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  • 04/24/14--19:42: Longtime Love
  • Los Angeles, Mexican, suizas, El CoyoteEnlargeCredit: Dylan Ho The evening is well underway, and I'm hungry in the incredible food city of Los Angeles, but rather than eating in the digs of some talented chef, I'm sitting in a touristy octogenarian Fairfax cantina. Why? Because 35 years ago when the busboy with the feathered '70s hairdo whispered “gracias” and flashed me a dazzling smile as he cleared my plate, I fell in love with El Coyote. Back home in Philadelphia, the guys in my ninth-grade class ignored me, and the closest I got to Mexican food was a 45-minute drive with my older brother to a suburban Taco Bell. But in L.A. at El Coyote, I was flirted with and the enchiladas suizas were loaded with chicken and sweet onions; they were bathed in a spicy, tangy tomatillo sauce and gooey with the Monterey Jack cheese that puddled around them. My West Coast aunt ordered the cheese enchiladas; they were earthy with red chiles. She snuck me a sip of her margarita, and I thought this old joint was the most marvelous of Edens. I still do. The busboys are just boys now, but the enchiladas being placed before me at my table right now, with their crowning dollop of sour cream punctuated by fresh cilantro? Those have stayed in my heart.

    See the recipe for El Coyote's Cheese Enchiladas »

    El Coyote
    7312 Beverly Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA

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    cocktails, berlinEnlargeCredit: Michael Kraus After dinner, there's nothing I like better than a digestif—or two—to lull me into sleepiness. Tonight, I've arrived post-repast at Lebensstern, located in silent film star Henny Porten's former Berlin mansion. The host has led my group to a cluster of heavy club chairs in a red-walled parlor that feels like a 1920s salon. It is lined in glass cabinets displaying the bar's collection of 1,800 spirits, many of them rare. Around us, tuxedoed revelers sip bespoke cocktails from silver flutes or ice-encrusted goblets: an amaro-laced Lucky Luciano; a citrusy Pop Rocks-rimmed Lime Pie; a Nectar of the Ancient, made with cardamom extract and resinous Greek liqueur. Most drinks contain a splash of surprise like honey vinegar, orange mustard, or an herb grown on the terrace. We sit so long, we lose hours here; it feels like a place outside of time. Eventually, the host suggests a final nightcap (a Guadeloupe rum aged for 42 years in an armagnac cask tempts me) as a civilized reminder that the party is nearing a close.

    Kurfürstenstraße 58
    10785 Berlin

    See the recipe for Lucky Luciano »
    See the recipe for Lime Pie »
    See the recipe for Nectar of the Ancient »

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  • 04/24/14--19:44: Off the Clock
  • japan, tokyo, sashimi, Harris SalatEnlargeCredit: Todd Coleman The Tokyo that many visitors seek out is all glitz, but I adore places like Uosan Sakaba, a terrific izakaya, or eating pub, in Shitamachi, the Low City. Historically home to tradesmen and fishermen, it's an area full of grit and hidden treasures. The action at Uosan Sakaba starts after work, when white-shirted salarymen gather to enjoy cold beer and simply cooked, incredibly satisfying food. But I usually get there much later, when the convivial place is still cooking but I can easily get a seat. This izakaya specializes in fish cooked in traditional styles: aemono (dressed), sashimi (raw), nimono (simmered), grilled, and fried. Wedging myself in at the counter, ordering a beer and some salt-grilled iwashi no shioyaki, the beloved anchovies of Tokyo Bay, I think to myself, to hell with glitz.

    Uosan Sakaba
    1-5-4 Tomioka, Koto-ku

    Harris Salat is the co-author of Japanese Soul Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

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  • 04/24/14--19:46: Shifting Gears
  • San Francisco, Traci des Jardins, JardiniereEnlargeCredit: Aya Brackett Most chefs I know don't have much food at home: We're always in our restaurant kitchens. But I keep a few items on hand for nights when I'm so slammed at work that I forget to eat. Tonight I rummaged in my fridge for a little cheese, half an avocado, a jalapeño to char and dice, and some cilantro that wasn't wilted. Since I always have corn tortillas, I made my usual: a quesadilla. I cook it slowly so that it toasts and puffs, and the cheese oozes out and browns nicely. It's not fancy, but it's my comfort meal, one I learned growing up half Mexican in the Central Valley. I pour tequila, I hug my cat, and I eat.

    300 Grove Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102

    24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107
    415/644-0240 One Ferry Building, No. 44
    San Francisco, CA 94111

    Traci des Jardins is the chef-owner of Jardiniere and Mijita.



    Food writer M.F.K. Fisher savored her last meals of the day, often eaten after midnight.One of her favorites was an egg fried in butter with cream and Worcestershire. "The minute the egg has set and the juices are bubbling," she wrote, "it is time to eat and go to bed."

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  • 05/02/14--10:00: Lady Baltimore Eats
  • EnlargeCredit: Christopher Hirsheimer

    "Noooooo, don't do it like that!" my 72-year-old Aunt Eadie hisses, yanking my mallet away. "Don't crush it!" We're at Bo Brooks, a northeastern Baltimore crab house, and I'm about to bash a fire engine–red, seven-inch jimmy when my aunt springs into action. She reaches over, cradles the crab (underside up), and begins to demonstrate the true-and-only method for consuming it—a set of actions quite possibly as codified, if not as ancient, as those of a Japanese tea ceremony. "Now, first you grab hold of what's called the apron—start from this pointy little thing here—then you rip back until you've got the guts exposed. You see all that golden-yellow gooey stuff? That's the mustard. It's the fat, the best part. Eat it or I'll hit you."

    And then we eat, just eat—rip, dig, crack, puncture, slurp, right to the top of our skulls—succumbing to the near-narcotic rush that comes from devouring vinegar-and-beer-steamed alabaster nuggets of good, pure Chesapeake Bay blue-crab meat, mixed with the pow!-right-in-the-kisser pungency of rock salt and Maryland seafood seasoning. Few words pass our lips. We're in crab nirvana. "Welcome to Bawlmer, hon," Aunt Eadie says as she flings me another crab.

    It never fails. Regardless of how much time I have spent here, I am an outsider—an alien from out west whose parents broke free from Baltimore after World War II and raised me in California on Bergman movies and avocados and grilled lamb, not Orioles games and sour beef and scrapple. Aunt Eadie is my bridge to sacred back-east traditions long ignored or forgotten by my immediate family—and whenever I visit, I am a foreigner who must be taught how to eat, how to interpret the local dialect ("oil" is url; "pocketbook" becomes pockybook), how to appreciate this city all over again—and appreciation has not come easy.

    The summer vacations I spent in Charm City—the name dreamed up by some public-relations whizzes to promote the town in the 1970s—as a kid were wondrous, but disorienting, too: Here was a place that was green all summer long, not brown and brittle like home. Here was a place where important Historical Monuments lurked around every corner ("Fort McHenry is my favorite hysterical place in Baltimore," Aunt Eadie would tell me, tongue only somewhat in cheek), as did social traditions that were every bit as fixed in the past. The city remained, and remains, unfamiliar to me. Why, then, do I know its savory, sweaty, sour, exaggerated tastes as well as I know the dream I had last night? Why, when I eat spice-encrusted steamed crabs and toothache-sweet, chocolate-frosted Berger's cookies—the antithesis of the California food I grew up with—do I feel that I am, in some primal way, eating the food I know best?

    Aunt Eadie is my bridge to sacred back-east traditions long ignored or forgotten by my immediate family
    And so, in search of Baltimore's gastronomic essence, Aunt Eadie and I set out one morning, with "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" blaring on our car radio. "Look!" says Aunt Eadie, slowing down in front of a tiny sliver of clapboard house. "That's where we lived when we were so poor, one year all I asked for was a can of asparagus for my birthday." We're near our first destination, Hollins Market, in a gradually gentrifying neighborhood of quietly regal, upright row houses that H. L. Mencken once called home. Hollins is a remnant of Baltimore's city-subsidized market system, established in 1763. Once there were hundreds of such permanent, indoor markets nationwide. Now they only number in the teens, and Baltimore has six—Hollins, Cross Street, Broadway, and Northeast, all still city-sponsored, and the now privately owned Lexington and Avenue markets.

    These places echo a time when everyday food-shopping meant bustling stalls and giant piles of staples like cabbages and carrots and potatoes—an experience considerably more engaging than a trip to the supermarket. At Dominic's Produce in Hollins Market, for instance, crowds of customers positively descend on four-foot-high mounds of assorted loose-leafed greens—collards, curly kale, mustard, turnip, and rough-and-ready clumps of field cress, roots attached—all destined for quick-frying with bacon or for long stewing with salt pork. Nearby, Bernie's butcher shop sells these and other "seasoning meats"—thick sheets of salt-crusted fatback, knobs of hickory-smoked ham hock from North Carolina, and rose-colored slabs of westphalian ham. I catch Aunt Eadie, trying to conceal a tear, paused at the poignant intersection of food and memory: "It's just whenever I see ham like that, I think of Mama," she says. "She used to stew everything with a hunk of that in it."

    Elsewhere in the market, at Chuckie's Fried Chicken, a queue some twenty people long leads the way to the juiciest, most delectable fried chicken north of Kentucky (its deliciously crackly skin is spiked with a mild seafood seasoning). It's lunchtime by now, and we happily crunch our way through a few thighs and drumsticks. "Now we need some dessert," Aunt Eadie announces. She suggests we stop at the bakery inside Eddie's, a market a short drive away. Here, Aunt Eadie and the counterwoman converse in reverent tones about their favorite Baltimore desserts: fresh peach cake, snickerdoodle cookies, and that queen of local confections, a real ladies'-circle kind of thing called lady baltimore cake—three dreamy layers of white cake with a mixture of chopped pecans, dried fruits, and boiled frosting sandwiched in between. After a slice apiece and some coffee, we're on our way.

    This crab is a pure taste of sea spray that just about plunges me right into the Chesapeake Bay
    Our next stop is Cross Street Market in Federal Hill, one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods and the recent site of much enthusiastic urban renewal. We pay a visit to Tommy Chagouris, proprietor of Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood—where, from outward appearances, all of Baltimore must come to slug down National Bohemian beer, tell crass jokes, and eat the best crab cakes in town. Chagouris, a sharp, energetic guy, has been working full-time at this wildly successful fish market and raw bar (previously owned by his father) since the moment he finished high school. "The day I graduated," he recalls with a shudder, "my dad set the alarm for 3:30 the next morning and said, 'Son, you're going to work.'" As we walk around his small seafood empire, I pose a question: How does Baltimore's market culture stay so alive and kicking? "Everyone gets along with everyone," he says simply, and adds, "There are lots of people in this city who wouldn't have anything to live for if our markets didn't exist."

    Aunt Eadie and I can't resist ordering a few crab cakes before we go. We pull up a stool in front of Nick's executive chef, Bill Thomas, who could make crab cakes with his eyes closed. What's his secret? Nothing much—literally. Only the faintest trace of binding (eggs, cracker meal, and a dab of mayonnaise) holds Thomas's cakes together, allowing the spectacular sweetness of his jumbo-lump local crabmeat to take center stage. "Don't let anyone tell you that crab from Florida or the Gulf is the same as ours—and don't even talk about crab from South America," Thomas says, scowling. I bite into a golden-crusted morsel. Oh, yes, there's a difference, all right—this crab is a pure taste of sea spray that just about plunges me right into the Chesapeake Bay.

    If I had the unenviable task of identifying what Charm City, USA, tastes like, what would I say? That it is defined by Maryland seafood seasoning—the spice blend that shows up in (or on) virtually everything but dessert in Baltimore? That it tastes of the impressive harvest of the Chesapeake Bay? That it is all about the sweet-and-sour flavors that the city's German immigrants tossed into the stew pot to produce dishes like sour beef (Baltimorese for sauerbraten) and sauerkraut? Or that it tastes of the North as well as the South? Baltimore is, after all, equidistant from Virginia and Pennsylvania, and you'll find fried chicken alongside scrapple on menus all over town—as well as pit beef, a specialty that unites both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

    Nancy Longo, chef-owner at Pierpoint Restaurant & Bar in the harborfront neighborhood of Fell's Point, has been concerned with these kinds of questions about the city's culinary identity for the better part of her food-obsessed life. This lovably tough Baltimore native (picture Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon , all grown up) has fashioned a menu that ranges from Maryland to the Mediterranean to Asia, with fabulous-tasting updates of typical Baltimore dishes—like crab cakes made with unorthodox smoked crabmeat, and sublime crisp-fried oysters stacked atop fried red tomatoes and sprinkled with kernels of grilled Silver Queen corn.

    We marvel at how little the food has changed since the 1940s and '50s
    One sunny Sunday, Longo and I sit in her restaurant leafing through vintage Baltimore menus. Looking at those from a trio of the city's greats, we marvel at how little the food has changed since the 1940s and '50s—except, of course, for the prices: There's Maison Marconi, an elegant Baltimore institution that calls to mind Galatoire's in New Orleans, where you can still order the chicken à la king, sole florentine, and lobster cardinale (diced lobster in a mushroom-sherry cream sauce, served in the shell) that are listed on the 1947 menu—classy dishes that disclose rich sauces and gentle seasonings and leave you yearning for a manhattan and some sparkling conversation. There's Haussner's, maybe the most flamboyantly decorated restaurant in the history of the world. (I'm not joking: More than 500 paintings and dozens of sculptures adorn its interior. It's an acid-trip version of the Metropolitan Museum.) On its yellowed 1952 menu is the same Smithfield ham and crab "sauté" (actually broiled) that is pleasing diners today. And there's the Woman's Industrial Exchange tearoom, whose delicate offerings for the ladies-who-lunch set have barely changed a lick in 45 years—chicken salad and tomato aspic are standards—and a staff that hasn't changed much, either.

    "You think you can leave this place," Aunt Eadie tells me, "but you can't, no matter how hard you try. I've tried before. But I keep on coming back." My aunt and I are scrambling for seats at that mother of all Baltimore food traditions: a backyard crab feast, held during the peak crab season of deep summer. The cast of characters at our event—25 in all—has altered somewhat from those in the snapshots in Aunt Eadie's battered family-photo album, but the food is identical: There's corn on the cob, corn pudding, coleslaw, crab soup, cucumber salad, sliced tomatoes, and, of course, great, freshly steamed stacks of crabs that we bought live earlier from one of the roadside vendors that stud Baltimore's landscape, especially in summer. There's loud conversation and even louder boasts about the prodigious number of crustaceans Uncle Pete consumed in one Roman-style crab orgy back in '55. Here at this meal, old ghosts dance around every picnic table and memories are always guests of honor.

    Deep in the throes of the feast, I turn to my aunt. She is teaching an old friend, a steamed-crab virgin down from New York, her crab-eating protocol: "Nooooo, Darrell, don't do it like that—don't crush!" she scolds. He blushes. I smile. The spices burn my lips like someone's set flame to them. But no matter: I stuff my face as if I'd been fasting for days. In just a few weeks, crab season will be over. In the meantime, I have Baltimore coursing through my veins.

    See more recipes from Baltimore »
    Learn how to pick a crab »

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  • 05/02/14--14:00: Sweet Spot
  • Hungary, desserts, Budapest, Kremés, pastryEnlargeCredit: Helen Rosner The evening is winding down at Centrál Kávéház, an opulent café. Now, beneath the chandeliers and high painted ceiling, a pair of tourists sip coffee and pore over a map, and a couple talks quietly while enjoying glasses of red wine. A plate clinks gently on my marble tabletop as the waiter sets down my reward for a long day of work: a luscious piece of krémes, my favorite pastry, and a glass of tokaj szamorodni, a sweet Hungarian white wine. Such a combination would be a rare luxury elsewhere, but in Hungary it's not unusual to indulge in a tipple and fancy dessert for no reason at all. The krémes, which is Hungary's answer to the napoleon, is a confection of unsurpassed elegance. It's a local favorite, sparking passionate debates about where the best ones can be found, and whether they should have two layers of puff pastry or three. Ribboned with thick, vanilla-scented pastry cream, it is not the sort of thing one bakes at home. Rather, when the craving strikes, we residents of Budapest head to a cukrászda (patisserie) or a kávéház (coffeehouse) to satisfy it. And the wine—redolent of dried apricots, candied orange peel, and caramel—is a Hungarian treasure. So is this café. Founded in 1887, Centrál Kávéház stayed open around the clock in its heyday, a second home for writers and artists. The fledgling communist government closed it in 1949, but in 1999, after a restoration, the café reopened and resumed its role as the kind of place that beckons you to savor a pastry and revel in the pleasure of living in this civilized city. 

    Centrál Kávéház
    1053 Budapest
    Károlyi Mihály u. 9.

    Carolyn Banfalvi is the author of Food Wine Budapest (Little Bookroom, 2008).

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  • 05/03/14--12:00: The Endless Evening
  • Brooklyn, spaghettata di mezzanotteEnlargeCredit: Eilon Paz My neighbors must think we're crazy. It's well past midnight and here we are, a bunch of middle-aged professionals, raising a ruckus in my kitchen. I've got pasta water boiling, my husband, Lindsay, is on bruschetta duty, and our pals are swapping increasingly loud stories around the table. We didn't plan on this when we met for a show earlier, but you know that feeling: the band's done but we're loving these people we're with and not ready to call it a night. So I declared a spaghettata. After all, it's nights like these that the Italian spaghettata di mezzanotte—midnight spaghetti—was made for. More than a late-night snack, it's an impromptu dinner party. We first encountered one when we were living in Perugia 20 years ago: Lindsay was working as a bouncer at a bar, and one night, after last call, the bartender invited us over. Bruschetta was made. Candles were lit. And pasta appeared: a spicy tangle, studded with capers and showered with parmesan. I didn't realize this late meal had a name until weeks later, at another pal's house, when somebody shouted “Spaghettata!” and took to the stove. Because it's unplanned, and made with the most flavorful staples on hand, the spaghetti is always some lusty riff on aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with anchovies, capers, chile flakes. I've taken liberties over the years. I often use different noodles or add tomatoes to my sauce. I rub down my bruschetta with garlic and shower it with olive oil and parm; the super-seasoned crumbs go on top of the pasta with loads of parsley. It's the swiftest, most satisfying thing I can make when I'm tired and maybe a bit tipsy but want to enjoy everyone's company as long as I can.

    See the recipe for Spaghettata di Mezzanotte »
    See the recipe for Broccoli Rabe, Cannellini Bean and Ricotta Crostini »

    See the recipe for Tricolore Salad with Grapefruit Saba Vinaigrette »

    Dana Bowen is the executive editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray.

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    How to make a MicheladaEnlargeCredit: Aaron Lloyd Barr I’ve been into Bloody Marys for most of my adult life but somehow when it came to their less boozy, more refreshing cousin, the beer-based michelada, I was late to the party. In fact I had never tasted one until just a few years ago, when I discovered how awesome the savory, chameleon-like cocktail could be.

    In Puebla I had my first truly great michelada. I watched with anticipation as the young girl making it took a gargantuan styrofoam cup and dipped it into what looked like a small pool of blood (it was actually a tamarind glaze that only looked like blood and tasted like spicy-sweet candy). She then spooned powdered beef bouillon and several dashes of umami-rich Maggi seasoning sauce into the bottom along with hot sauce and chile powder for heat and tomato juice for balancing acidity and sweetness. She filled the cup with ice and topped it with a frosty 32 oz bottle of Victoria lager. The concoction was tangy and spicy and hit all the right notes of refreshment and savoriness. 

    Now, when I make micheladas at home, I take cues from the bartender in Puebla: I add small spoonfuls of chicken bouillon and Lawry’s seasoned salt into the bottom of a shaker pint with a few dashes of Maggi and about twice as much hot sauce. I squeeze in plenty of lime juice along with a shot glass or two of Clamato. I fill the cup with ice, top it off with beer, and give it all a steady whirl with a bar spoon.

    From this basic formula, the possibilities are endless
    I’ve experimented enough with the recipe to come to the conclusion that most of the ingredients are interchangeable or outright omissible—you can substitute soy or Worchestershire sauce for the Maggi, for example, or leave out the bouillon altogether if you don’t have any on hand. The choice of hot sauce is important—lately I’ve favored the Mexican brand Valentina because it’s savory, well-rounded, and available at my local bodega. I wouldn't scoff at adding Spicy V8 or store-bought Bloody Mary mix to a michelada, but the briny, tangy funk of Clamato brings the drink to the next level.

    When it comes to beer, golden Mexican pilsners like Victoria and Tecate seem to be the go-to for most people, Mexicans and Americans alike, and they work well enough. Personally, especially when paired with clamato instead of tomato juice, I prefer something darker such as Negra Modelo—its roasty malts add a pleasant depth of flavor to the drink. 

    I've also experimented with nontraditional beer styles, too. For a smoky rendition, I've used a smoked lager like Aecht Schlenkerla from Germany or Jack’s Abby's Smoke & Dagger from Massachusetts; the smoked beer’s smoldering campfire-essence complements Mexican snack foods such as grilled carne asada tacos and charred elote perfectly. I've also dabbled with IPAs for a bright, floral michelada. West Coast-style standbys like Bell’s Two Hearted or Lagunitas IPA work best and are assertive enough to impart distinct citrus and tropical fruit notes. The bitterness of the hops amplifies the cocktail’s spicy components which, depending on your spice tolerance, may or may not be a good thing.

    If you find this all too fussy, consider a simpler michelada like the one I had recently at Café Central, a bohemian night club in Oaxaca City. There, they simplify and streamline the process into four easy steps: Crack open an ice-cold can of Tecate, slick the rim with lime juice, dust it with salt and chile powder, and serve.

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    I land at Boston’s Logan airport and transfer to a dramatically smaller, 36’ Cape Air Cessna 402 twin piston engine plane. I am one of 8 passengers, including the pilot. We effortlessly ascend into the clouds and in about 43 minutes land just as easily at Nantucket Memorial Airport—the exterior of which was memorialized in the 1990’s TV show Wings. A quick ride places me at my home away from home, for a few days at least: The White Elephant. The historic property has been around since the twenties and encompasses a hotel, an inn, and residences. I am set up in a one bedroom residence, called Cobblestone; it is furnished with deep cushioned chairs and a sofa, a dining room table to seat 6, a remote controlled fireplace that I use every night of my stay, and the kind of bed that you never want to leave. I marvel at two features of my retreat that I sadly won’t have time to utilize: The in-room washer and dryer, which brings a tear to my New York apartment-dwelling eye, and a kitchenette bursting with state of the art appliances, a full-size refrigerator, selection of local coffees, and all the crab claw crackers, corkscrews, chef’s knives, and other kitchen tools that you might need on an extended island stay. I remember from my check-in at the hotel’s lobby that there is a DVD lending library, so I quickly go and scoop up the new releases that I'll enjoy from my giant bed at each day’s end. I hastily unpack and leisurely walk to dinner, drinking in the full moon that rises over the harbor and smelling the sweet fall air. I silently kick myself that I have arrived on the last weekend of the season. Cru, one of Nantucket’s hippest restaurants, is where I sit to dinner, letting new friends regale me with tales of the steamy summer season, the crowds, the seafood, the good times. The meal is a dreamlike waltz through locally raised oysters, each one brinier than the last, a blue crab cocktail, a sweet, warm-buttered lobster roll on house-made brioche, and some well-chosen wines. I return to my residence sated, concocting a plan to return before my trip has even begun. —Kellie Evans

    In the Area

    Beyond the travel trinkets, magnets, and the like emblazoned with ACK, the island's federal aviation airport code, most of the treasures you’ll find are made locally by residents. Nantucket Looms is a shop founded in 1968 as a weaving studio. It offers classes and sells baskets, blankets, and other textiles. Purchase a rattan and wooden lightship basket made by second generation weaver Michael Kane from his gallery. An early 19th century tradition learned from the native Wampanoag tribe, some baskets are also adorned with scrimshaw, engraved ivory pieces. Nantucket Looms; 51 Main Street;
    Michael Kane Baskets; 18A Sparks Avenue.

    Purchase handmade stationary and cards at Parchment with a purely Nantucket charm. Many visitors who decide to wed on island come here for locally engraved invitations.Parchment; 11 Washington Street.

    Visit Sweet Inspiration to purchase the famed chocolate covered cranberries, “Coco” the whale truffles, Nantucket chocolate scallop shells and many more island inspired treats.Nantucket Chocolate; 26 Centre Street.

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  • 05/18/14--15:43: Babylonian Breakfast
  • Makhlama Lahm (Iraqi Eggs with Lamb and Tomatoes)EnlargeCredit: Ingalls Photography I first fell for the intricately seasoned dishes of Iraq more than a decade ago during my deployment there. I haven't been back since. So a few years ago in Dubai, a city I visit often, I was thrilled to find the Iraqi-run restaurant Al Bayt Al Baghdadi, which serves an excellent masgouf, grilled river fish, for lunch. On a recent trip, when I could make it to the restaurant only in the early morning, I asked Adil, the manager, for a breakfast recommendation. He just smiled, motioning for me to sit. Shortly, flatbread and a plate arrived: a sauté of rich ground lamb and eggs with onions, tomatoes, and parsley, seasoned to the hilt with bahar asfar, yellow curry powder. I devoured the robust scramble, and when only a tingle of heat remained on my tongue, I went to ask Adil what it was called, but he was gone. Back home, I combed through cookbooks and learned that makhlama lahm, meat omelette, first appeared in a tenth-century Mesopotamian cookbook, Kitab al-Tabikh. It suggested crowning the mixture with a pair of soft-baked eggs, which I now do on mornings when I crave a taste of the past.

    See the recipe for Makhlama Lahm (Iraqi Eggs with Lamb and Tomatoes) »

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    Enlarge Before it became more common for boutique markets to carry international specialty foods, I had to wait for my Russian grandparents to visit to get my fix of korovka, Russian handmade milk caramels. This childhood favorite is reminiscent of crystallized dulce de leche, somehow sticky, crumbly, and melty all at the same time, with just the right amount of sweetness. The simple confection is made of milk, sugar, and butter, and comes in a variety of flavors from chocolate to cranberry. But when I'm pining for korovka, it's always for the original vanilla flavor that my Grandparents used to bring on every visit.

    Korovka, $5.99 for a 1-pound bag at

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    You get a dose of late-mid-century fabulousness when you enter the Valley River Inn, the lodge-like hotel that's been welcoming guests in Eugene, Oregon since 1973. The lobby boasts an enormous, stacked stone fireplace, Wrightian geometry, and exposed beams. Not only that, but the rooms are huge—good thing, since this is a favorite stay for visiting college football teams going up against University of Oregon’s Ducks.

    The bar at Sweetwaters on the River, its lovable restaurant, has been offering throwback cocktails for the Inn's 40th anniversary—not speakeasy-style pre-Prohibition drinks, but rather, the type of cocktail that Warren Beatty might have sipped when he was getting with the ladies in 1975's Shampoo: a vodka and orange juice Harvey Wallbanger with a proper Galliano float; a sloe gin fizz; a creamy, almond-flavored pink squirrel.

    Dinner is pure Northwest coast comfort food. In other words, I could have bathed in the potted Dungeness crab, goat cheese, and marscapone fondue. And my linguine was tossed with a gratifying abundance of fresh clams, along with garlic and leeks, Roma tomatoes, and shreds of asiago cheese. I loved it.

    Another lovable thing about a stay at the Valley River Inn, though, is the service. The staff makes you happy because they themselves are happy—so happy, in fact, that they seem to stay on forever. The chef, bartender, and much of the waitstaff have been at their craft here for decades, and nothing feels stale. That’s testimony enough to the enduring charm of the place.

    Out back, the Klamath River rolls along. The Inn will hook you up with a fishing guide if you want to catch one its muscular steelhead salmon, or a paddling or rafting trip, or you can just take a stroll or jog, or borrow a bicycle from the Inn and peddle, down the riverside path. You might just see a bald eagle diving into the water for its dinner. —Betsy Andrews

    In the Area

    Wine Tasting: Oregon’s Williamette Valley is a premiere winegrowing region, known for its bright pinot noirs. The hotel can hook you up with a VIP wine package that includes vouchers and transportation so you can go tasting at local vineyards during your stay.

    There’s also a fantastic amount of great craft beer in Eugene, where the Inn is located. Check out nearby Ninkasi, Oakshire, and Hop Valley Breweries where tours and, of course, tastes, are available. Ninkasi Brewing Co.; 272 Van Buren Street, Eugene, Oregon 97402; 541/344-2739.
    Oakshire Brewing; 1055 Madera Street, Eugene, OR 97402; 541/688-4555.
    Hop Valley Brewing; 990 W 1st Street Eugene, Oregon 97402; 541/485-2337.

    Whitewater Rafting: Adrenaline junkies can hook up with Oregon Whitewater Adventures and careen down the rapids on one of the many local rivers. Oregon Whitewater Adventures; 541/746-5422.

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    SERVES 2–4


    • 5 tbsp.grated palm sugar or light brown sugar
    • ½ tsp.ground white pepper
    • ¼ salt
    • 4cloves garlic, peeled
    • 2 cilantro roots or 4 tender cilantro stems, chopped
    • 1(1") piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
    • 1½ tbsp.coconut milk, preferably UHT from a carton
    • 1 tbsp.toasted sesame oil
    • 1 tbsp.Worcestershire sauce
    • 2½ tsp. oyster sauce
    • 3 tbsp.dark soy sauce
    • 2 tsp.cornstarch
    • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, halved
    • 1 tbsp.light soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp.granulated sugar
    • 1 tbsp.sesame seeds
    • 12(2" wide) fresh or frozen pandan leaves, rinsed or defrosted
    • Canola oil, for frying
    1. Purée 3 tbsp. palm sugar, the pepper, salt, garlic, cilantro, and ginger in a food processor into a paste. Add coconut milk, sesame oil, Worcestershire, oyster sauce, 1 tbsp. dark soy sauce, and the cornstarch; purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, add chicken, and toss; cover with plastic wrap and chill 4 hours. Simmer remaining palm sugar and dark soy sauce, plus the light soy sauce, granulated sugar, and 2 tbsp. water in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium heat until sugars dissolve, 1–2 minutes. Transfer sauce to a bowl; sprinkle with sesame seeds.

    2. Lay 1 pandan leaf with stem side facing upward on a work surface; place 1 piece of chicken over center of leaf and tie leaf in a knot. Wrap loose ends of leaf around chicken, flipping package; tie another knot, encasing chicken, and trim ends. Arrange chicken packages in a single layer on a 10" pie plate. Boil 1" water in a 14" flat-bottom wok fitted with an 11" bamboo steamer. Place plate with chicken packages in steamer base and cover; steam until almost cooked through, 10–12 minutes.

    3. Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Working in batches, fry chicken packages until cooked through, 1–2 minutes; drain on paper towels. Unwrap and serve with reserved sauce.

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  • 05/28/14--08:00: Room with a View
  • french toast, room service, breakfast, Hotel Bel-AirEnlargeCredit: Helen RosnerIf you rise early enough in Los Angeles, you will often find a chill in the air and sometimes even a blanket of fog. At this hour at the Hotel Bel-Air, a smoky blue dawn embraces the estate's palm trees and bougainvillea vines, dewdrops glisten like gems on the chaise lounges, birds dart in and out of patches of mist. Wrapped in a plush throw on my terrace, I cuddle up to a room service breakfast served to me by a dapper waiter named Felix, who pours strong French press coffee as if he were performing a ballet move. Brioche French toast is nothing new, but this one is ravishing, kissed with vanilla and dressed to the nines in a blueberry compote. In between bites, I nosh on strips of house-smoked salmon and pieces of perfectly ripe fruit. From a basket of pastries I pluck a pain au chocolat: not skimpy on the chocolate and intensely buttery. The reflection of the rising sun shines from the window of some movie star's mansion across the canyon. I pour a second cup of coffee, trying to imitate the finesse of Felix, and sit back to take in the view, reveling in how completely decadent it is to be up so early and to feel so glamorous. 

    Sara Kate Gillingham is the founder of



    In 1893, the Waldorf Hotel in New York City became the first hotel in the world to offer room service, an amenity that attracted A-listers from inventor Nikola Tesla to gangster Bugsy Siegel.


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  • 05/28/14--14:00: Rite of Spring
  • turkey, lunch, pide, flatbreadEnlargeCredit: David Hagerman As I walk along the cobblestone streets of Kars in northeastern Turkey today, snow can still be seen in the hills just outside the city. The sky is blue, and the cheerful sunlight makes even the most somber of Kars' sturdy basalt homes glow. Tea houses, which sat empty for months as residents waited out winter's last gasp, now have chairs and tables spilling out of them. Most are occupied by men in wool caps talking soccer scores and, in this dairy region, milk prices. Nearby, in an overgrown lot by the bridge, I spy a man sitting alone beneath a tree. His tablecloth is a newspaper, his lunch, pide, a Turkish flatbread, topped with a thick slice of Emmenthal-like gravyer, a cow's milk cheese. Of course there is tea too, his meal a solitary celebration of spring.

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  • 05/24/14--15:27: A Midsummer's Dream
  • feature-midsummers-dream-setting-up-1200x800EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell
    The soil on the Swedish island of Oland, off the mainland's southeastern coast in the Baltic Sea, has special powers. So says my gardener friend Asa Johanson, who lives here. “Anything you plant just explodes!” she exclaims, holding up an intensely green and purple kohlrabi that looks like a starburst, its root boasting a crown of thick leaves that radiate in all directions. It's an early June morning, and we are gathering vegetables for a lunchtime feast to commemorate Midsummer, a national holiday as important to us Swedes as Independence Day is to Americans, though its roots go much further back.

    While Midsummer was traditionally celebrated on the summer solstice, it now takes place anywhere between June 20 and June 25. As far as traditions go, ambition levels vary. Some Swedes just head to a bar, attend a car race with hotted-up Volvos, or grab a few six-packs and a patch of grass to gather with friends. Others host extravagant parties featuring regional folk dresses, vast smorgasbords, and live music that go on for days.

    feature-midsummers-dream-communal-dining-500x700-i166EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell For this year's Midsummer celebration, I made the five-hour drive from Stockholm to Oland with a friend, Anna Olsson, to meet up with Asa, who's working as a gardener at Capellagården, a crafts school in the island's village of Vickleby. Friends of Asa's from the island will join us too, forming a group of a dozen or so revelers. The school, a renovated farmhouse that usually sits empty for several weeks over the summer, will be the site of our party.

    By the time Asa and I return from the garden, it's eight in the morning. The sun has been up for five hours, and our friends are convening in the farmhouse's spacious kitchen. Though it's early, we are all excited and ready to cook. Asa and I put our haul on the counter: bouquets of fresh mint, sage, thyme, marjoram and basil, fennel, and a half-dozen duck eggs, their colors ranging from warm brown to bone white.

    Anna, who has the curious distinction of being both a naval officer and a pastry chef, fires up a gas stove to boil a battalion's worth of new potatoes with sprigs of dill, while Nina Stenby, a textile artist who, along with her husband, Pelle Lundberg, runs a bed and breakfast in the village, prepares a traditional golden-colored Västerbotten cheese pie. As she pulls it from the oven, its steaming cream-and-egg-enriched filling framed by a browned, buttery crust, the kitchen is filled with a bewitching, nutty aroma. Meanwhile, Pelle, in deference to the vegetarians in our midst, does up a lively lentil salad tossed with cherry tomatoes he's sautéed in butter and olive oil with shallots, rosemary, and thyme until they nearly burst. Pelle has already stoked the school's woodburning pizza oven to make a rough country bread. And while Anna tackles the duck eggs, boiling, chopping, and drenching them in browned butter, Asa focuses on her produce, composing an enormous salad of lettuce, raw asparagus, and sunflower seeds that she decorates with flowers before dressing it with olive oil and pepper.

    As everyone else is occupied with the cooking, I decide to make some aquavit, Sweden's most beloved libation. I pour vodka into bottles packed with aromatics—lemon verbena, dill, fennel, and lemon peel—and place them in the refrigerator to chill. I know that in a few days the spirit will be wonderfully infused with their flavors.

    Since it is virtually unthinkable to undertake a traditional Midsummer feast without fish—the bedrock of Swedish cuisine—we have plates and plates of it. There is gravadlax, salmon cured with salt, sugar, white pepper, and dill, which Pelle skillfully cuts into long translucent ribbons. We also have smoked flounder and innumerable variations on pickled herring, some matured for months with cinnamon, allspice, sandalwood, and sugar, others quick-pickled in white vinegar, sugar, and salt. Looking over our spread, I am reminded of something British food critic A.A. Gill once wrote: “If you think Swedish women are spectacular, wait till you see the fish!”

    feature-midsummers-dream-cutting-strawberries-1200x800-i166EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell
    At 11 a.m. we start setting the huge communal table, which we've assembled from several slightly warped and tarnished folding garden stands and have arranged under a great ailanthus tree in the field behind the farmhouse. But no sooner do we get the first place setting down than the sky suddenly darkens and it starts to rain. There's thunder in the distance, so we scurry to move the feast indoors. Soon we're set up in the sedate dining room at Capellagården. But as we start to bring the food out from the kitchen, the sky clears up. And so we move back outside, set our table, fill our glasses with aquavit, and toast the sun with a resounding “Skål!” (Cheers!)

    Moments later plates are being passed at a pace that's almost comically frenetic. There are grilled lamb sausages from the village; buttercup yellow wedges of sharp Västerbotten cheese; pillowy slices of the fantastic filmjölkslimpa, a rustic whole wheat bread that's dense with nuts and seeds made by Pelle this morning, now spread with fresh sweet butter. And, of course, there's a basket of knäckebröd, rye crispbreads with an addictive crunch. I take great pleasure in piling my plate high with spiced pickled herring drenched in a sweet and sour brine loaded with fresh chopped chives and red onions. It's my favorite thing on the table, though it faces stiff competition from the mustard herring and horseradish herring, both of which I mound atop the crispbreads. Pelle soon proposes a toast, and instinctively everyone tunes up to sing:

    feature-midsummers-dream-dancing-around-pole-500x700-i166EnlargeCredit: Felix OdellHelan går
    Sjung hopp faderallan lallan lej
    Helan går
    Sjung hopp faderallan lej
    Och den som inte helan tar
    Han heller inte halvan får
    Helan går!
    Sjung hopp faderallan lej
    Here's the first
    Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley
    Here's the first
    Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley
    He who doesn't drink the first
    Shall never, ever quench his thirst
    Here's the first
    Sing hop fol-de-rol lalen ley

    It's the most popular drinking song in the country. At the penultimate verse, everybody raises a glass, makes eye contact with as many people as possible, downs his or her drink, and pours another round while continuing to sing. Between gulps and verses, I savor the combination of the buttery duck eggs with the silky gravadlax, the creamy cheese pie, and the zesty herb-packed salads. I chase down the herrings and salmon with shots of both the herbaceous citron-laced aquavit and a drink made from sloe berries picked by Asa and her mother last fall in this very spot. I steeped those berries in vodka for three months in my pantry back in Stockholm, and now their plumlike flavor and dark red color suffuses the drink.

    Though it feels as if we could eat all afternoon, at 3 p.m. we take a break to clear the table and head into town to participate in another time-honored Midsummer activity, which takes place on a grassy field. Here we join a few hundred other merrymakers for the raising of the majstång, a tall pole festooned with greenery and flowers. Armed with a picnic basket filled with coffee and pastries, I watch as children dance and play games around the pole, helping myself to creamy spoonfuls of Asa's cheesecake topped with mint, strawberries, and clouds of whipped cream.

    feature-midsummers-dream-picnic-in-field-1200x800-i166EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell
    Part of the pleasure of Midsummer is the seemingly endless hours of sunlight, which afford us ample time for yet a second epic meal. While lunch was a traditional smorgasbord of classic Swedish dishes, dinner is a far more casual affair. Back at the farmhouse, we head outside and fire up a woodburning grill.

    As we place logs onto the fire, we are surprised to hear the sounds of men laughing and shouting in the distance. Suddenly Pelle and some of his friends come around the corner of the house struggling to move a stand-up piano on a pushcart, wobbling considerably on the uneven terrain. “Let's put it on the lawn!” Pelle says excitedly, waving his arms to direct his crew. After some loud discussion and heavy lifting, the piano is in place, a green herb garden providing a perfect backdrop.

    recipe-Kroppkakor-Swedish-Potato-Dumplings-500x700-i166EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell Some of us gather around the piano as Pelle's friend Chester Elmroth starts playing a series of jazzy standards. Others huddle by the glowing coals of the grill, lured by the scent of roasting lamb blanketed in fresh herbs, pork sausages, and the makings of a grilled salad: asparagus, kohlrabi stems, and quartered eggplants, all slathered in olive oil. Once they come off the grill, we toss them with boiled buttered beets and lemon-juice-soaked fennel.

    Again we set the table, taking our time, as there are still many hours of daylight (and, we hope, clear skies) left. Finally, the meats come off the grill, and we sit down to clink glasses once more. The lamb is juicy and tender, with a crust of caramelized herbs, and the grilled salad is wonderfully warm and smoky. An ad-hoc composition of leftovers from the luncheon is a welcome dish, with its mash-up of new potatoes, dill, and chopped, blanched kohlrabi, all bathed in melted butter. When I start to flag, I seek the snap of fresh vegetables; the mizuna and radishes Asa and I harvested this morning make up a pleasingly bitter salad that reawakens my appetite. After a while, the table disperses, and a few of us climb up on the roof of Capellagården to finish dinner while watching the sun go down over Sweden, munching on local cheese, homemade hard bread, and nuts and drinking wine until long after the sun has set.

    That sun is high in the sky by the time I roll out of bed the next morning, my head as foggy as one would expect after such a day of revelry. Still, there are things to do today, things I am determined not to miss. Just a short walk from Vickleby is a vast limestone plain known as the Great Alvaret. I convince my friends to head there; it's the perfect place to recuperate.

    We arrive just before noon to find a serene landscape of grass, flowers, and low bushes waving slowly in the wind. It's painfully beautiful and—considering our collective condition—mercifully quiet, apart from the calming birdsong. We're lucky, too. We've come here on one of the few days when you can witness the short flowering of dropwort, which coats the plains in milky white.

    EnlargeCredit: Felix Odell
    Asa, Anna, Nina, and I have brought along the perfect Oland picnic brunch: kroppkakor, a local specialty of fortifying dumplings made with potato, flour, bacon, onion, and spices. We enjoy them in the customary way, with sour cream, to boost the richness, and lingonberries, which provide refreshing acidity and sweetness. Pelle suddenly turns up on his Brompton folding bicycle, eager to get his share of kroppkakor, too. Maria, a friend of Asa's who lives nearby, arrives with two horses, offering us all a chance to go riding on her young Irish Tinker horse.

    I decide to stay put, stretching out on a blanket for a much-needed afternoon nap. Far in the distance I can see a line of cows moving slowly along the horizon. As my eyelids begin to droop, I try not to think about the long drive back to Stockholm or the steadily shortening days that lie ahead. Instead I savor the sense of ease and contentment I feel—the feeling of Midsummer.

    See scenes from Per's Swedish Midsummer celebration »
    Learn how to make aquavit »
    See a travel guide for celebrating Midsummer in Sweden »


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    • Unsalted butter, for greasing
    • 2 cupswhole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
    • 2 cupsbuttermilk
    • ½ cupmolasses
    • 2 cupsrye flour
    • ½ cupsliced almonds
    • ⅓ cupflaxseed
    • ⅓ cupsunflower seeds
    • ¼ cuppumpkin seeds
    • 3 tbsp.sesame seeds
    • 1 salt
    • 1 tsp.baking soda
    Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 9" x 5" x 2¾" loaf pan and dust with flour; set aside. Stir buttermilk and molasses in a bowl. Add flours, almonds, seeds, salt, and baking soda; mix until dough forms and transfer to prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 1 hour.

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    SERVES 4–6


    • 1¼ cupsfine cornmeal
    • ½ cupsesame seeds
    • ½ cupsunflower seeds
    • ¼ cupcanola oil, plus more for greasing
    • ¼ cup flaxseed
    • 1 salt
    • 1 cupboiling water
    Heat oven to 350°. Stir cornmeal, sesame and sunflower seeds, oil, flaxseed, and 2 tsp. salt in a bowl. Slowly stir in water until a thick, chunky dough forms. Using a greased spatula, spread dough evenly over the surface of a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining salt; bake until golden and crisp, about 40 minutes. Let cool; break into pieces to serve.

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    SERVES 8


    • ¾ cup sugar
    • 6 cupsquartered strawberries
    • ½ cupminced mint
    • Unsalted butter, for greasing
    • ¾ cupblanched almonds
    • 2¼ cupscottage cheese, drained overnight
    • ¾ cupheavy cream
    • ¾ cupmilk
    • ¼ cupflour
    • 3eggs
    • Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
    • Whipped cream, for serving
    1. Stir ⅓ cup sugar, the strawberries, and mint in a bowl; let sit 1 hour.

    2. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a 3-qt. oval baking dish; set aside. Pulse remaining sugar and the almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add cottage cheese, cream, milk, flour, and eggs; purée until smooth and pour into prepared dish. Bake until browned and slightly puffed, 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool slightly and dust with confectioners' sugar; serve with the strawberries and whipped cream.

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  • 05/26/14--14:48: Blades of Glory
  • feature-blades-of-glory-pandan-grass-500x700-i166EnlargeCredit: James Oseland When I was growing up in Singapore, pandan—a perennial grass with an intoxicating aroma—was everywhere. Its subtle perfume suffused so many of my favorite foods: birthday cakes, the cassava cookies my grandma and I made for Chinese New Year, and the chicken simmered in a vibrant tomato and chile sauce that I got hooked on back in my teens. Still, I didn't realize how much I cherished it until I moved to London for college. That's when, living on my own for the first time, I discovered that cooking with pandan would instantly assuage any feeling of homesickness; my heart would lighten as my kitchen filled with its familiar smell of flowers, grass, popcorn, and hay. Even today in Singapore, simply walking past a pandan plant on a sweltering summer day and breathing in its sun-triggered scent is the shortest road to bliss I know.

    The Pandanaceae family is a large one, its members ranging from small shrubs to huge trees. But the aromatic Pandanus amaryllifolius, native to Southeast Asia, is the only species whose leaves are used for cooking. Called pandan wangi, fragrant pandan, in Indonesia, the plant is essentially a giant clump of grass, with long sharp blades spiraling outward from a central stem (hence its other common name, screwpine). Because of their length—anywhere from two to seven feet—the blades are generally cut into segments or tied into knots to get them to a manageable size. They are also tough and fibrous to the point of being inedible, so they are used as a seasoning only.

    Cooks throughout Southeast Asia have devised a panoply of techniques for harnessing pandan's full character. The leaves can be spread out as a bed for steamed items, cut and folded to make cups for small confections, or blanched and then wrapped and tied around various fillings to make boiled dumplings. In Mangalore in southwestern India, large pandan leaves are coiled into cylindrical molds, filled with a fermented rice and lentil dough, and steamed to make fluffy breads called moode, which bear the impression of the leaf fibers as well as their heady aroma. Thai cooks infuse egg custard batter with pandan's flavor by tying a few leaves into a tight knot, then submerging them in the mixture and repeatedly massaging the bundles by hand, bruising them until they release their oils.

    recipe-pandan-wrapped-chicken-400x400-i166EnlargeCredit: James Oseland As this range of preparations suggests, pandan is wonderfully adaptable; its flavor works equally well in both savory and sweet preparations. When using it for desserts, I'll pound the leaves to a pulp with a little water in a mortar and then wring out the viridian juice for two of my favorite Malay sweets. One of them is onde-onde, poached pandan-green rice flour dumplings with a shaggy coat of shredded coconut. Plump with a filling of melted palm sugar, they burst with a flowery sweetness when bitten.

    The other is a beloved party treat from my boyhood: pandan chiffon cake. Tall and regal, it is a curious manifestation of America's culinary influence on my native country. In 1948, the U.S. magazine Better Homes and Gardens published a General Mills recipe for chiffon cake. Years later it made its way to Southeast Asia—most likely on boxes of imported cake flour—where it picked up a local flavor. By the 1970s, emerald green chiffon cake was all the rage from Indonesia to Singapore; it's just as popular today as it was 30 years ago. Most commercial versions of the cake are made with artificial pandan paste, a lurid Day-Glo green substance that bears as much resemblance to the real thing as cheap vanilla extract does to real vanilla bean. Shrill and cloying, it lacks the nuances of the fresh leaves. So when I bake pandan chiffon at home, I juice as many as 50 leaves to get a cake that, unlike the commercial versions, is naturally fragrant. It's one of my signature potluck dishes.

    I also love using pandan to make the spicy, ruddy Malaysian dish ayam masak merah, chicken cooked in a tomato and chile gravy. I bruise a dozen leaves, then bundle and knot them before setting them to simmer in the sauce, where each bundle releases its oils. I always add extra leaves to the pot; their cool, sweet perfume tames the chiles' heat and softens the tomatoes' acidity. And a few leaves cut into three-inch pieces and added to a pot of plain rice imbue the grains with an exquisite flavor as it steams.

    recipe-pandan-chiffon-cake-400x400-i166EnlargeCredit: James Oseland I've also found that wrapping foods with the leaves is one of the easiest ways to impart pandan's flavor. A Thai friend showed me how to make gai hor bai toey by bundling marinated chicken chunks in the plant's larger leaves, then steaming the parcels and deep-frying them. Each time I make it, I watch closely as the leaves start to brown in the hot oil, inhaling deeply as the sugary marinade caramelizes and pandan's flowery scent morphs into a woodsy nuttiness.

    Though I've been cooking with it for decades, pandan still delivers surprises. On a recent afternoon, I was in my kitchen making kue bika ambon, a rich, eggy Indonesian cake prepared with coconut milk that's boiled with pandan leaves, lemongrass stalks, and kaffir lime leaves. By some mysterious synergy, the combined aromas of the finished dish conjured an extraordinarily vivid scent reminiscent of damask roses. I'd wager that a Parisian perfumer couldn't create anything better.

    Read more about cooking with pandan leaves »

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