One of the most recognizable Dutch cookies is speculoos – and we are definitely fans of these cinnamon and nutmeg spiced cookies. Speculoos are particularly popular in the Netherlands around St. Nicholas’ Day/Sinterklaas, which falls on December 6th, but so is another lesser known cookie to Americans – the Taai Taai. Taai Taai are Dutch anise-spiced cookies, similar in flavor to speculoos, but with more of a cake-like texture. The name “Taai” comes from the Dutch word for “tough,” and was given due to the chewy texture of the cookie. Taai taai are popularly made in molds in the shape of people, especially in the shape of St. Nicholas himself. Even if you don’t have the molds, Taai Taai cookies are easy to make, and for a shortcut, you can buy pre-mixed speculoos spice. Here are a few Taai-Taai recipes from Dutchie Baking, Honest Cooking and the Dutch Table.
Hey friends – we are going to Washington DC this weekend for a conference (and food). We really enjoyed sampling Eritrean food the last time we were there, and of course visiting Nando’s and Shake Shack (both of which have since expanded to Chicago). Do you have any foodie recommendations for DC – especially cheap eats?
Chef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.
On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash. On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.
At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish – the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!
Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!
The Cleveland area actually has a huge supply of Thai good restaurants, and though we have a few favorites, we are still looking for our go-to spot. In Thai Thai Bangkok Street Food (13735 Madison Ave, Lakewood, OH 44107) we have a worthy contender. We first came across Thai Thai at the Asiatown Night Market over the summer, where they were selling bubble tea, chicken skewers and fried noodles. We were excited to learn that they also had a bricks-and-mortar spot in Lakewood, so we decided to pop into Thai Thai for a pre-concert meal.
The menu at Thai Thai is limited – which in this case is a good thing – the focus is on Bangkok-specific street foods instead of a more typical wide menu. The owners are from Bangkok and have taken care to bring over some of the more unique street foods from the city. There are favorites on the menu like pad thai and pad see eiw, but also more unique dishes like Yen Ta Foe (which M actually tried as a street food in Bangkok) – a pink soup made with fermented soybean paste and roasted duck noodles with bean sprouts.
On a Saturday night, Thai Thai was quite crowded, but the owner Kiwi was efficiently making the rounds at the table and was quite friendly with recommendations. To start, we tried the North East Sausage, ($5.50) which is homemade pork sausage made with rice and spices, as well as Tom Yum soup ($3.50), which is a sweet and sour soup with lemongrass and mushrooms. The soup was particularly delicious, and was more complex than the other Tom Yums we have tried in the past. For mains we ordered Kra Praow (bottom dish below – $9.95), spicy chicken, rice and basil; and Larb (top dish below – $9.95), a spicy chicken salad with lemongrass, red onion and cilantro.
The mains were both delicious, with moderate spiciness, but nothing too overpowering. All of the ingredients were super-fresh, clean and simple. Thai Thai’s dishes really did remind us of the food we had in Thailand. For dessert they also had kabocha squash custard and mango sticky rice ($5 each). However, we opted for one of the many flavors of bubble tea – taro. We enjoyed the more unique dishes available at Thai Thai, and this factor helps bring a new element to the Thai food scene in the Cleveland area. We will definitely be back to Thai Thai soon!
M has a particular affinity for snails, so we were pretty excited that there exists a German cinnamon roll that is named after the swirl on a snail’s shell – Schnecken (German for snail). Schnecken date from the late 19th / early 20th century and are now found in German Jewish expat communities in the US and even as far away as Brazil. Schnecken are similar to the better known rugelach (recipes for both inside), but are instead cut crosswise to reveal the signature snail spiral. These cinnamon rolls are likely predecessors to the popular American cinnamon buns today, and feature a syrup topping with nuts. Here is another recipe for schnecken on Cooks.com (seen below), and a few variations on One Perfect Bite.
The first stop on everyone’s Peru itinerary is Machu Picchu, and probably rightfully so, but Peru is full of so many other beautiful natural sites. One of the most impressive places we went in Peru was the Maras Salt Pools / Salineras de Maras, nestled into the Andes mountains. The view of 500+ multicolored salt terraces blanketing the mountains over the Urubamba valley is really a site to see. These salt pools date back to even before the Incan Empire, potentially thousands of years. Today, the flats are still in production during the dry season, May to October, and the process hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years. So how is the salt produced? The shallow man-made pools are fed naturally by a mineral and salt-rich stream, and water is cut off from each pool when it is full. When the water evaporates, the salt is harvested, scraped into baskets, and further dried. Each salt pool has a unique color and mineral content, but overall the salt is fine and pink. Maras pink salt is a great complement to Peruvian ceviche (our favorite), but it is extremely versatile. You can buy Maras salt in specialty stores and online, but it is extremely cheap in Peru. Even if you can’t visit Maras, be sure to pick up some pink salt on your trip!
We’ve been back to Philadelphia twice in the past year – after having not visited since 2008! It’s good to be back to try all of our old classic haunts like Jim’s and Isgro’s – but we also like to branch out and try new things too. We knew that West Philly has a strong West African food scene, and though we were familiar with the East African stalwarts we were intrigued to try something new. There are actually a handful of Liberian restaurants in Philly, but we decided to give Kings and Queens (4830 Woodland Ave Philadelphia, PA 19143) a shot after reading its positive reviews.
Know before you go: Kings and Queens is cash only and takeout only. The menu is handwritten, and there are only a few things to choose from (all with either the option of fried fish or chicken for between $10-12) : Acheke/Attiéké, Kenkey or Jellof/Jolloff rice. Other options include Fufu and Pepper Soup, and a side order of plantains. You can get a ginger drink or Vimto soft drink to wash it down – but that’s the entire menu! We asked the cashier what his favorites were and he heartily recommended the acheke, which is a fermented cassava couscous, with a great sourdough flavor.
We ordered the acheke and peanut stew (which seemed to be a special – above), both with chicken, along with a side of plantains. The acheke itself was topped with a big helping of fresh-out-of-the-fryer fried chicken. The chicken stew came in a separate container, and was a combination of a rich peanut and tomato sauce, a bit of palm oil, and grilled on-the-bone chicken. We ended up pouring most of the peanut stew over the acheke. Along with the main courses and the delectable side order of fried plantains, we also received pickled veggies and super hot habanero sauce. The food only took about 20 minutes to come out, and as you can see above – we got a ton (and that’s only half).
We took our big platter of food to go and ended up eating on a bench on Penn’s nearby campus. When we saw the amount of food that came in a single portion, we can’t really imagine how much food was in a party platter. Everything, by the way, was totally delicious. The flavors were similar to Senegalese food, but a bit spicier. If you are up for some adventurous eats definitely try Kings and Queens. It’s a no-frills place, but the food is great and they couldn’t have been friendlier.
This crazy week has left a lot of people, the eaters included, in need of a smile (and some food therapy). And we have found a light-hearted dish that may put a smile on your face: Taiyaki. Taiyaki is a Japanese dessert cake shaped like a fish (“taiyaki” means baked/fried fish in Japanese) and filled with red bean paste. Made with pancake-like batter poured into a fish-shaped mold, taiyaki is commonly sold as a street food or festival snack. This fishy dessert has been around in Japan for at least 100 years, though others argue that its roots can be traced to imagawayaki, a non-fish shaped cake with the same flavors that has been around for centuries. Though taiyaki is largely unknown in the US, it is starting to make some waves at Taiyaki NYC, an ice cream shop where the taiyaki is used as a cone. We’re adding that to our NYC food list! You can make Taiyaki yourself at home if you have the right pan, but what’s the fun in that?
Today is election day in the US, and while the eaters voted early in Ohio last week, it has still been a stressful day watching the news and the polls. I think we, and anyone else who voted, deserves some cake – maybe even some “Election Cake.” Though it has been out of fashion for over a century, Election Cake used to be an election day staple. Election Cake represented the most popular flavors of the time: it is a leavened sourdough cake with molasses, cinnamon, dried fruit and nuts. In the past, when people actually had to travel distance to the polls, election day was something of a celebratory affair. The election cake hails from a time before refrigeration, and when this type of stable cake would be necessary to last through a long day at the polls and the celebration after.
Nourished Kitchen has a great Election Cake recipe (pictured above). But if you want to get a little more historical, here’s a recipe from the Washington Post from 1796. This was long before women could vote, so making these kinds of cakes was one way to participate in the electoral process. Election Cakes are making a comeback thanks in part to Old World Levain Bakery, in Asheville, N.C., who started the “Make America Cake Again” project, encouraging knowledge of historical cakes, and encouraging bakeries to sell Election Cakes and donate the proceeds to the League of Women Voters. You can check out more recipes on the OWL page, and to see if there is a bakery selling Election Cakes near you.
If fried dough is one of the most popular pastry genres worldwide, sweet pancakes or crepes must be a close second, and we can’t complain about that. The latest pastry post-doc feature is a sweet pancake from Indonesia, Terang Bulan. Terang Bulan means full moon, and it is named because of its round, moon-like shape. It is basically a thick, puffy pancake, folded over and filled with evaporated milk and other fillings like chocolate, chocolate sprinkles or nuts. Terang Bulan is also popular in other parts of Southeast Asia under different names, like Martabak Manis and Apim Balik. Here is a recipe from Ridha’s Kitchen, Food.com, and a Malaysian version with peanuts from Curious Nut.
Our international bakery tour continues today with some special treats for Dia de los Muertos! One of the major things we miss in Chicago is the proliferation of Mexican bakeries. There are at least a few in every neighborhood, but the largest concentration is in Pilsen and Little Village, and we have spent a lot of time exploring the best bakeries. One of the longest-running bakeries in Pilsen – open since 1973 – is Panadaria Nuevo Leon (1634 W 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608), and it is one of our favorites.Nuevo Leon is absolutely full of wooden and glass pastry cases, and you pick up a set of tongs and a metal tray to make your own selections. There are a huge variety of pan dulce: emblematic conchas, cuernos de mantequilla (butter horns), empanadas, guava pastries, puerquitos (seen below), and a huge selection of assorted cookies (our favorites are the smiley faces and the watermelon shapes). The prices are not as cheap as some other Mexican bakeries in the area, but are still really reasonable. One of the other unique features is that there is a wide selection of made-in-house flavored tortillas (mole, chipotle, avocado, etc.). Plus, they mark vegan items (and there are quite a few).We love that Nuevo Leon stocks up on the special holiday treats. For Day of the Dead, Nuevo Leon is our go-to for tasty anise-flavored Pan de Muerto in both small and large sizes, with both the traditional round shape with bones (above) and others shaped like miniature people. You can see below that they also set up an ofrenda above the baking racks for Day of the Dead. However, this is not the only time of year to visit the bakery for something special. Around Christmastime their buñuelos (thin, fried dough with cinnamon and sugar) are a must! We can’t wait to go back for the next round.
Happy Halloween! In honor of this delicious day, we are making a traditional recipe for All Hallows’ Eve / Samhain from the UK, “Mash O’ Nine Sorts.” This funnily- yet descriptively- named dish consists of mashed root veggies (traditionally nine types, including turnip, potatoes, parsnips, etc.) and cheese, and is eaten in the Northern UK at this time of year. It is also tradition for the lady of the house to hide her wedding ring in the dish, and the person who found it would be the next to get married. While pumpkins are the most popular in the US, other old-world root veggies have pride of Halloween place in the UK. It was even traditional in Scotland to carve tunips! Lavender and Lovage has a recipe for Mash O’ Nine Sorts here (seen above). If you decide to make Mash O’ Nine Sorts, here is some mood music to help you out – “The Monster Mash!.”
Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos are right around the corner – but so is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which falls on October 30 this year. Diwali is absolutely awash with sweet treats (some of which we have covered before), collectively called Mithai, and the proper Diwali table is full with as many sweet treats as possible. One popular genre of Indian sweets is called laddoo/laddu, which are basically round truffles that come in a myriad of flavors. Today, I’m going to be sharing one of our favorite and simplest recipes for coconut laddo, which are super easy to make. Check out recipes from Veg recipes of India, Cooking and Me and Rak’s Kitchen (seen below). These laddoos also remind us of Brazilian beijinhos, one of the most popular sweets across the country. Seems like condensed milk and coconut have fans on pretty much every corner of the earth!
One of our favorite holidays of the year is All Saints’ Day / All Souls’ Day (Celebrated as Dia de Los Muertos in Latin America), and we love the tradition of honoring departed loved ones not with sadness and tears, but with food and festivities. We are branching out a little bit from our typical coverage of Italy and Latin America this year to a traditional treat for All Souls’ Day in Croatia, bobici (which translates to little broad beans). These simple almond, cherry and lemon cookies are traditionally given out as treats on All Saints’ Day for wishes of a long life. They also have roots in the Italian fave dei morti cookies, from when the Venetians ruled the Dalmatian Croatia. You can check out recipes for Bobici from Plates n Planes and Adriatic Figs (below).
Ethlyn’s Caribbean Bakery (1621 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11226) is in the heart of the Flatbush neighborhood on Nostrand Ave., which is the center of NYC’s Caribbean community. What is great about Flatbush is they have food from pretty much every country in the Caribbean, and while bigger countries like Trinidad and Jamaica are handsomely represented, so are the smaller countries like St. Vincent, which only has a population of 100,000.
One of our longstanding policies is that there is no better way to experience a country than through their bakeries, so we were excited to experience some of the more unique tastes of the Caribbean at Ethlyn’s. Ethlyn’s is nothing more than a small glass counter filled with pastries and breads, both sweet and savory. Everything was super reasonably priced, and each item was no more than $3-5.
We got a bright red selara coconut roll, and a currant roll. The selara, which is more unique to St. Vincent, was a super-sweet enriched roll, and was chocablock with coconut. The currant roll, which is found throughout the Caribbean, was a little more sedate. Both were tasty, though the selara did somehow manage to leave red crumbs all over, which we were still finding months later. On the savory side, we also got a saltcod patty which was touted as one of Ethlyn’s specialties. To be honest, we are more fans of the sweet treats, but if you wanted to have a fish patty, it is a good one. Other treats include a coconut tart, peanut cake, marble cake, loaves of bread and dinner rolls.
To wash down your treats, Ethlyn’s makes a mean sorrel drink, along with the more exotic soursop and sea-moss varieties. Ethlyn’s was a real taste of the islands, and it was a fun way to try the lesser known side of Flatbush. Plus, it is right next to a costume design shop for Carnival. What could be better?!
Somehow in the past week of posting downtime, it has gone from a balmy 80 degrees to a cool, blustery, fall-like 45! Moreover, that Halloween chill is in the air and we are seeing pumpkins everywhere! Accordingly, we’re going to start featuring some seasonal treats. First up are the classic Sicilian treats for All Saints’ and Souls’ Day (Nov 1 and 2), the famous fruit-shaped marzipan confections called frutta martorana. These almond-paste candies can be found year round in Sicily, but they are particularly popular this time of year, when artisans around the island take pride in making the most realistic fruit shapes possible. In Sicily, children traditionally received these marzipan fruits and other gifts on November 2nd. Check out this video of an assortment of martorana from Toronto. If you want to make your own, the recipe is not that complicated, but the key is in the intricate design and details!
I just realized after all this time that though I had posted a tutorial on how to use a Bialetti stove-top espresso maker, I never did the same for pour-over coffee! This is ironic, since using a Chemex was the way I used to brew my coffee before I discovered Bialetti (actually out of lack of choice) when we were living in Portugal. The Pour-over style is cited sometimes as a fancy third-wave way to brew coffee, but it actually pretty historic – and easy! The coffeemaker I use for my pour-over coffee is a Chemex, a design classic invented in 1941 by scientist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, and its design is now in MOMA’s permanent collection. In order to brew in a Chemex, you will need filters (either paper or reusable – each has pros and cons), and some medium-ground coffee (about the consistency of kosher salt). Below you will see my Chemex setup – I have the 6-cup Chemex model, and I use a kitchen scale to measure the coffee and water.
The basic steps to making pour-over coffee are:
- First, wet the filter after placing in it in the Chemex, so it adheres to the sides of the coffeemaker. Then discard this water. This step is not necessary if you are using a metal filter.
- Boil your water – the amount will vary depending on how much coffee you want to make. You will begin pouring the water just after it has boiled (about 200 F).
- Add the coffee grounds to the filter. The rule of thumb we use is 2 grams of coffee per oz of water, and the Chemex guide itself recommends “1 rounded Tablespoon for 5 oz of coffee.” We use a kitchen scale to measure this out.
- Slowly pour a small amount of water over the ground coffee, just enough to cover it, this is to make the coffee “bloom.”
- Once this amount of water has siphoned through, begin pouring the rest of the hot water over the grounds slowly in a circular fashion. The key is to pour slowly, and taking care to avoid pouring the water directly on the sides of the glass.
All in all, this process should only take about 4 minutes. It may take some tweaking to get the perfect coffee to water ratio, depending on the size of the coffee grind, and how strong you like your coffee. You can look at step-by-step photos at Stumptown and Blue Bottle. There is no perfect ratio, so play around with it, and there are other types of pour-over coffee pots to explore. Pour-over coffee may seem intimidating, but it really isn’t!
The cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).
Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:
- Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
- Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
- Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
- Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
- Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.
We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!
Thanksgiving is a big deal here in the US (obviously), but Canada has its own Thanksgiving, which also is held to give thanks for the harvest and other positive events of the year. Though Canadian Thanksgiving, which falls on the second Monday in October, is perhaps less bombastic than American Thanksgiving, there are plenty of Canadian recipes you can try (yes, poutine). On the dessert front, we have unearthed a popular Canadian dessert that is new to us, and brilliant in its simplicity: Sugar Pie / Tarte au sucre. A typical Quebecois recipe, a classic sugar pie consists of not much more than eggs, sugar and vanilla. Sugar pie variants are also found in Indiana, where it is called a “Sugar Cream Pie” (it is also related to the classic Amish Shoofly Pie). So I guess this is the perfect pie for both US and Canadian Thanksgivings. Aside from the crust, the recipe couldn’t be simpler, check out Canadian versions from Food.com and Canadian Living.
October 4 is the date of two very important food holidays: National Taco Day and National Cinnamon Bun Day. We have a lot of coverage on tacos on the blog, but we thought we would supplement our cinnamon bun coverage! The holiday, like most other food holidays, is an invented one, but since its introduction in 1999 it really has taken off in Sweden. Swedes really love cinnamon buns (Kanelbullens in Swedish), in fact, as of 2010, they ate 310 a year! The love for cinnamon buns is shared across Scandinavia (we sampled some in Denmark). Swedish cinnamon buns are indeed relatives of the Cinnabon-style American Cinnamon rolls, but are flavored with cardamon, and topped with pearl sugar instead of icing (to be honest I like the Swedish kind a lot better!). Plus, Cinnamon buns are not just for breakfast, they are perfect for an afternoon coffee break or “Fika.” Here are recipes for classic Swedish Cinnamon buns from Kokblog, Swedishfood, Salt & Wind, and What’s Gaby Cooking. If you want a little twist, Nami Nami has a recipe for a Finnish Cinnamon Bun variety.
Swedish Cinnamon Buns by Kajak