Archive for September, 2010

Quick Update From Peru (and Bolivia!)

Sunday, September 26th, 2010 by virginia

Just wanted to drop a quick post to wrap up the first half of our trip. We’re currently in Puno, Peru, right on Lake Titicaca. Yesterday we went to Copacabana, Bolivia, where we caught a catamaran ride around the lake. We had an amazing time on Sun Island, which is the largest island in the lake. We took a short trek to some incredible Inca ruins, and the views were just beautiful. We also got to spend some time in the village on the island where were able to pet donkeys and llamas, and were in the middle of a stampede of sheep. It seemed like around every corner there was a surprise that absolutely delighted us.

We spent this morning walking around Copacabana (the Bolivian town is supposedly the original, not the one in Brazil) and then we returned to Puno where took a boat ride to the floating islands. The floating islands are absolutely astonishing. They’re man-made islands constructed out of reeds, and there are about six families that live on each island. We visited two islands, and the first was filled with the friendliest children we’ve ever met, who were so excited to greet us and play with us. It was a thrilling yet humbling experience.

Tomorrow we head to Cusco and the Sacred Valley, and we’ll be in Machu Picchu for the next two days after that. We heard that there were strikes in Cusco last week, which are over now and hopefully won’t affect us, but please keep your fingers crossed!

Quick Update from Peru – Flight of the Condors

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 by virginia

Yesterday morning we took a four hour drive from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, where the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s not quite the Grand Canyon, but the valleys are green and there are lots of terraces where the locals farm all sorts of vegetables. We also saw herds of llamas, alpacas, and vicunas (all similar species).

We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, the Colca Lodge, which is in a valley right on the Colca River. We had an amazing view of the river outside the window of our bungalow, and the sound of the running water was incredibly soothing.

The Lodge also has several outdoor hot spring pools. We relaxed in the warm water for quite a while, where we watched the sunset and gazed up in amazement as the sky filled with stars. Josh was trying to figure out which constellations we were seeing, as we’ve never seen stars from the southern hemisphere.

But really, the highlight of our time in Colca Canyon was this morning, when we woke up super early to get to Condor Cross on time. This is where condors take flight on the early morning winds, and these majestic birds were truly a sight to see. At first we waited for what seemed like ages, and no condors in sight. Then, all of a sudden, it was like someone released a whole flock, as condors started circling over head and below us in the canyon. Their wingspans were pretty incredible, and when they stretched out all their feathers we could see their beautiful coloring. They’re such graceful birds, and we were lucky to be able to see them soaring all around us.

Condors crossing the canyon

Quick Update From Peru – Cuy Adventures

Monday, September 20th, 2010 by virginia

We ate cuy tonight! For those not familiar, cuy is guinea pig. I was admittedly a little freaked out by the little body split in half from head to toe, so that you could see the skull, the ears, teeny teeth, brittle ribs, etc. It was hard to look at, but once I cut off the head and removed it from the plate, it was easier to dig in.

Taste-wise, it was kind of like rabbit, which has a similar texture to chicken. This particular preparation involved deep frying it, so the skin was super crisp and probably the best part. Not so much meat, but good for a nibble. We plan on trying it again in Cuzco, where we hear it’s also a specialty there. Next time I’ll be better prepared!

Josh's Cuy - the other half was on my plate.

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Peru

Monday, September 20th, 2010 by virginia

Hola amigos! Josh and I are currently in Peru (Lima to be exact) and are absolutely thrilled to finally have made it here. It’s a trip we’ve been talking about for several years but was always pushed aside for whatever reason, until now.

We had a half day city tour today in Lima, then we walked around on our own for a few hours in the afternoon. We’re flying to Arequipa tomorrow in the morning. Our itinerary is packed with lots of stuff, and we’re super excited for everything. After Arequipa and Colca Canyon, we’re flying to Puno and taking a cruise on Lake Titicaca. Then we’re off to the Sacred Valley, Cuzco, and, of course, Machu Picchu.

Food-wise we’ve had the best ceviche ever at a restaurant in Miraflores called Alfresco, which we’ll be writing about when we get back. We also just had a nice dinner at a beautiful restaurant on a pier that extends into the Pacific Ocean, called La Rosa Nautica. Aside from a little green visitor on one of our dishes, the food was excellent, and the ambiance was really nice.

We’ll be away for the next 2 weeks but if we have internet access, we hope to check in once in a while! Otherwise, we’ll definitely update as soon as we get home.

CSA Week #15

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by virginia

It’s been a crazy hectic week for us as Josh and I are both trying to get everything wrapped up at work in anticipation of our trip to Peru. To be honest, we haven’t even begun packing yet, and we’re leaving on Saturday! Today Josh and I were both running around taking care of some last minute errands, and he drew the short straw so he had to run home to pick up our share before we met up again for a goodbye dinner in honor of our Aussie mate Kate.

This week we’ve really been working on clearing out our fridge because I don’t know what will last until we get back from our trip. I made a wonderful plum cake with some of our Italian plums, and Josh and I made a really delicious peach pie from a recipe sent to us by James. The season is starting to change so this week we saw some new items in both our veggie and fruit shares. This week our vegetable share contents included:

Celery – 1 each
Jerusalem Artichoke – 3/4 lbs
Tomatoes – 2 lbs
Greens – 1 lb
Squash – 2 lbs
Pac choi (bok choy) – 1 each
Corn – 2 each

Kale, Jerusalem artichokes, corn, bok choy, squash, celery, tomatoes

The list we got with the contents said radishes, but I was happy to see corn instead. For the greens, we got some more kale. We’ll have to use those up before we leave because they probably won’t keep. I’m not sure what to do with the Jerusalem artichokes though, which look like knobs of ginger. Anyone know any good recipes?

For the fruit share, our contents this week included:

Grapes – 1 quart
Pears – 1 quart
Apples – 8 each

Pears, grapes, apples

I’m super excited to try the pears, and Josh has already snacked on the grapes, which he says are super sweet but have a weird texture and lots of seeds. We’ll try to eat those quickly, but I think the apples will be ok to keep. Felipe and Silva will be taking our shares next week, and we hope that they enjoy the produce as much as we do!

Top Chef in Singapore

Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by virginia

I haven’t been so thrilled with this current season of Top Chef, as there was really no one that I wanted to root for. Tiffany made a good run towards the end but she fell a bit short, and the remaining cheftestants just don’t excite me very much. Kenny and Angelo were the clear frontrunners, and while it was easy to dislike Angelo’s cockiness, Kenny didn’t do much to ingratiate himself to me either. Even though I think Kenny did go home too early, his arrogance before he was eliminated annoyed me as well.

The bright spot of the season, for me, was finding out that the finale would be held in Singapore. It was exciting because this was the first time Top Chef was going somewhere out of the country, but also because Singapore holds a special place in my heart. In October 2007, Josh’s job sent him to Singapore for five weeks, and I took a leave of absence from my own job to go with him. It was an experience of a lifetime, being able to live in a unique city halfway around the world, and I wasn’t about to miss out.

We had a lovely corporate apartment that was bigger than our apartment in NYC, with a fully equipped kitchen, but we never even used it. You see, the food in Singapore is some of the best in the world, and it was cheaper to eat out every day for every meal than it was for me to buy groceries in the supermarket. So while Josh toiled away at the office for 12 hours a day, I was living the life of a lady at leisure. I slept in until noon every day and only got up to meet Josh and his coworkers for lunch. After lunch, when they headed back to the office, I explored the city. I would take a different route home each day, wandering through Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street. I familiarized myself with Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, and hiked the hills of Fort Canning Park. On some days, when I was feeling more active, I’d take the bus or the train to the western part of the country, to see the Singapore Zoo or the Chinese/Japanese gardens.

After my afternoon jaunts, I’d head back to our apartment and take a dip in the pool to cool down (it was over 100 degrees every day). Then I’d watch TV or nap until Josh called me for dinner, and I’d go back out to meet up with him and his coworkers. They were eager to show us everything Singapore had to offer, and loved the fact that we were adventurous eaters. They took us to different hawker centers and would tell us to sit down while everyone else ran around to pick up various items from all the different stalls.

Basically hawker centers are similar to food courts we have at malls in the U.S. There are central tables, where people would reserve seats by placing packets of tissues on the table (imagine trying to do that here!), and then each stall sells just a few items. Usually a stall specialized in a certain dish, so you would pick up one dish from one stall, and then order another specialty dish from a different stall. Beverages were sold at a completely separate stall, etc. etc., and everything was outrageously cheap. For someone who likes variety, this was the best way to eat.

One of our favorite places was Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, a giant food court near Josh’s office.We had lunch there several times, and at night the outer rim of the market turned into a giant barbecue. There were stalls after stalls of people selling satays, the most tender and juicy satays we’ve ever had. The smells emanating from the market were absolutely intoxicating, and the atmosphere was lively and festive.

The exterior of Lau Pa Sat Festival Market

Beef, mutton, and chicken satays

BBQ stingray

So going back to part one of the Top Chef finale, Josh and I were beside ourselves when we saw that the Quickfire Challenge was held at Lau Pa Sat. It was fun to see the cheftestants sweating it out (literally) as they tried to recreate some of the street food they ate earlier in the episode. Ed’s noodle dish did look pretty tasty, though I have to give props to Angelo for trying to make chili frog legs, a take on the popular chili crab dish. Contrary to the name, chili crab isn’t very spicy, and is more tomato-y in flavor. If you’re looking for some heat and burn, try black pepper crab instead.

The Elimination Challenge was held at the Tanjong Beach Club, which is actually on the island of Sentosa, just south of the mainland. The only time that Josh didn’t work was on weekends, so we took that time to explore places away from the mainland. One weekend we took a five hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and during another weekend we took a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Our first weekend in Singapore, however, we took the cable car out to Sentosa to visit the southernmost point of continental Asia.

Sentosa is a resort island, with a beautiful stretch of beach that is actually man-made. There’s lots to do on the island besides sitting on the beach or people watching from the various clubs that line the water. There’s a rainforest jungle you can hike through, animal parks with animal shows to watch, adventure parks, rides, a fort, and the famous Songs of the Sea water show, among other things. We spent a full day there walking around both in the jungle and on the beach, and had some of the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted at an outdoor restaurant called Coastes.

The jungle side of Sentosa

The beach side

More scenery

Small bridge that leads up to the southernmost point of continental Asia

Mickey the monkey who sat on our shoulders with his big red butt

Giant merlion statue - the merlion is the mascot of Singapore. It has the head of a lion ("Singa" means lion) and the body of a fish.

The best curry chicken ever

It’s too bad that Top Chef didn’t show any scenery from Sentosa because it’s a really beautiful island. The Elimination Challenge I thought was a bit contrived, but I’m glad that everyone turned out really good food. It was hard to predict who was going to be eliminated, and I was sad to see Kelly, the last woman in the competition, end up packing her knives. I’m looking forward to the final episode, not to see who wins Top Chef, but to see what clips they’ll show of Singapore. Josh and I spent most of the episode yelping whenever we recognized a location in one of the shots.

In conclusion, I know this post really has nothing to do with Top Chef, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic about our time in Singapore. It’s a place with an amazing blend of cultures, and that is reflected in the food. We had fantastic Chinese and Malaysian food while we were there, and the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. The people are so friendly and hospitable, and yes, the city is incredibly clean. Josh thinks he might have to go again for work in December, and I’m already seething with jealousy because I don’t have enough vacation time to tag along this time. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Singapore, don’t pass it up! It’s an amazing country, full of amazing people and amazing food. I sincerely hope that having Top Chef exposure will encourage more people to visit this wonderful place.

Pea Soup

Saturday, September 11th, 2010 by virginia

CSA peas

One of our CSA shares included a 1/2 lb of peas, which really wasn’t so many peas after we shelled them. I’ve never seen fresh peas before, and was surprised to see how un-uniform they actually are.

Peas in a pod

We split open the pods and scraped out all the little peas into a bowl.

Small pile of shelled peas

To make the soup, we sauteed a little bit of onion (just half a small one, since we only had like 3/4 cup of peas) in some butter until the onion was soft and translucent (but not browned). Then we added the peas and cooked them for about a minute. We added just enough chicken stock to cover the peas by about an inch and brought it up to a boil. Once the stock had boiled down a little, we took it off the heat and carefully pureed the soup with our handy immersion blender. We seasoned with salt and pepper, then added a touch of cream to finish.

Creamy pea soup

Because we had such a small amount of peas to start with, we only got one bowl of soup out of it, but it was rich and creamy and absolutely delicious. We had been inspired by the pea soup we had at Nougatine and I thought that our version stood up pretty well, plus it was super easy to make. I liked it so much that I made another batch using a package of frozen peas, and it tasted just as good. The soup makes an elegant starter to any meal, or can be paired with a simple grilled cheese sandwich for something homey and comforting. This is definitely a recipe that we’ll keep on hand for future use.

CSA Week #14

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010 by virginia

Sorry for the lack of posts lately; we spent most of Labor Day weekend in NJ, and now we’re back again to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. We’ve been eating nonstop and spending lots of time with family/friends. Josh stayed in the city today just long enough to do some volunteer truck unloading and to pick up our CSA share. He also arranged the produce this week and took the pics, so they may look a little different. This week our vegetable contents included:

Watermelon – 1/2
Onions – 3/4 lb
Greens – 1 lb
Tomatoes – 2 lbs
Squash – 2 lbs
Radishes – 5 each

Kale, tomatoes, watermelon, radishes, onions, squash

The original contents list we received also said celery, but unfortunately they weren’t delivered. For the greens, Josh picked kale instead of swiss chard, since we’ve had a lot of chard lately. The watermelon was another half of a yellow watermelon, which we ate with dessert tonight. It wasn’t as sweet as the previous watermelon, but everyone was fascinated by the bright yellow flesh.

The fruit share this week was basically a repeat of last week, and we really do have an overpopulation of peaches in our fridge. Claire just sent us a book about canning and preserving foods (thanks Claire!) so I’ll need to look into that, and I also heard that freezer jam is pretty good as well. This week our fruit share contents included:

Plums – 1 lb
Apples – 11 each
Peaches – 3 1/4 lbs

Apples, peaches, plums

It’s crunch time for us because we have a week and a half to go before we leave on our two-week trip to Peru. We’re really excited about our trip but we want to make sure that we use up all of our veggies and fruits before we leave, or at least find ways of storing them so that they’ll still be good when we get back. We made a pretty good dent last week so I’m confident that we won’t let anything go to waste!


Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I both had off from work the day after July 4 so we decided to go for a late leisurely lunch at Nougatine, the more casual restaurant attached to Jean Georges. They have a three course lunch for $26, which is a pretty good deal considering the quality of the food. Josh and I have eaten at Nougatine many times before (we’ve posted about the Nougatine menu/food here), and part of the appeal was that we could choose any two savory dishes from a long list of options. When we tried to place our order this time, however, our waitress told us that we could no longer choose any two dishes from the list, but that we had to pick one appetizer and one entree.

We were sort of shocked and confused because looking at the menu, it still said that we had a choice of two plates, and a dessert. The menu doesn’t even have headers that differentiate between “appetizers” or “entrees”, though the list is divided into two sections separated only by a space. On previous visits, we were told that the small distinction indicated which dishes were lighter and which were heartier, but we had always been allowed to choose whichever dishes we wanted. We had originally wanted one of the lighter dishes and three of the heartier dishes, but we begrudgingly changed one of our selections and continued on with our meal.

The layout of the menu

After we finalized our orders, we settled in and started munching on the bread, a plain slice of a rustic peasant loaf. It has a slight sourdough tang to it and is tasty enough though nothing really exciting.

A slice of rustic loaf

Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, starting with a pea soup and the tuna tartare. The brilliant green pea soup was garnished with little croutons, a small bit of brie, and dill, though what stood out most to us was the vibrant flavor of the fresh sweet peas. Each mouthful was a delight, and even though I’m not usually a fan of peas, I apparently love it in soup form. It was a simple dish, yet extremely satisfying.

Sweet pea soup

The tuna tartare was the appetizer we chose when had to change our order. It was prepared in the same way that we had it last year, with avocado, radish slices, and a ginger marinade. I liked that the tuna was carefully cubed, not ground or sloppily chopped into small pieces. The radishes added a nice crunch, while the avocado helped temper the slight spiciness of the dish. It’s a decent tuna tartare, though not the best we’ve ever had.

Tuna tartare with avocado, radishes, and ginger marinade

For our entrees, we selected two different kinds of fish – the red snapper and the cod. We had also wanted to try the roasted chicken with summer vegetables and a light mustard sauce, but when we had to swap for an appetizer, we thought the fish dishes looked more interesting. The cod was pan roasted and served on top of stewed tomatoes, summer squash, and wax beans. The fish was perfectly cooked and well seasoned, and the vegetables underneath were sweet and fresh. It was a seasonably appropriate dish and very well prepared.

Pan roasted cod with stewed tomatoes, summer squash, and wax beans

The red snapper was also pan roasted and perfectly cooked. It was crispy on the outside and the skin was properly seasoned. The snapper was served with broccoli rabe and a sweet garlic-lemon broth. The rabe was soft but not bitter, and the broth was rich yet bright. I preferred this dish over the cod dish, as it was a bit more elegant and refined, but both were very well done.

Pan roasted red snapper with broccoli rabe and a garlic-lemon broth

There were only two options for dessert, a chocolate cake and a white cake with strawberries and red wine sorbet. They were nearly identical to the desserts we had at the Terrace last year, and we opted for one of each. The chocolate cake was the classic Jean Georges warm molten cake served with vanilla bean ice cream. The interior is a rich, fudgey chocolate river that runs out when you cut into the cake. It’s decadent but a bit heavy, so it’s definitely a dessert you’d want to share with someone.

Warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream

I was happy to see that they vastly improved the vanilla cake from last year that accompanied the strawberries and red wine sorbet. Last year the cake was a small, dry, flat round, and this year, it was a moist sesame-citrus sponge cake that had body and flavor. Although the syrup that ran off the strawberries was a tad too sweet, I thought the sorbet had just the right amount of tartness, and was very refreshing.

Sesame-citrus sponge cake with strawberries and red wine sorbet

Overall we both enjoyed our leisurely lunch at Nougatine, though we are still disappointed with the change in the menu structure. The food is still tasty and well prepared, and there are still lots of options to choose from, but it doesn’t seem as limitless as it used to. When we left the restaurant, we confirmed with the hostess that this was a new policy, and she said yes, because people used to be confused and would order two entrees. I don’t think it was confusing before, because our previous servers have always told us we could order whatever we liked, but I do think it is confusing now because they haven’t changed the wording or the setup of the menu. It’s kind of sad that they are now going this route, because it makes the lunch seem like less of a deal even though all things considered, it’s still quite a treat and a bargain. Regardless, I’m sure we’ll be back, perhaps during a different season because the summer dishes from this year seemed to overlap somewhat with ones that we had last year. The beauty of this three course prix fixe is that we don’t have to wait for Restaurant Week!

1 Central Park West at 60th St.
New York, NY

Brown’s Lobster Pound (Seabrook, NH)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 by virginia

The day after our nephew Alexander’s first birthday party in Massachusetts, we had half a day to spend with the family before we had to make the drive back home to NJ. Instead of staying around my sister’s house, we decided to head across the border into New Hampshire and try out the lobster at Brown’s Lobster Pound in Seabrook. According to my sister, this place has been featured on the Travel Channel and is famous for its lobster rolls.

It was about a 45 minute drive but the restaurant is just past the border so it wasn’t bad. We pulled into the packed parking lot and there was a huge line of people waiting at the windows where you can order fried foods.

People lined up to place their orders

Since we were getting lobster, we headed straight inside to place our order. If you’re ordering lobster and fried food, you can order inside where the line was much shorter. However, if you’re only ordering fried food, you have to do it outside. We got a few 1 1/4 lb lobsters, a few lobster rolls, a fried oyster plate for my dad, and a fried chicken plate for Adam, who hates seafood (seriously, what kind of New Englander is he? I guess you can’t expect much from a Red Sox/Patriots fan… haha j/k! Or am I?) We also wanted some steamers, which we had to order from a different counter inside.

The menu behind the lobster tanks

They gave us numbers for our orders, and we settled down at some picnic tables in the corner. The restaurant is pretty big, and even though the parking lot was full there were many picnic tables still available. The restaurant serves soda, coffee, tea, etc., but you can bring your own beer and wine. Most tables had coolers of beer, and one couple behind us was tucking into huge lobsters while drinking champagne from flutes. Pretty neat idea!

Rows of picnic tables

Our orders of steamers came up first, and we eagerly dug into the piles of clams. To eat a steamer, you pull off the skin around the neck, swirl it around in a cup of hot water to clean off any grit, dip it in melted butter, and eat.

Piles of steamers

These steamers were fresh and briney, with a pleasing texture that wasn’t too chewy. We swirled, dipped, and ate them until the rest of our food was ready.

Swirling a steamer in hot water

I opted for a lobster roll instead of a whole steamed lobster. Although value-wise whole lobsters are a better deal (they were about $12/lb while one lobster roll was $12), I wasn’t in the mood to get all messy. The lobster rolls weren’t huge, but they weren’t tiny either. There were big chunks of meat, and just enough mayo to keep everything moist and together but not overpowering. The bun was the New England style top loading hot dog bun that I love, and the outside was buttered and toasted so that it was slightly crisp but still delightfully chewy. It was only the second lobster roll that I’ve had in my life, and it was pretty good.

Lobster roll

Josh opted for a whole lobster, which was just steamed and came with melted butter on the side for dipping. It was approximately 1 1/4 lbs, and the meat was sweet and fresh.

Steamed lobster

Some of the lobsters had roe and tomalley, which my mom and I both love. They have a complex flavor that turn a lot of people off so I guess it’s an acquired taste, but we consider finding roe to be like hitting the jackpot.

Lobster roe and tomalley

Josh and I also split a cup of New England clam chowder. The chowder had great flavor and lots of clams but it was surprisingly thin. When I think of New England style chowder, I think of thick, velvety, rich soup. This soup had buttery and creamy flavor, but it was watery in texture. I didn’t really mind because it was a hot summer day, but if it were wintertime, I prefer something with more body to it so that it sticks to your ribs.

New England clam chowder

My dad isn’t as into lobster so he opted for a fried oyster plate. The oysters were decently big but they weren’t as briney in flavor as I would have liked. They were also pretty heavily breaded, and while the coating was nicely fried and crunchy, it kind of made the oysters feel overly dry in my mouth. We dipped them in lots of tasty tartar sauce but I felt like that defeated the whole purpose of having oysters. We could have dipped anything into the sauce and it would have been the same. At least the fries were good.

Fried oysters and french fries

Overall I liked Brown’s Lobster Pound but I think the appeal is the kitschiness of the atmosphere. You’re basically eating in an oversized shack, and the food is simple, hearty, and straightforward. Price-wise it’s probably comparable to other similar seafood joints, but if you’re going just for steamed lobster then it’s overpriced. Lobster at the supermarket is definitely cheaper than $12/lb (we actually stopped somewhere on the way back to my sister’s house to buy lobsters that were only $3.99/lb). Lobster rolls, however, cost $15 and up in NYC, so $12 is a relative bargain. If I lived nearby this probably wouldn’t be a place we would go to regularly, but as a tourist, I thoroughly enjoyed it. While the oysters weren’t great, the steamers and lobsters were very good, and it was a fun experience. The BYO aspect is also another huge plus.

Brown’s Lobster Pound
407 NH Highway 286
Seabrook, NH