Travel

Six Things We Miss About San Diego

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Reserve

What?! San Diego is awesome? Breaking news, I know. But, we’ve been to the ol’ Sandy Eggo three times in the last fifteen months and we’re never ready to leave. The weather is perfect, traffic is minimal, you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a good time, and the FOOD. OH, THE FOOD. And, it’s cheap. The ratio of deliciousness to inexpensive is probably the highest in the U.S. Look it up in the census stats, it’s in there.

I also highly recommend buddying up to a local, as we’d probably end up eating at an Applebee’s* if it wasn’t for our friends Mike and Ashley. It’s like having our own personal food tour guides and surf instructor. Speaking of which, if you enjoy witty and sometimes sarcastic writing (which is why you’re here, right?), check out Mike’s surf blog, The Flying Peanut. Warning: It will make you want to quit your day job, move to San Diego, and learn how to surf.

Yeah, so picking five things wasn’t easy…so we picked six.

1. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood     Oscar's Mexican Seafood on Urbanspoon

Oscar's Mexican Seafood

Spicy Shrimp Tacos from Oscar’s. Yeah, this was from the second round of ordering. Should’ve gone back for a third…

If you’re looking for a reason to visit San Diego, I’ll give you two: The smoked fish taco and spicy shrimp taco from Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. They are not good. Nor are they great. The only way to describe them would be LEGENDARY. They are the type of tacos you will weave into the lore you tell your great grand children; and while you’ll most likely exaggerate your own amazing feats, you will not need to use any hyperbole with these two corn tortillas filled with magic. As we chowed down on these tacos during our final hours on the West Coast, I put some serious thought into how I could bring a dozen of them home with us on the plane. And although I couldn’t figure out a sanitary way to accomplish that feat, at least I was left with the fond memories of fish, shrimp, cheese, cabbage, pico de gallo, and avocado on a fresh made corn tortilla, topped with habanero crema. This restaurant is the sole reason why my Realtor.com app has a lot of recent “San Diego” searches.

2. Staying at the Secluded Studio with Canyon View (Airbnb.com)

Airbnb Canyon View

Waking up to this sure beat the cookie-cutter town houses we see at home.

We have found our unofficial second home in San Diego. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, the Secluded Studio with Canyon View in San Diego is a great place to start (click here for $50 off your first Airbnb trip!). Aside from being a clean, bright space with beautiful canyon views from the balcony, the location is perfect and is just a short 5-10 minute drive to all of the restaurants on this list. It’s great if you want to avoid the crowded beaches and packed downtown area, while still being pretty close to everything. You’ll feel like you’re staying with family, as the hosts provided us with bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, tea, coffee, milk, and juice. As much as I enjoy maximizing our food adventures by eating breakfast out, it was nice to enjoy a bagel and coffee, whilst sitting on the balcony over-looking the canyon.

3. Working on a Food Truck for Animals

Giraffe San Diego Zoo Safari Park

I found our next pet!

As much fun as it is to feed ourselves, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was pretty freaking cool. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a giraffe?! They make human eyes look like garbage disposal sludge. And rhinos are just like giant puppies who have horns and could kill you if they wanted, but they won’t ’cause you’re on a truck and they LOVE apples. Spend the extra money for the Caravan Safari and make friends with some wild beasts.

4. El Zarape Restaurant     El Zarape Mexican on Urbanspoon

El Zarape California Burrito

California Burrito from El Zarape. Notice the holy trinity of hot sauces.

This hole-in-the-wall-ish restaurant is exactly the type of place you’d expect to find a solid Mexican meal. Although it might not have won any burrito awards, I have a sentimental attachment. I’m going to get a little mushy here, so get out the tissues and crank up the Journey. El Zarape was the site of…sorry, I’m tearing up a bit here…it was where I had my first California Burrito. I feel like I should mail them an anniversary card every year. I seriously crave this place at least once a month and the pain is compounded by the fact that California Burritos cannot be found anywhere in Northern VA or DC. It’s not a difficult food product to make, but for some reason it’s a freaking unicorn out here. So, to be safe you better eat at least two while you’re there.

5. Coin-Op Game Room

Coin-op Game Room San Diego

Here’s to my dead homie, Michelangelo.

Barcades aren’t specific to San Diego, but we had a good time drinking and time traveling back to the 90s at Coin-Op Game Room. The beers and drinks were top notch, bartenders were friendly, and they had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! And it’s the only place that encourages drinking and driving (MarioKart, of course). Just stay out of the way of the pinball masters. They do NOT mess around.

6. Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream

Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream

Front Row: lychee, chocolate orange, peanut butter and guava jelly. Back Row: toasted coconut, peanut butter brownie, lemon cream

You know how when you go to an ice cream shop and you try a bunch of flavors and then you have to settle on just one or two? Well, Hammond’s has solved this problem with…(drum roll)…Ice cream flights! Hell yes. Choose up to six flavors, each small scoop is perched on its own mini cone for you to enjoy. It even comes on a cool stand that looks like it was designed by Apple. I don’t know why every ice cream shop in America isn’t stealing this idea.

*Just kidding, we will never eat at Applebee’s. Sorry, John Corbett.

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Recipes

Pumpkin Sage Empanadas

pumpkin empanadas

When you think of sage, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Turkey day stuffing? Raviolis with brown butter sauce?

EVIL SPIRITS?

Yup, probably longer than we’ve been stuffing bread into turkeys, sage has long been thought to have the power to ward off evil. Which honestly makes evil look pretty weak. I could understand being afraid of something like habanero peppers or Hákarl (Icelandic fermented shark). But ‘lil ‘ol sage? Seriously, evil, grow a pair.

Cutting dough

Whether or not you believe in the cleansing power of sage, it still has to make you wonder how broad of a spectrum it works within. “Warding off evil” is a pretty general description. If I saw that on a résumé, I would want some elaboration and at least two legitimate evil references. For example, does it work on bullies? What about evil siblings? Or the condescending waiter at that pretentious restaurant downtown? Where is the line drawn?!

Maybe it’s as ambiguous as simply “bad stuff.” Like if you were to make a pair of socks out of sage, it would ward off the evil of stubbed toes. (Anyone with an ottoman at the end of their bed knows what I’m talking about. Its legs are the spawn of Satan.)

Empanada dough

And with that nondescript definition of “bad stuff,” couldn’t we extrapolate the powers of sage and apply them elsewhere? Because doesn’t ALL food ward off evil? Comfort food is so named for a reason. And a rough day at my office typically results in multiple trips to our Peanut M&M dispenser. Who cares if you have 73 borderline redundant emails in your inbox if you can escape for just a few precious seconds to feel that soothing crunch of candy shell, chocolate, and peanut. It feels SO GOOD to ward off those evil emails with every bite.

Not surprisingly, whenever Tina and I want to cheer someone up we tend to try to accomplish the cheering with delicious foods. Sometimes cookies. Occasionally beer. Many times deviled eggs.

pumpkin sage filling

Recently my west coast cousin, Stephanie, was in town helping out with some family matters. Those who can read between the lines can figure out that “family matters” is a euphemism for some really freaking hard weeks that her, her sister, and their parents have had to go through. Needless to say, she was in need of a culinary escape to help balance all the “bad stuff.”

Cooper and Toph

Gratuitous picture of Toph and Cooper watching us cook. #dogcousins

We’re always trading Facebook likes at each other’s food, but we’ve never actually had an opportunity to cook and eat each other’s food together. So after enjoying a nice afternoon at a winery, we went back to our place to make Pumpkin Sage Empanadas to continue the culinary exorcism.

Pumpkin sage empanada

For many people, cooking can be as therapeutic as eating, so Tina was quick to put Stephanie to work as her sous chef. Which meant I got to take the day off (and by that I mean I had to go to the grocery store to pick up forgotten ingredients). Toasting almonds, opening cans, measuring, stirring. All seemingly insignificant tasks, yet all great therapy techniques to help ease the mind.

This recipe is also fitting since we discovered it after falling into an empanada kick spawned from a visit to San Diego’s Papa Luna’s (a post solely dedicated to this Pacific Beach spot coming soon). So, inspiration from the west coast fueled some comfort food for our west coast visitor. It was a perfect match.

Pumpkin sage empanada

The empanada crust recipe is one you’ll want to keep in your toolkit FOREVER. Yes, I know everyone says that about their crusts, but the buttery, flakiness is so good you’ll want to experiment by filling it with everything in your kitchen. We’ve had great success making apple hand pies and even spicy corn cotija empanadas. And you could even cram thanksgiving dinner into one, but fortunately Papa Luna’s has already done that.

Although this recipe’s filling might taste a little bit like autumn (aren’t you proud that I haven’t used the phrase “kick off fall with…”), these can be eaten year round. And are especially delicious right after a vacation to San Diego in which you have fallen in love with empanadas (We’ll see you again soon, Papa Luna).

pan_final

So, if you ever find yourself surrounded by evil spirits, whip up a batch of these empandas. I can’t guarantee they’ll actually scare the evil away (in fact it may be drawn to the scent), but at least you won’t be hungry.

Pumpkin sage empanada

PUMPKIN SAGE EMPANADAS WITH GOAT CHEESE

Makes 24 empanadas (Note:  The filling makes enough for about 48 empanadas, but we’re only making 24 with this recipe. Freeze the left-over mixture to use later, or make some ethnically confused enchiladas with it.)

This recipe is adapted from Give Me Flour’s Pumpkin Goat Cheese Pies. The dough is a real keeper. (seriously, WRITE IT DOWN) and you can experiment with the filling to try different variations.

Dough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream (more if needed)

1.  Mix flour, salt, and butter in your favorite large mixing bowl. Get your hands dirty and combine the ingredients into a coarse meal, while ensuring that you can still see pieces of butter to facilitate maximum flakiness.

2.  Beat together the egg and heavy cream, then pour the liquid mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

3.  Using your fingertips again, make smooth circular movements to mix the dough, but DO NOT KNEAD. Continue mixing until the dough comes together, adding another splash of cream if necessary. It shouldn’t take long. If all worked out correctly, you’ll still see some pieces of butter and ribbons of cream in the dough.

5.  Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. (The dough can also be frozen for up to a month, simply let it thaw for 8 – 12 hours in your refrigerator before use.)

Filling 

  • 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup roasted chopped almonds
  • 4 oz feta or goat cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  In large sauté pan, brown the chopped onions in the olive oil. Toss in the sage and cook for a minute or so, then add the pumpkin, cayenne pepper, currants, and almonds. After mixing well, taste it and add salt and pepper to your liking. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

2.  Preheat oven to 350F˚.

3.  Place dough on a floured surface (we love our marble pastry board) and roll it out until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch scalloped biscuit cutter, cut the dough into circles. Place the dough circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4.  Place the pumpkin mixture in the center of each dough circle, followed by a dollop of the cheese. Next, fold the dough over and lightly seal the edges with your finger tips. We like to line one edge with egg wash or a bit of water before folding over to help with sealing. You want the empanadas to have an almost rounded edge after they’re done baking, so make sure not to press the edges together so hard that they’re flat.

5.  While you brush each with egg wash, have a friend help you make it rain sesame seeds on top.

6.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes; the empanadas will have a nice golden color.

7.  Let cool for a few minutes, then insert into your mouf.

Pumpkin sage empanada

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Reviews

How a microwave egg cooker changed my boss’s life forever

Medieval Egg ArtOnce upon a time (aka a few months ago) in a land far far away (aka Northern Virginia) I purchased a Nordic Ware microwave egg cooker. I can’t recall where I first heard about it. It’s one of those food devices that seems to have always been around, but never really gets much attention because its too busy doing house chores for its evil step sisters.

Despite the lack of promotion, I somehow noticed this lowly device hanging on a rack at the end of a supermarket aisle. It was all like, “Hey do you like eggs and saving time?”

I love eggs and saving time!

A Love of Eggs & Thyme: A Food MemoirA love of eggs and time* are literally the only two prerequisites needed to purchase this piece of plastic. (*Not to be confused with A Love of Eggs & Thyme, my to-be-published food memoir.)

The thing works well. In about a minute, my eggs were ready for consumption. Only one problem: COOKING AN EGG ISN’T ALL THAT HARD TO BEGIN WITH, nor all that time consuming. With just a touch more effort and a couple more minutes, I could have restaurant-quality fried eggs.

DAMNIT! I’d been gotten by the Marketing Gods again. Or had I?

Thoust Brunch Too HardI remembered that my office at work only has a microwave and toaster oven for heating food. So, as much as I’d love to make an omelette for a weekday lunch, it just wasn’t possible. (True story: I once used a quesadilla press to make omelettes at work. It worked surprisingly well, but the company next door complained because we were apparently brunching TOO hard.)

One afternoon, while I was making a rosemarino ham, white cheddar, egg sandwich, my boss entered the kitchen and was intrigued by my device. I explained to him how it worked and he waited to see how the finished product turned out. As I opened the lid, steam rose out from the perfectly cooked egg.

Like one of those Cinderella type stories where the prince instantly falls in love with a beautiful princess, my boss’s eyes were hypnotized and he was smitten.

Shortly after the kitchen meet-cute, he informed me that he had indeed purchased one of his own and that it met all three of his qualifications for a solid product: (1) It was cheap, (2) it worked as advertised, and (3) it was easy to use.

Eureka!He shared his excitement with everyone in the office, eager to spread the good word of the egg cooker. He’d proudly walk up to a co-worker and place the egg cooker on the counter. “Know what that is?” he would ask, his sermon cocked and loaded. He would then explain how the device worked, how it met his qualifications for a solid product, and even offer to email them a link to the product page on Amazon. His enthusiasm could be matched by a child in the 90’s on Christmas morning describing his or her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (it’s Michelangelo of course).

Here’s the thing:  I don’t recall him ever showing this much excitement over anything…ever. So, based on the limited data I have on his excitement habits, I can only conclude that the microwave egg cooker is the greatest thing to ever happen to him. His wife seems nice enough, so I mean no disrespect to her, but the data doesn’t lie.

Needless to say, lunches at our office have never been the same and we’re clearly responsible for 90% of the microwave egg cooker sales in Virginia.

That’s the weird/awesome/surprising thing about food: It’s unpredictable. Every meal has a certain mystery and excitement to it. Every food device–no matter how simple–can bring out the child in us. When I casually threw it into my shopping cart, I never would have guessed that my boss would fall in love with this inexpensive piece of plastic and live happily ever after.

Nordic Ware Egg N Muffin

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Mouf Links

Mouf Links

Mouf links, Augie Carton, Pumpkin Noosa, Mind of  a Chef, Oteri Scale, Cooking Caveman

  1. Beer is Cuisine – Augie Carton (Tedx Talks) – Augie Carton (founder of New Jersey’s Carton Brewing) delivers a twelve-minute Master’s class in beer in this recent Tedx Talk. He challenges the audience to view beer not just as an alcoholic beverage, but rather an integral part of cuisine. For us beer novices, this is a great first step toward appreciating and exploring craft beers, while beer nerds are sure to enjoy Carton’s knowledge and culinarily scientific approach to beer making and tasting. (Shout out to @LipstickNLager for sending me the link!)
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  2. “Entering the Cave” (Cooking Caveman) – Although I don’t normally follow all the varying weight loss trends, I do enjoy reading personal stories of success based on diet changes. (Personally, I enjoy a good week of juicing every now and then, but I’ll save that for another post.) Screenwriter Jeff Nimoy started a food blog which provides a glimpse into the benefits of  the Caveman Diet (aka Paleo Diet) and how it has positively affected his life. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Caveman Diet or is considering giving it a go, check out Jeff’s first post, then stick around for the recipes, Q&As, and other fun stuff. Oh, and even though he is a writer in Hollywood that doesn’t mean he wants to read your buddy-cop-sci-fi-adventure-family-comedy screenplay. But if anyone out there wants to read mine…
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  3. Ozeri Digital Food Scale (Amazon.com) – Yes, this is just a link to a scale, but stay with me. Until recently, I had only been measuring food with cups and spoons like a freaking moron. Then I came across a recipe that measured only by weight. I was forced to purchase this cheap little scale. Okay, I wasn’t forced (and I could’ve probably made Siri convert the measurements for me), but I thought it might come in handy for other future recipes. A few weeks after receiving this little guy (or gal…it’s really hard to tell the sex on  these things) and I wish ALL recipes provided measurements in weight. Part of it just feels cool, while part of it actually makes a whole lot of sense. At less than fifteen bucks, why don’t you already have one? And no, I do not get any kickback if you purchase it from Amazon, so go steal* one if you don’t have the money. *This blog does not condone stealing.
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  4. Season 2 of The Mind of a Chef on Netflix – We’re always a season behind everything since we watch in in “Netflix Time,” so it should be no surprise that we’re about a year late being excited about Season 2 of The Mind of a Chef. But, if you’re behind like us, GET REAL EXCITED. The first season followed David Chang and was a ramen-filled adventure that left us hungry for more after every episode. The second season continues the trend, with episodes this season split between Chef Sean Brock (McCrady’s and Husk) and Chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig). Bloomfield’s excitement about food is inspiring, as she’s clearly not afraid to get her hands dirty (wait until you see the stuffed pig’s foot for two), while Brock’s heart clearly aches in search of good, soulful food. You’ll not only fall in love with the food, but each episode will end with you wanting to give the chefs a great big hug.  2015 Goal: Hug Sean Brock.
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  5. Pumpkin Noosa Yoghurt - I get tired of all the pumpkin hype generated this time of year (is it even Fall, yet?!). I enjoy a bit of pumpkin pie and a few pumpkin cheesecakes, but I’ve never really understood the Pumpkin Spice Latte parades. (Psst:  You can put nutmeg and cinnamon into your coffee all year-round.) I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find a new Noosa Yoghurt flavor (only available at Target). As a quick rundown, Noosa is the best yoghurt you can buy, period. And they don’t crank out a ton of new flavors like some of the other brands, so when they do, you have to savor the newness while it lasts. Is this pumpkin flavor any good? It’s like eating a pumpkin pie cheesecake with probiotics. If you want me to wait in line at a Starbucks, then ditch the latte and throw some Pumpkin Noosa in a grande cup. Extra whip.
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Travel

Five Things We Miss About New Orleans

Canal Street NOLA

View of Canal Street from the JW Marriott hotel.

FIVE THINGS?! We recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, but even though it was a short trip, narrowing down everything we’ll miss about this unique city was no easy task. Hell, gumbo alone could take up all five spots (mental note for a future gumbo post…) And you can’t ignore the po’ boys. Or fresh Leidenheimer french bread. Oh, and Abita on tap!

Having been to New Orleans a few times, this list partially reflects some things that we consistently miss every time we fly back home. And aside from one item, we tried to avoid the obvious answers (ahem, G-U-M-B-O). With the exception of a trip outside the city to Gretna, most of these are in or within walking distance of the French Quarter, so it’s easy to relive all of these things within a day. And with all the food you’ll be eating, you’ll need to walk it off.

If you don’t mind the heat and aren’t afraid of hurricane season, flights and hotels are pretty reasonable in August (about half the price as they are in late fall). But don’t forget to pack an umbrella, as there’s a good chance you’ll see a few brief rain showers during your late summer visit. And bring a pocket full of dollar bills–Not for the cavalcade of strip clubs on Bourbon Street, but for the street performers, homeless, and vendors at the French Market.

1.  Chocolate Pecan Crunch at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House Bourbon House on Urbanspoon
This dessert from Bourbon House‘s Sara Toth won gold prize at the 2014 New Orleans Food & Wine Festival. One medal doesn’t seem like enough for this rich, salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, dessert that is almost impossible to describe with words and pictures alone. The inside includes layers of chocolate mousse, crispy pecan brittle, caramel, and a chocolate crust. All topped with rich chocolate ganache and pecans, served with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. We were too full to finish it at the restaurant, but that didn’t stop me from wrapping it up and shoving the leftovers in my carry-on bag. Two days and 1,055 miles later it was still worthy of a gold medal.

0pecan

And the award for the best dessert of the trip goes to…

2.  Merchant Merchant on Urbanspoon
Yes, we’ve already dedicated an entire post to Merchant, but it’s worth repeating. For a break from the noise of Bourbon Street, stop by Merchant for good coffee, crêpes, and friendly staff. And don’t forget to grab an almond croissant for the plane ride home (sorry, United, for all the powdered sugar on seat 9B).

Fork and knife bench

It’s a fork and knife bench! (@ Merchant)

3.  Chargrilled Oysters
Okay, yes chargrilled oysters are pretty common in NOLA and it’s almost superfluous to even include them on the list. However, every single time we go to New Orleans, one of our first meals includes them and it’s one of the first dishes we miss when we return home. And as a little bit of a #FoodPSA, I want to note that even if you THINK you don’t like oysters, you should still give them a try, ’cause you haven’t had any like this. Of course if you’re allergic you should use common sense…but it might be worth it…

Bourbon House Oysters

Chargrilled oysters from Bourbon House

4.  Beignets from Café Beignet Cafe Beignet on Urbanspoon
Standing in a sweaty line at Café Du Monde for beignets and a café au lait holds an iconic place in many peoples’ hearts. But honestly, if you want to avoid the crowd and (dare I say it) find better beignets, then check out Café Beignet. Everything also feels a lot less manufactured than at Café Du Monde, plus one of the locations is next door to a police station, so it’s most likely the safest place to enjoy a beignet (insert joke about cops stealing your beignets).

Cafe Beignet

Beignets are even good in a hotel room. Look at that sexy green carpet.

5.  Three Happiness Restaurant Three Happiness Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Technically, Three Happiness Restaurant isn’t in New Orleans, but it’s only about 15 minutes outside of the city in Gretna, LA. We have pretty solid Vietnamese food in Northern Virginia, but you simply can’t beat Vietnamese food in the New Orleans area. With a huge Vietnamese population (Tina’s family being some of them!), Louisiana has some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll find in the Western hemisphere. If you need an expert’s confirmation of this, check out Season 11 of Top Chef. The food at Three Happiness Restaurant was delicious (no really, seriously delicious), but it was the good vibes from the owners that made it truly unique. Their hospitality was so genuine that you felt like you were eating in their own home. Highlights included the crispy egg rolls (wrapped in lettuce and basil and dipped in nước chấm), tender cubes of ribeye sauteed in butter, and a seemingly never ending seafood hot pot with shrimp so fresh they were still wearing mardi gras beads.

Egg Rolls

I ate every single one of those egg rolls.

Runner-Up:  JW Marriott New Orleans
Also, as a “runner-up,” I want to give a shout out to the JW Marriott on Canal Street. The hotel’s location was perfect for accessing the French Quarter, while also not being right in the middle of all the action (because it’s nice to be able to sleep a little bit). The hotel food wasn’t anything memorable (especially for the steep prices), but it was fine if you needed a quick bite or late night room service snack. The rooms were clean and the staff was friendly (except for one condescending guy). The bellhops were all awesome and took care of us and our luggage like we were BFFs. So, we would definitely recommend JW Marriott for its cleanliness, friendliness, and location.

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Reviews, Travel

Merchant | New Orleans

Merchant New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans. As we learned from our recent trip back to the Big Easy, some things never change. From the second you step foot in the French Quarter, it’s as if the city grabs you by the Mardi Gras beads and continually blasts jazz into your ear, while force-feeding you seafood, butter, and alcohol (I say this lovingly and as one of the positive aspects of the city). It’s an exhaustively fun experience that I don’t believe is replicated anywhere else in the country.

But as much fun as the debauchery of Bourbon Street is, everyone needs a break (especially that one guy we saw being carried into our hotel by his bros–he knows what I’m talking about). Everyone needs a quiet place to relax, enjoy some coffee, and reflect on the mistakes that were made the night before.

That place is Merchant, a small, zen-like crêpe shop just a few blocks from the French Quarter.

Veg Crepe

Veg Crêpe – squash, zucchini, fennel, cucumber, beet pesto, goat cheese, spinach

Before you even order your food, you’re met with a strikingly clean, modern design. Its serene design fits the calm atmosphere—a welcome change from the noise outside. And despite what could be a cold, sterile environment, the southern hospitality shines through and provides a warmth from the friendly staff.

The menu (which is updated based on seasonality of ingredients) mirrors the simplicity of the shop’s design, while having the complexity to make you feel as if you couldn’t get the same food anywhere else in the city. And although you can find illy brand coffee elsewhere, it’s hard to beat the capable hands of the Merchant baristas. 

It will come as no surprise that this beautifully designed coffee house is co-owned by architect, Marcel Wisznia, and illy coffee distributor, Rosario Tortorice Jr. Surprisingly though, Wisznia did not design the shop, rather it was Ammar Eloueini, a Tulane professor and world-renowned designer. 

Coffee
I enjoy my coffee sweet and creamy (and always with whip), but for some reason while at Merchant it just feels right to order an unsweetened cappuccino. No syrups or several ounces of sugar needed. An iced cappuccino on a sweaty summer morning perks you up and quenches your thirst, while a hot cappuccino on a cool fall day warms your soul.

Sweet Crepe

Sweet Crêpe – fresh peaches, lemon juice, granulated sugar

Crêpes
A good crêpe is a beautiful thing. Its popularity and simplicity has spawned many chain shops pumping out overly thick, chewy, flavorless blankets of flour. Not at Merchant. The crêpes here strike a perfect balance which help showcase the fillings. You can’t go wrong with any of their savory or sweet combinations, and although I’m typically drawn to any combination of Nutella, bananas, and berries that I’m offered, we’ve recently been wooed by the simplicity of a crêpe with granulated sugar and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Egg Sandwich

Smoked Ham Sandwich – egg, speck, goat cheese, basil

Sandwiches
If you’re going to judge this place on anything besides crêpes, might I point you in the direction of one of their breakfast sandwiches. You can choose your own adventure as far as the bread choices, but how can you not take advantage of the quality croissants available (thank you, French influence!)? As if a buttery, slightly crisp croissant alone wasn’t enough, Merchant’s options include toppings you might find at a local farmer’s market (because most of them ARE) fresh basil, arugula, turkey, speck, fontina, soppressatta, other seasonal specials. However, the real pinnacle of breakfast deliciousness is created through the egg. A perfectly fried egg with a golden runny yolk satisfies not only your tastebuds, but also your heart.

So if you’re looking for a place to relax and forget about the prior night’s public vomiting, throbbing music, and constant barrage of gentlemen who want to guess “where you got your shoes,”  head to Merchant for a cappuccino, egg sandwich, and lemon crêpe. It may not cure your hurricane hangover, but it’s a great start.

You can find a sample of Merchant’s menu online, but also check out the Merchant Facebook page for updates on events (like coffee classes from master baristas) and food specials.

Merchant on Urbanspoon

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Imitation Creation, Recipes

Peach Pie with Candied Rosemary

Peach Pie with Candied Rosemary

It was June 25, 2013.

Dirt from Muir Woods stained our clothes–a tailored suit for me and a wedding gown for my bride–and our stomachs were in a constant state of growl. It was late and we were tired. And VERY hungry.

Our elopement was far from a traditional wedding, so we had a lot of memorable surprises on our wedding day. Since we “ran away” to California, we didn’t know our officiant or photographer very well. Rick Kaplowitz, our officiant, turned out to be a sweet, thoughtful gentleman who customized the ceremony to fit our vows. While Ryan Polei was an organized, talented photographer, and such a nice guy that in under 30 seconds we felt like we had known him our whole lives. The rain was another surprise, which luckily stopped just in time for our ceremony and helped fuel some epic fog. And little did we know that on this special day, one of the final surprises would reveal itself in the form of the greatest peach pies our moufs have ever experienced.

peaches and rosemary

After having fun and dancing in the redwoods, we headed to downtown San Francisco for dinner at Wayfare Tavern. The food here was not a surprise, as we had eaten there once before and experienced some of its famous fried chicken during a prior gluttony filled visit. I’m not sure if it’s a saying (or a sign of good luck that I made up), but I’m 99% sure that if you eat the equivalent of a whole fried chicken on your wedding day, then you’ll have a long and happy marriage. Just to be safe, I ordered and ate all of said chicken. Tina enjoyed a sweet pea ravioli that was so artfully plated that it belonged on a wall at SFMOMA. And those were just the entrees which we devoured AFTER several light, buttery popovers, a few deviled eggs, and a burrata appetizer that would have been fit for a royal wedding.

peaches and rosemary

We were clearly too full for dessert; another spoonful of food was sure to send both of us into a Thanksgiving worthy food coma. HOWEVER, we couldn’t NOT take a peek at the dessert menu. That’s when we both saw it…

DARLENE PEACH PIE | Frog Hollow organic peaches, brown butter ice cream, rosemary sugar

No words needed to be spoken between me and my new wife. She knew I was going to order it. And I knew that she knew that I was going to order it. I promptly told the waitress to box up some Darlene Peach Pie. I thought about sneaking a bite, but it arrived to the hotel minifridge without a blemish. Apparently, I can occasionally exercise restraint.

peach pie

We ended up eating the pie and ice cream the next morning after breakfast (because even breakfast needs a dessert). Although it was a day old and cold, it was still remarkable. It was everything a peach pie should be. The peaches were plump with little filler, letting the natural sweetness and flavor of the bright orange flesh shine. As much as I love pie, rarely have I experienced a pie filling that gives me the feeling as if I were eating the fresh fruit. I assume peach pies don’t grow on trees, but this tasted so good that only the earth could have made it. (If anyone knows where I can get some peach pie seeds, please let me know.)

rosemary

Let’s not forget about the rosemary! I can’t think of a better complementary herb to peaches than rosemary. Herbaceous, sweet and crystallized from the sugar. Do you, Peach, take Rosemary to be your lawfully wedded pie wife? I certainly do.

candied rosemary

And it all came together with that brown butter ice cream. Come on! This dessert should be illegal. But I’m glad it’s not, because otherwise I’d find myself at the center of a police chase crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. So, while many couples have memories of smashing cake and buttercream into each other’s faces on their wedding day, we ended our wedding celebration by (what should be a new tradition) eating peach pie after breakfast in our hotel room. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except maybe next time I’d order TWO pies.

precooked pie

Since there is only what feels like a three-day window for good, fresh peaches in Virginia, we haven’t had too many opportunities to recreate this dish. Fortunately for us, this year mother nature was kind, so our area has been cranking out good quality peaches by the basketful.

peach pie rosemary

peach pie

pie from above

The recipe below is a modified hybrid of several different recipes that we found online. Recipes and inspirations include Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust, Smitten Kitchen’s peach pie filling, and of course no part of this “imitation creation” recipe would be possible without Wayfare Tavern.

PEACH PIE WITH CANDIED ROSEMARY 

Pie Crust (Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust from Foodnetwork.com):

  • 12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) COLD Unsalted Butter
  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 Cup COLD Vegetable Shortening
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 6-8 Tablespoons Ice Water

Pie Filling (Smitten Kitchen)

  • 3 1/2 Pounds Fresh Peaches (approximately 7 medium)
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Corn Starch

Candied Rosemary:

  • 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
  • 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Water
  1. For the crust: We’re no strangers to Ina Garten’s recipes and her “Perfect Pie Crust” is definitely a winner. Consistent, tasty, and most of all easy. If you’re looking for a flaky, no fuss pie crust Ina’s will certainly serve you well.
  2. For the filling: It is too often that peach pie fillings are overly sweet and texturally gloppy, but not this one from Smitten Kitchen. It has the perfect balance of sugar and just a hint of cinnamon to highlight the natural peach flavor.
  3. For the candied rosemary: We’ve never candied anything before…ever. I’m not even 100% sure that this is proper candying technique, but it was delicious and served our purposes just fine. Start by combining the rosemary, water, and sugar in a small saute pan and bring to a boil. Carefully watch and stir the mixture until it reduces slightly and resembles a very thick syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let it cool and harden while you prepare the pie filling.
  4. For the pie:  Place the bottom crust in a 9-inch pie pan leaving about a half inch over the edges for crimping. Place the peach pie filling inside (no need to bake the bottom crust first) and cover the top with the remaining crust. Fold the edges of the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust and seal together by either crimping with your fingertips or by using the prongs of a fork. Using a sharp paring knife, create a few steam vents in the middle of the top crust making sure they are big enough so that the dough doesn’t seal back together when it expands in the oven. Next, break-up a small portion of the candied rosemary in a blender (a coffee grinder also does the job). Brush the top crust with heavy cream and lightly sprinkle the blended candied rosemary mixture on top. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 for about twenty minutes or until the crust begins to brown. Reduce the temperature to 375 and bake for another 35 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
  5. Let cool for 3 hours, then serve each slice warm with extra candied rosemary and your favorite ice cream. Brown butter ice cream works best, but we’re still working on finding a good homemade version to post on the blog.

True Confessions:

  • What’s with all the books in the pictures? Wayfare Tavern has a masculine library kind of vibe, so we were aiming for that. Grab a pipe and slice of peach pie.
  • I made brown butter ice cream, too.  But I screwed it up, so it didn’t make the cut. It tasted great, but it was gritty. Whoops. I have since learned the ways of Jeni Britton Bauer and believe my next batch of ice cream will be better than Wayfare Tavern. Yeah, I said it.
  • We ate the pie before we got a chance to snap a sexy pic of a single slice with peaches oozing out. So, as a bonus how about an action shot?

Animated GIF of Peach Filling Being Poured into Pie Crust

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Mouf Links

Mouf Links

mouf links

  1. Elvis Rolls (Bacon and Legs) – It’s hard not to shake your hips at any food with the Elvis-inspired combination of banana, peanut butter and bacon, but Fontina Turner’s idea to roll all that legendary goodness up into a cinnamon roll will definitely have you all shook up for breakfast. Breakfast?! Let’s not kid ourselves, this is late night drunk food at its finest (and possibly a hangover cure).
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  2. I Had A Terrible Experience At This Restaurant Because I Am A Terrible Person (Clickhole) – I’m a sucker for parody sites like Clickhole and The Onion (hence, the foodgawker Rejects post), so OF COURSE I’m going to love anyone poking fun of yelp reviewers. The title alone makes me laugh, because it’s way too true of many Yelpers out there. If only there were a way to rate the reviewers themselves…
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  3. Lessons from Ice Cream Maven Jeni Britton Bauer (Food and Wine) – If you’ve experienced the foodgasmic properties of Jeni’s Splendid ice cream, then you’ll understand me when I say the founder, Jeni Britton, is the Steve Jobs of ice cream. If you haven’t experienced a scoop of her brilliance, then go order some Brown Butter Almond Brittle right now. This interview/masters class on ice cream making will make you wish Jeni was a politician, ’cause she could fix this country one scoop at a time.
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  4. Planet Money Podcast:  Episode 555 – Why is milk in the back of the store? – In another fine podcast, the folks at Planet Money attempt to answer why milk is always at the back of the store. Maybe it’s because the grocery store gods want to manipulate you into walking through the entire store just for a gallon of moo juice. Maybe it just makes more logistical sense and helps facilitate the “cold chain.” Either way, the podcast is great fun, especially the friendly debate between food writer Michael Pollan and economist Russ Roberts.
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  5. SamePlate.com – Did you know there’s a dating site for foodies?!  Screw eHarmony’s 29 dimensions of compatibility and just find a partner with your mouf. (Through FOOD. Talking about food, here…)
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Thought Nuggets

PieCake Theory

piecakemath

I was a bit of a picky eater as a child. Vegetables had little place in my diet, experimenting with new foods was a rarity, and my parents’ conversion to a health food/vegan lifestyle (before vegans were cool) was a huge hit to my Slurpee and candy bar diet. I spent many meals complaining, rather than embracing what was on my plate and exploring potential new foods to eat that fit within the healthy/vegan box.  I was just a stupid little boy who knew nothing about PieCake Theory.

Confused? Good.

My mom recently made a PieCake. Although it sounds like a mythical love child between the Greek Goddess Piesyith and God Cakeus, it’s really much less interesting. In fact, it’s exactly what its name implies, an entire pie baked inside of a cake. I was excited to try it, because it’s yet another hybrid food gimmick that had the potential for deliciousness.

My excitement quickly diminished, as I found myself eating around the cake simply to get to the pie. And because the cake was being a real pie-block, it upset me even more. I JUST WANTED THE PIE. (Sidebar: In case you’ve not picked up this from my numerous tweets, subtle references, and Instagram pictures, I love pie like no other food. And cake is… Cake is the food equivalent of shrugged shoulders.) Anyway, back to the PieCake.

It’s odd that a dessert could bring out so much vitriol and I wasn’t quite sure why. I love pie and I don’t hate cake, so shouldn’t the simple addition of Pie + Cake = PieCake result in the following relationship:

PieCake > Pie > Cake

My mouf would disagree.

As I thought about it more, I realized that when two food items are combined, the end result is only greater than the sum of its parts if the person eating enjoys each individual part equally. Instead of the food items cooperating and elevating each other, they balance each other out in terms of deliciousness. It’s a little more complicated than simple addition, rather it requires some seventh grade algebra to illustrate.

I could eat pie almost every day. Conservatively, let’s say that I could eat pie every day except on Tuesdays (I’d need a caloric break at least once a week). Assuming there are 52 Tuesdays per year, that means I’m eating pie on the other 313 days of the year (what a fantastic year that would be). So, my Desired Annual Consumption Value (DACV) would be 313 pies / 365 days or .86. Notice that this is essentially a percentage (which I’ll get to in a second) and the highest possible DACV is 1.00.

Cake, on the other hand, I could probably eat once every other week. (And I’m talking about really good flourless chocolate cake with berries and two pounds of fresh whipped cream. Not those vegetable shortening-soaked grocery store rectangles of gluten.) A cake every other week would mean that my DACV would be 26 cakes / 365 days or .07.

Clearly my desired annual consumption value for pie of .86 is MUCH higher than my desired annual consumption value for cake of .07. We could convert the values into percentages and essentially say that during 86% of all days each year, I want pie, while in just 7% of those same days I would enjoy a cake. (Notice that the two percentages do not add up to 100%, as they are independent values. Also notice how quickly you begin scrolling down for more pictures.)

Okay, now that we know my cake and pie DACV, how does that relate to the PieCake hybrid? Well, the pie is baked inside of the cake (rather than a cake baked inside of a pie, which would be a CakePie), so by default the dish is predominantly a cake. Based on eyeballing the PieCake, I’d say it’s about 60% cake 40% pie. Those of you who are astute might recommend I calculate this part based on the ingredient measurements or weights, but this isn’t Nikola Tesla‘s blog, so please adjust expectations accordingly.

If you’re still with me (as if you’re THAT busy at work), then to figure out my cumulative DACV for PieCake, we would have to multiply each DACV by its corresponding percentage and add those together:

.86 Pie DACV x 40% = .34
.07 Cake DACV x 60% = .04
.34 + .04 = .38 PieCake DACV

Thus, the PieCake DACV is .38, which falls between the pie DACV of .86 and the cake DACV of .07

OR

Pie > PieCake > Cake

So, assuming each individual component is not equally delicious, the PieCake Theory kind of makes sense and explains why I was dissappointed and was forced to search out only the pie. However, if you follow through on the math and assume that you love each individual component equally, the results would indicate that no hybrid foods could ever taste better (only equal to) their individual components.

But what about the CRONUT?

By my theory above, even if you loved doughnuts and croissants equally at the highest level possible, the best case scenario would always result in equality across all three foods:

Cronut = Donut = Croissant

But that’s simply false, because I would argue that based on taste, texture, and the glorious sounds of heaven that herald me when I bite into a cronut, that the actual relationship is:

Cronut > Donuts = Croissant

Now that makes no freaking sense at all (from a seventh grade algebra standpoint).

E X A C T L Y.

Eating is NOT a science. Cooking might be, baking definitely is, but eating and enjoying food cannot be predicted with numbers, calculations, and made-up theories from a nobody food blogger.

Just because I don’t like PieCake and I can sort of prove it with a faux-theory (based on my own flawed estimates), doesn’t meant that YOU won’t love it. And it doesn’t mean that I won’t eventually find a PieCake that I do enjoy. And that goes for all food.

So, PieCake Theory isn’t about calculations or even really pie and cake. It’s about the idea that you should give all food a try, regardless of past experiences or whether somebody else likes it or not.

And to my younger self, just because I tried a few vegan foods that I didn’t care for, I shouldn’t have assumed that I would hate them all. If I had based all vegan eating on my childhood experience with “wheat meat,” then I never would have opened up the possibility to enjoying an outstanding fried tofu dish at Maple Ave Restaurant (which will eventually be discussed in a later post).

And yes, it’s odd that a dessert filled with dairy and eggs could teach me something about vegan eating, but pies are powerful.

Cakes are okay, too.

PIECAKE RECIPE

PIECAKE

Pardon the poorly-lit iPhone photo.

My mom used this recipe from the Home & Family television show, with some modifications. She used a cherry filling rather than blueberries and made a half-recipe (one layer). I recommend skipping the part with the cake.

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Thought Nuggets

foodgawker Rejects

foodgawker reject

The deeper into food blogging we immerse ourselves, the more we’ve discovered the power of foodgawker. Acceptance from them can lead to an explosion of hits on your site, while rejection helps to load the bullets of a gun pointed at your ego. Without knowing of its ALMIGHTY POWER, I submitted a photo from our deviled egg post and was rejected for being too dull. No biggie. It probably wasn’t quite up to the level that it should have been anyway.

Maybe spending years aspiring to be a screenwriter somehow prepared me to expect a very high amount of rejection out of life. Maybe I have low self-esteem (BWAHAHAHHAHA). Or maybe we just haven’t been rejected enough times to build up a hatred/envy/hunger for foodgawker acceptance.

Part of me is afraid to submit too many photos–not necessarily for fear of rejection, but for the fear of addiction. I picture myself staying up late, running off the high from submitting photos. Calling in sick to work so I can compulsively check my phone for acceptance emails. All eventually leading to a binge of cocaine and heroin for “creative inspiration.” And is foodgawker going to pay for my rehab?

Too real. Anyway…

To help facilitate the hunger for acceptance, foodgawker recently tweeted a PDF of submission guidelines to remind everyone of what they’re looking for in a food photo. While the tips were technically accurate, I think they were a little too “dull” (to use their word). Sometimes it helps to know what NOT to do. So, I thought it might be helpful to offer up a few specific samples of “foodgawker rejects” and what their corresponding unedited rejection comments might look like.

after photo
Rejection Reason:  What happened to the food?

foodgawker reject
Rejection Reason:  We do not, nor have we ever accepted selfies. And why are you eating a slice of bread in what appears to be a bathroom?

foodgawker dog
Rejection Reason:  This is just a picture of your dog. Yes, you have a handsome dog, but this is a #foodporn website.

food porn
Rejection Reason:  Not that kind of food porn…

foodgawker threat
Rejection Reason:  We don’t respond to grammatically incorrect threats.

I heart foodgawker
Rejection Reason:  We do not accept bribes. And come on, a dollar?

toast gawker
Rejection Reason:  Closer, but this is just a piece of toast. Have you even been to our website?

foodgawker bread
Rejection Reason:  This is clearly just a photo of our website. And WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE BREAD?!

Maybe one day (far into the future when we’ve completed rehab), we’ll be able to provide a post full of useful advice and examples of accepted foodgawker photos. But until then, there WILL BE BREAD!

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