Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Devilishly Good Hot Chili Sauce!

I know, posting on Halloween should be Halloween themed, but I believe the spooky trilogy I recently posted covered that quite well. Today's post will still be on something that scares some of you....homemade condiments, ooooOOOOooooo!

Some dear friends of mine have an absolutely beautiful garden, which is bursting with tomatoes, chili peppers and gorgeous flowers (the marigolds seriously glow), not to mention they are beekeepers!!! I'm lucky to have such people in my life, especially when I can leave their kind company with a few pounds of fresh cayenne peppers and a jar of honey. Yes, I am fortunate. The great thing about gifts of surplus garden bounty is that I can stretch my preserving muscles and try something new! The honey went towards a new batch of my Homemade Cozy Granola, with raisins and pecans this time. The cayenne peppers went into a homemade hot chili sauce, which is rocking my world right now.

The sauce is actually still in the fermenting process, and I taste test it everyday to see what's going on--let me tell you, it is astounding! Every day the flavor gets deeper and deeper, and in about four days I will be blending and straining the final product to enjoy over fried eggs with velvety gold yolks, a steaming bowl of creamy grits, cornmeal crusted fried fish, okra, hash browns, basically anything that can go on a plate hot with a spicy bloody mary, I'm putting this hot sauce on. The process couldn't be made any simpler either, which brings me to another point...

Homemade condiments are simple because they generally require few ingredients. However what happens to those ingredients over time either in fermentation, reduction, slow roasting, or slow simmering on the stove creates concentrated and complex versions of the familiar fresh ingredients. To me, this is one of the most rewarding and awe-inspiring experiments in the kitchen. So along with making your own refrigerator jams, chutneys, and granola, I highly recommend you try out this homemade hot chili sauce as a start on your adventures from-scratch. You'll discover a wider range of tastes for your palate, and you will be consuming far fewer processed foods based on preservatives with complicated names (that's a complexity you don't want).

Hot Chili Sauce
20-30 Cayenne or tabasco peppers, washed and stemmed
2 T Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 C Vinegar (use whatever you have on hand)

Yeah, that's seriously it on the ingredients list, and it makes one helluva kickin' sauce. The magical transformation comes in the fermentation process, first with the salt and peppers, and then with the vinegar added. This trilogy of seemingly everyday ingredients turns into a sauce that has as many purposes as the beloved long as you're brave enough to attempt it.

Step one: Wash the peppers and stem them. You may want to consider putting on gloves for this because the heat from the peppers can get under your fingernails, which becomes a little difficult to clean off immediately...then you touch your eyes or your nose or anything on your face, and let me tell you, it can be a little uncomfortable. If you don't have gloves around be careful not to touch the seeds or the juices coming from the peppers and wash your hands frequently throughout your de-stemming process--and keep telling yourself, "Don't touch my face, don't touch my face" you'll be alright. You can also choose to remove some of the seeds to take down the heat a little bit, they will be strained out later, but this is where the heat mostly resides, so logically less seeds=less heat. It's still going to be hot not matter how many seeds you take out, but it may temper it just enough.

Step two: Put the peppers in a food processor and pulse until you have tiny flecks of pepper in a dry puree. You can choose to process it with the salt in there, but something tells me that's not too great on the blade, so I just stirred in the salt's the same thing. Place the salt and peppers into a mason jar or the airtight container that you eventually want to store your hot chili sauce in. Allow the salt and peppers to ferment for about 12 hours with a lid loosely placed on top.

Step three: Stir in the vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar this time) and practice some patience. This waiting game isn't that bad because you get to try the result every day and really see the depths that these ruby reds can take you. I myself love to see the evolution of food from fresh to end product, so taking care of a hot chili sauce baby is my cup of tea. Give it a stir and taste test every day up to seven days and follow the depths of flavor, see if you can detect the fruit notes that the pepper sans heat has hidden inside. Then, you should blend the three-ingredient mixture in a blender or food processor and strain it with a mesh strainer.

The result? A homemade hot chili sauce that will keep in the refrigerator up to six months! It probably won't last that long if you treat it right (aka eating it on everything), but it is a great way to preserve those glorious peppers through the cold months and into barbecue season once again. The sauce is likely to separate, just like the brand-name sauces do, so give it a healthy shake every time you use it and you're sure to be just as pleased...well, more pleased because you made it!

Also, you could use the strained pepper bits after they leave your sauce. Simply dry them out or store them in a separate container in the fridge and sprinkle them over pizzas, chili, curries, or whatever you use pepper flakes for! Hooray for not letting anything go to waste!

Hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween!
One of my favorite Halloween reads is The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sari Sari: Louisville's Filipino Feast

There are times when I honestly think that I can travel farther in Louisville than I might ever be able to in real life. I have been bitten by the travel bug, but every second there is more to see (and taste and smell and...) than a lifetime can handle! Now, I'm not backing away from the challenge, but it is nice to know that I can find cuisine from all corners of the globe right down the street. We have the opportunity to share the most important cultural thread, in my opinion, and that is how we choose to nourish ourselves with the ingredients available. If you can find a place that gives you the taste of a home away from home, while maintaining the authenticity inherent in the food's history and culture, then you have hit the jackpot. This has happened on many occasions during my mealtime wanderings around Louisville, and Sari Sari is, without a doubt, one of those destinations.

After teaching a lunch hour Spanish class I had quite an appetite to tame before heading off to Flamenco. I jogged into Sari Sari from the rainy weather after the lunch rush (I'm still eating on Spanish time: lunch at 1 or 2 PM) and saw a couple tables occupied with both laughing patrons and others quietly discussing perhaps more serious matters. I asked the waiter if I could just sit anywhere--he then proceeded to look around saying, "Oh no all the tables are taken, but we can invite you to sit indian-style on the floor and I'll bring you the list of specials... just kidding! Take a seat wherever you want!". I love Louisville. Period.

I sat down at a colorful table tiled in blue, yellow, and red. There was a little carrier of condiments with chili oil, what I could identify by smell as a teriyaki-chili sauce, and a collection of utensils and napkins. I was promptly greeted with a menu and a copy of the day's specials. You all should know that I am a true lover of daily specials, particularly when I am trying out a restaurant for the first time, so I went for the most tantalizing of the three: Crab and Eggplant Coconut Curry. Right? I could eat the name alone and be satisfied, but they didn't stop there-- the main dish is introduced by a Butternut Squash Pasta Soup. On top of everything, unsweetened iced tea comes with your meal!!! I feel like this place was designed for me.

Literally flew from the chef's hands to my table
So I sit back and open my iBooks app to catch up on a bit of light reading while I waited for my food to come up, but I was surprised by a steaming cup of soup flying out of the kitchen just minutes after I received my tall glass of iced tea. I immediately took out my notepad and dove in.

I can't tell you the last time I paused before I took a first bite (usually I involuntarily dive into whatever I am eating), but this soup was rocking my sensory world. The scent of spices and vegetables wafted from my colorful spoonful and enveloped my head in an orchestra of flavors. The best part of spicy, warm food is that your body starts reacting to that heat before it even touches your tongue. When I finally did get around to eating those spoonfuls of smooth Butternut Squash and Pasta soup, I was delighted by the comfortable heat and the flavors that were allowed to accompany such spice. It is perfect to battle allergy season, which I and every other Louisvillian suffer from at one time or another, and a lovely way to appetize the coming entrée.

Have you ever seen crab like that in Louisville? I haven't.
The Crab and Eggplant Coconut Curry came presented with a side of jasmine rice and red beans. A more gorgeous lunch combination may very well only exist at Sari Sari, and I was very thankful. The curry was full of gorgeous painted eggplant, jalapeños, fresh and abundant lumps of crab, and an amalgam of vegetables that made a well-balanced curry. The jalapeño heat is notable throughout the curry, but when you crunch into the actual jalapeño pepper you get that pure sweet flavor hidden behind all of the heat--a state rarely attained, and which I fully appreciated. Finally, the Filipino red beans and rice were soothing to my tingling mouth, and rounded out the meal well.

I left that lunch ready to tackle the day. I was so happy to have finally made my trip to experience this authentic Filipino eatery, especially welcome on a rainy and cold day. The service was prompt and Louisville-friendly, the space was cozy and full of fun art and salsa music, and the food- Oh, the food- was leaps and bounds beyond what I could have imagined.

Not a bad trip to the Philippines, and for less than $10!

I highly recommend you check out this restaurant. I noticed that they have an open dinner buffet on Friday's from 5.30-9.30...worth a try!

Sari Sari
2339 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY
Phone: (502)894.0585

Also: A bio was published in Insider Louisville to introduce my two food columns, Juice and Inside the Kitchen. Check it out! I'm beyond excited!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Night of Frights: The Final Chapter

I feel like the holiday has already come and gone--have you all seen the Christmas advertisements already? Ridiculous. I do hope I get to see a few good trick or treaters! I was taking a walk around the Cherokee Triangle yesterday and I seriously want to stunt my growth, throw on a fun costume, and go trick or treating myself with such great decorations everywhere. Oh to have a heavy pillowcase full of candies and come home to dump them all on the floor, where the bartering begins. I was lucky to have a sister with opposite likes for candy, so we made out can deal with the cavities later, right?

Today ties up the Halloween trilogy with a few more recipes. I know everyone is psyched about the candies and baking recipes, but I'll have to get Benzie the Baker (my roommate) to contribute to that one. Until then, I will give you the links and later I can edit for notes. The recipes we have left today are the Hot as Hades Salsa, Witch's Concoction Dip and Crudités, and Sausage Balls. I'll also give you the link for the delicious Philadelphia Fish House Punch, which made plenty for the party.

Hot as Hades Salsa
2 cans of crushed tomatoes
1 tiny can of green chiles
1 tiny can of jalapeños (this is how you control the heat)
Optional: replace jalapeño with chipotle in adobo
1/2 Minced onion
3 Minced cloves of garlic
1/8 C Vinegar
1/8 C sugar (or more to taste)
Chimayo chili
Sour cream or crema for spider web decoration

As for any homemade salsa, you can adjust the level of heat accordingly. The major heat contributors are the Jalapeños, the chili pepper, and the onion/garlic combination. The onions and garlic tone themselves down after a day or two, when they are able to permeate their flavor throughout the entire salsa. However, if you are more of a mild person, you can just throw in a few jalapeños (don't omit them because you still need that flavor!). If you are more into picante I would seriously recommend substituting a chipotle in adobo in there--if you've never done this, do it one at a time and check the heat as you go...those hotties are potent!

As for the salsa's construction, you just need to blend all of the above ingredients and taste as you go, adjusting the seasonings to your taste. This way, the recipe is always going to be different, but a unique salsa recipe is a good way to judge a chef's I dare you! For the Halloween theme, draw a spider web on top with sour cream or crema (found in the Mexican supermarkets or "International aisle").

Witch's Concoction Dip and Crudités
8 oz or so Goat cheese
1/2 C Greek yoghurt
Jar of pesto
Squeeze of lemon
Cracked pepper
Smoked paprika (pimentón)

Jicama, cut into sticks
Bell peppers

I said that this dip repelled vampires on my little gravestone label, and it does have a nice garlicky punch. You can choose to make your own pesto, if you're into that, and I would say you could use about a 3/4 C of it to get the same mixture. Adjust the greek yoghurt and goat cheese to the desired consistency, thinner=more yoghurt, thicker=more goat cheese. Mix all of the ingredients in the first set, and you have your dip. As for the crudités, go outside the norm...find something fun that is in season, available at the store, looks cool and can be eaten raw, then cut them in different shapes and style the plate. The above vegetables are suggestions I thought would work everywhere. I myself had jicama, but it is not pictured in the photo...surprise!

Sausage Balls
16 oz. Country Sausage (without the casing)
3 C Baking Mix (like Jiffy or Bisquick)
2 C Cheese: cheddar is the go-to, but gruyère would be incredible!
Mix all of the ingredients together until well incorporated. The sage should be mixed in until you can see that beautiful contrasting green distributed throughout, but don't go overboard, a tablespoon or so should do it--use your good judgement. Then roll them into balls. At this point you can put them in the freezer and save for later use, or you can put them directly onto a baking sheet, me the sausage will take care of the fat factor for you, in an oven preheated to 400º for 15-20 minutes or until desired shade of golden brown. This recipe can be made ahead of time. The raw dough, not rolled into balls, will save in the fridge for 24 hours before you should roll it up and bake it.

As for the other recipes, here is what I found (these links will take you to recipes on other sites):
I made an ice ring for this in the bottom of our bundt cake pan (which is in the shape of cathedral spires, so it made an awesome ice ring. Instead of thyme and peaches, I put in orange rind and raspberries and it was beautiful!

Recipe from i am baker
We were going to put shards of sugar glass in there with the "blood" on them, but that didn't work out quite as planned. However, dripping puréed raspberries was a great idea, and looked a lot like blood. So slasher cupcakes were still a go!

From i am baker
These cuties are dark chocolate black velvet cookies with an orange fluff icing. So addictive! So awesome displayed as well!

This, dear friends, is the conclusion of the Halloween trilogy. Don't you both love and hate it when trilogies resolve themselves? I do!
Happy Halloween and I hope that your party is as much fun as ours was!!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Party: Part Deux

Just as a refresher, this is part of a trilogy of Halloween treats from this year's Halloween celebration Night of Frights. We are going off of this menu:

Savory: Ghostly Bruschetta, Mummy Dogs, Hot as Hades Chips and Salsa, Witch's Concoction Dip and Crudités, Sausage Balls, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Deviled Eggs.

Sweet: Jack's Sinfully Sweet Sandwiches (Whoopie Pies), Slasher Cupcakes, Chocolate-covered Apricots, Edible Arachnids
Drinks: Glühwein and Philadelphia Fish House Punch

As you can see, everything is very theme-driven. I must admit, I could have gotten a little more creative with the names, but everyone seems to want to pin on those gross-sounding names. I couldn't bring myself to naming delicious food with disgusting names--to me it sounded a little counter-productive, but if that's what you're into please get even more creative!

I'll go into a little bit of the decorations I chose as well to give you a more complete view of the party plan. Basically, I wanted to keep the decorations as affordable as possible, which limited me to recycling what I had and using paper and pens for the rest. I splurged on a package of sticky tack, which was a whopping $1.73 at Kroger, so all in all I think the decorations cost me $7...not kidding. I was in a notably creative mood, which meant some time-consuming drawing and exacto knife work, but if you have that artistic itch, parties are a great way to stretch those muscles a little bit. My two main projects were candle lanterns and Halloween silhouettes.

The candle lanterns were so simple to make and the effect was exactly what I wanted. I took jars that I had cleaned and recycled for storing other things like granola or refrigerator jams, and I covered them in orange tissue paper, adhering them with some trusty Elmer's Glue at the seam and on the neck and bottom. When they were dry, I just took a felt-tip pen and drew some "scary" silhouettes on them--you know, your typical witches, gravestones, scary faces, mummies, scarecrows, get the point. Then you throw in a tea light candle and they light up those perfect Halloween colors. Win.

For the black silhouettes, it was a similar idea. Draw some scary outlines and exacto knife them out. I made a haunted house scene, went a little crazy with the bats (perhaps batty in this case?), some jack o'lanterns and some gentlemen skulls. Love them! With the left over tissue paper and black construction paper, I made a few streamers to hang off of the chandelier and mantle and in the archway between the living room and the dining room. All in all, it was a lot of fun to put together, and it looks great....I almost don't want to take them down. However, a good thing to keep in mind is that these guys save perfectly well for next year!

Let's get to a few more recipes, I'll give you my secret recipe for Glühwein, or mulled wine--a recipe I picked up in Austria, then we'll look at the Ghostly Bruschetta, and finally how about some Deviled Eggs:

5 Bottles of red wine 
(quality is trumped by quantity in this one because of the sugar and spices. Don't go crazy)
2 Orange Peels (just the orange, not the white pith)
3 Cinnamon Sticks
5 Whole cloves
1 t Ground ginger
1 C Sugar
Optional: Brandy, rum, vodka, bourbon, your spirit of choice to spike this even more

This delightful drink is served hot in mugs, and is a staple of the Christmastime diet in the German-speaking world. This beverage is served in just about every booth of the Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt). For your purposes though it is going to be the dark red that reminds us so much of blood, and you can serve it up at your Halloween party! It tastes like holidays! You simply combine all of the above ingredients in a large pot over medium heat and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar. You can choose to pour this through a strainer, or do what I do and ladle it directly into a mug and give it to your eager guests. You can keep this warm in a crock pot and serve it from there--imagine that, a warm punch bowl! Genius. Note: warm alcohol hits one faster than cold alcohol, so drink responsibly! I know, it is delicious.

Ghostly Bruschetta
Baguette cut into slices
Tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes), chopped
Olive oil
Black Pepper (optional)
Bruschetta is a wonderfully forgiving party food. It is easy to eat, it can be served straight out of the oven, and it is okay cold too! To set up the tomatoes, you should chop them into small pieces, I quartered small grape tomatoes if that gives you an idea, then you throw in a few cloves of fresh garlic, drizzle some olive oil in there and salt and toss it all together. I prepared the tomato mixture first and let it sit overnight to get those garlicky-tomatoey flavors working together. Then the next day all I had to do was drizzle the baguette with olive oil, spoon on some tomato mixture, top with mozzarella (you can get fancy and try to make them ghost shaped), and season with salt and basil and black pepper if you want. Heat it in a 350º oven until the cheese is melted and you can serve immediately.

Deviled Eggs
1 Dozen hard-boiled eggs
2 T Minced sweet gherkins
1 t Smoked paprika (pimentón)
Finely ground black pepper
Optional garnish: Chives to make "pumpkin stems"

The original idea was to make these deviled eggs look like pumpkins with little stems at the top, but I decided just to go with what I had. The smoked paprika really adds something special to this, beyond what everyday paprika does in most deviled eggs recipes, the flavor packs a smokey punch. I primarily used it for the color that it gives, as you can see it gets a little closer to the orange of the pumpkins that I originally set out for. Anyways, the construction is pretty basic: cut the eggs in half and reserve the yolk, then whip up the yolk with the remaining ingredients and re-stuff the egg whites. I go with the taste and adjust method for the yolk mixture--you will have leftovers, so you can't taste enough. 

If you want to make this ahead of time, here are a few notes--the hard-boiled eggs will peel cleaner after a day in the fridge, because it redistributes the water inside the egg and helps the membrane separate from the inside. Also, you can cut them in half and store the whites hole-side down in a covered container. They will drain their excess water this way. I made it ahead and prepared them as such, so all I had to do was fill the egg whites before I served them--this is a good idea because eggs shouldn't sit out too long want your guests to remember your party from last night for other reasons. If you have a deviled egg serving platter at home (of which I am a lucky owner), then dust that baby off and let her do what she is meant to do! If not, find a serving dish with a lip on the side and leave enough room for your guests to get their fingers in there without too much fishing. They are delicious!

So gather up those decorations, fire up the kitchen cogs and get to work on this incredible party! Happy Halloween!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Special: Part 1 + Great News!

Good day to you all! Man, it was a busy weekend around our house, because we threw an incredible Halloween party! I absolutely love Halloween, it is among my favorite days of the year. The feeling of fall with all those warm colors, the bite of the chill air, the warm spices and autumn harvest goods filling up the kitchen. Couple all those goodies with horror movies and ghost stories that scare me into a fit of nervous laughter, and I'm all set! My guilty pleasures of the season include some choice movies like The Halloween Tree, Hocus Pocus (which I watch about 50 times during the last two weeks of October), a sprinkling of slasher films, and whatever horror classics that Wild and Woolly Video recommends.

If you happen to be in Louisville and are planning a Halloween party, I highly encourage you to stop by our darling Wild and Woolly. I went in there the day of my party, consulted with one of the employees on some good horror films that had a decent Halloween party soundtrack and an uncomplicated plot, and I came home with an armful of incredible movies. I was recommended Carnival of Souls (a Criterion Collection choice that had a spooky organ soundtrack), The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Night of the Living Dead. I couldn't have asked for anything better...I really love this city, and places like Wild and Woolly make it beyond awesome to live here.

The other super important part to any party...well, any day really, is the food! My roommate and I had been planning this menu for ages, I had been decorating the house little by little every week, and we were discussing ways to divvy up the kitchen space to work well together. Can you tell that it had been a while since we threw a party together? We were kind of renowned for it back in college, and the happy days of high adrenaline and having our house full of happy, laughing, loud talking, fun guests was upon us again. What a joyful preparation! Oh, and we went to see Dracula at Actor's Theatre for the 4PM matinée showing...might not be doing that again because we were super pressed for time preparing the food and drinks and such--although it was a fun show to kick off the evening!

Allow me to show you our menu! I'll give you a couple recipes today and we'll continue on for a couple days this week. If you're throwing a Halloween party, I highly recommend these recipes...they were very fun, not too labor-intensive, and of course Halloween-themed!

Savory: Ghostly Bruschetta, Mummy Dogs, Hot as Hades Chips and Salsa, Witch's Concoction Dip and Crudités, Sausage Balls, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, and Deviled Eggs.

Sweet: Jack's Sinfully Sweet Sandwiches (Whoopie Pies), Slasher Cupcakes, Chocolate-covered Apricots, Edible Arachnids

Drinks: Glühwein and Philadelphia Fish House Punch

Today I think I'll share the Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Chocolate-dipped Apricots, and Mummy Dogs. Here we go:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Smoked Paprika
Chili powder (I use Chimayo chili)
Olive oil

Roasting pumpkin seeds is a yearly ritual during Halloween. Not to mention that eating pumpkin seeds is really healthy for you, providing quite a dose of fiber and other essential minerals that I won't bore you with--just know that they are fun to eat and not bad for your health either! You may have seen dark green pumpkin seeds for sale in the store, and these are the seeds without the hull. However, the hull, or shell of the pumpkin seed is actually edible, and that's how I eat them because I don't want to go peeling all of those already slippery suckers after I just mutilated a pumpkin to harvest them! Oh, by the way, I did a Día de los Muertos pumpkin this year :) check him out!

Try to get as much of the pulp off of the seeds as possible. It would behoove you to rinse them off as well--a step which I skipped and I was okay with. Then you make a spice mixture to taste with about 2T of olive oil. Toss the seeds in them to coat and put them in a 350º oven for about 15-20 minutes. You can toast them as golden as you want...I like mine well done, but 15 minutes is probably the least time you want to dedicate to it. Allow them to cool, and DIG IN! I would say that these pumpkin seeds are the ideal reward after creating your jack o'lantern--then just light him up and munch away.

Chocolate-Dipped Apricots
Dried apricots (as many as you want to serve)
3 Chocolate candy bars (Cadbury Royal Dark is my favorite)
Special equipment: Parchment paper and a wire rack

This is a piece of pie, but so elegant and delicious at the same time! Added bonus: the make up the Halloween colors! A gorgeous addition to any Halloween party table, and I daresay more classy than a bowl full of that fun-sized noise... I digress.

You don't need to buy fancy melting chocolate to dip your favorite food in, just use your favorite chocolate bar (I recommend using dark chocolate because milk chocolate probably won't set as well). I set up a double boiler with about an inch of water in the bottom pot. Bring it to a rolling boil, set your other pot on top with the chocolate inside. You should break the chocolate into squares to ensure even melting. At this point you can take turn the heat of or turn it to low, depending on how much steam is escaping. This method keeps the chocolate from burning and gives the chocolate all the time it needs to evenly melt. Don't stir too often because you will be punished with bubbles :( but you shouldn't be afraid to check on it and give it a few stirs to even it out. When the chocolate has melted, you are all set to dip your dried apricots in them, as far as you want to (I did mine about half way, or to the point where my finger was), and let them cool on a wire rack with parchment paper under it to catch the drips. If you want them to set and be shiny you can put them in the fridge for about a half hour.

I served this in a clear bowl to accentuate the orange and dark brown as Halloween colors. It rounded out the dessert table nicely.
Mummy Dogs
Hot dogs
Breadstick dough
Mustard (optional)

This recipe is not my typical choice for party food, but it is so adorable, I had to jump all over it! I halved the hot dogs both vertically and horizontally to have more little mummies, but you can just cut the hot dogs in two if you want something more substantial. It's finger food, so I figured I would make it go as far as I could. 

The idea is this: Cut off strips of the breadstick dough. I took both ends and did a little jumprope motion to twist it up and lengthen it, then I wrapped it around the hot dog, leaving a little spot where the eyes would go, and mummifying it. It's like a Halloween version of pigs in a blanket. You put them in a 350º oven for about 20 minutes or until they get as golden as you want them, and then you can choose to dab some mustard eyes on them or leave them eyeless, which I guess was my approach. Everyone loved them, and they were a great fit for the theme.

We will continue with this menu throughout the week so keep on the lookout!

As for the great news... Louisville Lady Gourmet is going to be writing a couple of columns for the Insider Louisville publication! I am so excited!!!!! I will keep you posted for my first published articles! I can't believe this is happening--I get to write about my favorite city, its food culture, and what's going on in my kitchen. There couldn't be anything better! 

I hope you enjoy today's Halloween treats!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Snack Attack! Fall into this: Autumn's Bounty Salad

Today's snack attack is brought to you by a dear friend of mine who stopped by to visit Louisville on her way to China. I love it when I meet an old friend again, especially when we're constantly crossing the world to new adventures. She is one of those friends who can stop time--it's like we were together yesterday with the storytelling, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company. I think that's a case of souls touching, and I'm overjoyed to have those moments in my life!

Anyway, I invited her to my house and we prepared a nice meal of garlic soup (recipe to come), tortilla de patata, and she brought this incredible salad. I love when I find new flavor combinations, and I love it even more when I find a combination that I want to repeat over and over again! This salad included mixed greens, pecans, red apples, goat cheese, and a balsamic vinaigrette--PERFECTION. I would say that most people stop rocking out the salads when the weather gets cooler, but these flavors are very autumnal. I think it might make the menu for Thanksgiving, which I have definitely started to plan already, it is that stellar. So follow along and try it yourself...I promise you won't be disappointed!

Autumn's Bounty Salad
Mixed greens (the heartier the better)
Apple, chopped
Pecans, not toasted
Goat cheese
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

This is the first salad I have ever made that I didn't throw an herb on or a crank of pepper over. Seriously, these flavors work together so well that seasoning is not necessary beyond a light kiss of olive oil and balsamic. The mixed greens can add that spice, especially with arugula, the pecans are beautiful whether you choose to toast them or not, the goat cheese is exactly what goat cheese is expected to be--silky smooth with a lovely bite, which unites the flavors of the greens and the pecans while balancing the textures. I've already sanctified the beauty of the pecan in other posts, especially while I was abroad because pecans were not available, but it is really the perfect nut for this combination. Finally, I would recommend holding the salt because the goat cheese takes care of that. I was completely satisfied after I ate this salad, and I hope it attains the same level of joy for you as well! 

Enjoy :D

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bet you haven't seen this before! Cauliflower Crust Pizza!

Let's start this one off by saying that I love love love to experiment in the kitchen. I'm not quite at the caliber of Ferrán Adrià, but if I can transform an everyday food item into something I've never had or thought of before, it is the butter to my bread. I don't have any dietary restrictions due to health, but I really love what recipes come from the vegan, gluten-free, food allergy people--this isn't Schadenfreude, rather I appreciate that people haven't just cut what they love out of their lives, but have adapted to their situation. Even locavores have such a wealth of resources right on our doorstep to experiment and make something completely new! This excites me like nothing else. So, today we are going to make a pizza crust without flour, without yeast, but just as flavorful with onion, cheese, cauliflower, and spices. Finally, we will top it all off with whatever we had in the fridge that we thought would make a good pizza, and you're good to go!

The most difficult part of this crust is not really that daunting of a task. You have to "rice" the cauliflower, either with a grater or in a food processor on pulse. I took a cheese grater on the largest hole and grated the whole head in about 10 minutes (I'll beat that time with more practice :D). Many recipes in my research said that you have to cook the riced cauliflower before you prepare the crust, but I didn't buy that. I roast raw cauliflower on a baking sheet with just olive oil and salt in the oven all the time, so I cut down a step in this recipe and everything turned out just fine.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza
Adapted from Eat Drink Smile
1 Small head of cauliflower, riced
1 T Onion, minced or grated
1T Garlic, minced or crushed
2 Eggs
1 C Grated mozzarella
1/2 C Parmesan 
1 T Olive oil
Sea Salt
Pizza toppings

First, you need to prepare the crust. Heat your oven to 425º and drizzle your pizza pan with olive oil. combine all of the ingredients save the pizza toppings and mix well until you have your cauliflower dough. Spread out the mixture with your hands and pat it into the shape of the pizza you want. If you are using a rectangular pan, that's cool, just pat it out to between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick. Throw that baby in the oven for about 12-15 minutes. It will smell wonderful. That caramelized cauliflower that you have on the crust is gold to me, and I think you'll agree.

Then, all you do to finish it off is top this cauliflower crust exactly as you would any pizza. Time to experiment! Basically, I just take whatever I have kickin around in the fridge or pantry and throw it on top. This time I took out the mandolin and sliced up some summer squash and topped it with salami on a bed of fresh cut mozzarella (not grated) and homemade tomato sauce. I was happy with it! Throw the pizza back in the oven for 5-7 minutes or under the broiler for just a few minutes to melt the toppings.

Now, this crust isn't your everyday New York style slice that you can just fold in half and stuff in your mouth. I would make this akin to the Chicago-style approach with a fork and knife...except it's not a stuffed deep-dish pizza from heaven--> which gives me an idea...

So break out the utensils and dig into this way healthier than normal pizza. The cauliflower's browning really adds a different perspective to the typical pizza, with it's sweetness and crunchy texture, not to mention what the parmesan does when it's been roasting alongside gorgeous vegetables all day. I know it is a different approach, but I encourage your adventurous side to take on this challenge, because it is really a cool way to make pizza!

Enjoy my friends, and eat well!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Sweetness: Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Cookies!

We are officially in the thick of Fall when the sweets start baking in the oven. There is nothing better than that traditional spice combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. In fact, you can throw some of those spices in a pot of boiling water on the stove, in order to enjoy that scent throughout the house with less caloric intake. Hahahaha, please--'Tis the season of throwing those weighted worries out of the window, because it is time to layer up on sweet, savory, rich, buttery, warm, and happy goods that will bring you through the winter. Sweaters are stretchy...I say go for it!

Today's recipe is brought to you by the absolute necessity of chocolate and the dream of its marriage with pumpkin. I made this happen. It started with a spark, the mixture of the scents so well known to me, and I decided on cookies for the vehicle of this inspiration. I'm not alone in this inspiration for it has been done before. I used a particular reference from How Does She? who took a recipe from her own professor back in college. There are some truly genius people in this world.

This cookie is as close to a dream-state as one can achieve. Straight out of the oven, the chocolate is melted and gooey and the entire cookie separates perfectly at your will. I'm one of those people who melodramatically breaks the cookie in half to marvel at what the inside looks like, especially for a fresh batch. These cookies did not disappoint. They are far from crunchy, and I would be silly to suggest it is cake-like, but there is something about these pumpkin-chocolate concoctions that makes me believe in a different cookie. Is supple the word I want? The cookies stay soft and gorgeous for days to come, and I attribute that to using pumpkin as a moist thickener, and olive oil instead of vegetable oil. I chose to chop up my favorite chocolate bar (Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate Bar) in lieu of chocolate chips--please, I'm so much happier with chocolate chunks. These cookies also hold their shape really well and make for an attractive cookie. Enchanting.

Well, enough of my babble--make some for yourself! This recipe yields quite a batch of decent-sized cookies, so I suggest you share them with anyone and everyone who crosses your path. You'll make tons of friends in a matter of seconds.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
 1 1/2 C Sugar
2 1/2 C Flour
1 t Baking powder
1 t Baking soda
1/2 t Salt
1 t Cinnamon
Dash of Clove
1/2 t Nutmeg

1 C Pumpkin (fresh or canned, but in a pulp either way)
3/4 C Olive oil
1 Egg
1 t Vanilla
1 C Chocolate bar, chopped

If you are in possession of a really specific oven, I heated mine to 390º. Really, that was because I know how my oven cooks, and I have noticed that it heats a bit hotter than what is marked in most recipes, so as per my experimental nature, I did that with baking (don't tell my baker roommate!). You can pump it up to 400º if you want and cook it for less time--I'm sure it's going to turn out just fine.

I mixed the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl until well combined. After that, I just threw the wet ingredients in the same bowl(save the chocolate chunks until the end) and mix with a paddle fixture. You could also mix this by hand with a spatula, just make sure that you really incorporate everything and that you don't have random bubbles of dry ingredients hanging out in your batter. Finally, fold in the chocolate chunks until evenly incorporated. When you have reached this stage, your oven should be preheated, which means it's time to drop this batter onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet. 

I dropped them in 1/4 cup scoops, and I got a cookie with a 5" or so diameter, if you want smaller ones, then use a tablespoon. You know what would be a great idea for a Halloween party? You can make these cookies with a tablespoon measure, and whip up a chocolate ganache or whipped chocolate icing, sandwich it between two of these cookies and you have Halloween colored whoopie pies! Yes! Anyways, you simply drop the cookies on the parchment paper and throw them in the oven on a center rack for about 15 minutes at 390º, 12 minutes at 400º. Cool on a wire rack and you can store them in an airtight container for about a week, if they last that long! Your result will be a scrumptious cookie full of everything you ever wished from fall. The spices are perfect alongside the chunks of chocolate, please go with dark chocolate, it really makes a difference. Also, I think it is fair to deem pumpkin as this season's fool-proof ingredient, from smoothies, to soup, to pies, to casseroles, to cookies--so take advantage of this harvest bounty! Pair these cookies with a hot cup of tea and your day will turn into something spectacular.

Spread the joy!

Listening to The Splendid Table with Lynn Rossetto Kaspar

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Louisville Lady Eats Take Away: Heart and Soy

This is my first review on an experience with take out! I don't often order take out, probably because I feel like if I am spending that much money on food I want to be served and cleaned up after. However, some circumstances ask for take out, and what better than helping your sister for an entire afternoon/evening on an Art History essay...I guess you could say no better time... Yes, my life has gotten to this point, but hey it was a great food experience, hence you all get to revel in a raving review!

We walked into the building, which is split into two restaurants (a detail I didn't even note until I confusingly walked in and searched for help on seating/menus/anything) called Roots and Heart and Soy respectively. Roots is on the left, and is more sit-down style and they have soups and tapa-style dishes. Heart and Soy is on the right and is more your noodle bowl, spring roll, okay for eat-in or take-out restaurant. It is gorgeous, balanced, clean, and tranquil inside, and I really would like to come back and review Roots at some time in the near future, but we opted for Heart and Soy for our take-out pleasure.

My first impression was by the lady who helped us order our food. She was so sweet, I wish I had asked her name. She was patient, careful to recheck our order, and was just a breath of fresh air after drilling art analyses on Géricault. She asked about the drop in temperature, if we had ever visited the store before, and directed us towards the desserts and other menu items--good woman Our final choices included spring rolls, sweet rice balls, and Korean cellophane noodles. --Speaking of Korean noodles, I'm going to give a shoutout to my dear friend and fellow blogger Megan at Blue Sunnies, who has a travel blog about living in South Korea...check it out!-- Back to Heart and Soy: our order took about ten minutes to be freshly made and packaged, and their packaging was mostly biodegradable as well, which I appreciated. We were sent off with a smile and wish to see each other again soon, and then came the delicious wafting scents of food from the paper take out bag, forcing us to salivate on that tortuous six-minute drive back home.

When we arrived it was time to open said paper bag and bring out dinner. I forgot how great it was to open a take out bag, it felt like Christmas, especially when hunger was striking as hard as it was. I think this action was accentuated by the seriously incredible smell coming from our promising dinner. So. Good! I broke out the chopsticks and we plated some of the boxes for better accessibility, then it was time to dig in. I don't know how I managed to snap a few photos, but chopstick threats were probably involved.
The spring rolls were my first choice. These fresh, crisp, delightful rolls were served with a silky peanut sauce that had chips of peanut inside. It was fun to crunch into such a taste of the spring season when we are just getting into fall, but if you are ever craving warmer weather food, this is definitely my recommendation. The peanut sauce adds a nice warm depth to it, which perfectly balances the crunch of the carrots and the basil. I honestly had trouble distinguishing whether the glorious herb was basil or mint, so I'm just going to go with Thai Basil, it was fresh and soft and perfectly complimented the carrots, bean sprouts, pickle, and tofu. Incredible.

Second, I dove into the Sweet Rice Balls, which were just wonderful. My sister and I are big fans of Miyazaki and basically anything from Studio Ghibli, so be prepared for an obscure reference if you aren't familiar with Miyazaki-san's art. In the movie Spirited Away, Haku gives Chihiro a Sweet Rice Ball in order to calm her down and let her cry out her worries. That was pretty much my reaction to the Sweet Rice Ball from Heart and Soy; it was slightly crispy on the outside, and yielded to a soft rice inside that was warm and welcoming. It also had a sauce inside between the white rice and the sweet crisp outside. Tears of joy nearly flowed due to extreme happiness. They also came with a slightly spicy soy-based sauce, and it was delicious! Be prepared for a future attempt of mine at recreating Sweet Rice Balls, I think they should be a worthy addition to any repertoire.

Finally, we went for the Korean Cellophane Noodles. They were gorgeous, tasty, full of flavor and spice (we had the choice of spicy or not, and of course we opted for the former). I think it might have been a little spicy for dear sister, but that's okay because that meant more for me! It was beautifully presented with sesame and purple cabbage and carrots, as well as red pepper, incredible soy tofu, and spring onions. Just like I love it, everything was balanced by flavor and color. It was a perfect presentation and a great meal.

Two of us were able to share these three items and we were fully satisfied. I definitely recommend this place for take out, and I promise a follow-up review on Roots whenever I get back over there. Their location is right in the heart of the Highlands on Bardstown Road. They are easily accessible, and you can park on the side streets or right in front of the restaurant if it is not between the hours of 4-6 (when the traffic patterns change). The people are kind, the food is healthy and delicious, their Asian-focused dishes are authentic and inspired, and I hope that you can make it over as soon as possible to affirm my recommendation!

Heart and Soy
1216 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40204
Phone: 502-452-6678
They also deliver! If you live in the Highlands, Clifton, Crescent Hill, Germantown, Butchertown, or Nulu

Monday, October 8, 2012

This is Fall: Roasted Acorn Squash and Quinoa-Root Veggie Soup!

The sun is peeking its head out less and less these days, which means the colder months are upon us and Halloween is on its way! I am noticing more cloud cover as well; adding a bit to both tranquility and my unwillingness to get out of bed so quickly. It's that frame of time between keeping the windows open and turning on the heater, and when you're swaddled in blankets as much as possible, who wants to get out of that and face the cold day? I just hope that my body's temperature adjusts before it gets really cold--82º and 39º should not be in the same week, just going to put that out there!

The good side of all this grumbling is that the oven is getting its workout these days: roasting, toasting, baking, broiling, all those glorious food-bearing actions that warm up the house as well! Combine with the harvest bounty including the pumpkin and squash family, peppers, root veggies, and hot preparation, and you get the flavors of the season. I am swimming in rich, buttery, herbed and spiced goodies right now, and I am loving every minute of it! Today we are going to prepare a roasted acorn squash, that actually serves as a bowl for the Quinoa and Root Vegetable Soup that we are going to prepare. Have I ever mentioned that I absolutely love to eat the bowl? I think it's a genius idea, so I'm all over roasted squash and pumpkin bowls. Also, roasting is so very basic, and can go for any squash-type vegetable, yielding tons of sweet, mushy pulp that can go from dessert to main course. In fact, if you want to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, the roasting technique described below is the way you get the pulp--and it is easier than you think.

In addition, the root vegetable soup with quinoa is so simple, you might make it a fall staple. As with most soups that I make, it is a good fridge-emptying tool, and you can add and subtract ingredients at your will. I do recommend keeping the turnips because they add a surprising flavor to the soup, which marries wonderfully with the acorn squash! The leftovers for this meal can feed you for a week, and they really get better everyday. To make this recipe even more healthy than it is, omit the butter. The butter and olive oil combination I use is to add extra flavor, and the oil protects the butter from burning in the pot. Let's get started:

Roasted Acorn Squash and Quinoa-Root Vegetable Soup
Acorn Squash 
(one per serving, unless they're inordinately large, then you can halve them)
Olive oil
Carrots, peeled and chopped
Turnips, peeled and chopped
Onion, chopped
Squash, sliced (I sliced really thin with a mandolin)
Kale, rinsed and torn from stem
3-4 Cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
1/2 C Quinoa, rinsed
Black Pepper

First, prepare the acorn squash. Wash the outside and dry, then cut off the top to expose the inside, and scoop out the innards, just like a pumpkin! Cut off enough of the bottom to give it a base to sit on, but not so much that you have a hole in the other side--then it won't be a bowl! If you do happen to do this, don't worry, you'll just serve it in an actual bowl later. Coat the outside, rim, and inside of the squash with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt over it. I placed it on top of foil on a baking sheet in a 350º oven for 25 minutes, then I flipped it over to get the other side going for another 25 minutes or so. You can prepare your soup during that nice chunk of time.

The soup requires very little effort beyond some knife-work. Just melt some butter and olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, turnips, and onions first and cook until they start to soften up and are really fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Next the kale, garlic, and squash get tossed around in the butter and olive oil for a little bit. Then add the rinsed quinoa and toast a little with the veggies. After a few minutes, every thing should smell like heaven, and it is time to add your water to make the soup. Add at least a cup of water, but you can add more depending on how soupy you want it. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for at least 20 minutes. I just took it off whenever the acorn squash was ready and that seemed the right time. Then season with your herbs, salt, and pepper, and we're ready to serve!

To serve, take acorn squash and place on a plate or in a bowl (I chose a bowl because I wasn't sure how sturdy the outside of the squash was going to be...better safe than sorry). Simply ladle the soup inside the squash bowl and you can either serve it as such or fluff up the sides of the squash with the tines of a fork. This helps your guests know that they are supposed to mix the acorn squash with the soup (which acts as a great thickener, so it is more stew-like, but still silky smooth). The squash should separate easily from the outer skin and combine beautifully with the hearty soup. 

This is a meal that will fill you for the entire day. It is super healthy, satisfying, and so warm and savory that you will be happy to enjoy the leftovers for the coming days. To me, the natural sweetness of the acorn squash was the star, not only was it a beautiful receptacle of the soup, but it was that perfect final ingredient. Because it was roasted, the flavor is different from the other soup veggies, which were prepared on the stove--an easy way to create complexity. I also chose to use the rosemary, thyme, and sage instead of my staple chilis and spices because the vegetables have so much flavor, I wanted to compliment them with savory herbs. Root veggies and herbs are divine and truly emulate that autumn flavor. Please enjoy and feel free to play around with this recipe! 

Happy October everyone!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Little Green Tomato Chutney to Spice Things Up

I really do love food from all over the place, but I am severely partial to spicy food. I know what it is, it's my endorphins going crazy, causing me to laugh, smile, and want to dance after eating spicy food--as if that is not my natural behavior already. I've studied the heat scale of chiles and written some assignments on what picante does with the brain, but when you get down to it, it is all about the excitement of well-spiced food. When someone warns me that something will be spicy, first of all I give them a little "pfft" as if they can conquer my taste buds, then anticipation takes over, and finally I take that first bite and wait in that sweet delay between initial flavor and heat. When that heat comes, it is a surprise, but also a very familiar feeling--I can't identify many events in life that have such a great mixture, but spices do it for me. If the spices aren't necessary hot, I still get the same joy out of it because I can do a little mental splicing to see if I can identify all that is there. If you ask any of my restaurant companions, I love to play a game where I ask them what flavors they can identify (and then possibly report on later in my blogposts). It is great to see what other people's experience with food is, especially when they are not so enamored by feeding themselves as I am, for it asks them to delve a little deeper into a ritual that most of us repeat at least three times a day.

Today's post is pretty similar to the one I posted on Refrigerator Tomato Jam, but today we are working with a Green Tomato Chutney. I LOVE frying up green tomatoes...please, my Nana hails from South Carolina, you didn't think I'd let that recipe pass me up. However, I wanted to see what else these tart little cuties could do for my palate. I nerded out on some research, as usual, and came up with a chutney. Chutney is traditionally an Indian condiment, but has made such an impression on the British food scene, that it is often seen alongside their beloved malt vinegar (which is fortunate for them...). It is great on hamburgers, spread on crackers with cheese, served alongside a curry, smeared on a bagel or toast for breakfast, basically anywhere you want a sweet kick to delightfully complicate things a bit. My sources for this recipe include the New York Times, Food in Jars, and Gran's Green Tomato Chutney recipes. Note: you can store this in the refrigerator for quite a long time, just like the Refrigerator Tomato Jam recipe! Yay!!!

Green Tomato Chutney
 4-5 Green Tomatoes, washed and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 C Brown sugar
1/3 C Apple cider vinegar
1/2 C Raisins
Chili powder (I went heavy on the chili powder)

Simply mix everything together. Add everything to a pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. When the mixture is boiling, you reduce this to a lively simmer and stir frequently until you get the jammy consistency that you want. If you do want this to be a condiment that can stand on its own like a jam, you should hang out by that pot for about an hour. If you are just looking for something to add flavor to rice or curry dishes, you can afford to have it thinner. Use your eyes, and let your nose enjoy the ride--it smells sooooo good! The final mixture should be dark green/brown in color. I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of the final product...must have forgot!

When you are finished, put the chutney in very clean glass jars and lid them. Cool completely before you put in the fridge, otherwise you might have broken glass on your hands. Also, make sure the inside of the lid and jar are clean because you might not be able to open it when you want it! It is very sticky and yummy, so make sure you can enjoy it!

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jewels from a Middle East Family Feast

Today's post is not going to include a restaurant review or a recipe from my kitchen, rather it is something new! Now that I am old enough to take care of myself, home-cooking is something that I can create on my own. However, there is nothing better than being invited into a friend's home to share a meal with their family. This is actually how I traveled around Europe; accepting invitations from friends and sharing in their warm hospitality (so lucky!). My favorite part is sneaking in to the kitchen to see what the family is cooking up. It doesn't matter what language you speak, I will try to weasel a recipe out of you :) It was useful knowing romantic languages and German in Europe because I could work out more than I initially thought I would--if that didn't work, my taste buds were working overtime to figure out ingredients and techniques.

This adventure is making it on the blog because it is a totally new experience! I am ashamed to say that I do not have much experience in Middle Eastern food, but my closest base isn't too far off in Balkan cuisine. I do have an affinity for basmati rice, hummus, fresh Mediterranean flavors, and quality olive oil. This family feast brought it to a whole new level!!!

The meal was served family-style, as we all eat it around a dinner table. The salad was served in a separate bowl because the glorious juices from the cucumber and tomato were all the dressing one needed. The main dish was called Hash-weh (or as close to that as you can romanize Arabian letters), which means stuffing. Traditionally, the rice mixture I am about to describe in detail, is stuffed in the chicken, but Westerners get scared from such practices--hence why so many people prepare stuffing outside the turkey on Thanksgiving. I for one like to prepare my stuffing separately because I like a crispy top, not necessarily because of bacterial fears. However, this stuffing was basmati rice-based, and I liked the idea of that! The chicken was prepared in all its happy juices and cooked to melt-in-you-mouth level and served in a large dish beside the Hash-weh. Other condiments on the table included Palestinian pickles and my personal request to try pickled eggplant. For dessert...a beautiful flan with an espresso sauce served with mint tea...yes, oh YES!

Okay, time to get specific. Let's start with the salad. This is similar to my favorite type of salad, which is not lettuce based. If you want to talk about food epiphanies, the first day I had a salad without lettuce was definitely life-changing. Anyways, what was special about this salad is how small and uniform the vegetables were. As you all well know, I appreciate a cook with good knife skills. As I said before, I didn't detect any dressing aside from olive oil, and the salad was fresh, full of flavor and happiness. Whenever you combine tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and parsley, you can't go wrong, and this salad was just right. This might be a good time to mention the pickles from Palestine, which were delicious and crunchy, but didn't have to be refrigerated, like my favorite pickles do--that's usually my problem with those yellow type non-refrigerated pickles, they aren't crunchy enough for me. Props to those pickles for picking up the slack, I appreciate it!

Toasted almonds=Success
The main event, the Hash-weh, was phenomenal. I know I use that word a little too often, but really, it was beautiful in its texture, smooth flavor, and how it warmed your soul as any good home-cooked meal would. The rice stuffing was delicately spiced and mixed with ground beef finally it was topped with slivers of toasted almonds, which were my favorite addition to the meal. The texture of the almonds really brought the crunch that balanced the soft chicken and stuffing, plus the flavor of toasted almond anything is probably one of the keys to life.

Ah, just look at that! It is melting
in your mouth on the page!
The chicken brought a whole new level of euphoria to the plate. It was served bone-in and was easily flaked off with a fork, revealing that tender and moist center redolent of slow-cooking and care. The sauce that the chicken was cooked in included cumin, onion, olive oil, and the chicken's juices (the ingredients I immediately noted). Said juice was also distributed over the chicken and rice stuffing. Just wonderful. I was working on my plate and enjoying the dance of flavors and laughing my head off at the table conversation, when a heaping second serving was forced on my plate. This reminded me of Spain; Oh, don't be shy, don't be shy, you're eating more food! Honestly guys, I'm not shy at all, I just can't physically hold so much food--but if you insist... it was so good. The pickled eggplant was brought out after what seemed like my 5th serving, so I could only fit one, but I loved it! It was stuffed, pickled eggplant with peppers and walnuts. It was bitter, but soft and balanced with oil, and the walnuts were a delightful surprise--I would have never thought of that! Anyways, it's a shame I could only eat one, but I can't wait to try it again!

Finally, we sat down for some good ol' family banter and waited for the mint tea to come out. I knew it was coming and I was so happy! The teterías in Spain served mint tea with tons of sugar, but this tea was perfect. The mint was freshly picked by the bunches out of the garden in the backyard. The scent of the aromatic herb filled the room and brought a sense of calm after such a good meal. Then the anticipated tea came along with cake AND flan--yeah, there's always room in the second stomach for dessert, so I went for it. I loved the flan, it was substantial enough for my tastes and the espresso syrup on top was perfect. Did I mention how much I loved the mint tea? Seriously, I drink like 10 cups of tea a day, so going into another house that respects the tea tradition as well is lovely indeed.

Following the meal, we just sat around and chatted. I felt like I was a part of the family, listening to stories, looking at childhood pictures, and mostly just laughing as hard as I have in a very long time. Jovial conversation, delicious food, and fantastic hospitality is a recipe for a beautiful evening. I am truly grateful to have such wonderful people in my life, and to keep meeting more along the way.

Shaliya baiba...or what I got from bon appétit!