudan

Why are things so quiet around here? We moved! We are back in Chicago for a year, which means more foodie adventures, and hopefully more regular updates to this page…. In lieu of a major update, I wanted to share an interesting site that readers of this site may enjoy: a Taste of South Sudan. South Sudan is the world’s youngest country (it split from Sudan in 2011), and is home to a rich food culture. A Taste of South Sudan is written by Noema, a doctor from South Sudan, currently living in Texas. We don’t know much about Sudanese food, but are excited to try some of Noema’s recipes, including Kahk, Sudanese sugar cookies (video below), and Bamia Tabiq, meat stew with okra. 

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Pastry Post-Doc: Tulumba for Ramadan

Sorry for the long absence… I meant to post this at the beginning of Ramadan, which was May 15. So, clearly this post is a bit late, but fortunately I managed to write this post before the end of Ramadan, this upcoming Thursday, June 14. One of the most important parts of Ramadan is the nightly Iftar, or breaking of the day’s fast after sunset. We of course have an eye to the sweet, so we decided to share one of our favorite Ramadan desserts, which is enjoyed throughout the former territories of the Ottoman Empire, Tulumba. Tulumba is a fried, extruded churro-like pastry dipped in a sugar syrup. We thought immediately of Indian jalebi when we first had them. A sweet tooth is definitely required for this recipe! You can find Tulumba throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, under a variety of names (it is known in Iran as Zoolbia/Zolobiyah Bamieh, in Egypt as balah ash-sham and in the Middle East as asabe Zainab), though it may be most associated with Turkey. Given the geographical range of Tulumba, you can be sure to find regional variations from country to country. The Spruce has a recipe from Turkey (seen below), and here are other versions from Greece, Egypt, Iran, and the Middle East.

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Pastry-Post Doc: Thiakry / Degue from West Africa

We recently attended the end-of-the-year gala for the local college’s African Student Association, which was a delightful banquet full of delicious dishes from all around Africa: jollof rice, moi moi, plantains, injera, beef tibs, samosas and more. However, there were no African desserts. That got us to thinking – what would be a good African dessert to add in the future? That’s when we first heard about Thiakry (aka Dégué) – a sweet couscous-like dish with origins in West Africa. Both titles refer to the millet grain used in the dish itself, which is called Thiakry in Senegal, or Dégué in the rest of West Africa. The grain used in Thiakry can be millet or if that is not available, wheat, which is then mixed with dairy, dried fruit, vanilla and spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. The final texture is similar to rice pudding. You can check out the following recipes for varieties of Degue/Thiakry: Yummy Medley, Food World, and Salwa Petersen. You can buy Degue/Millet in most African markets, or in various shops online. This is a dish that is open to experimentation and customization – so you can add pretty much anything you want – as in this modern take on the recipe from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (seen below).

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Soup Dumplings come to Cleveland at LJ Shanghai

chinaWe love the southeast Asian food in Cleveland (looking at you Superior Pho), but we are still on the lookout for our new favorite Chinese restaurant in the area. Fortunately, we have found a strong new contender in LJ Shanghai (3142 Superior Ave., Cleveland), which specializes in Shanghainese soups and Xiao Long Bao (XLB) aka soup dumplings. We had been craving soup dumplings and, up until this point, had not been able to find any in the area, so we were stoked!LJShanghaiLJ Shanghai is located in AsiaTown, in a small, unassuming storefront. The inside is modern and bright, and you will know you are in the right place when you are greeted by the little dumpling mascots on the front window. The menu is at LJ Shanghai is relatively small, and we appreciate the curation because we are easily overwhelmed by long menus. Each menu item also has an included photo, which proved to be super helpful. You can start out with lighter bites like the the steamed pork buns ($5) or the garlic and cucumber. There are also hearty entrees like steamed chicken ($15) Braised duck with soy sauce ($10) and sweet and sour ribs ($10).LJXLB

However, we were here for the XLB, ($5 for 6 – seen above).  The dumplings are steamed in a basket, during which time, the gelatinized broth melts, creating the desired ‘soup.’ The soup dumplings at LJ are very good, with a thin noodle skin and a tasty, pork filling surrounded by the mysteriously liquefied soup. The dumplings are accompanied by a variety of other dipping sauces (ginger, vinegar, chili sauce etc) to customize your experience. We have not quite mastered the technique of eating XLB elegantly, but we are looking forward to future attempts.

LJWonton

Another standout on the menu is the soup, which is the perfect hardy antidote to the seemingly never-ending Cleveland winter (though Spring is starting to peek its head out…we think). Some soup options include beef and vermicelli curry soup ($8) Shanghai flat noodle soup ($8) and mixed veggie noodle soup ($10). We sampled both the Wonton soup ($6 without shrimp, $8 with shrimp) and the Chongquing spicy beef noodle soup ($10 with beef, also available without beef, or with pig intestines). The spicy beef soup was nicely spicy thanks to the chili flakes and oil, and as a result was extremely warming. We also appreciated the good cuts of beef, crunchy bok choy and a heavy helping of cilantro and peanuts. The wonton soup was its polar opposite, very light and almost delicate, with a clear broth, and we especially enjoyed the handmade pork wontons.

LJBeef

The prices were very reasonable, and we even had enough soup to bring home for leftovers. LJ Shanghai is a great edition to Cleveland’s AsiaTown food landscape. Though the XLB may not be on par with expert purveyors like Din Tai Fung, they are definitely standouts in the local food scenes. We can’t wait to go back and have another round (and work on our technique)

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Lilia’s new-school Italian in NYC

Italy

We have been traveling a lot this year: LA, Kansas City, New Orleans, Madison, Chicago, Columbus… and as a result, we have an ever-growing backlog of posts we have been meaning to write. So, we thought it was about time that we post about a restaurant we’ve been thinking of for a while: Lilia (567 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY). We are famously finicky about Italian food, we always figure that we can make it better (and cheaper) at home, so, other than pizza, we rarely order Italian out. But sometimes a restaurant seems interesting and special enough to lure us out of our old habits, and that was the case with Lilia. Lilia is the brainchild of chef Missy Robbins, and was named as one of the best new restaurants in 2016 by the New York Times and Time Out New York.

Photo From Eater NYC

The restaurant is definitely scene-y, and we were certainly not cool enough to be there among New York’s buzziest. And I can’t say we were made to feel particularly welcome: even though we had a reservation early on a Thursday, we still had to wait about a half hour to sit, all the while waiting awkwardly in the vicinity of the bar, because the bar itself was completely full. Though in the meantime we did have time to explore the interesting space – which used to be an auto repair shop – and the menu. The menu was divided into small plates and entrees, but we opted for small plates to share. The pasta is all made by hand, and we heard only great things about the sorcery of Missy Robbins, who cut her teeth as Executive Chef at Chicago’s Italian icon Spiaggia from 2003-2008.

More precisely, the menu is divided into cocktail snacks, antipasti, “Little Fish,” Pasta, “Big Fish,” and Meat. The cocktail snacks are sort of like appetizers for your appetizers: Sicilian olives, prosciutto, house-made mozzarella or radishes with sea salt. Up one level in size are the antipasti, including many interesting veggie-forward combos: Red celery and fingerling potatoes; whole artichoke with mint; and cauliflower with spicy sopressata and pesto. I notice that now they have Bagna Cauda on the menu – which we certainly would have gotten! Our first chosen dish was roasted trumpet mushrooms with balsamic, arugula, and Sicilian almonds (above) – the mushrooms were woodsy, and almost meaty, and went well with the deep, aged balsamic. For a second “lighter” bite, we went with the fennel salad with oranges – one of our favorite dishes that we first tried in Siracusa, Sicily. There is something about the combination of fennel and oranges that is just perfect.

Next was the “Little Fish” menu which featured grilled scallops with walnut, yogurt and marjoram alongside mussels and sea salt. From this section of the menu, we started out with cured sardines with capers, butter and dill on top of fettunta (bread rubbed with garlic – above). This was our favorite bite of the night – salty, savory and a perfect flavor combination. Sardines have really been growing on us recently, and these were the salty, savory bite showcased on some excellent bread. The “Big Fish” and Meat sections of the menu had much larger entrees and included grilled swordfish with sweet/hot peppers and mint and grilled veal flank steak with hot peppers.

The pasta dishes are intended to be a starter course, as in Italy, but we basically ignored that advice. There were almost 10 pasta choices, and each sounded more delicious than the next: ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto, basil and pistachios; fettuccine with spicy lamb sausage; or potato-filled ravioli with crème fraîche, garlic and rosemary. From the pasta menu we chose the sheep-milk cheese agnolotti (mini, rectangular filled pasta pockets), topped with saffron, dried tomato and honey and Malfadine – flat pasta with wavy edges – with pink peppercorns and Parmesan. The malfadine dish was a great riff on cacio e pape. The simple Roman classic was elevated by the slightly thick, handmade pasta and high-quality Parmesan. The agnolotti was light and fresh, with a slight sheep’s-milk tang which shone through the light sauce. The handmade pasta was uniformly excellent. We finished off our meal with a seasonal apple galette with winter fruits- which was perfectly proportioned with flaky, crispy crust.

Flipping the script – Lilia is also known for their soft serve (we didn’t sample it this time, but maybe we will be back)! The Italian-only wine menu is quite extensive, and they have the widest selection of amari (after-dinner bitters) we have ever seen! In the morning, and for lunch, you can visit a more subdued Lilia for coffee, pastries and panini. Though you may have to cut through the hype a little bit to eat there, we really enjoyed our meal at Lilia. The small plates were all perfect and simple in an ingredient-forward way, spicing up traditional flavor combinations and dishes. Lilia lived up to our standards for Italian food, and that is saying something!

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Celebrating Dyngus Day in Cleveland

Dyngus Day, celebrated every year on Easter Monday, is something of a city-wide holiday in ClevelandDyngus Day (from the Polish Śmigus-dyngus) is celebrated in the US by Polish-American communities, which makes sense that is it especially popular in a city that is as proud of its Eastern European roots as Cleveland. There is a whole slate of festivities in Cleveland, including a Dyngus Day parade, the crowning of Miss Dyngus and Polish restaurant specials and music throughout the city. The festivities are centered in Gordon Square neighborhood, but a trolley will also take you to satellite Dyngus Day locations in Tremont and Ohio City. We partook in Dyngus Day celebrations last year at both The South Side (seen below – 2207 W 11th St, Cleveland, OH 44113), and Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113)–  the Tyskie was flowing and we enjoyed plates of pierogis, potato pancakes, kielbasa, sauerkraut and stuffed cabbage.

Of course, a key aspect of Dyngus Day is the polka music, for which Cleveland is particularly known, Cleveland.com even made a Dyngus Day mix of Cleveland-style polkas. You can combine food and music at most venues, and restaurants were getting pretty creative – The South Side even had polka bingo! or if you have a sweet tooth stop in at Brewnuts (6501 Detroit Rd, Cleveland, OH 44102) for a special Dyngus paczki, or Dyngus Day Specials at Mitchell’s (1867 W 25th St, Cleveland, OH 44113). If you want a really old-school experience with your pierogi, polka and beer, check out the Polish Veterans Alliance ( seen below – 2234 Professor Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) and the Polish League of American Veterans (2442 Professor Ave, Cleveland, OH 44113) and Tremont. Happy Dyngus Day!

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Easter in Italy: Chocolate eggs and Marzipan lambs

For a long while we thought that giant chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in bright metallic paper were a Brazilian thing, since that was where we saw them first. Turns out that large, hollow chocolate eggs filled with candy or other treats were an Italian thing all along, likely brought to Brazil by Italian immigrants. In Italy, it turns out the art of the chocolate egg has reached a completely new level, with gigantic, ornate varieties. You can get an astonishing variety of chocolate Easter eggs in Italy, as seen below, from cheap store brands to decadent (and expensive), specialty eggs. Your local Italian grocery store may have a few to choose from, though you won’t find the selection you would in Italy (or online).

Italian Easter Eggs in Florence by Winniepix

Another sweet treat you may find on Italian Easter tables is the Marzipan Lamb or Pecorelle di pasta reale! Fanciful, shaped marzipan is a mainstay for Italian holidays, such a frutta martorana for All Saints’ Day, so it is only appropriate that we find a special Easter-appropriate lamb for this holiday. If you have the almond paste (which you can usually buy ready-made) it is not terribly difficult to make a Marzipan lamb, and you can find them in many Italian bakeries around Easter, though this also has us hankering for the decidedly more American lamb cake! If you are looking for more Italian Easter treats, be sure to try the colomba cake or pastiera.

Easter Lamb in Sicilian Bakery, Chicago, IL

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Festive Dishes for Nowruz – Persian New Year

March 21st this year is Nowruz, also known as Persian New Year. This festival, whose name means “new day” in Farsi, is tied to the Zoroastrian religion, and is not only celebrated in Iran, but in other parts of central Asia and the Balkans. The holiday represents the arrival of spring, and the Nowruz table is typically filled with festive foods including seven symbolic items, the Haft-Seen. One of the the items that is a must for the Haft-Seen on a Nowruz table is green sprouts known as Sabzeh, and you can even grow your own. Many of the other dishes served on Nowruz are green with fresh herbs, appropriate for green’s springtime connotations. There are several Persian dishes that are emblematic of the holiday including Sabzi polow ba mahi, a heavily herbed green rice topped with fish and  Kookoo/Kuku Sabzi, an egg omelette filled with herbs. The LA Times documents a family’s homecooked feast with recipes for Rice with herbs, pan-fried white fish and smoked white fish (sabzi polow ba mahi)Fresh herb kuku (kuku-ye-sabzi)Rice with toasted noodles (reshteh polow) served with lamb. You can find more Nowruz recipes at Whats 4 Eats, Fig and Quince and My Persian Kitchen.

Haft-seen by Greg Dunlap

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Celebrating St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans

We are heading to New Orleans for two of our favorite only-in-New-Orleans events, St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Sunday closest to it, known as “Super Sunday” (which we can assure you has nothing to do with the Super Bowl). Super Sunday is the day when Mardi Gras Indians parade their finery through the streets, and St. Joseph’s Day is a holiday with origins in Sicily that celebrates the miracle of St. Joseph saving the island from famine (see our previous coverage here). And oddly enough, these two days are related, and Mardi Gras Indians also march on St. Joseph’s night.

The altar at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, LA

Though other areas in the US obviously have Sicilian-American populations, the tradition of the St. Joseph’s Day altar is observed with fervor in New Orleans, owing to its particularly concentrated Sicilian population. St. Joseph’s Day is observed in New Orleans to a much larger degree than it is elsewhere, even Sicily. Every Catholic church and high school in greater New Orleans seems to have an elaborate St. Joseph’s Day altar, and they can range from modest altars in homes to unthinkably huge, sometimes taking up the entire Church community center. The altars, contributed to by parishioners and the community, traditionally have three tiers and are decked out with statues, flowers, photos, candles and food. All of the photos in this post are from altars we visited in 2016.

Pasta Milanese, Fried fish, veggies and more at St. Joseph’s in Gretna, LA

Typical St. Joseph’s Day altars are decked out with tons of food, including citrus, fanciful breads in shapes representing Joseph’s trade as a carpenter (or even fish or figures), whole fish, dozens of varieties of cookies, fava beans, and more (You may even see a lamb cake or two). And if you visit a church on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans you will probably be treated to a bowl of Pasta Milanese or other meatless favorites. Pasta Milanese is similar to pasta con sarde, but with tomatoes, and of course you have to top it with breadcrumbs, representing the Joseph’s carpentry sawdust – check out this recipe from Sicilian Girl.

Cookie display at St. Augustine Church in New Orleans, LA

Our favorite St. Joseph’s Day food is probably the fig-filled cuccidati cookie, which are also traditionally made at Christmas. We bought a cookbook on St. Joseph’s Day at one of the churches we visited a few years ago, which now provides us with our go-to cuccidati recipe. The St. Joseph’s Day altars are cookie heaven, and volunteers spend weeks making literally tens of thousands of cookies for some of the larger altars. We also like to seek out some of the unique foods that are probably unseen outside of a single parish, like the amazing, giant, fleur-de-lis crawfish-shaped “Craw-fig” cookie below, that we spotted on an altar in Metairie.

The altar at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie, LA

At the end of St. Joseph’s Day, the altar is symbolically broken in the “Tupa tupa” ceremony and the food and donations are distributed to charity. You will probably also get handed a fava bean for luck, and a bag of cookies to take home. And if you manage to steal a lemon from the altar it means you will get married (or have a baby) by the next St. Joseph’s Day. We love to go around New Orleans and the surrounding area on St. Joseph’s Day and visit all of the altars, since no two are alike. For 2018 we found a few guides (Italian American Center, ABC) to all of the St. Joseph’s Day churches in the area.

The altar at St. Joseph Church in Gretna, LA

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Northwoods charm (and pie) at Honeypie

Happy Pi(e) Day! In honor of this auspicious day, we are revisiting one of our favorite places for pie, Honeypie (2643 S Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53207) in Milwaukee. Our two favorite things about Honeypie are 1. the PIE and 2. the fact that there is something for everyone. The restaurant is decorated with a classic Wisconsin Northwoods theme, with clapboard walls, reclaimed wooded booths, maps and vintage Wisconsin-y ephemera.

Most importantly, there is a dessert case in the back with a variety of pies, biscuits, sweet breads and cupcakes. Over the years, we have sampled a number of Honeypie’s pies, and we have never been let down. Some of our favorites include the black bottom banana cream pie (below), blueberry (below), Milwaukee mud pie, strawberry rhubarb and ginger chai cream. You can order a whole pie in advance ($29 or $32) or by the slice ($6). You can also ship miniature Honeypie pies anywhere in the nation through their Piegram service. To take the pie love to another level, they even host pie-making classes.

honeypies

Black bottom banana cream pie and blueberry pie.

There is also a large food menu, with Midwestern classics like mac and cheese ($14), grilled cheese with tomato soup ($11), a classic Friday Fish Fry ($16) and – a treat unique to the upper Midwest – the Cornish pasty ($10). There is also more elevated fare like scallop ceviche ($15) and confit chicken ($24). Honeypie is an all-day restaurant and you can also get brunch or a drink off of their full menu of drinks and local beers. So whether you are in the mood for pie, a Bloody Mary or mac and cheese, you will find just what you want at Honeypie.

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Banitsa – Bulgarian Pastries hidden in Barcelona

When we went to Barcelona we were not expecting to find Bulgarian food, but that is indeed what we got when we stumbled upon Banitsa (Carrer de la Diputació, 188, 08011 Barcelona, Spain), a hole in the wall cafe serving sweet and savory pastries by the same name. Banitsa is truly tiny, and there is no AC, but the friendly service and good food more than made up for it. The menu basically consists of either sweet or savory varieties of Banitsa (€3). So what exactly IS as Banitsa? It is a filo dough pastry coiled around a filling, similar to a small version of borek, and is popularly eaten as a breakfast food in Bulgaria.

The banitsa offered in Barcelona are a bit more avante-garde and contain fillings you are unlikely to see in Sofia: mint and pear, chocolate and orange, pumpkin and blue cheese and coconut milk curry. There are many vegetarian and vegan options, and even a gluten-free banitsa. The pastry case also contained some tempting-looking cakes including the classic Medovnik honey layer cake. To round out your meal, you can also get coffee, lemonade, tea, yogurt and hearty soups. There is also a small selection of Bulgarian groceries. We sampled chocolate and sesame seed and cheese varieties, both of which were excellent, and we loved the mini-burek format. if you are looking to get off the tourist track and try something new in Barcelona we heartily recommend Banitsa.

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La Monarca: Pan dulce meets coffee in LA

One of the main things we miss since we move away from Chicago was its proliferation of amazing Mexican pandarias and their huge assortment of pan dulce – Mexican sweet breads and cookies. When we went to LA we knew we would be able to get our fix. One of our friends tipped us off to a place in particular – La Monarca, which is an upscale pan dulce (traditional Mexican sweet breads and pastries) shop with espresso drinks and light bites.  La Monarca is a small but flourishing chain of cafes with about a dozen locations in the LA Metro area – think Mexican-tinged Starbucks, but with better everything. We visited the Santa Monica location (1300 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90403). The cafe was bright and airy, and was filled with a combination of people on their laptops, students and patrons grabbing a quick coffee and pastry before work.

Once you enter, on the left is the traditional case of pan dulce – you grab a tray and a set of tongs and load up the tray with whatever you want. Of course there are conchas, orejas (palmiers) and puerquitos, but also a few more unusual options like cuernitos (croissants) filled with dulce de leche, chocolate, cream cheese or guava and dulce de leche bread pudding. You can also go a bit more savory with bollilo bread rolls, baguettes or cornbread. We selected a mini cinnamon sugar concha, a puerquito and a a dulce de leche croissant, which had been particularly recommended to us. Of course we had our eye on the drink menu, which boasted single-origin Oaxacan coffee alongside cafe de olla (hot or cold coffee brewed with brown sugar and cinnamon), Mexican hot chocolate and champurrado (a sweetened chocolate elote drink). We get champurrado whenever we can find it, so we were extremely excited!

The refrigerated case is also full of other tempting looking cakes including tres leches, flan, dulce de leche and tiramisu. For heartier appetites they have salads,  quiches, molletes (open faced sandwiches), and breakfast tacos, all with a Mexican twist including options with chorizo, huevos rancheros, chicken mole and salsa verde. We snagged an extra yogurt parfait for some protein. Everything at La Monarca was delicious (if a little pricey), and we enjoyed their modern twist on the traditional Mexican panaderia. We could definitely see ourselves becoming regulars if we lived closer!

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Recipes to Celebrate Holi, the Festival of Colors

India FlagHoli is one of our favorite holidays, not only for the food, but for the COLORS. Holi, celebrated in India and Indian diasporic communities is a traditional Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of Spring, and is a time of happiness and merriment. Holi is also known as the “Festival of Colo(u)rs,” and only a few glances at Holi pictures and you will understand why – it is tradition to douse everyone with colored water or thrown powder on Holi. This amazing Holi photo above was taken at the Holi celebration of the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. Of course, Holi also a time of feasting, and there are plethora of delicious dishes and chaat (snacks) that are associated Holi. One popular Holi snack is Gujiya, a deep-fried empanada-like pastry filled with mawa, a typical fresh milk cheese. However, this is barely even scratching the surface: here are slew of Holi recipes from Cooking with Manali, Indianfoodforever.com, Simply Vegetarian 777, and the Times of India.

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The National Dish of Nigeria: Jollof Rice (or is it Egusi Soup?)

Nigeria is competing for the first time this year in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with a bobsled team composed of Nigerian-Americans. Though bobsledding may not get a lot of press in Nigeria, we wanted to highlight this country and its food. So what is the most representative Nigerian national dish? A poll conducted this year by Pulse Magazine had readers selecting Jollof rice, whereas a poll done previously by CNN had them selecting Egusi soup. Well, we are definitely not informed enough to weigh in, so we figured we’d highlight each of these national dish rivals.

Jollof Rice by Joan Nova

Jollof rice is a rice-based dish made with tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, hot peppers and spices, usually served with some kind of protein. Popular throughout West Africa, the recipe for Jollof Rice varies wildly depending on where you are. And of course, each country thinks that they have the best Jollof rice, and it has inspired years of heated debate (and even a rap song).  In Nigeria, the dish is also typically accompanies by fried plantains and moin moin, a spicy side made from black eyed peas. You can find recipes for Jollof rice from All Nigerian Recipes, Sisi Jemimah and Ev’s Eats.

Goat Egusi with fufu by HC

Egusi soup doesn’t have as wide of a range in Africa, and is made from the ground seeds of Egusi melon, palm oil, dried fish, and leafy greens (in many cases bitterleaf). Unlike Jollof rice, Egusi may be a little harder to find, unless you live by a Nigerian market, but thank goodness for the internet. Egusi soup is usually served with fufu (boiled and pounded cassava) that helps sop up the soup. You can find recipes for Egusi soup at Demand Africa, All Nigerian Recipes, and All Nigerian Foods. Though we have tried both of these dishes, our hearts are with Jollof rice, one of our favorite West African dishes, yum! Of course, Nigerian cuisine is is full of delicious dishes, so don’t stop with just these two.

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Korean Yaksik for Lunar New Year

It’s was Lunar New Year this weekend AND the start of the 2nd week of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, so naturally we have Korean food on the brain. One of the most important foods for the Lunar New Year – called Seollal in Korea – is Yaksik. Yaksik is a sweet rice dessert studded with jujubes, honey and chestnuts. Not only is the dessert tasty, but it is touted for its medicinal properties. The name “Yaksik” translates to “medicinal food,” (“Yak” meaning medicine, “Sik” meaning food). Think of it as a fruitier, healthier version of rice pudding. Here are recipes for Yaksik from Kimchimari (seen below) and Maangchi.

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Katharine Hepburn’s Brownie Recipe

It’s always intriguing to find out about celebrities’ secret recipes. Well of course they probably eat (or ate) like we do, but it is sort of charming to think of them actually cooking for themselves or friends. Such is the case with Katherine Hepburn, who apparently made a mean batch of brownies. This recipe was published first by the New York Times after her death in 2003, and purportedly makes a delightful, fudgy brownie. Looking at the recipe, it seems like this chocolaty dessert might be perfect for Valentine’s Day. And if you are looking for a perfect Valentine’s movie pairing, I also recommend one of my favorite Hepburn romantic comedies (which also just happens to star Cary Grant) 1938’s Holiday (seen above).

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Filed under history, Holidays, Recipes

Slovenian Mardi Gras: Kurentovanje and Krofi

SlovenianFlag Cleveland has a huge amount of Slovenian culture and Slovenian descendants, so it it perhaps not surprising that Cleveland is home to a local celebration of Slovenian Mardi Gras – Kurentovanje. The emblem of Kurentovanje are the Kurents, big fuzzy beasts who romp through town during Mardi Gras (called Pust in Slovenia), ringing bells loudly. The Kurents are rumored to have the power to chase away winter with their ruckus. For Slovenian Mardi Gras, a traditional food is Krofi – or doughnuts. Doughnuts are a popular choice for Mardi Gras celebrations around the world, since they would use up some of the ingredients that would then be forbidden in Lent: sugar, butter, and oil! Slovenian krofi are simple to make, and mirror the other Mardi Gras fried sweet fritters found worldwide like PaczkiMalasadas, Semla and Chiacchiere. Here are recipes from homemade krofi from E-Slovenie and Homemade Slovenian food. Though krofi looks delicious, we are more intrigued by the Kurents!

Kurents in Ptuj, Slovenia by MarySloA

 

 

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Filed under Holidays, Reviews

Amazing arepas in NYC at Arepas Cafe

VenezuelaWe think Venezuelan arepas are one of the most perfect foods: a carb-y masa shell, perfectly handheld, filled to the brim with tasty fillings (often including cheese!). Due to this perfect formula, it is no surprise then that arepas are increasingly popular worldwide. We even had arepas in Porto, Portugal (not to mention a few times in Chicago and Cleveland). One of my favorite arepa joints is located off the beaten path in Astoria, Queens, Arepas Cafe (33-07 36th Ave, Astoria, NY 11106). Lucky for me, Arepas Cafe is located conveniently near my cousin’s place, so I get to go there whenever I visit NYC.ArepasCafe.jpg

Arepas Cafe is a humble storefront that does a brisk takeout business. We started out our lunch with my favorite Venezuelan drink, the limeade-like, Papelón con limón ($3.50), which is like the best, sweetest version of lemonade you have ever had (or the Brazilian “Swiss lemonade”). For appetizers you can get mini versions of arepas, empanadas, and cachapas (fresh corn pancakes) or the classic fried yucca ($5 for any). Though the arepas are the main draw, you can also get heartier meat entrees including the Venezuelan national dish Pabellón Criollo ($13) – shredded beef, white rice, black beans, cheese and fried sweet plantains.

Venezuelan Arepas

The bulk of the menu is made up of arepa varieties (All of the arepas are $8 or less). There are combos for vegetarians and meat eaters alike – and we really enjoyed the Arepa Pabellón Pernil – roast pork with black beans, white cheddar and fried sweet plantains and the Guayanesa Tropical – Guyanese cheese (white fresh cheese), fried sweet plantains and avocado (pictured above). The pernil was tender and juicy and the sweet platanos maduros complemented the fresh cheese particularly well. Beyond our favorites, you can also get arepas filled with cheese, mushrooms, black beans, tuna, shrimp, chicken and more (I included my favorite arepa infographic above to give you some potential combination ideas). Arepas Cafe’s arepas are generously sized and delicious, and we have never been disappointed by our selections. Arepas Cafe is an absolute steal for NYC, and is the perfect place for a quick, hearty lunch.

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