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zora

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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Posts posted by zora


  1. You've probably already left, but I have to add: KaiLuum II is _fantastic_! It's like the resort for anti-resort people. Fabulous staff, very cool assortment of guests, and (rare for an all-inclusive place) really tasty food--not fancy, just good. And they serve Mexican hot chocolate all the time.

    And Merida is a great city--and a nice antidote to beach-bum culture. There are some fantastic small hotels there--Media Mundo and Casa Mexilio are two of my favorites.

    Keep in mind anywhere you go (except for Playa del Carmen): lunch is the big meal, so plan for that if you want to eat anything approaching "authentic" food. This is a big problem in Merida, unfortunately--pretty much all of the restaurants that are open at night are tourist-oriented and a little pricey, and the food is only enh. (Ki'bok, on C 60, is sort of a hipster cafe that's open late--that has good food.) For lunch the local favorite is El Marlin Azul, on the street heading north off the northwest corner of the plaza. At night about the only place you can get tasty inexpensive snacks (try to tell the difference between a panucho and a salbute!) is in the park/plaza about 10 blocks west of the center--spacing out the name just now.


  2. Definitely head into downtown Cancun, just to get a different feel (and geez, you'll need it if you're there near spring break at all). The Parque de las Palapas is really pleasant on weekend nights, and there's a bunch of stands selling little snacks. Also, if you go over during the daytime, check out the main market--even more food, and it's especially cool because there's food from all over Mexico, catering to all the different workers in Cancun. And Gory Tacos, on C Tulipanes, is tasty--but only open until 8 pm.

    In the hotel zone, there's an Italian place called Dolcemente Pompeii that's very laid-back and has plastic chairs on the beach--good food and a little cheaper than most places in the strip, and nice not to be affiliated with a hotel for a change. I got that rec from a PR rep at a hotel--it's kind of where the locals with the better jobs go. It's on C Pez Volador, which is right across (north) of the giant Mexican flag on the top side of the hotel zone. Also, the various incarnations of the Rolandi mini-chain (Casa Rolandi, Pizza Rolandi) are reliably good northern Italian with wood-oven pizza. And waaay on the south end of the hotel zone, near where the lagoon meets th sea, is a little ceviche place--I'm blanking on the name.

    Definitely report back! I'll be curious to hear what else you find. When are you going?


  3. I love when I can make something out of a seemingly empty refrigerator--but these are almost always solo meals, so I rarely get to show them off. Recently made an omelette with ajvar (hungarian red pepper spread) and cream cheese, and some caraway seeds. Who knew there wasn't a fresh vegetable anywhere in the house?

    One great coup I did get to share: a completely extamporaneous lamb curry, based only on odd scraps in fridge and culled knowledge from a former Indian roommate. I felt like I'd finally internalized all the Indian cookbooks I'd ever read. Unfortunately, it's things like this, when you're not working from any recipe, that you can never quite recreate.


  4. You'll want something sort of bitter and/or acidic, I think, to cut the grease--some greens, or last week I made some brussels sprouts just with a teensy bit of butter and some lemon to go with my confit. Good combo.

    Be verrrry careful to keep the heat super-low on the confit, otherwise it will seize up--I've had this happen a couple of times (but only with duck, not with chicken--maybe duck is less forgiving?). Check your oven temp with a thermometer if you're doing it in the oven.


  5. One tip that seems counterintuitive from a pastry standpoint (one time I was making pasta in front of my anal baking friend, and she couldn't figure out what was going on): If the dough is tearing or acting up, add more flour.

    Also, letting it rest for a couple of hours before you start rolling it really makes a difference.

    It's so delicious and tender--very worth it. And it's one of those things that looks fun, so if you get tired you can palm the work off on spectators, a la Huck Finn and the fence.


  6. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Ethiopian chapter from the Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors was really good. Especially the lamb with cardamom recipe.

    There are recipes for the basic red-chile spice mix, and for the spiced butter. All strong and well seasoned--no watering down or major shortcuts (though the spice mix does call for red wine--authentic? I doubt it--but it doesn't hurt).

    The Frug's injera recipe, however, is useless--calls for using club soda to get the bubbly effect, rather than letting the batter ferment. I've only been able to make decent injera by cobbling together different recipes, and it never really turns out well--a friend finally collared our fave eritrean restaurant owner and got the recipe out of him--haven't tried it yet.


  7. Does anyone happen to know what makes tahini different from Chinese sesame paste? They taste completely different (the latter is more like peanuts), but presumably have the same ingredients.

    Oh, just did a cursory search of archives, and someone says Chinese is toasted seeds, and Middle Eastern are raw. But I swear I've read Lebanese recipes saying to toast the seeds.

    Anyone?


  8. I roasted a whole lamb for New Year's--first time, and I had no idea what I was doing. My cohort was Greek, so maybe that helped. It was delish.

    I wrote all the details on my blog (scroll down to "It takes a village.."). At the end of the narrative are the specs on the meat, cooking time, etc. There are a couple links to sets of pics too, which show our half-barrel and cinder-block setup.

    What made it so good: garlic under the skin, and regular swabbing with a mix of citrus juice, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, cayenne, and probably some other stuff. Also, heroic Greek Peter sat and cranked it steadily, even through the acrid smoke.


  9. I've done a little catering, but have made myself so exhausted that I find myself staring into the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-with-my-life-I-am-so-screwed abyss of self-doubt at 5 in the morning in the middle of a litter-strewn backyard. But I love all the planning and cooking... Ah, sweet spreadsheets! Now I do 20-person dinner parties, tops (oh, OK, twist my arm, and my friend's wedding come up), but it doesn't make me money, really.

    One super-basic tip for personal chefing or catering: always take an oven thermometer to a walk-through, turn on the oven first thing, and let it heat up while you're checking everything else.

    Nightmare clients are vegetarians, or worse, vegans, who keep springing strange rules on you, such as "no white sugar." I did a wedding of tamales (palmed the tamale-making off on bride and co., as a sort of bridal shower party), where I ended up having to do ridiculous permutations (lard/no lard, cheese/no cheese, etc.) to keep all the new finicky people on the guest list happy.

    Also had some guests who insisted I gave them food poisoning, even though they were the only two people at a party of 25 to be sick, and they had classic symptoms of giardia, which takes weeks to show up. The hostess got all righteous on my ass, but she was the one who came into the kitchen drunk and started tossing the salad with her (probably filthy) hands, blathering about how she liked to paint with her hands too, and wasn't it just so sensual. Whatev. I sucked it up and offered money back and said I'd yell at my fish guy. She didn't take me up on the money, so I was happy--wouldn't want to work for her again anyway.

    Even if it's a casual thing for friends, and friends are helping serve or whatever, it's good to have the 'help' dress in standard catering black-and-white--guests won't chitchat with them so much.

    And I agree that the coffee is easy to screw up...it's always the end of the meal, and gets the least attention.


  10. I used to make my own--using basically FoodMan/Elie's strategy. You definitely don't need one of those silly 70s-style plug-in appliances. I was in Cairo and could get unhomogenized milk, so I ended up with that nice cream-on-top Brown Cow style. One thing I did find is that if I kept using the last batch as starter, I ended up with a very funky, nasty yogurt after about three reuses. So I'd buy a small container of commercial stuff and start fresh.

    Haven't made it here in the US because I can't get this kind of milk as readily, and I think it actually costs more to make your own using good, organic milk than to buy Stonyfield or whatever. If I want this commercial yogurt to be more sour, I just leave it out on the counter overnight. If I want it to be thick, I stir in the cream and strain it--or, really, I just go buy Greek yogurt from the deli because I'm lucky enough to live in super Greekland, Astoria.


  11. The Middle Eastern grocery near me occasionally has fresh "Moroccan mint"--or that's what the sign says in Arabic. I think it's closest to spearmint--thin, tender leaves and exceptionally fragrant.

    "na'na'" is the word in Arabic for mint in general, not a specific variety, as far as I know. But people do seem to prefer the spearmint.


  12. This thread may be a little old, but for the record, I just ate a couple of Z Carb Gourmet Dark Chocolate bars with Soy Crisps...

    I'm not on a diet and generally avoid all kinds of pseudo-foods--they were just in the unwanted-swag box here at work, and I was desperate.

    But they were pretty damn good. Not very sweet, which was nice, and rare in a lower-end chocolate. The soy crisp just added texture--didn't dilute the chocolate flavor too much. I wouldn't seek them out, but as long as they're sitting here for free...

    The labeling is kind of funny: there's a separate "functional ingredients" list that includes serotonin and andamide. No wonder I feel so happy. But that "zero laxative effect" in big letters--very off-putting.


  13. I was thinking of Rick Bayless too. I haven't been to Topalobampo, but I have his "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" book, and it's interesting to note that all the "modern" versions of the traditional dishes have toned down the heat a bit. Still, I appreciate his research and his dedication to Mexican cooking techniques, at least in the book.

    A shame about Cafe Azul. I never ate there, but it sounds like a gem. Should we initiate the Mole Education Project or something?


  14. Good point way back about the challenge of matching wines. Cynthia, I'm from NM, so I know the foods of which you speak! Hot foods are so often "beer" foods--because they taste good of course, and because it's so often at a downmarket place...

    I do think heat can be used as an element to balance a dish--I mean, Thai cooking hinges on this completely. I recently had some roast suckling pig at Prune, which is blessedly served with a side of pickled tomatoes with thin slices of jalapeño. The acidity of the tomatoes alone helps balance the rich meat, but the jalapeños really cut through perfectly, leaving my mouth feeling clean, not all coated with fat. It wasn't crazy hot, but it was the only memorably hot thing I've been served at a $20-and-up-mains place...

    I didn't want this to be a French-bashing thread, but it is sort of weird that they've _still_ got a lock on what's considered cuisine worth paying big bucks for. French technique is still the underpinning for every spicier ritzy resto--JGV places, Tabla, etc. Other cuisines should be taken on their own terms, not French-ified. Cooking school students should be interning in Shanghai, not Provence.

    And re: chile numbing out your tastebuds, I disagree. I eat a lot of hot food, but I don't miss the heat when I'm eating a good roast chicken. I _do_ miss the heat when I'm paying $20 for a so-so "Indian" duck breast with mango-pickle reduction or whatever the hell.


  15. I have kept oil-packed anchovies in the fridge for a couple of months, sometimes even in their original little tin with the lid just pulled back. Eventually the salt exudes and forms a scary-looking crust, but the fish are fine. Probably not such a great effect on other items in the fridge, but whatever...

    But I have also been known to scrape mold off of tomato paste and use it...so now you know where I stand....


  16. So I was just eating some incredibly delicious leftovers from this great Indian place, Mina. And each bite was wonderfully distinct and balanced and perfectly textured and spiced...and HOT.

    Which made me wonder, why is haute cuisine never hot? Is spiciness an irredeemable marker of "ethnic" food? Is this changing as chefs explore more world cuisines? (Rick Bayless? But then all the "nouveau" recipes in "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" are relatively mild...)

    Or is it just a business decision: Most people with money to burn don't have a palate for hot stuff? Or do some four-star-restaurant-goers out there long for spice when they sit down at white tablecloths?

    I'm dealing in stereotypes just to start a discussion...What do y'all think?


  17. I use mine primarily for toast and browning the tops of finished dishes. The out-of-sight-out-of-mind factor is really risky. One thing I have noticed is that the longer the broiler has been on, the faster it works--the ambient heat buildup seems to really add to the effect of the direct flame.

    On a related note, a friend was looking all over her kitchen for her cookie sheets, knowing her not-so-domestic roommate had stowed them. She eventually found them stashed in her broiler tray. Why? The guy clearly comes from household with an electric oven, where that bottom area is just a storage drawer. Funny.


  18. I picked up one of those at an Indian store. They showed me how to peel it like an artichoke and all, which I did, so it was an OK texture, but it was still shockingly bitter--that weird tongue-coating bitterness...like eating banana peel, now that you mention it. They also discolored very quickly--should've dunked them in lemon juice.

    Maybe parboiling? Although I've tried this with cardoons, and still haven't been able to get them palatable.


  19. Just reread your post--yes, you're getting very warm with the Greektown connection. My nabe is Greek too--oodles of butchers, and no one bats an eye when you order a whole pig, or a whole anything.


  20. We didn't do any brining or salting because we picked it up from the butcher the day of. In the future, though, I think I'd get a smaller pig and do all the treatment myself so that I could brine it--a lot of the problems of spit-roasting are the same as oven-roasting. And when it's smaller, I don't think you necessarily even have to debone it.

    Before we ordered the porchetta from the resto butcher, we asked at a few of the neighborhood butchers, but no one was willing to bone a pig for us. It was Xmas/New Year's and everybody in the nabe is eating meat like there's no tomorrow, so I don't think the butchers had time to fiddle with a pig.

    Where are you located? Have you looked into Mexican or Greek butchers?


  21. Yeah, definitely--keep me posted!

    Green almonds got a big push last season--why not the walnuts too? All the walnut producers I've contacted, as well as the American Walnut Board (or whatever it's called), have said no dice on selling green walnuts. Only one producer, which also has orchards in Spain, even had any idea what I was talking about. They grow on their trees, for God's sake! There are enough cuisines that use green walnuts (Mexican, Cypriot, French, Lebanese, Syrian) that you'd think there would be a market here...or that someone would jump on them as a trendy ingredient. Chefs, produce dealers, PR people--are you reading?


  22. Funny you should ask, Ian. I just roasted a porchetta at New Year's, and detailed everything in my blog (rovinggastronome.blogspot.com--you'll have to go back to the January archive).

    The short version: we ordered a pig from a butcher, all porchetta-d, stuffed, trussed and on a wooden spit. Cost $150 for probably 25-30 pounds of meat (I'm in NYC, hence the price--but we got it from a restaurant purveyor, so maybe it was actually cheap?). Couldn't have done it on a Weber, because the pig was stretched out too long (see links to pics on my blog). We used a 50-gallon drum cut in half, and propped the spit up on cinder blocks.

    The result was good, but not fantastic--the meat was like a good loin roast, not one of those shreddable slow-cooked numbers, and nothing approaching "pig candy." Next time, I think I'd do it more covered (we just did it open-air, over mesquite), or rig up the drums we have to do sort of a caja china treatment. Too bad that NY Times story didn't come out a couple of weeks sooner...

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