baking

a sip (or bite) to celebrate

guiness brownies with bailey's cream cheese swirl

Here’s to drinking, and to eating your drink. Not necessarily just for St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration of over-exuberant liver owners worldwide, these Guinness stout brownies with Bailey’s Irish Cream and cream cheese swirls should be part of any March celebration. (Especially if you double the amount of Irish cream in the recipe.) Completing your U.S. taxes early? Drink a brownie. Survived the ides of March? Drink a brownie. You value pi, but are not a pie-lover? Drink a brownie. So indeed, raise your adult chocolatey baked good to toast the good taste of our Irish friends all month long (and should the brownie-celebratory mood hit you during April through February, cheers to your own good taste!)

travel

gallo pinto and queso frito

Can you imagine waking up to this little bounty every morning? How about in 80 degree weather where the sun never stops shining? Ah, Nicaragua. Meeting up with Max and Monisha in Nicaragua was the best cure for the mid-winter blues.  Having spent part of of our trip in the rustic island of Ometepe and part in the beautiful colonial town of Granada, I got to eat some simple authentic meals as well as gourmet sophisticated fare. However, the best meal every day was breakfast. In this typical Nicaraguan breakfast, perfectly cooked eggs with fresh salsa, bananas, and fried potatoes were served with gallo pinto (garlicky red beans and rice), maduros (sweet, ripe plantains), and my favorite – queso frito (fried cheese). How can you go wrong with fried cheese? It is chewy and salty and holds its texture well to the heat, much like Cypriot halloumi, and when asked what kind of cheese they were frying up for us the answer was always…uh, Nicaraguan cheese? Of course.

Mid-day through evening, most of our calories came thirst-refreshing Nicaraguan beer. Don’t have a favorite? No matter, they’re all brewed by the same company anyway.

In Granada, a wealth of traditional and international cuisines awaited us. At El Tranvia in the Hotel Dario, you can eat Caribbean inspired cuisine in a beautiful Spanish colonial courtyard filled with tropical plants and flowers. I had the roasted tomato and snapper over fresh vegetables served with a slice of traditional Spanish omelet. I’d never think to pair fish with the potato and egg omelet, but it seems so obvious now.

At Mediterraneo, we were serenaded by troubadours while lingering over more fresh seafood. B indulged in the rich Nicaraguan lobsters caught off the Caribbean coast. He didn’t even have to work hard as they came cracked and de-shelled.

Our last evening’s meal was by far the most memorable. In a dirt-floored fluorescent-lit open-aired joint, we were told by those in-the-know to order the guapote sin espina. We didn’t know what we were in for: a whole bass-like fish, deboned, fried and topped with onions, peppers, tomato and lime. Served alongside tostones (fried green plantains) with queso frito (score!) it was the perfect meal. Halfway through digging at the tender, juicy fish with our forks, we asked – should we order another? That good. Where are you guapote? I miss you already.

travel

a year in yum

This year: I’ve traveled for food, food has traveled to me, I’ve cooked for new friends, new friends have cooked with me and for me, I’ve failed in the kitchen, succeeded with dinner reservations, eaten new amazing foods, fallen back to eating the same comfort foods over and over, laughed boisterously with family over frites, cried unabashedly in public with a friend over octopus, fallen in love with abandon over mussels, reconnected, gave thanks, flirted, took solace, made introductions, explored, and celebrated over food.  Here then, some highlights from my year in food:

A perfectly plump shrimp dumpling handpicked by my host and enjoyed on a rooftop in Hong Kong.

Kowloon fish market, you can get no fresher. I was amazed at how pristine the street markets were considering the array of living seafood spilling over the sidewalks.

Sylhet, Bangladesh tea plantation at sunset. In the morning, workers pick just the bud and two youngest leaves while others prune the trees to waist height.

The intensely funny and intensely delicious Old Dirty Bastard from Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, a chocolate glazed donut with crushed Oreos and thick ribbons of peanut butter.

Widmer brewery, Portland, where beers are being experimentally brewed in old oak Bourbon casks.

After falling on my butt more times than I can count, this homemade breakfast of injera, shiro wat, and heirloom potatoes made the snowy slopes of Tahoe seem less mocking.

At long last, my craving for an authentic, moist, and flavorful grilled fish taco was fulfilled at Pokez in San Diego, with a gratis side of fun-loving vegan tattooed hipsters.

The late dinners in Spain allowed us girls to indulge in a hotel-room evening snack of inexpensive rioja, slices of Manchego cheese, Iberian ham, and sweet rolls from the supermarket to hold us over.

The immaculate and festive La Boqueria market in Barcelona, filled with stylish eye-catching displays of food to make anyone hungry.

The early morning’s cut of coconuts on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Freshly made, warm, light, and fluffy malasada (Portuguese doughnut) at Tex’s drive-thru in Honoka’a, Hawaii.

Kenny’s pitch-perfect breakfast at Kalaekilohana with fresh-made English muffins, lomi lomi salmon, and local apple bananas and mangoes – the only mangoes I have ever loved.

An artistic display, equal parts delicate and delicious, of Arctic char with pearl onions, apples and foam at Sjavarkjallarinn in Reykjavik.

A comforting pot of plokkfiskur in Reykjavik, creamy whitefish and potatoes served with rye bread, soothes the soul and absorbs the cold.

My mom’s begune bharta, eggplant curry – creamy, spicy, and heartwarming as well as stomach-filling.

I’m not a huge fan of Indian sweets, but who could resist these treats in Toronto wrapped up in intricately designed boxes like precious jewels?

Nothing fancy here, just the makings of a lovingly prepared holiday dinner with a warm and aromatic kitchen full of easy friends.

The spigots at the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam poured forth hours of shared family reminiscences and silly stories.

Belgian frites are best enjoyed on cold Amsterdam nights, slathered in mayonnaise and curry sauce, in XXL sizes as big as your head, and shared with multiple accomplices to your impending coronary artery disease.  Here’s to another year of yum!

baking

have your beer and eat it too

I promise this will be the last cupcake post for some time. They’re just really fun to make and then give away to all the people you know so that you don’t have any left in your house to tempt you late at night, after feeding the cat, while doing the dishes, or for breakfast as part of a not-so-healthy diet.  I like chocolate cupcakes, but sometimes that’s too easy and boring for me. (Even with the vegan ones, I really feel that adding the chocolate chips to the batter added some needed oomph, although the cupcakes are yummy on their own.) So, when I came across this Dave Lieberman recipe for Guinness stout chocolate cupcakes it was a melding of all things delicious in my life coming together in perfect harmony. Guinness already tastes like a meal – malty, bittersweet, rich, and creamy all at the same time.  It’s the perfect foil for chocolate, really. This recipe would probably be excellent substituted with Young’s Double Stout which tastes like Cadbury chocolate beer to me. But don’t be dismayed if you are not a beer-drinker: these cupcakes don’t taste like beer. They taste like a rich chocolate cake with…..something….what is that other flavor? Is it a different spice? Is something healthy like a vegetable sneaked into here? If you give these to your friends, they’d never know what that mystery ingredient was, until you point out that particular malty bite – then of course! it’s all so apparent now. The cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with the Guinness flavor – however I added scraped vanilla bean with delicious results. You could also use the mascarpone frosting from the carrot cupcakes or a vanilla buttercream, but I’d definitely keep the topping white to mimic the head of a cold, refreshing (and filling) freshly pulled pint of Guinness.