Peru comes to NE Wisconsin: Pisco Mar

Back in November, our friend Carol shared a newspaper clipping with us about a new Peruvian restaurant opening in Appleton (WI), a nearby city. Always on the lookout for new culinary adventures this was a possible contender. My first impression was that there was lots of fish, not my favorite. But we all agreed that maybe we should give it a chance sometime. Then the article got shuffled into a pile of papers and was moved and kicked around until last week when we and our friend planned a trip down to Appleton (about 45 minutes away) for a museum exhibit. Carol said, Why don’t we go later in the afternoon and then try that Peruvian restaurant for dinner? So destination ‘Pisco Mar’ was on.

First impressions were good. It was nicely decorated, warm colors, Peruvian art on the walls. Good variety of seating and even some outdoor tables.

Pisco Mar, outside and inside

After ordering drinks (pisco sours) we perused the menu. Lots of appetizers, small plates and main courses. In order to maximize our first time here we all decided it was going to be a dinner of sharing from the first two sections. If all was good we would try main entrees on the next visit.

So first choices were Crab Cakes w/baby arugula aji aioli, rocoto sauce and Beef Carpaccio w/ lemon vinaigrette, baby arugula capers, shaved Parmesan.
Both were excellent. The two Crab Cakes were softer than I like but the flavor was very good. Rocoto is a red chili pepper that is a staple in Peruvian cuisine. The sauce is a combination of a paste from these peppers combined with mayo, lime, vinegar and dry mustard. I loved the Carpaccio, beef sliced super thin. Frankly I was sorry I had to share this one.

While we were enjoying these and deciding what to order next our waitress brought a complimentary bowl of crispy homemade potato chips with a chili mayo dip to the table. She said they were from blue potatoes that are white inside. Really good.
Feeling the need for some greens we ordered a Kale Salad. Quite nice with radishes, cherry tomatoes, avocado, shaved Parmesan and pine nuts tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. It was a pretty large bowl, easily shared by three, or four. Pictured is just a serving on my plate.After more discussion we decided to go with two more dishes, Peruvian Ceviche Mixto (fish, shrimp, octopus, scallops) and Empanadas Criollas. The Ceviche came with plaintain chips (very tasty) and large corn (interesting). This was a huge plate of food and could have served as a main. Maybe all three of us could have finished it but since I am not a fan of octopus or fish there was some leftover. Carol and Curt liked it, there was just too much after already having four previous small plates. Empanadas are a puff pastry with a filling; we went with ground beef. These came with a chimichurri sauce. The pastry was a bit soft but at the same time very flaky. with very nice preparation and an interesting combination of flavors.

By now we were pretty full so when our waitress arrived with the dessert menu I was ready to pass. Just coffee please. But Carol wanted to try it all and thought we should have dessert just so we could make a full report on the dining experience. One order of Doughnuts please.

Ping pong ball sized doughnut holes, light and fluffy inside, vanilla sugar coated on the outside and served with Peruvian sweet cream.

There were six and yes, I ate two and loved the sweet cream as well. My advice, leave room for dessert.

Before I end, just a little background on the co-owners. Laura Saintgoers has previously operated restaurants for 11 years in Appleton and Miami. While in Miami she met and joined up with Hugo Torres, a native of Honduras, who spent five years learning and cooking Peruvian cuisine under a chef from Peru. Lucky for us they decided to come up to Wisconsin instead of trying to insert themselves into the overcrowded restaurant scene in Miami.

Here is a peek at the main entrees on the menu. We definitely want to go back. Want to join us?

 

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While looking for Swans We found a New Restaurant

Right now we are involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This is a 4 day worldwide birdwatching deal that anyone can participate in. No matter if you don’t know the names of all the birds, just identify and count the ones you know. And yes, you know more than you think. I know you can identify cardinals, sparrows, goldfinches, seagulls, geese…and if you happen to know more so you can say Northern cardinal, House sparrow, Tree sparrow, Lesser goldfinch, Herring gull, Canada geese, well then, all the better. It’s fun, lasts 4 days (Feb 17 -20) and you can do all four days and watch on and off all day or just one day for 15 minutes and then quit. Today is the last day for this year.

We get a bit more into it, so yesterday since it was 50 degrees on February 19th in NE Wisconsin instead of huddling in our house viewing birds from our windows we decided to take a field trip up to Door County, specifically Baileys Harbor where friends of ours reported seeing Tundra Swans.

BUT, this post is not about birds it is about lunch. Once we got to the town in question, about 60 miles north of here, and, finding no swans anywhere, we looked for a lunch place. In the winter not many places are open up there, especially on a Sunday but we did see a restaurant called Chives which had an OPEN sign in the window. We had heard of this restaurant but thought it was on the west side of the bay of Green Bay. And yes it is, same owner. Friends had given it good reviews. So, with not many other options in sight we went in.

Chives, Baileys Harbor, WI

Chives, Baileys Harbor, WI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was nice looking inside. First room had seating and a bar but we were taken to a second room that had a very nice view of the Lake Michigan. Later we discovered a small room with couches, casual seating and small tables and a dining area that looked like a library.

Looks like a great place for dinner.

Looks like a great place for dinner.

We had a nice corner seat by the window.

We had a nice corner seat by the window.

The waiter brought the menu that was a combination brunch/lunch. It was sweet and savory/ breakfasty and lunchy.

menuLots of good choices. The menu reminded us of a favorite restaurant we frequent in DePere, WI called The Creamery. When he found out it was a charcuterie, Curt ordered the first item called House-made Grilled Sausage. It was composed of a ramp & morel sausage, three aged cheddars: Dunbarton Blue, Hooks 7 year & Blue Mont. A schmear of brown mustard, a mustard seed caviar and two slices of crusty bread. He paired that with a side salad. He said if he ordered it again he would asked for two sausages because it was excellent.charcuterieI decided on The Bistro which was a grilled cheese sandwich ( Muenster and White cheddar on a rustic bread), soup of the day (white bean and smoked ham) and a salad. The salads were already dressed with an interesting vinaigrette. The soup was wonderful and so hearty I really didn’t need the sandwich but it was great cheese combination and I ate it all.

Sorry, didn't remember to take photos until after I had started in

Sorry, didn’t remember to take photos until after I had started in

Service was very good. We didn’t have to wait long at all for our food. Wait staff was attentive but not overly so. It just was a pleasant lunch all around. If you go, hours are limited because it just isn’t super busy in Door County in the winter. Matter of fact, this is the first winter this restaurant has decided to stay open but it is only Th – Sat: 4pm to close ( dinner service) and Sat/Sun: 9 – 2 (lunch/brunch). Well worth the trip. However if you are looking for swans I hope you have better luck than we did. We did see a lot of Herring gulls, Common crows and Red-tailed hawks. Better luck next time.

I ate an oyster and I liked it

No seriously, I did. It wasn’t bad. This experience won’t make me run out and order raw oysters the next chance I get but it was interesting and not unpleasant.oyst

How did I get in an oyster eating situation? Me, who hardly will touch cooked fish, eating something raw. Well it was our anniversary, the 43rd. Not a significant number according to the Wedding Gift list. After 25 it skips every 5 years so I have to wait till 45 for my sapphires. Uh-huh. But we like to go out and do something fun or different on our anniversary no matter what year it is. This year we decided to go back to Restaurant Three-Three-Five where we took a close friend of ours for a retirement celebration in January. As I mentioned in that post they are only open to the pubic one day a week and take reservations one week in advance. And their menu is different every week. So I called and was told that this coming week they were having an 8-course prix-fixe Crudo menu. Each course included a drink pairing and in this case it would be craft beers. Curt, of course, knew immediately what Crudo meant but I needed to ask details. Crudo is Italian for raw and basically the meal would be composed of raw fish and raw meat (tartare). I expressed my reluctance to raw fish to the person on the phone who said they could accommodate me so… I made the reservation.

I really don’t know why I said yes. Maybe I am at an age where having a new adventure doesn’t happen that often so what the hell! Anyway, the week went by quickly and all of a sudden I found myself at a restaurant where I was going to be presented with raw fish. What the hell is right, as in what the hell was I thinking? Do I really want new adventures?

We were greeted at the door, offered a glass of champagne and seated outside (it was a pleasantly warm June evening) to wait to be seated. There were two (2 hour) services that night and we were in the 5:30 one. Once they were ready for us we joined 8 other adventurous souls at a long counter that faced the kitchen. We were going to be able to watch as everything was plated and prepared. Food Theater!

Lft: Counter of ten, Beer expert presiding. Rt: Plating area

Lft: Counter of ten, Beer expert presiding. Rt: Plating area

Before each course we were poured a small glass of beer and the beer expert or cicerone explained the source, the ingredients and/or the brew process.

Craft Beers; sweet, sour or earthy

Craft Beers; sweet, sour or earthy

So far, so good…then the first course arrived and naturally it was raw oysters. However, the chef had obviously taken good notes when I made the reservation because my course was fried oysters with pea shoots. How nice. But there was Curt, looking at me with those questioning eyes and then saying, “Would you like to try a raw one?” Long pause…….I said yes. The raw ones came with toppings or accents or mignonette of rhubarb or lemon. I tried the rhubarb. Yes, I put it to my lips and in it went. I chewed once or twice and then slipped it down my throat. And….it was tasty. No gagging, no funny faces.

Fried vs Raw oysters

Fried vs Raw oysters

The next four courses were Razor Clams (w/ green strawberries, osstra caviar, dill weed), Hamachi fish (w/ daikon “noodles”, chive blossoms, toasted pine nuts, cold-pressed pineapple juice, pineapple week), Tuna (w/nasturtiums, crispy capers, pickled capers, celery sprouts) and Trout (w/crispy chicken skin, pickled fennel). Curt’s were raw, mine were poached or lightly seared. All amazing flavors and the beers paired with them were great matches. (To see the dishes larger just click on the images)

Lft to Rt: Razor Clams, Hamachi, Tuna, Trout

Lft to Rt: Razor Clams, Hamachi, Tuna, Trout – top row cooked, bottom row raw.

But for the last three courses (fluke, scallops and lamb) the Chef came over and asked me if I wanted them cooked because he suggested they would be much better raw and he thinks I would like them. How can I disagree with the Chef? Okay…in for a dime, in for a dollar.

The Fluke was delicate. It had garnishes of sliced radish, pickled rhubarb, micro greens and buttermilk sauce.flukeCJThe Scallops were sliced impossibly thin and were tangy with Fresno chile, kiwi pulp and micro greens. We each got a tiny finger lime which we squeezed onto the scallops. Our fingers smelled wonderful.

Finger lime and scallops

Finger lime and scallops

And just before dessert we had Lamb Loin Tartare. This had pickled mushrooms and Mt.Rainier cherries and I would have loved a second helping. lambJC So now you know what you get for your 43rd wedding anniversary – seafood. As we finished I realized I had  just eaten more seafood, and raw seafood. that I had ever eaten in my entire life and I liked it. We ended with a dessert of lovely strawberry slices topped with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Can’t wait to find out what we will do for anniversary 44.

 

Next Time You are in St. John, N.B.

You may never get to St. John, New Brunswick even once so a next time is probably even more unlikely. However, there is a restaurant in that city that definitely needs a shout-out.

bourbon

In May, we went on a birding trip to Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, but we added two extra days in St. John before our ferry ride to the island. Our hotel served breakfast but the menu didn’t really excite us. So we asked the concierge for a good restaurant within walking distance. He enthusiastically recommended The Bourbon Quarter Restaurant. It was only a few blocks away and once we got there we discovered that Bourbon Quarter was also the Magnolia Cafe. Even when you check the Bourbon Quarter website there is a link to Magnolia and the menus all take you to Magnolia. I think it may be a daytime/evening thing. In the evening the bar is hopping and live music is offered.magnoliacafe450_206

But we were there for breakfast so it was much quieter and beer was not available.The menu said they featured New Orleans favorites and Canadian classics. This included Chicken & Waffles, a Bourbon Quarter omelet with chorizo, jalapeno and onion, Breakfast sandwich with beignets, and various combinations or eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon. For me, the Pain Perdu looked intriguing. Pain Perdu means ‘lost bread’ and originally it was a way to save hard or day old bread, soaking it in milk (and sometimes egg) and frying it. However Pain Perdu in restaurants just means French Toast. I ordered it with a side of berry compote.

painperdu

This was the best Pain Perdu/French toast I have ever had. The outside was crispy/ crunchy, the inside soft and eggy. When we inquired about the crunchiness, our server told us that the chef dredges the slices in bread crumbs after soaking it in a mixture of milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla, and then deep fries the bread. Whipped cream and syrup accompanied the dish.

Curt went with the Eggs Benedict served on cornbread, choice of Hollandaise or Creole sauce and then a choice of either Crab cakes, BLT, Sausage/Apple/Cheddar or avocado/Sweet Potato. He went with crab cakes and Hollandaise.

benedictTraditional Eggs Benedict is poached eggs, ham or bacon and Hollandaise sauce, served on an English muffin. This one, served with cornbread and a variety of in-betweens under the poached eggs, was very creative and good. The dish came with home fries and Curt also got the berry compote.

We went back the next morning and had the Classic Breakfast, two eggs, choice of peppered maple bacon or sausages, home fries and toast. It may not have been as creative as other menu items but it was well-prepared and equally delicious.

So the next time I’m in St. John, New Brunswick, I think I’ll try the Buttermilk Waffles or the Eggs Benedict with Sausage, Apple and Cheddar or….

 

 

Uncovering a Hidden Gem: The Creamery

We think we have found a gem.  A little cafe that is becoming a favorite.  A restaurant that offers a limited but interesting, even ambitious, menu.

The local restaurant I refer to is The Creamery, a breakfast/lunch only cafe, which is kind of hidden in the outskirts of De Pere, Wisconsin.

The Creamery, 2200 Dickinson Rd., DePere, WI 54115

The Creamery, 2200 Dickinson Rd., De Pere, WI 54115

I originally discovered it from the restaurant column in our local newspaper. It sounded interesting and since I had a doctor’s appointment one morning, very nearby, I thought I would drop in for breakfast. Inside I found about 4 -5 tables for four, a row of small tables for two in mini-booth like seating and a counter. Above the counter on the back wall was a blackboard with the special of the day and other information.insidecreamThe menu has an interesting combination of breakfast and lunch offerings but no restrictions on when you order either one. There is also a nice list of coffees and teas. I ordered a BPFT, Bread Pudding French Toast. It came with toasted hazelnut cream and organic honey.  It was very different and really good but since this was my first visit I wasn’t thinking of blogging so sorry, no picture.  But I came back with Curt for lunch twice and then twice again with friends. Finally on the 2nd visit with our friends I took pictures and here are some of the highlights. We arrived around 10:30 am so it was a brunch for us. Michael had the special called Saddle Up. They do have some cute titles for a few of their dishes like Mac Daddy Cheese and Kluckin’ Russian. However the Saddle Up wasn’t cute at all, it was quite fine.

Saddle Up

Saddle Up

Served in a cast iron frying pan, it was composed of lamb chops (choice of one or two), asparagus, an egg cooked to your choice, Oregon herb toast and a side salad of spinach, tomato and red onion. A vinaigrette dressing on the side. Michael cleaned his plate.

Barbara chose the Potato Omelet: prosciutto, Swiss, Parmesan, hash browns and whole wheat toast. It was huge, beautiful and enough for two. The hash browns were wrapped around the eggs with the cheese inside. If you want to share, this is the perfect dish or, take half home for your dinner. Barbara had to get a carry-out container.

Potato Omelet

Potato Omelet

I had the Blueberry Blintzes (filled with ricotta and topped with blueberries and blueberry syrup). Three were one too many for me (however I ate all three) and they were good but not as good as the Bread Pudding French Toast I had the first time.These would make a delightful dessert.

Blueberry Blintzes

Blueberry Blintzes

Curt has a few favorites but the restaurant rotates new items in and retires ones that maybe aren’t selling well or are very seasonal. His favorites seem to be the ones rotated out so since one of his favs was not available he went with a new choice, Pomme Frites Carne. I’ll let him tell you about it.

Pomme Frites Carne

Pomme Frites Carne

I have to admit that when my order arrived, I was a bit disappointed.  I had miss-read the menu and did not realize I would get french fries – yes, I know what pomme frites are, but I had something else in my head given that the menu description says julienned potatoes. And, frankly, the carne part looked a bit like dog’s lunch.  It’s actually chunks of bulk sausage and bacon in a “creamy gravy”.  Again, the description didn’t quite match the plate.  But, and here’s the best part,

IT WAS ALL DELICIOUS!

The fries were great.  The spinach was an unexpected but very welcome addition.  The pale looking glop of meat and gravy was actually generous chunks of savory sausage and nice sized pieces of Nueske’s bacon in a cream sauce. Based on appearance I had expected something more like the pasty Southern-style gravy usually served with sausage and biscuits but this was a much lighter and tastier true cream sauce. Yummy!

Will we return? Definitely. The owners have announced that they will be opening another location in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin which will also have dinner selections. We can’t wait.

Au Port du Salut

I am taking you back to Paris today. Frankly I haven’t talked enough about food so the next couple of posts are going to make you want to book the next flight to France and start eating as soon as you get off the plane.

On Sunday, May 18, after attending mass at Notre Dame (of the six of us, two are lapsed Catholics, the others are not Catholic or non-church goers but we went because it was advertised as a Gregorian chanted mass), we decided to stroll over to the Pantheon and then on to the Luxembourg Gardens. On the way we figured we would stumble upon a sandwich shop for lunch. Events turned out much better than we ever imagined. At first, it seemed that Sunday afternoon and sandwich shops or cafes wasn’t going to happen. Or maybe it was just the streets we were choosing but nothing looked open or appealing. We passed a place called Au Port du Salut that had six seats outside but it looked a bit fancy for our purposes so we continued to walk.  After passing on several others less interesting establishments, Au Port du Salut (Port of Salvation) started to look like our port for lunch so back we went.

au Port du Salut

Au Port du Salut

There were a few people eating outside and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. But, the six seats outside were now taken.  Inside we go where we were seated at a long table with a banquette on one side and chairs on the other. Some excellent jazz was playing in the background and as we looked around we noticed a definite jazz theme with signed photographs of musicians and artists and entertainers on the walls.port-du-salutOur waiter brought us menus and we started by ordering wine for the guys and Kir for the ladies. Kir is a white wine with an added liqueur. I had apricot, Barbara’s was peach and Patricia got the classic with creme de cassis. Very refreshing.

center: Kir au cassis

center: Kir au cassis

As is the custom, it was a long time between drinks and ordering food and the arrival of food. But the French are a casual lot and we didn’t have to be anywhere so why the hurrry? Choices of entree (appetizer), plat (main dish) and dessert are on the menu. And you can order ala carte or choose from the various du jour combinations that comprise the specials of the day. This being lunch, we weren’t prepared for a huge meal, so three had the entree, a broiled mackerel, and everyone had a plat. Curt said he was happy to try the mackeral but he wouldn’t go out of his way for it a second time.

For the main plat, I had the pork with potatoes. The pork was perfectly roasted and the potato wedges with an aoilli sauce were firm on the outside but soft and creamy on the inside. I think I licked my plate clean.pork and potatoesTwo of our party had the Vegetarian plate. Once again, an unexpected delight. First of all the presentation was wonderful, secondly, the vegetables were a mixture of white and wild asparagus, eggplant and spinach. Yes that golden strip on the top of the plate is a grilled white asparagus spear.

asparagus port salutCurt ordered the cod. This came on a bed of sauted greens with white asparagus on top. On the side was shot glass of Hollandaise sauce that was downright sinful.

cod white asparagusWith more wine and a basket of french bread we must have spent two hours there just enjoying the food and the atmosphere.

Now here’s the kicker! After returning home we looked up the Au Port du Salut, just because all the photos and Dave Brubeck in the background made us think there was more here than met the eye.

We discovered that this building was an inn originally built in the 15th C. and renovated in the 18th C. It was a popular cabaret and jazz club between 1955 and 1982. Many French artists, actors and musicians debuted here. It has been designated a Historical Monument because of its early beginnings. They still have live music here in the evenings and their menu is based on what is market fresh. Truly an amazing find.

Before Paris, There was London

We met up with our friends in Paris on May 15th but we officially started our trip in London on the 12th. We had been in London before, a couple of times, because Curt took university students there for 3-4 weeks at a time either between semesters in January or after spring semester in June. I went along twice. Curt still had a few items on his London bucket list so we figured if we are flying to Paris, well heck, London is just across the channel so we might as well start there.

What was on Curt’s list? Well everytime he went to London the Albert Memorial was being cleaned, refurbished, restored and it was completely covered by scaffolds and curtains. By chance the hotel I booked was right across from Hyde Park. Get on the middle path and just walk…Albert was at the other side. Straight shot. Technically in Kensington Gardens.

Albert Memorial

Albert Memorial

It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert who died of typhoid in 1861 at the age of 42. She really, really loved Al. It took 10 years to complete and cost 120,000 pounds (10,000,000 pounds today). This is what Albert looks like close up, like I said she really loved him. Victoria wore black mourning dress the rest of her life.albert-memorial-att2Once we walked around the rest of Hyde Park it was time for dinner and it only seemed appropriate that we look for a pub and have fish n’ chips. Right around the corner from our hotel was The Swan, a nice neighborly pub where we had grabbed a sandwich on our first afternoon in London. Convenient, nice people and packed at dinnertime. All good signs. We didn’t choose wrong.

The Swan

The Swan

We tucked into some fish n’ chips and it was great.  I am not a fish lover but this was hard to resist. Served, I might add, with English peas.fncBut the really fun part of the night was the dessert. Curt was intrigued by the dessert board…chocolate pudding, apple pie, spotted dick and treacle sponge. He chose treacle sponge. We weren’t sure at the time what we had only that it was sweet and sponge cakey and creamy and really good.

Treacle sponge

Treacle sponge

I researched it once we were home and it is a steamed sponge cake with golden syrup cooked on top and sometimes served with hot custard. The Swan served it with hot custard. Golden syrup baffled me but I discovered it is a pale treacle. To give you perspective, molasses is a dark treacle. So there you have it, a taste of London. Too bad we weren’t there one more day so we could have tried Spotted Dick.

Just Around the Corner

Getting tired of views from my window? Well those were easy posts for me to do with only an iPad mini to work with. But you have to pack light when traveling. For the last week, Me, my Sweetie and the two couples from our foodie group have been in a city known for its culinary delights, Paris. After months of planning, the time finally arrived when we all departed on different days and met up on May 15th at a flat on rue des Grands Degres in the 5th arrondissement, you know, just across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral. (see previous post).

It was a very nice neighborhood (well maybe not always-more on that in another post) and we were ready for adventures. A few steps away from the apartment was the Cafe Beaurepaire where we spent many an afternoon having a cafe creme or a glass of beer. Their food was pretty good as well.

Cafe Beaurepaire

Cafe Beaurepaire

There are wonderful cafes like this everywhere in Paris. At this little corner there was another just across the street and two more a half a block away. We frequented this one because it was so close to our apartment and after a long day of walking through museums and visiting major landmarks it was a welcome sight.

After one particularly long day Curt and I stopped in for a white wine and a beer. Feeling a bit peckish (and knowing that dinner was a long way off – Paris doesn’t even start thinking about dinner till 7:30), we perused the menu for something to “snack” on. Grilled Camembert on brown bread/Salad verte au lardons de Jambon sounded pretty good but it proved to be amazing! I’m not sure what I expected but it wasn’t a three-inch round of hot cheese just ready to run out of its wooden binding. I think I was expecting a smaller serving. The Lardons de Jambon is bacon, oh yes!  And of course, a bit of salad. They give you a few leafy greens to make you feel less guilty about devouring the rich and salty food on the other side of the plate.a roundSo here is where we rested, drinking wine and enjoying our afternoon snack and thinking, wouldn’t it be great to have a place like this around the corner of our home in the States? Hmm, that means I would have to walk at least five hours everyday, get a job to support my camembert/bacon habit and probably still have to buy pants one size larger. How do those Frenchman stay so skinny anyway?

Say it with me… Yotam Ottolenghi

Say it out loud.

Yo-tam O-tto-len-ghi

Doesn’t that sound exotic? Evoking warm places that we might visit in our dreams? Rare flavors to savor?  Particularly in sub-Siberian Green Bay, Wisconsin in winter.

banner

Yotam Ottolenghi is a person; an Israeli with Italian/German roots.  His business partner Sami Tamimi is a Palestinian/Arab.  Both grew up in that soup of a city, Jerusalem, and now hold forth in London where their delis and restaurant, Ottolenghi and NOPI, have set a new standard for innovative Middle-Eastern inflected cooking.

Back here in Wisconsin, we have a dinner gathering coming up and while casting about for a menu I stumbled upon Yotam and Sami’s cookbook, Jerusalem (they also have two other books, Plenty and Ottolenghi).  A casual flip through the book yielded quite a number of possible recipes (note the slips bookmarking possibilities in the photo below) that could work for a small dinner party.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Surprisingly, there were few ingredients that were totally unfamiliar.  What sets this cookbook apart, in my mind, are the combinations and approaches that take the familiar into uncharted territory.  As a trial, in advance of our dinner, I tried one of the simpler ones to see if things tasted as good as the pictures promised;  Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad

Part 1

1 orange, seedless or with seeds removed
2-1/2 Tbs honey
1.2 tsp saffron
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1-1/4 C. water

Take a 3/8″ slice off the top and bottom of the orange.  Cut the remainder, leaving the peel on, into 12 wedges.  Put the orange wedges and all other ingredients into a non-reactive sauce pan, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook gently for about 1 hour.  Towards the end of the cooking time, the liquid will reduce to a near syrup – watch carefully to avoid burning – add a tablespoon or two of water if it seems to be getting too dry.  When done, the orange wedges will be quite soft and you should have about 3 Tbs. of syrup.  Set aside to cool.  In a blender, puree the orange wedges and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; if needed, adding a little water to loosen it up.

Part 2

4 Tbs. olive oil
2-1/4 lb. chicken breast, skinless and boneless
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 C. cilantro leaves
2/3 C. basil leaves, torn
15 mint leaves, torn
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 red chile, seeded, thinly sliced (adjust quantity to suit your spicy meter)
1 clove garlic, crushed

Ingredients for part 2

Ingredients for part 2

Preheat oven to 400˚F.  Salt and pepper the chicken breasts.  Drizzle with half the olive oil.  Sear the breasts in a very hot grill pan, preferably iron.  After about 2 minutes, turn the breasts then put into the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until just done.  Let the chicken cool enough to handle then tear into rough, fairly large shreds.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken and the remaining ingredients including the rest of the olive oil.  Add half of the orange paste (reserve the rest to use in other salads or as a sauce with fish).  Toss gently.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste and, if needed, additional olive oil and lemon juice.

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad with Pepper and Baked Egg Galettes

Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad with Pepper and Baked Egg Galettes

This salad was great and will be a regular on our table, especially in summer where the fresh herbs and fennel will make for a refreshing lunch or light dinner.  The chile I used turned out to quite hot! So the end salad came off as somewhere between a Thai Larb Gai and a middle-Eastern Meze salad.  We served the salad with another recipe from Jerusalem for Pepper and Baked Egg Galettes.  I over-cooked the peppers, hence the richly colored char visible in the photo.  They tasted fine though.

So the trial run was a success but we won’t be cooking these at our dinner. A note to any of our diners who may read this, “You’re in for a delicious adventure.”

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?

We recently returned from a two week, organized tour of China.  The cultural icons, Bejing, Xian (the terra cotta army), Guilin, Chongqin, a short cruise on the Li river and a longer cruise on the Yang-tse river and lastly, Shanghai.  Before, during and after our trip, friends, knowing our interest in food, asked about what exotic, luxurious or funky foods we would/are/had eaten.  The truth be told, most of the food on the trip was OK but not exotic, not luxurious and mostly not funky.

RestSign

Healthy, Tasty, Happy and Secure.  What more could you ask for?

What dictated most of our food experiences was the necessity of feeding 27 people in short order and on a budget.  Imagine that you were responsible for feeding 27 mostly retired people, from widely different backgrounds, three times a day, on a budget.  Where would you take them?  Not some cute little bistro.  Not some funky roadside eatery.  Not some haute cuisine, white table cloth restaurant.  You’d probably end up in a place equipped and practiced at feeding people en masse.

Without fail, when we arrived wherever we’d be having lunch or dinner (breakfast was always a buffet at the hotel we were staying at – more about breakfast in another post) we’d be ushered to three large round tables each with seating for 9.

Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan

In the center would be a large (3-4 feet in diameter) glass Lazy Susan.

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at.

The places would be set with a small plate (what we’d probably call a side plate in the US), a small bowl (think of something suitable for ice cream or fruit salad), a porcelain Chinese-style spoon, a china tea-cup, a small (6  to 8 oz. or so) glass and a pair of chop sticks.  There might be a fork in deference to our assumed Western clumsiness with chop sticks, or not.  Napkins would be in a single package similar to those packages of Kleenex you might carry in a purse.  The napkins were small and thin.

One of the wait staff would appear and ask if you wanted water, soda (usually Sprite but sometimes cola) or beer.  You would only get one glass of beer with the meal – additional beer would cost 21 yuan (about $3.50) for a 600 ml bottle.

Then the food would start to appear.  The waitress would deliver a plate of something and place it on the Lazy Susan.  Shortly another dish or maybe two would appear.  There would be little ceremony or announcement – the plates would just be placed on the turn table.

Rice Noodles with Pork

Rice Noodles with Pork (the small pile of shred on top of the noodles).  Often the meat was a seasoning rather than the main event.

There were rarely serving spoons.  Mostly we used the china spoon from our place setting to serve ourselves.  Eventually we would end up with 8 – 11 different dishes on the Lazy Susan.  Somewhere in the sequence, usually 3 or 4 dishes into the meal, a large bowl of soup (with or without a ladle) would appear.  Somewhere in the sequence a large bowl of rice would appear (with a serving utensil).  Sometimes the rice came early in the sequence.  At least once it came very near the end.  Eventually, without fail, a plate of watermelon slices would be presented, signaling the arrival of “dessert” and the end of the meal.  By this time there were more dishes on the Lazy Susan than there was room to accommodate them without piling them on each other.

food8

From a Peking Duck dinner.  Stacked plates to make room for more dishes.  Dishes include (clockwise from L to R) Scrambled Eggs with Broccoli, Fried Potato slices with a sprinkling of sugar, Rice Noodles with Pork, Rice, White Fungus Soup, Watermelon (behind teapot), Tea, Braised Turnips, Cucumber and Scallions (garnish for Duck), Hoisin Sauce (for Duck) Chicken and Vegetables, Beef and Vegetables, Peking Duck (slices).

And what was on these dishes? There was always some chicken stir fried with some vegetable.  There was often  some beef and/or pork dish.  Sometimes the dish was generously meaty.  Sometimes the meat was a seasoning for the vegetables that made up the bulk of the dish. Sometimes there was a shrimp dish. Tofu appeared at almost every meal, sometimes in multiple forms.  There were always some ostensibly vegetarian dish.  The soups tended to be light broths with something floating in the broth – they were always fairly simple and had a minimum of ingredients.  With the exception of a Peking Duck dinner, no dish had a name or at least not one we’d recognize from a Chinese/American restaurant menu.  They might have had names that placed them inside of some standard Chinese culinary structure but we never heard them.  Very few ingredients were identified.  Some could be divined from their appearance or taste but some were mysteries.  Asking our guide, Zhang, would usually reveal that the little football-shaped things were turnips or the beige sheets were bean curd skins.  Occasionally the answer would be “I don’t know”.  At one meal which featured 18 different kinds of dumplings at least 4 were identified by the waitress as pork, one as ham, one as fish, one as shrimp, one as chicken and one as vegetable but no description beyond the main protein ingredient.  The others are lost to memory or weren’t identified.

For at least two meals we went to a “Wedding Center”.  It makes sense.  A wedding center can accommodate large groups at one sitting.  Wherever we ate, wedding center or restaurant, the establishment was able to accommodate our group without pushing tables together.  They were equipped and ready to seat us in large groups.  Actually, that’s the way most of the Chinese eating in those same restaurants ate.  I don’t think I ever saw a table with just two people.  It was always groups of at least 5 or 6 and they often included children.  Again, it makes sense.  The Chinese restaurant isn’t set up to serve individual portions and the Chinese people, from what we saw, eat family style.  There are no “courses” in the Western format of salad, soup, entrée and dessert.  The “dishes” seem to appear as they are finished in the kitchen and which everyone eats from communally.

Was what we ate authentic?  Yes, I guess so, in the way a Wisconsin church-hall wedding reception of broasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread dressing with poultry seasoning and white sheet cake is authentic American.  What we ate, for the most part, represented a narrow slice of Chinese cuisine.  Was it the best of Chinese cuisine?  No, but it wasn’t presented in that way.  It was food – lunch or dinner – quickly served to hungry people on the move.  The food was always filling and tasty and there was always more than we could eat – not to say we didn’t finish one or two of the dishes while barely touching others.

All that being said, there were some noteworthy dishes amongst the sameness of the meals which I’ll visit in another post.

In answer to my earlier questions –

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?  I think they call it food.

Was it what I expected?  Yes, No, Not really.  With a few exceptions, it seemed kind of generic.

Was it authentic?  Yes.  I saw Chinese people eating it every day.

The watermelon has arrived.  The meal must be over.

The watermelon has arrived. The meal must be over.