One of the food groups I didn’t grow to like until my adult years were figs and dates (perhaps it was all the little seeds) – but now I love them. Figs and dates are found commonly as cookie fillings throughout the Mediterranean, and one of the most popular varieties is Ma’amoul from Lebanon. Ma’amoul are sweet semolina flour cookies filled with date paste (the filling may also include pistachios or walnuts), and usually shaped in wooden molds (though they can also be made and decorated by hand, as below). In Lebanon, they are popular around Easter, but they are now popularly eaten in the region to coincide with other holidays as well. So nowadays you can find Ma’amoul pretty much any time of the year! Here is a recipe with variations for date, pistachio and walnut filled Ma’amoul, and a version that combines dates, pistachios and walnuts into a single filling.
Barbecue aficionados are familiar by now with the main styles of American BBQ: sweet, saucy Kansas City and Memphis ribs, mustard-based South Carolina pulled pork, tomato-based Texas brisket, and vinegary North Carolina whole or chopped hog. But a new BBQ place in Cleveland is hoping to both invent and put “Cleveland Style BBQ” on the map. Mabel’s BBQ (2050 E 4th St, Cleveland, OH) is the brainchild of Cleveland-born chef Michael Symon, who decided to up and create “Cleveland-style” BBQ based on the diverse cultural influences in Cleveland cuisine. The downtown restaurant opened about two months ago – after nearly a year-long delay – to much fanfare. As a result, waiting times have been long since the opening.
The name of the Hong Kong-based chain Saint’s Alp (2157 S China Place, Chicago, IL 60616) has always puzzled us – much like the steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris, it seemed like the apostrophe was in the wrong place. But whatever the grammar, Saint’s Alp is an awesome place for a Taiwanese-style bubble tea or a savory snack in Chicago. Saint’s Alp started in Hong Kong, but has since expanded to over 40 stores worldwide, and their Chicago location was the first in the US. The Chicago Saint’s Alp relocated semi-recently to a shop in Chinatown Plaza, so it really is in the heart of it all. Truth be told – we have never gone to Saint’s Alp for the food, but we have never been steered wrong by their bubble teas. What is particularly impressive about Saint’s Alp is their massive tea selection. If you are indecisive – be warned – there is actually a book of tea varieties to flip through before you make your choice. They have more traditional green, black and oolong tea varieties along with the milk teas (which may or may not have tea in them in some cases). We especially like these dairy-or nut milk based teas, a generally popular choice, which come in varieties like Black Tea, Matcha, Almond Milk, Taro and Sesame. You can order the teas with the classic round, tapioca pearls – or boba – but there are also other more unique add-ins like “nata” coconut cream or rainbow agar jelly. Most teas are available either hot or iced, and in small or large sizes – any of which will run you less than $5.Without seeing the menu itself, it is impossible to gauge all of the varieties available, from Sumiyaki Coffee (instant coffee usually served with coconut milk) to Kumquat Lime Nectar to Iced Mint Cream Tea. There are also fresh fruit smoothies, and milkshake-like sweet drinks with yogurt or chocolate. Although there is a seating area inside Saint’s Alp, there is nothing better than taking a stroll around Chinatown and Ping Tom Park with an iced bubble tea in hand. Though if you are like me, you may want to take a look at the menu beforehand!
Some of the best Kosher bread and pastries we have ever had have been in an unexpected location – Miami. Surprised? Well Zak the Baker in Wynwood (405 NW 26th St Miami, FL 33127) has made a name in Miami for having some amazing breads and pastries, and some of the best avocado toast anywhere. Though we get our fill of Cuban and South American food in Miami, we have also made Zak the Baker part of our Miami food routine. And we aren’t the only ones, since Zak the Baker seems to be constantly bustling! Continue reading
M went to school in Wisconsin and while there became fascinated by the concept of the classic supper club – a true marker of quirky Wisconsin culture. Supper clubs are usually old-school establishments serving Prime Rib and traditional American fare, with bars and entertainment, making for a complete night out. Supper clubs were popular throughout the US in the mid-20th Century, and though they faded in popularity in most of the country, they remained strong in Wisconsin (where they always serve the state drink, the Brandy Old Fashioned, of course). The documentaries “Old Fashioned” and “Supper Club” document Wisconsin supper clubs and their loyal fanbases. Though many of these Wisconsin Clubs seem preserved in the past they are still surviving – and in some cases thriving – today. One of our favorite parts about supper clubs are their usually-fabulous mid-century signs, like this one from the Hob Nob in Racine. Everyone in Wisconsin has a favorite supper club, and if you need some help starting out, WisconsinSupperClubs.net provides a thorough database of supper clubs in the state. A wave of food nostalgia has also brought new spins on the supper clubs to the fore, like one of our favorites, the Old Fashioned in Madison, and there is now even a faux-retro Wisconsin supper club in Chicago!
Photo By Jerry Luterman
We recently spent an unseasonably cold day warming up with some Korean home cooking at Cho Sun Ok (4200 N Lincoln Ave. Chicago, IL) with some friends who are real Korean food aficionados (unlike us!). Usually, when we are at a Korean restaurant we like to indulge in BBQ, but this time around, we were going for something different. Cho Sun Ok, a small corner BYOB restaurant, has been around since 1980 (and was voted favorite Korean restaurant in 2015 by the Chicago Reader) and is known for its stone pot cooking, done right at the table. They are also known for their unusual buckwheat noodles, naengmyeon, chilled noodles in cold broth, traditionally known as a Northern Korean dish.One of our favorite parts of many Korean restaurants is that your meal comes with a vast assortment of small plates to share aka panchan/banchan. Cho Sun Ok’s banchan offerings included spicy rice cakes-ddukkbokki, picked daikon, seaweed salad, pickled cucumber, kimchi, potato salad, bean sprouts, and tofu, among others. Just when you think you have banchan figured out, we always encounter a new one! I think one of our future post will be a guide to banchan (for our own sake).For mains, we ordered a seafood pancake – Haemul Pajeon, sweet potato noodles stir fried with beef and veggies – Japchae, mixed fried rice and veggies in a stone bowl – Bi bim bop, and of course also we had to try some naengmyeon for a taste of North Korean cookery. We went with the bi bim naengmyeon variety, buckwheat noodles in a hot and spicy sauce, a perfect warm-up for the chill. The japchae was full of beef and mushrooms, and had a great, delicate sesame flavor. The shrimp and squid-stuffed seafood pancake and the mildly-spicy bi bim bap topped with an egg were also delicious and faithful renditions of Korean classics. We had a hard time picking a favorite (L liked the japchae and M the naengmyeon), but everything was delicious and we snacked happily on the banchan between our courses.
Cho Sun Ok delivered an an amazing amount of the food for the price. We had heard in advance that the service could be brusque, but we had no issues, and as an added plus, the ventilation at the restaurant is pretty good, unlike some other BBQ places we’ve visited. Overall, we like their selection of unusual and traditional dishes in addition to the classic Korean BBQ selection. Moreover, they have one of our favorite versions of japchae in the city. Definitely give Cho Sun Ok a try for some Korean home cooking, or if you want the chance to try a classic North Korean dish.
It’s been a crazy week – but the promise of Spring is in the air. The weather is finally turning around, which is making us think about fresh fruit, and more importantly, fresh fruit pies! We are always on the lookout for new pie variations (check out our Pinterest Pie board for ideas), and our eye was caught by striking photos of Finnish Mustikkapiirakka (Blueberry Pie). The pie has a custardy filling, full of blueberries and a sweet shortbread crust (sometimes it is even baked like a cake). You can check out various versions at Kimchi and Meatballs, A Wee Bit of Cooking, and Have Another Bite (seen below). Be sure to have this recipe in your pocket when the summer blueberries come around!
We were on our way back from a bike ride when we came across FRÍO Gelato (517 Dempster St, Evanston, IL 60201), an answer to our secret hopes for a cold treat. We are always up for gelato, and FRÍO does gelato with an Argentine twist. Gelato is huge in Argentina, due to the massive Italian immigration to the country. We remarked upon a mysterious (long gone) Argentine ice cream store in Chicago many years ago, so short of a trip to Argentina, we were excited to try some Argentine icy treats.Alongside the typical gelato flavors you might expect, there was also dulce de leche, avocado and malbec. You can also get fresh-fruit sorbet flavors, tasty coffee drinks and the classic Argentine mate drink. We were there for gelato, however, so we sampled the dulce de leche and the marsala wine sambayon, an Argentine riff on zabaglione, an Italian custard desert. The gelato was light and creamy, with bold flavors. Though it tasted pretty similar to the Italian-style gelato we’ve had, we really appreciated the fresh ingredients and unique flavor combinations on offer at FRÍO. Plus, if you really want a unique Argentine spin on dessert you can get the gelato between two alfajor cookies!
Our weekly Pastry Post-Doc is coming a day early this year for Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrating Mexico’s victory over France in the 1862 Battle of Puebla. We are celebrating the holiday with a rare treat that is unique to Puebla: Molletes Dulces / Molletes Poblanos. Molletes in Mexico are usually a savory dish eaten as a snack or at breakfast, but in Puebla they are sweet, hence being called Molletes Dulces! Molletes in Puebla are are a sweet round bread (similar to a concha) filled with custard, often coconut-flavored, and covered in a pumpkin seed (pepita) icing. Contributing to their relatively unknown status, Molletes Poblanos are only found for a short period of time, from Father’s Day in June until August 12, the day of St. Clare of Assisi (Spanish link). If you are in Puebla, you can find them at bakeries on “Sweet Street” – Calle de los Dulces! If you don’t happen to be in Puebla this summer (we wish we were!) check out this Spanish-language video from Pulso to see Molletes for yourself.
The story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.
The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”On our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.While you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!
Crop Bistro (2537 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, OH) is often at the top of must-dine lists in Cleveland, not only for its delicious food, but for its palatial setting in the lobby of the 1925 United Bank Building in the bustling Ohio City neighborhood. The setting is truly a show-stopper, and it almost seems like the bank was created to house such a restaurant. The transformation even extends to the bank vault, complete with the intimidating, giant door and padlock, which now serves as a private dining room Crop is part of the Steve Schimoler empire which has grown to restaurants throughout the Cleveland area, all with some spin on the Crop moniker (Crop Rocks, Crop Sticks, etc). Crop’s menu features seasonal American food, with a twist, and due to its focus on seasonality, the menu is always changing.
At first glance we thought Espumilla, sold from carts in street corners throughout Ecuador, was an icy treat, but it turns out that is all an illusion. Espumilla (which means “foam” in Spanish) is actually a meringue made from egg whites, sugar and guava juice – served at room temperature. How’s that for a trick? Espumilla is often displayed in huge vats (as seen below), and then is scooped into typical ice cream cones to munch on while you explore the city. Espumilla requires few ingredients, and can be made at home. Laylita’s Recipes, a site with tons of great Ecuadorian recipes, has a simple recipe for Espumilla, of you have guavas on hand.
When we lived on the North Side of Chicago one of our favorite specialty grocery stories was Patel Brothers on Devon Avenue (2610 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL). Devon Avenue, one of the most fascinating streets in Chicago, has large concentration of Indian and Pakistani shops and businesses (and at various other stretches is also home to Jewish and Slavic communities). For the Indian and Pakistani community, Patel Brothers served as the anchor grocery store in the neighborhood. You could find anything you wanted there, from frozen ready-made foods to bulk spices to obscure grains to fresh fruit to hundreds of varieties of packaged salty snacks (yum!). When we were in Jackson Heights in Queens several years ago, we came across another Patel Brothers and we realized that it was the same chain! Now in Cleveland, we are near yet another Patel brothers. Turns out that the Patel brothers we frequented in Chicago is the original, opened in 1974, by brothers Mafat and Tulasi Patel, who immigrated from the Indian state of Gujarat in 1968. The grocery store chain has since expanded into an empire of 52 company-owned stores, and into a line of foods that is sold elsewhere, Swad. It is interesting to learn that one of the strongest footholds of Indian food in the US originated in Chicago!
Forno Rosso (1048 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL) recently opened up a West Loop branch of their original Harlem avenue pizzeria, complete with a signature red tile oven (the titular “Forno Rosso”). Authenticity is the name of the game at Forno Rosso, and it is one of only three restaurants in Illinois to be given the official mark of authentic Neapolian Pizzas – the Verace Pizza Napoletana – which dictates the flour, cook time, oven, etc. needed to formulate the most authentic Neapolitan pizza. Despite its close adherence to tradition, this branch of Forno Rosso is brand new, and gives off a sleek urban vibe with muted grays. Continue reading
What to do when you are sick of macaroons and matzoh? During Passover leavened foods are no-go, but pre-made options can get a little old. For a change of pace, check out a delicious-sounding Tunisian lamb and artichoke stew, Msoki – seen below (another recipe here). Though the community is small now, Tunisia was once home to a large Jewish population with over 100,000 members, which gave birth to unique dishes like Msoki.
The appeal of fried dough seems to be nearly universal – and we have seen it pop up again in Tanzania as Vitumbua (though popular in Tanzania, it can be found elsewhere throughout East Africa). Vitumbua (singular: kitumbua) is a sweet, fried, rice and coconut cake flavored with cardamon. Vitumbua is usually eaten as a snack, but could even pass as breakfast for those with a sweet tooth. Vitumbua are sometimes cooked in special donut-hole shaped pans, a la Aebelskivers, but you could use muffin tins, or a regular frypan as well. Most of the ingredients in Vitumbua are pretty common (you may have everything but the coconut in your pantry already), so get your muffin tins out and try a recipe from Immaculate Bites.
The music world just lost another great with the passing of the infinitely-talented, prolific chameleon Prince. Already having lost David Bowie, this has not been a great year for music icons, and everyone is feeling kind of glum. So we thought we would dig into the archives for some more lighthearted foodie memories of Prince. An avowed vegan, Prince was always conscious about food, and was known to be a breakfast lover, in particular. In 2011, he even let Minneapolis-St. Paul food publication Heavy Table root around in his fridge. So what did they find? Homemade kimchi, a treasure trove of mustards, challah, yak milk and…Dunk-a-roos! Seems like Prince’s eclectic tastes also applied to his food.
We visited Ramma Cozinha Natural (Lorde Cochrane, 76 – Barra, Salvador – BA, 40140-070) so many times when we were in Salvador, it’s a great surprise that we never wrote up a post about it (seems like a lifetime ago!). Brazil is a country crazy for meat, and on top of that, Bahia is a state that loves fried foods and heavy palm oil – well, so do we, but sometimes you need a little something different. That’s where Ramma comes in, offering a vegetarian and gluten-free-friendly oasis in the thick of it all. Like many casual spots in Brazil, Ramma is a kilo restaurant, which means you select your food and, pay buy the pound. Check out our complete guide to eating in a kilo restaurant, and don’t be intimidated!
Pistacia Vera ( 541 S 3rd St, Columbus, OH 43215) in the quaint German Village neighborhood of Columbus is an immaculate example of a neighborhood French bakery. There are cases and shelves full of any number of dazzling French pastries and cakes, and hoards of Columbusites of all walks of life noshing on coffee and perfect croissants and quiches. We knew we were going to be spending some time here – especially when we got a tip that the macarons on offer were second-to-none. Continue reading