Monday, December 31, 2007

Things That Get in My Way Update

Yesterday I went to brunch at Mode with the marvelous Mrs. Bennett and we enjoyed our Eggs Benedict and mimosas. Now, while that is plenty of food, I just felt thaqt our meal wouldn't be complete without something sweet. We ordered the flourless chocolate truffle torte. Oh my goodness. It was kind of like eating a huge, rich, sinfully decadent truffle. Although. There were these shavings of white chocolate sprinkled all over the top and I brushed them aside, as they were getting in my way. My companion laughed heartily but she agreed so Mode, keep the white chocolate shavings and give me more whipped cream and strawberries.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

LaNova, You're Losing Your Touch

I have never been a big fan of LaNova pizza, I'm more of a Mr. Pizza kind of girl. But I must admit, LaNova BBQ wings are the last word in my book. Tossed in that sweet, tangy sauce and then thrown on the grill fo a few minutes to produce a light char, they are magnificent. So we wanted to order some wings and pizza and thought it might be kind of ridiculous to order wings from one place and pizza from another. I have to say I was disappointed. LEt's rate the wings using my scorecard.

1. The wings were of normal size, not those nasty mutants.

2. We got an order of medium and one of BBQ. The medium couldn't even be considered mild, they had no flavor and worst of all, they had lots of undercooked, fatty bits. Wack. The BBQ was good but not remarkable.

3. THe blue cheese was terrible but at least I anticipated that and had Marie's easily accessible. Incidentally, Nicole put in a vote for Rootie's blue cheese. I'd like to do a blind taste test but we were too lazy to leave the house to pick some up.

4. The pizza was edible but also unremarkbale. I had to doctor it up with some banana peppers and blue cheese. LANova pizza, as usual, is just too goddamn doughy. And they don't offer the variety of flavored crusts. My favorite is still Mr. Pizza garlic crust with hot peppers and sausage. The non-meat eaters wanted mushrooms and although I love a good fungus, on pizza it just doesn't do it for me.

Anyway, I'm still on my quest for the perfect wing. I'm starting to suspect that it's in my very own kitchen.

Christmas Bounty

I am a lucky, lucky girl. My dear ones know my passion for food, cookbooks, essays on food etc. and I got lots of compelling reading material for gifts this year.

1. "The Best International Recipe." This cookbook was compiled by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. In a previous post, I mentioned Cook's Illustrated, that fantastic magazine that makes you feel as if you have a seasoned chef on hand to personally consult with. I had oh so gently hinted that I wouldn't mind a subscription for Christmas so when Nicole gave me this impressive tome, she prefaced it by saying she hadn't gotten a magazine subscription because she figured someone else had already picked up on that tip. Leave it to my bestie to pick up on the hint. I am still subscriptionless but my birthday is coming up! Anyway, I prefer the cookbook because magazines have a tendency to get lost and pushed aside. There are fourteen chapters, covering Mexico to Scandanavia to Korea. Each recipe meticulously details the various iterations of ingredients and methods used to produce the best results. It's really riveting and almost reads like a book, instead of a list of ingredients.

2. "American Food Writing." Edited by Molly O'Neill. This book is a collection of essays from iconic American authors writing about food. There is a chapter by Herman Melville on clam chowder and one by Ralph Ellison on the virtues of the baked yam. This prmises to be a great read, thanks honey for picking up on my tip!

3. "Elements of Cooking." By Michael Ruhlman. This book ia an A-Z reference guide that probably every good cook should have. For example, I've often wondered what exactly the role of baking soda vs baking powder is. THis book has the answers. What exactly is umami, the fith taste sensation and what ingredients enhance it? Yes, this book answers that question as well.

$. "The Art of Simple Food. By Alice Waters. Who doesn't love Alice Waters, the mother of "California Cuisine," which supports fresh, simple ingredients that are in season and locally produced. Although her famous restaurant Chez Panisse opned in the 70s and she has been a culinary cult hero, the recent and rising awareness of eating locally makes her latest book very timely. All of a sudden, people are referring to themsleves as "locavores" or taking on the 100 mile diet in an effort to get back in touch with their food and where it comes from.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Dinner

After stuffing myself with French toast, sausage and an ungodly number of Christmas cookies, I really wanted to curl up in my bed and pass out but my mother strong-armed us into going to church with her so I bravely soldiered on. I forgot that sometimes I seem to be afflicted with narcolepsy, particularly in lectures, important meetings and church. Especially when full. Anyway, we made it through mass, just to go home for a veeeeeeery wee nap and off to Christmas dinner at Greg's house.

My contribution was a snazzy little combination of salty bacon and sweet dates. Well, I had to use turkey bacon to accomodate all present, which is fine, but I think this would have been better with prosciutto. Also, I was slightly disturbed that the first ingredient in the turkey bacon was mechanically separated turkey. Why do they have to say that? They must be legally obligated to put that on the package, otherwise they wouldn't because I'll you that I personally find that abhorrent. Moving along though, this is an easy snack for parties and it's a crowd pleaser. Simply wrap half a slice of bacon around a date, secure with a toothpick and bake at 350 until the bacon is crisped. The dates carameliza and get oozy and the bacon is a perfect contrast. Mmm.

But dinner was beyond compare. Greg made the most succulent turkey I've ever had, one of those pop-on-a-beer-can and throw-it-on-the-grill joints. That always sounded too messy for me but I can attest to its deliciousness. Other stars were candied sweet potatoes with cinnamon sticks, collard greens with smoked turkey, glazed green beans with pearl onions, mashed potaoes, oyster dressing, mushroom dressing and cranberry sauce. And macaroni and cheese. I made that last bit its own sentence to really highlight how great this macaroni and cheese was. Kimberly, the chef, she outdid herself this time. I was so full but I went back for more macaroni and mashed potatoes, a flurry of starch indeed. I was beyond full at that point and I had to pretend to eat dessert. I guess I just gave myself away but I'd like you to think of it as less that I didn't want dessert and more that I really couldn't get enough of Kim's macaroni.

Next Up: Polish Christmas Meat Fest

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Brunch

I wanted to recreate some of the food we had in Puerto Rico for Christmas brunch. One morning in Vieques, I had a mango-cream cheese stuffed French toast. The idea was great, but the restaurant used sliced white bread. I was lucky enough as a kid to have a parents who made French toast with good, bakery bread, sliced thick. It was only as I grew up and started attending slumber parties that I found out some people, most people, just use sliced white bread. This sullies the entire idea of French toast, as far as I'm concerned. It is based on the idea of using up stale bread from the day before and then dipping it into an egg mixture to soften the bread. To use factory-made, pre-sliced bread that is already soft yields a soggy mess. Anyway, I decided to make a loaf of brioche the day before so that the bread would have a day to become a but more sturdy and also because sweet, buttery brioche lends itself so well to the dish. I got a recipe for brioche from and it was a lot of work, mostly because I don't have a standing mixer with a dough hook. But the result was a light, airy brioche and it certainly made a terrific base for my French toast.


1/3 cup warm whole milk (100- 110 degrees F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten, room temp
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (approx)
6 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

Put the milk, yeast, egg and 1 cup of the flour in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer.
Mix the ingredients together with a rubber spatula, mixing just until everything is blended.
Sprinkle over the remaining cup of flour to cover the sponge.
Set the sponge aside to rest uncovered for 30-40 minutes.
After this resting time, the flour coating will crack, your indication that everything is moving along properly.
Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge.
Set in the mixer, attach the dough hook, and mix on low speed for a minute or two, just until the ingredients look as if they are about to come together.
Still mixing, sprinkle in 1/2 cup more flour.
When the flour is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 15 minutes, stopping to scrape down the hook and bowl as needed.
During this mixing period, the dough should come together, wrap itself around the hook and slap the sides of the bowl.
In order to incorporate the butter into the dough, you must work the butter until it is the same consistency as the dough.
You can bash the butter into submission with a rolling pin or give it kinder and gentler handling by using a dough scraper to smear it bit by bit across a smooth work surface.
When it is ready, the butter will be smooth, soft, and still cool- not warm, oily or greasy.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time.
This is the point at which you'll think you've made a huge mistake, because the dough that you worked so hard to make smooth will fall apart- don't worry, don't panic- carry on.
When all of the butter has been added, raise the mixer speed to medium-high for a minute, then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for about 5 minutes, or until you once again hear the dough slapping against the sides of the bowl.
Clean the sides of the bowl frequently as you work; if it looks as though the dough is not coming together after 2-3 minutes, add up to 1 tablespoon more flour.
When you're finished, the dough should feel somewhat cool.
It will be soft and sill sticky and may cling slightly to the sides and bottom of the bowl.
FIRST RISE: Transfer the dough to a very large buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2- 2 1/2 hours.
SECOND RISE AND CHILL: Deflate the dough by placing your fingers under it, lifting a section of dough, and then letting it fall back into the bowl.
Work your way around the circumference of the dough, lifting and releasing.
Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4-6 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again.
STORING: If you are not going to use or bake the dough after it's second rise, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer.
The dough can remain frozen for up to a month.
Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the refrigerator.
TO BAKE IN LOAVES: Divide the dough into thirds.
Divide each section into 6 equal pieces, and shape each piece into a ball on a lightly floured work-surface.
Place the balls side-by-side in a greased loaf pan so that you have 3 short rows, each with two balls of dough.
Do the same with the other two pieces of brioche dough.
Cover the pans with plastic and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Lightly brush each loaf with egg wash, taking care not to let the glaze dribble into the pan (it will impair the dough's rise in the oven).
Use the ends of a pair of very sharp scissors to snip a cross in each ball of dough.
Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 200°F.
Cool to room temperature on a rack.

Notes: This whole recipe is supposed to yield three loaves. I halved the amounts and I only got one loaf. No matter, that's all I needed. To stuff the French toast, mix together equal parts cream cheese and guava paste, slather the mixture between two slices, dip in egg wash and grill on both sides in plenty of butter. I used light cream cheese because, good God, did you see how much butter was in brioche dough? I didn't even notice a difference and I am not usually a fan of light products. As far as guava paste is concerned, you can buy it in the section of the store that sells Hispanic products. I use the Goya brand. I got turned on to guava paste years ago. It's very thick, you can cut it into slices and serve it on crackers with cream cheese. In fact, that's the only thing I know how to do with it. Since I don't really buy cookies, ice cream or other sweets, this usually satisfies late night sugar cravings quite nicely. It keeps in the refrigerator forever, it's delicious and it always pleasantly surprises people when served. For our brunch, We served the French toast with some sausage and fresh fruit. It was fantastic and only takes a few minutes, once you've got the bread that is. If you don't want to make the brioche, just buy it or some other sturdy bread.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Just Ain't Christmas Without Coquito

Coquito is a holiday drink in Puerto Rico, very similar to eggnog, except better, claro mi amor! Well, they are both lovely but I favor coquito because it has coconut milk. I've never made it before but I've sampled others and while I love the flavor, often times it is way too thick for me. I think it's because some people use cream of coconut instead of coconut milk. Way too sweet, much too thick. So my first attempt came out well, actually a bit on the thin side so I think I may whip up some egg whites to blend in and give it a little heft. But the flavor is spot on.


1 can evaporated milk
1 can sweetened, condensed milk
1 can coconut milk
2 egg yolks
1 T vanilla
1 pint of rum-I think it's traditional with white but I used an aged rum that I bought in Puerto Rico and I think it would be tops with spiced rum or dark rum.

Mix together all ingredients and top with freshly grated cinnamon. The flavor gets better as it sits and it lasts quite a while in the refrigerator. I mean, it won't spoil quickly but actually, it's so tasty that it probably won't stay long at all. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rodriguez Family Party

I got an invitation to hang out with one of my favorite families last night. I've mentioned their marvelous spreads on the blog before and of course, I knew that this gathering would certainly live up to my expectations. I was hungry quite a bit before the party but I knew it would be foolish to eat.

Robin was in the kitchen when we arrived, rolling out dough for two different pizzas. The first one was simply spread with a caponata-style sauce she made with tomatoes, celery and eggplant. The second was a white pizza with shrimp, red onions and feta. She warned us to get out of the kitchen or else we'd smell like chicken wings all night and although I am not averse to that, I thought I'd give the master room to work. So we retired to the living room with chips, salsa, guacamole and fantastic Don Julio margaritas.

Annmarie showed up, arms laden with bowls and covered dishes. She brought a pasta salad with so much fresh basil, it felt like summer again. It helped that it was about 85 degrees in the house but it was very tasty. She also brought mofongo and guineos en escabeche. Mmmm. Mofongo is fried plantains that are mashed up with garlic and spices and baked. It can be plain, with pork, seafood etc. We had some mofongo in Puerto Rico with yucca instead of plantains and that was even better because the texture of yucca is lighter. Guineos in escabeche is also referred to as banana salad but the bananas are green bananas or even plantains. They are boiled and tossed in escabeche, that Caribbean sauce of oil, vinegar, olives and onions. Annmarie has a heavy hand with the herbs so, like with the basil-rich pasta salad, the cilantro in the banana salad was generous. I love people who aren't stingy on the seasoning.

So Robin piled our plates high with wings and pizza, we loaded up on sides and tore into the meal. I was in pain for about two hours after we finished the overwhelming task of cleaning our plates. I went to bed six hours later and I was still full. Keep in mind that I usually eat every couple of hours. I even went to another Christmas party with two full tables loaded with food and couldn't bring myself to sample even one morsel. In fact, I'm still not hungry and I ate about 15 hours ago.

Robein said she's having us over for crab cakes this week. I'll have to remember not to eat all day in preparation.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Things That Offend

As a follow-up to yesterday's highly contentious "Things That Get in My Way" post, I thought I would take the time to discuss things that perhaps are culturally acceptable to some and highly offensive to others.

1. My godmother has a woman from Colombia staying with her family for the year. She puts ketchup on her pasta. This highly offended everyone present.

2. When my mother first married my dad, she was sick and he made her some chicken soup. Awww. Anyway, my mother dumped parmesean all over it and my father was not only incredulous, but insulted.

3. In the same vein, most of my family is of the mind that a good steak should not be ruined by unnecessary steak sauce, that it should somehow speak for itself. I love A1. I do, I really love it, on baked potatoes, peas, by the spoonful. The family turns up their nose at this but I guess I get their point.

4. Chicken fingers or wings are often served (anywhere but Buffalo, that is) with ranch dressing or honey mustard. What the hell is that about? They should both be served with a plastic tub of blue cheese, into which one pours the hot sauce, yielding a hot, tangy, heavenly sauce. Honey mustard, bah humbug!

5. Have you ever gone over to a friend's house to eat and they were making meatballs/hamburgers with plain ground beef? That is really gross.

6. My sister is married to a Scottish man and she has a hard time when visiting Scotland because of the food. For example, at a nice restaurant, she will get a lovely salad that is both fresh and beautifully composed. And served with mayonnaise. Ouch. However, I hear they deep-fry Mars Bars over there and I'm all about that.

7. I lived with a Pakistani family in Memphis when my car broke down and I had to work at a jewelry store for a month to make enough money to get it fixed. Long story. I loved the food, spicy rich sauces, simmered meat and fresh, hand-stretched flatbread. With every meal, our "vegetable" was a salad of sliced cucumbers, onions, hot peppers and lemon juice. It was tasty for sure, but I felt low on my stores of folate, potassium and vitamin K so I bought a bag of baby spinach to augment the meal. I highly offended them.

8. I had a friend who loved mayonnaise on toast. Not my thing but not so offensive. What really put me over the edge was that she would eat a whole loaf of bread, slathered with Hellman's. Granted, she was pregnant but I had to leave whenever I saw her hunker down with the mayonnaise jar.

9. "Syrup" that is really maple-flavored corn syrup makes me sad. I think most people don't even know what real maple syrup tastes like

I think I could go on and on forever. I'll certainly have to keep a running list in my head and would love to hear what offends you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Things That Get in My Way

I have noticed lately that I dislike lots of food, not really based on flavor or texture but because they get in my way of the real deal. I'm not sure if that makes any sense

1. I love sauce. I love meatballs. I really despise meat sauce as I feel all those little squiggly pieces of meat get in my way. This is how I eat pasta. Toss liberally with sauce to coat each and every strand. Cover the whole thing with another scoop of extra sauce and two meatballs, perhaps also a sausage or a spare rib. Douse with romano cheese, parm if that's all you've got, and then some red pepper flakes. Then I like to eat my meatballs and pasta separately. In Italy actually, meatballs are served as "secondi." Spaghetti AND meatballs is totally Italian-American, with emphasis on American. One time, I spent all day lovingly preparing sauce for an ex-boyfriend. I proudly brought him a plate and he proceed to mash my beautiful meatballs into a mush and mix them in. I was appalled.

2. Brownies with nuts in them. Yuck. I like both brownies and nuts but I don't want them in my way, you see. Weirdly, this does not work the same way with cookies. You could throw some chocolate chips, pecans and coconut flakes in the cookie dough and I'd probably love them.

3. Sprinkles. I hate sprinkles. They're completely useless, they serve no function at all except to dress up an already delicious dessert. Why ruin a luscious, creamy ice cream cone with sprinkles? You have to ruin the experience with all these gritty, nasty, flavorless things messing it all up.

4. Noodle of any sort in broth. I hate chicken noodle soup. Now, before ye doth protest, I love everything except those goddamn noodles. I want the rich broth, chunks of meat and vegetables to reign victorious in each bite without a soggy noodle in my way. Lentils with ditalini? Sorry Mom, I don't like it even on New Year's Day. Please do not talk to me about rice either. Gumbo, hold the rice, thank you. The noodle/rice presence is enough to put me off but I abhor the practice of putting said starches in AND LETTING THEM SOAK UP ALL THE BROTH FOR INDEFINITE PERIODS OF TIME. Let me give you an example. At a mythical cafeteria, there was a lady who made marvelous soup. OK, it's at my job, I hope nobody I work with reads this. So they make soup every day here and I respect that. I do not, however, respect bastardizing otherwise delicious soup with stars, rice, egg noodles or whatever, placing it in a heater where it sits cooking away for hours so that residents can help themselves to hot soup throughout the day. That is a mean thing to do to good soup. The noodles get overcooked and slippery and the broth all but disappears.

That's all that I can thing of right now in the "things that get in my way" category. I'm sure I'll thing of other things later and feel free to tell me about things that get in your way, so that I don't feel like a freak.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Chicken Wing Scorecard

I had a staff gathering on Friday night at Pearl Street Brewery and it occurred to me, as I lapped up the wing sauce, that I should create categories for scoreworthy components of a delicious chicken wing.

In a previous post, I had mentioned making it my winter's work to scour each and every wing joint in the WNY region. I will probably just limit that to Erie County unless there are some strong contenders in the far-flung Southern Tier. But I cannot just rush into this blindly. I must methodically document and reason, throughly research and create a standardized assessment through which I can objectively choose the superior chicken wing.

Incidentally, I liked the wings at Pearl Street. I thought their pizza and onion rings were pretty weak but the wings were mighty fine. So I will rate the Pearl Street wing by the categories I have devised. If I am missing a category, or you have some input on modifying my already-existing ones, let me know.

1. Size: Some people complain about small wings. I personally find the huge, hulking ones pretty creepy. I feel like they came from some genetically-modified, hormone-high chicken. Plus, I like a high skin-meat ratio. Not enough surface area on those big ones. So these wings were right in the middle, just fine by me.

2. Crisp: Underfry a wing and they are a soggy mess and those nasty veins are much too flaccid. Yuck. Overfry a wing and you have something that resembles a pork rind more than a chicken wing. They must be perfectly fried to avoid either one of those outcomes and be able to soak up the sauce and still retain a bit of that crispy exterior. Pearl Street did this marvellously.

3. Wing Sauce: It has to be Frank's Red Hot and butter, people! Cannot skimp on the butter. And oh my, they did not.

4. Blue Cheese: First of all, does it come with blue cheese? If not, they are not wings! Second, is it laden with blue cheese chunks? Is the mayonnaise base redolent with garlic? This isa downfall of most places, I often have to resort to bringing an emergency container of Marie's Extra-Chunky Blue Cheese. OK, I really get the light, which is pretty good too. Anyway, Pearl Street did not receive high marks in this category. The blue cheese was middle of the road, few chunks and had a sort of nasty, bulk mayonnaise taste.

5. Carrot/Celery: I don't think this category carries as much weight as the others but it's part of the experience. Many wing joints skimp here too, throwing a few anemic-looking celery sticks and dried out carrots on the plate. Kudos to Pearl Street; the vegetables were fresh and ample.

6. Double vs. Single: I don't know how else to describe them. You know, there are the wings with one bone and then the double-jointed guys. I used to favor the drumstick-like wings, now I think I prefer the doubles. I'll eat both but some people are fanatics about only eating one type or another. Cast your vote please.

I just read something about Swannie House wings being the world's greatest. That may be my next stop. If you'd like to join my on my adventures in chicken wing scouting, please let me know. Also, I'd like comments on your personal preferences and secret haunts.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Baking Mishaps

I had two duds in a row this weekend and I must fully confess and get them off my chest so that I can get over it and move on. Thursday evening, I planned on making Chrismas cookies but of course, I can't stick with old classics, I had to try something new. I found a recipe for double chocolate sable cookies. The story is that sable is French for sandy ( I can't verify this because I took Spanish, not French, correct me if this is wrong). I am familiar with pecan sandies but I wasn't aware that "sandy" cookies were a whole other class of cookie. I was wrong. I should have known they'd be a flop because the only liquid in the recipe was one measly egg. But I was made temporarily insane with thoughts of the shaved dark chocolate and Ghiradelli cocoa that I'd be using.

So, when the recipe referred to a sandy texture, that was no joke. I had to press this "sand" lightly into waxed paper, firmly pressing and rolling and then chill for an hour. This further annoyed me because I wanted cookies NOW, and I was mad at myself for not reading all the way to end the end of the recipe to find that I would have to delay my gratification. After a very long hour, I removed the chocolate roll from the refrigerator and was moving on to the next step, which included cutting the roll into slices and then chilling the slices another 15 minutes. This was getting really tedious. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait because the roll completely disintegrated when I tried to slice it. Thoroughly vexed, I pressed that stupid sand into a muffin tin and flung it into the oven. Weirdly, they were pretty good but awfully frustrating and time consuming and I will NOT be making them again.

Unperturbed and feeling buoyant after a marvelous roast chicken dinner, I decided to try my hand at making mallorcas, the lovely sweet pastry we enjoyed so much in Puerto Rico. I thought how lovely they'd be with some cafe con leche, with beans I brought home with me. I let the dough rise overnight, punching it down several times while fantasizing about a glistening coil of sweet dough and how good the photo would look on my blog. I lovingly cut pieces of dough, rolled into long strands and coiled into perfect little pastries. I dabbed them with butter and popped them in the oven. After a few minutes, I checked on them. In just a few minutes, my cute little pastries had grown into monstrosities, expanding out of their coils and ruining their lovely shape. Oh well. My rationale is that anything covered with butter and powdered sugar is pretty exquisite so they weren't a total flop. To be fair, I got the flavor right, but they were too dense and dry. I invited Pops in to reminisce about our trip and though he and N. both ate theirs with gusto, I'm pretty sure they were just humoring me. Ah well, I'll have to keep on trying.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Beautiful San Juan

Friday morning, after we luxuriated over cafe con leche and mallorcas tostadas, we set off to see the historical sights of the old city. Old San Juan is the original settlement and is a small island, connected to the rest of the city by bridges and tree-lined boulevards. So it's very easy to walk around in a few hours, with the vista of the ocean all around. The San Cristobal Fort and El Morro are these incredible, massive structures with walls that looked about 25 feet deep.

After visiting both sites and taking tons of pictures we had worked up quite an appetite. We stopped at a place called Mojito's, which was on the tourist strip but was packed with locals, which is a decent indicator that we wouldn't be eating slop. Dad got bistec encebollado, which simply translates as steak with onions, but it's an iconic Puerto Rican dish that I love and his was delicious. As a side note, the version served at our local Peurto Rican dinery, once called Niagara Cafe and now known as Wishbone, is beyond nasty. I can't fathom how people think their food is a good representation of Puerto Rican cuisine. It's grey and oily and ugh...I can't go on. Anyway, I got sierra en escabeche, which is fish in a sort of pickled sauce composed of olive oil, vinegar, olives and capers. The sauce was fantastic, the fish was kind of strong. Both meals were served with white rice and beans to ladle over the top. I have to admit, I think mine are better. I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this ubiqutous dish all over the island. This is kind of odd, considering that rice and beans served as my introduction to the flavors of Puerto Rico and led to my love affair with recao, roast pork, sweet, caramelized plantains and golden pillows of pasteles graced with avocado slices.

We retired to our rooftop oasis for an afternoon siesta in the sun....

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mallorca, Sweet Mallorca

So, to backtrack a couple of weeks, we got into Puerto Rico on Thursday afternoon, checked into our art boutique hotel in Old San Juan and immediately went out exploring. Old San Juan is marvelous, it reminded me so much of New Orleans with its narrow, cobbled streets, balconies and wrought iron. I didn't plan this, but we were conveniently located one scant block from La Bombonera, a place I had on my must-visit list of locations. La Bombonera is part of local lore. It's a cafe/restaurant that has been open since 1902 and still uses the same, archaic coffee maker, with its silver spigots and various tanks that produce a fine, smooth coffee, con leche of course. Who knew Puerto Rico had such fine coffee? I had seen some show on the Food Network about the place and they were featuring their mallorca, a sort of sweet bread, topped with powdered sugar. Now, one can purchase the mallorcas as is and I'm sure they are lovely. But people in the know ask for them "tostada," or toasted, which means they are split down the middle, lathered with butter and warmed on the grill, rendering a soft, doughy delight, lightly browned and dripping with butter. The combination of this treasure with that fantastic coffee reminded me a lot of cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, and that got me thinking that beignets would be so much better if, after their swim in the deep-fryer, they received a similar butter-grill treatment.
My dad and I ate these every morning while in Old San Juan. And actually, after that visit to La Bombonera, we found another place (even closer!) that had an equally marvelous product, at a place appropriately named Cafeteria Mallorca.
Interestingly, the mallorca is so named because this type of pastry is indigenous to the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, although there it is called the ensaimada. Saim is the Arabic word for pork lard, which I imagine played an integral role in the first recipes. No wonder they're so damn good!

Friday, December 7, 2007


I must keep this brief because we are off to a rum distillery in 20 minutes but I just wanted to give a brief update. Boy, have we hit the mother lode here! I have about 37 pages in my notebook, detailing all our adventures and especially all of our meals. Just to give you an idea, we started the morning with cafe con leche and patries that were flaky as can be and filled with guava. Then we went to the Ponce Museum of Art and saw the beautiful Flaming June.On our walk back, I stopped in my tracks. There was an unmistakable fragrance of roasting coffee with caramel undertones. We went into a little coffeeshop and the bartender/barista told us that indeed, they roasted beans on site. He measured and tapped and flattened and brewed us a lovely cup of coffee. While enjoying it, a man at the bar asked if we'd like to see the roastery. I'll be able to post some pictures up when I get home but it was such a beautiful place. Three tiny little rooms, filled with old artifacts and beans in various states of cleaning, shelling and roasting. Spoiler alert: If I love you, you may be receiving this coffee as a Christmas gift. Oops, I used up all my time, it off to the distillery! More later!