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Archive for April, 2008

A Small Smackerel

Many years ago, when I first started collecting recipes, I allowed my obsessive compulsive tendencies to run wild and began to organize the recipes by type: entrees in one folder, desserts, vegetables,  and appetizers their own folders.  As the collection grew, I began to divide the recipes into subsets of those categories, separating the chicken recipes from the fish recipes in the entree folder, and clumping together the cakes, pies, cookies and so on in the dessert folder.  What can I say — I like to create order in a world driven by chaos.

But then my collection grew.  And grew.  And grew.  And before I knew it, dividing desserts among cakes, pies, cookies and custards didn’t really do the job.  “Cake,” for example, could describe any number of recipes — layer cake, cheesecake, coffee cake, fruit cake.  Imagine having to sift through a disorganized pile of all of the above.  Perish the thought!  So I started grouping those recipes together as well.

(If you’re wondering, no I don’t group my underwear by color.  I’m not *that* crazy…or at least I’d like to think I’m not…)

Needless to say, I have amassed a rather large and unwieldy recipe collection.  I think it’s safe to say I will probably never get to half the recipes in those folders, as organized as they may be.  But one sub-subset that I love and have yet to bulk up with recipes is the “snack cake” section.

Ah yes, the snack cake: perfect for when you want a nosh of something at, say, 3:30pm, when dinner is hours away but your stomach gets the rumbles.  In my opinion, a good snack cake should be more substantial than a coffee cake, less sweet than a cupcake but less wholesome than a granola bar.  I like snack cakes with some texture: maybe some nuts or bits of chocolate, or some oats or dried fruit.

I have a handful of these recipes, but recently I decided I wanted something new and merged a few recipes to come up with my own: chewy banana-oat snack cake with coconut.  I basically threw together three of my favorite ingredients — bananas, oats and coconut — and hoped the result would be equal to or greater than the sum of their parts.  It was.

Chewy, sweet and filling, this cake is just the thing when all you need is a little nibble — a smackerel, as Winnie the Pooh might say — to make the afternoon hunger pains go away.  But you don’t have to stop at a smackerel.  Sometimes my appetite is as big as my recipe collection, and the only way to bring that into order is to turn a small smackerel into a cake-filled afternoon feast.

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Problem Solved

In my experience, “Passover” and “delicious” and “weekday breakfast” are not words that belong in the same sentence. On Passover, Jews must remove all grains from their diet, including anything derived from wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. That means no cereal, no muffins, no bagels, no oatmeal — essentially, none of the staples that get me through my workday morning.

Sure, there are “Kosher for Passover” muffins and cereals made with matzo meal, but have you ever tasted some of these alleged breakfast goodies? Most of them are gritty, tasteless disasters. And of course there is always the taste sensation that is matzo itself, but somehow allowing my stomach’s first encounter with food in more than 8 hours to be an indigestible cardboard-like wafer seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

Friends have told me that breakfast is the “easiest” meal during Passover because you can eat scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes and omelets. Perhaps these people have time to prepare a leisurely breakfast on your average Tuesday morning. I don’t.

So year after year, I’m on a quest to find quick, tasty breakfast recipes that I can eat during Passover, and this year, I may have hit the jackpot: Kosher for Passover granola. Matzo farfel (basically ground up matzo) stands in for the oats in a nut-filled granola, sweetened with honey and flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut.

You can sprinkled some over a bowl of Greek yogurt and honey, as I do, or you can eat it with milk or right out of your hand. I don’t think I’ll complain about Passover breakfast ever again.

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We saw the sites, we embraced the culture, we bought souvenirs. But mostly we ate. A lot.

I could hardly do justice in a blog post to all the wonderful food we ate on our travels, but I’ll try to give you some of the culinary highlights.

The trip began with two days in Bangkok, the gustatory highpoint being dinner at Celadon Restaurant. The Red Curry Duck and appetizer sampler were fantastic. Sadly the photograph below is lacking my favorite item in the sampler, which was some sort of smokey mussel mousse in a mussel shell. Totally unexpected and delicious.

We travelled next to Phuket, where we spent a phenomenal 5 days at the Indigo Pearl resort, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for an utterly relaxing retreat. The resort sits on the northern part of the island, meaning it is set off from the notorious nightlife of Patong and liveliness Phuket Town. 

That also means the resort is set off from many of the restaurants on the island, but for us that wasn’t a gripe. The food at the resort was very good, and there are a bunch of mom-and-pop restaurants along the beach, which the Indigo Pearl directly abuts. But I think the standout at Indigo Pearl was the cocktail menu — outstanding, and one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen.  Spiced tangerine caipirinha, anyone?

Our time in the next two stops — Singapore and Hong Kong — was far too brief (2 days in Singapore, 1.5 in Hong Kong), but I managed to eat my body weight in both cities, so all was not lost.

Sadly I did not have time to visit the famous hawker centers in Singapore, but I did manage to eat at a few food courts and in the process stumbled across BreadTalk, a Singapore bakery with which I am now officially obsessed. I could have eaten the entire store, but settled on a Fuji pear stuffed brioche (top left in photo above). Yum.

We also grabbed a meal at Blue Ginger, which was lovely, although the flavors in some of the dishes were not to our taste. The Ngo Heong appetizer (homemade rolls of minced pork and prawns seasoned with five spice powder wrapped and fried to crispy golden brown) were delicious — and infinitely unphotographable in that lighting… Sorry guys. The dessert was excellent as well: forbidden rice with sweetened coconut milk. However, the Ayam Buah Keluak (braised chicken flavoured with turmeric, galangal and lemongrass cooked with Indonesian black nuts)…not so much our favorite. The flavor of the nuts was a little too pungent for our uninitiated palates.

In Hong Kong, we gorged ourselves on dim sum at Victoria City Seafood and learned a thing or two in the process (which shall provide material for a later post: How Not to Eat Dim Sum). I think our favorite dim sum was the crispy baked pork bun, but the steamed buns filled with shrimp and chives came a close second. I expected to fall in love with Dan Tat, but alas…I was very lukewarm on the experience.

For our one and only dinner in Hong Kong, we dined at Hutong, which is uber hip, uber chic, uber everything.  The restaurant is perched on the 28th floor of a mod highrise on Kowloon, floor-to-ceiling windows providing an unparalleled view of the Hong Kong skyline.  Sadly it was misty and gray that evening, so none of my photographs of the skyline came out.  Sigh.

The food was very tasty, although I must admit: the crispy deboned lamb ribs didn’t wow me as much as I’d expected, given all the rave reviews.  Don’t get me wrong — they were really, really tasty, and Roger loved them, but I was expecting to ascend into the heavens upon my first bite.  I didn’t.  But I still thought they were quite good.

The highlight of the meal, however, was the Chinese birthday cake I surreptitiously ordered for Roger.  We had been traveling the day before, on his actual birthday, so I thought I’d surprise him.  Well, I’d never seen a Chinese birthday cake and when it came out, I discovered that it was a very large steamed bun covered in red speckles.  Roger was delighted.  However, we couldn’t help but notice that this “cake” looked a lot like…well…a freckled backside.  So we dubbed it “freckled ass cake.”  The cake itself had little flavor and wasn’t very exciting, but given its likeness to a freckled bum, it made the meal and provided a perfect end — literally and figuratively — to our time in Asia.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the last stop on our trip: Los Angeles.  We passed through on our flight home and met up with my college roommate and had a wonderful, scrumptious meal at Pizzeria Mozza.  Everything about the meal was wonderful, from the arancini to the butterscotch budino (*FANTASTIC*!!!).  But mostly we enjoyed spending time with an old friend :).

 

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