Tag Archives: Travel

Eating Well in Asheville

2 Jul
Photo Credit: Michael Whiteman

Photo Credit: Michael Whiteman

Asheville is a lovely town in North Carolina where hipsters meet farmers, artists meet artisans, street food meets street people, and where adventurous restaurants lure masses of hungry tourists. With an influx of Floridians escaping the heat and New Yorkers escaping the cold, it feels less “southern” and more small-scale cosmopolitan.

On business a few weeks back, I took in both its thriving arts scene and its far-reaching gastronomic offerings. I say far-reaching because (for example) you can queue for a biscuit as big as your fist at Biscuit Head, filled with regionally appropriate salty country ham buffered by a fried green tomato, some cheese, a runny egg and one of seven gravies. But this is no sloucher place — on the menu are: sriracha slaw, smoked chevre grits, kale salad, seitan sausage, brie, and smoked tomato hollandaise. There’s a stupendous marmalade bar with at least a dozen varieties of freshly-made jams to pile onto your still-warm biscuit.

At the other end of the gastro-spectrum is Curate, an always-crowded tapas restaurant run by (now famous) chef Katie Button who rose to stardom after working under José Andrés and Ferran Adrià. You’ll find a deep list of authentically Spanish dishes and a curated assemblage of Spanish sherries and wines. Don’t miss warm octopus with Spanish paprika and silken Yukon gold puree; spicy chorizo wrapped in a crisp potato chip; Moorish-spiced lamb skewer; patatas bravas (a must-have) and Spanish tortilla (a classic potato-and-onion omelet). Curate has an open kitchen with a bar-counter where you can watch a dynamo of cooks turning out small plates and excellent cocktails.

White Duck Taco’s food is equally worldly. Non-traditional fillings include Bangkok shrimp, jerk chicken, Korean bulgogi, duck with mole and banh mi tofu. They’re cheap so order lots for lunch, then walk off your meal by exploring numerous nearby galleries and workshops in the River Arts District. There’s also a branch downtown.

Not easy to find, but so worthwhile is The Bull and Beggar, which abuts the yellow-ish, hipster-ish, biker-ish Wedge Brewery, with an outdoor cinema and food trucks serving creative snacks to the assembled thirsty. The menu at rustic Bull and Beggar looks “frenchified” with terrines, rillettes and shellfish platters, but it is a rock-solid restaurant run by an extraordinarily talented chef. You’ll want one of everything, but we reveled in chef Matt Dawes’ fatted, truffled duck liver parfait; charred octopus with a memorable romesco sauce; seared broccolini with chili and anchovy; beets with fromage blanc and cumin; and roast baby chicken with wild mushrooms, red currants, game chips, upland cress and liver toast. Quirky, wonderful wine list.

Formerly chef at much-lauded Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, where he re-invented Southern cookery, John Fleer now runs Rhubarb in Asheville. Rhubarb specializes in boldly flavored dishes that range across the globe. Roasted oysters with country ham and greens, Mongolian lamb ribs with collard green kimchee, rhubarb glazed duck confit with sweet potatoes Anna and shaved asparagus, and IPA-marinated cauliflower steak with flageolet cassoulet and arugula pesto (Whew! The ingredients just keep coming). Well organized wine list that’s easy on the wallet.

The Bull and Beggar, Rhubarb and many others in town get their vegetables and greens from Evan Chender’s Culinary Gardener, which I wrote about two weeks ago.

Barbecue addicts can’t do better than 12 Bones, on the edge of the arts district. A big smoker out back slowly transforms all manner of protein into redolent and succulent barbecue sandwiches or platters. A go-to sandwich is Hogzilla, a layering of sugar bacon, bratwurst, pulled pork and pepper jack cheese. Although I can’t quite wrap my mind around the concept, blueberry-chipotle is their most ordered sauce.

Here’s how to start a perfect evening: Head over to Battery Park Book Exchange in the Grove Arcade. This quirky used-book store contains a lovely champagne bar with a large by-the-glass selection and comfy places to sit, sip and snack.

Here’s how to end a perfect evening: Climb the stairs to Nightbell, a restaurant-lounge run by Katie Button. Signature cocktails are perfect and desserts are first-rate.

And here’s how trendy Asheville is: The menu at Table includes barbecued fish collars, asparagus chawanmushi, and striped bass with nasturtium butter. All Souls Pizza mills it own flour and offers hand-cut rye noodles with fermented turnips and charred spring onions, and smoked sardines with salsa verde. Curate’s menu tells you which dishes are vegan or gluten- lactose- and tree-nut free. At the hot Mexican restaurant Limones, your “Mayan margarita” glass is crusted with chapulin salt, “chapulin” made of dried, ground crickets. Down at a nearby farmers market, Cricket Girl sells cricket-based protein bars and is aiming for veggie packed smoothies thickened with her insect protein-flour combination. Toto… we’re not in Brooklyn anymore.

On the Road to Morocco (and Madrid)

10 Aug

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. My husband, daughter and I are off to Morocco and Madrid and will be traveling for two weeks (I hope our house guests enjoy themselves!). We are returning to places we have loved in the past and visiting a dear friend in Morocco whom we haven’t seen in 14 years.  His family has grown as has ours. It’s been a time of rapid growth in the world and I know we will see many changes on our journey. Yet some images remain steadfast. I can already inhale the sweet fragrant mint tea that awaits us in Marrakesh. I look forward to “breaking bread” with our friend’s family during Ramadan. Excitement rushes through me as I imagine a slow walk through the Prado; tapas at 11 p.m., and a bit of sultry Flamenco afterwards. It will be a joy to see all of it through the eyes of our 16-year-old daughter. During the next two weeks I will be sharing reviews of two new favorite vegetarian cookbooks, some news from our trip, and who knows what else. In the meantime, here are two recipes from Radically Simple — with evocative flavors from Morocco and Spain — meant to whet your appetite on a balmy summer night.

Couscous Salad with Dates & Toasted Almonds

I developed this recipe for Bon Appetit magazine, and I’m told it became one of their most popular salads. Quite versatile, it can be part of a mezze offering or a great accompaniment to roast lamb. For best results, do not refrigerate and serve at room temperature.

1/3 cup slivered almonds
scant 2 cups couscous
1-1/2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 scallions, finely chopped, white and green parts
10 large dates, pitted and finely diced
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups of salted water to a boil. Lightly toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Set aside. Add the couscous to the boiling water and stir. Cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 4 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the almonds, chickpeas (drained and rinsed), olive oil, scallions, dates, cardamom, lemon zest, and 3 tablespoons (or more) lemon juice.  Stir in the cilantro, salt and pepper.  Serves 6

Avocado Soup with Fino Sherry

If you pre-chill the ingredients for this awesome soup, it can be made in a minute!  It has a mesmerizing flavor and velvety texture.  If making the soup ahead of time, chill well and add the sherry (and optional garlic) at the very end.  More awesome still:  crumble blue cheese on top and serve with Marcona almonds.

2 medium-large ripe avocados
3 cups chicken broth, chilled
2 cups buttermilk, chilled
2 tablespoons fino sherry
1 small garlic clove, optional

Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop the flesh into a food processor. Add the broth and 1-1/2 cups of the buttermilk. Process until very smooth.  Stir in the sherry and garlic, pushed through a press. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and drizzle each serving with a bit of the remaining buttermilk which will float on top. Serves 4 or 5

El Vero Gazpacho (or Gazpacho with Gerry!)

7 Sep

To my way of thinking, gazpacho is always lipstick red (chock full of the ripest tomatoes), jade green (Asian-style), or even bluish-purple (my playful take on a fruit soup made with blueberries and ginger.)  These can all be found in Radically Simple and they are a fabulous prelude to an end-of-summer meal.  But true gazpacho, according to Spanish food-and-wine maven, Gerry Dawes, has a kind of orange-red-coral hue.  Offered with a “lazy Susan” of garnishes — fresh chopped tomatoes, red and green peppers, cucumbers, onion (or scallions — not authentic), chopped egg, warm croutons, the base of the soup is rather smooth and made textural with these colorful add-ons.  Today, in Spain, says Gerry, “it has become a trend to add chopped Iberico ham” to the hit parade of toppings.  Over the Labor Day weekend we enjoyed the fruits of Gerry’s labor, as he showed us step-by-step how to make gazpacho, then regaled us with an authentic paella laden with shrimp, squid, two kinds of chorizo, rice awash in homemade fish stock, peas, and peppers — all cooked in a huge paella pan set atop an outdoor grill.  The goal (and trick) is to get the bottom of the rice to form a nice caramelized crust (socarrat), that is both desirable and delicious. Gerry did. You should see him in the kitchen:  the culinary equivalent of a matador.

Gerry Dawes was deemed by the late James Michener, to be the rightful heir to scribe the sequel to Michener’s Iberia.  Known by many to be one of the leading experts on Spain’s gastronomic scene — both past and present — he is the recipient of Spain’s prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomia (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003 and is a familiar figure on Spain’s restaurant circuit.  But as food and wine is part of history and culture, Gerry’s vast knowledge of Spain, and his beautiful writing style earned him that opportunity by Michener himself.  Gerry, however, is so busy entertaining friends, making gazpacho, and bringing famous chefs to Spain, that the reality of his novel still awaits.  Gerry has lived on-and-off in Spain for 30 years and his travel notebooks alone are worth stealing.  He was the first American journalist to write about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adria for FoodArts (they are now good friends).  According to Michael Batterberry, FoodArt’s late beloved publisher and editor, “…That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adria in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain’s riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry “Mr. Spain” Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish Table.”  Whew.  I couldn’t have said it better.

So, it was Mr. Spain last weekend, who finally taught me the gospel-of-gazpacho.  No hot spices (the heat come from the garlic), the proper texture, the requisite color, and the most fabulous taste.   I took notes and you will find my approximation below.  His is the Gazpacho a la Sevilliana — taught to him by his “Spanish mother” Maria Franco, the proprietress of Pension Santa Cruz located in the old Jewish quarter of Seville.  In the old days, it cost $1.00 a night and an extra .15 cents for a hot shower.  Gerry differentiated his Sevillana gazpacho from the more brick-colored, thicker, sauce-like salmorejo gazpachos of Córdoba, which are often served with strips of fried eggplant.

If you are ever planning a trip to Spain, you might want to hire Gerry to write your itinerary and fix-you-up with some of Spain’s greatest chefs and restaurants, or follow Gerry Dawes’s  Spain:  An Insider’s Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel, on his generous blog.   His photography is also award-winning.  www.gerrydawesspain.com

Gerry’s Gazpacho
Gerry says the base of gazpacho is primal — water, vinegar, garlic and bread.

5 very large ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1-1/2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup vinegar (Gerry used 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar)
4 ounces soft baguette, soaked in a bowl of 2 cups water for 20 minutes
1 cup chopped red peppers
1 cup chopped green peppers
1 cup chopped orange peppers
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oiil

Process everything in the food processor until smooth, including the water from the soaking bread.  Strain into a large bowl.  Process the remaining solids until very smooth and add to soup.   Chill until very cold.  Add salt to taste.   Garnish with remaining cucumber, chopped, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers, chopped egg, chopped onion, and warm croutons.  Serves 6 to 8

Tastes of the Week

7 Aug

August 1 through August 7

A transitional week of tastes and flavors from Rome (bottom up) to Callicoon Center, New York!  Fun!

A wonderful, congenial and perfectly cooked pancake breakfast at the Firehouse in Callicoon Center, New York. We joined what must have been 600 breakfasters, from 7 a.m. till noon, for orange juice, fabulous pancakes cooked by fireman Bill Murray, over-easy eggs, flat round peppery sausages the size of bread-and-butter plates, and good hot coffee.  All for 6 bucks.  Nice gun raffle, too.

Visiting our daughter in camp near Jeffersonville, New York we fell in love with a cafe and inn called Samba, run by a Brazilian woman and her husband, an actor, director and former captain at the Rainbow Room.  Her food is exquisitely comforting and for dinner we enjoyed a fabulous salt cod brandade topped with sunny-side up quail eggs, thick slices of juicy pernil (pork), a wonderful seafood stew made with leeks, cream, clams, mussels and pollock.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream with a warm Brazilian sugar-banana caramel. Fab!

Steamed broccoli and chopped green cabbage tossed with flaked salt, extra-virgin olive oil and hot pepper flakes.
So simple and satisfying — the vegetables tasted almost sweet.  This was dinner at home one night.

Really good warm chocolate chocolate-chip cookies on the plane home from Italy.  Added cocoa powder to my favorite chocolate chip cookie
recipe this week and voila!

The definitive cacio e pepe (homemade pasta with pecorino romano and lots of cracked pepper) in Rome at the famous Antico Forno Roscioli.

One of the best meals in Italy was at the contemporary l’Antico Arco with a promising young chef who could really make it on the international
scene.  From Albania, and only 29 years old, Fundim Gjepali respects the cooking of the famous chef Arzak in Spain and himself is cooking pretty
sophisticated stuff:  fresh mozzarella with bottarga (a new trend in Italy), a warm elixir of ricotta and yogurt topped with asparagus, truffles and poached egg yolk, perfectly cooked risotto made with a local fish, and “meatballs” made from suckling pig.

“Trappizzini” — made at Pizzeria 00100 on Via Giovanni Branca — it is a fabulous stuffed bread (better than pizza dough) filled with the best
tripe we’ve ever had (there are a variety of fillings to choose from including chicken cacciatore.)  It is a made-up dish — between a sandwich and
a pizza — and it could become very popular.  It’s a little hole-in-the wall place that has already been discovered by everyone!

Arrivederci, Roma

3 Aug

We were awaiting the last of our doppio (double) espressos in our charming room at the Caesar House Residenzia in Rome, conveniently located near Rome’s ancient Forum, Colliseum, and the breathtaking “wedding cake” monument to Vittorio Emanuele, the first King of united Italy. Our two-week journey ended this morning with a quick prima colazione (breakfast) and a trip to the airport.  I returned home with my suitcase.  It arrived in Naples, 12 days after we did!

As I jokingly said, the day it was lost, that my luggage would be taking a trip of its own. Indeed Alitalia made that happen. It was sent back to Newark, New Jersey, where it remained for five days, then sent to Paris, lost again, and ended up at the Naples airport the very day we were leaving for Rome.  Looking for that suitcase became a leitmotif of the trip, as we experienced the frustrations that Italy can bring, but it also brought a sense of liberation, a new handbag, linen pants, and some Italian undergarments into my life!

Rome was exhilarating, made more so by spending time with Iris Carulli, a dear friend and “guide extraordinaire” to the majesty of Rome.  My husband and I spent two days walking, reminiscing (we have been to Rome many times yet not in 20 years), and met Iris in the evening for two splendid meals and then hours of walking the city’s grand piazzas.  Iris has lived in Italy now for more than 10 years, and is considered by many to be one of Rome’s best tour guides. You must hire her if you come! Her suggestions were invaluable and her knowledge of art and history made ancient Rome fascinating.  Not to mention, present-day Rome! How we enjoyed the contemporary restaurant l’Antico Arco, near the American Academy of Rome (with a strenuous hike at sunset up the Janiculum Hill), the revered trattoria (and bakery) Antico Forno Roscioli, where Sullivan Street Bakery genius, Jim Lahey, came recently to train (the bread in Rome is very good!), and the crowded Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain – all magical at midnight.   Most fun was discovering, completely by accident, a Roman trattoria called Agustarello (in an area called Testaccio) where we had the best pasta alla gricia (with guanciale and pecorino), and amazing braised oxtails (darkened with chocolate and full of the requisite, yet invisible, celery). That was lunch.

We enjoyed our visit to MaXXI, the museum of contemporary art, designed by Zaha Hadid, and our tour of the beautiful synagogue of Rome.  We even found the ancient bakery which makes “Pizza Ebraica,” or Jewish pizza.  Not really pizza at all, but a kind of excessive cookie bar, studded with candied fruit and burnt a bit. No one knows why it is called this, but apparently it has been so for the last 100 years.

Tomorrow morning, I will be eating it slowly, in my own kitchen, accompanied by wonderful memories and a doppio espresso, or two.  Arrivederci, Roma.

Tastes of the Week (Naples Edition)

31 Jul

July 25 to July 31, 2011

The most unusual antipasti I have ever had in my life was at an agriturismo in Padula (near the dazzling monastery Certosa di San Lorenzo.)   At “Fattoria Alvaneta” we had “horn of the goat” peppers (corno di capra), which are dried peppers, peperoni cruschi, that were deep-fried (peperoni fritte) until ethereally crispy. About 6 inches long and deep red in color, you are truly amazed at the unexpected texture – like shards of delectable mica.  Peperoni cruschi (pronounced crew-ski) are the peppers used for making paprika dolce – which Cecilia uses for making her homemade pancetta.  I was fascinated by the sweet, aromatic notes of the peppers and wonder why we don’t think, or know more about Italian paprika.

Fattoria Alvaneta” was also home to the best and most interesting array of antipasti we’ve encountered anywhere:  sauteed escarole with green olives, homemade pancetta and guanciale (made with the wonderful paprika), fresh ricotta cheese with honey and toasted walnuts, the same “dried-and-fried” crispy peppers mixed with scrambled eggs, rospi – balls of fried pizza dough with anchovies (we were surprised how light they were), oil-soaked tomato bruschetta, and an unusual bean and grain soup (made from 13 ingredients!) called Cuccia.  What followed?  Fresh cavatelli with pepperoni cruschi, and polpette di pane (bread balls!  fabulous!) served with a wonderful tomato sauce and a side dish of mashed potatoes, both flavored and colored with paprika.

A last dinner of braised water buffalo at Tenuta Seliano, beautifully cooked and very tasty, alongside a “compote” of braised green peppers and tomatoes.  Dessert was our first panna cotta on this trip.  It was topped with a fresh raspberry sauce.  At breakfast the next morning, we sampled the cakes Cecilia made for us – a chestnut cake made with chestnut flour, ricotta and yellow raisins, and a very interesting carrot cake made with a puree of pears and coarsely shredded lemon peel.

A real Neapolitan espresso (across from the Duomo in Naples) where the “head” or the “crema” is twice as big as the espresso!  (My husband bought a great suit next door!)

Lovely pizza at restaurant Europeo di Mattozzi, and excellent fried whitebait and a bean soup made from fresh beans, great olive oil and toast.

Fabulous cheap pasta at restaurant Nennella – one of the real finds of the trip. Paccheri with a light tomato-basil sauce and also paccheri with zucca (pumpkin) and tiny shrimp.  The zucca tasted of the shrimp water and was delicious.

Unexpectedly great, at another “worker’s place” called Cucina di Mamma  where you can have an entire lunch for 7 euros, we opted instead for the best fresh mozzarella, a salad caprese (made with cherry tomatoes) and a big plate of tender chilled octopus.  This was followed by spaghetti with a fresh cherry tomato sauce and a marvelous steamed lobster!  About 30 euros with wine and sparkling water.

A wonderful, soulful, beautiful dinner at Taverna dell’Arte. The restaurant and owner Alphonso, were recently featured in John Turturro’s new movie Passione (about the soul, life and music of Naples).  Bruschetta with Sicilian pesto (basil and almonds), a dry, pungent cheese from Sicily, polenta fritte, and black olive and cheese stuffed Roma tomatoes for starters.  Terrific gnocchi with mussels and squid, and veal meatballs with marsala and mushrooms.  The ambiance was lovely and felt authentically Neapolitan. The main course was followed by a “palate cleaner” of a basil and lemon sorbetto, followed by a shot of Rosolio (a wonderful liqueur made from a local apple), and peaches marinated in white wine.

We’ve also been walking 5 hours a day to keep up with all this!  Ciao, ciao.

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