Possibly the most poetic moment on our Apulian adventure was when we were driving down from another adorable hill village. As we left the urban area, the road changed to black asphalt. The soapy water from the town was running down the street and my friend said, “It’s like stracciatella” — truly a sign that she was enchanted by la dolce vita.
Stracciatella is a word used for many things including my favorite ice cream flavor (vanilla with streaks of chocolate) but, as you can tell, it also refers to a form of fresh cheese that is in stretchy strips.
One morning we had breakfast at a place in Monopoli, and the omelet had stracciatella. As good as that was, the best use of stracciatella I’ve had so far is Pierluigi’s vegetarian pasta.
Apulia is famous for the white stone used to build its towns. Add to this the constant cleaning and it really does look clean enough to be eat off of.
Or like the whole town is made of fresh white cheese.
Just like those shows where one has to make a recipe based on unknown ingredients, cooking at home during the time of COVID, is like. I had forgotten how creative cooking really can be. At the start of the ‘stay home’ time, I organized my food by expiration date. I have been eating it in that order, sort of (sometimes instant noodle is just the fastest way to get some food made). But, as my local kiosk, bodega, has a daily supply of onions, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, and ready made meals, some days, I’ve made brunch (eggs, potatoes, and toast, or French toast with home fries).
Many years ago, people asked me to write a cookbook. I don’t like measurements and have never really measured except when baking. I include here a basic recipe for spinach Parmesan dip. It’s cooking without a recipe but try it! For measurements, I would just go by eye (or gut!). Or google it (I did not invent this recipe).
Spinach (chop it and make sure to squeeze the liquid out of it)
Add garlic, cayenne, chili, paprika, pepper to taste.
Mix it all and bake in oven until golden brown.
For those who live in the U.S., these are all ingredients that they most likely have at home.
When done, place in good north light and photograph in an artsy manner before eating.
*******Update October 19, 2019****** Since Peruvians love hamburgers, it’s hard to pick the best, since there are so many burgers to try… But, for the fun of it, I will. At most places, the meat patty is about 250 grams. Peruvians like a meaty burger. Not thin patties.
1. Don Doh: Given that one of the co-owners is the butcher who runs Osso, I’d expect the burger to be good. The black bun is slightly chewy and moist due to the squid ink that makes it black. Inside the burger is a good 200 grams and made with chopped kimchi.
2. Osso: It’s a steak house so they should have a good burger. The burger is actually a chopped steak burger. It’s meaty. But, the fries are what makes me keep coming back.
3. Sushi Pop: Thin and made from Angus beef. The patties are more like Five Guys in the U.S. As you can see below, it’s hard to find the patties under the cheese, sauce, and fried onion… but the meat was good even if it was hard to find. Next time I’ll get it without the sauce. Sushi Pop serves the burger on a “bao” or steamed bun.
4. Cosme: The burger is good.It’s just another secret thing about Cosme.
5. Papachos: They no longer have a Wagyu or Kobe. The “luxury” Angus burger is a solid burger. I’m told that many think that the burgers are too salty. I didn’t think so.
6. Juicy Lucy: This burger isn’t that large but it’s a solid tasting burger. The fries are local round potatoes. (This chain is from the same owner of Carnal so at Carnal you can get the sinfully delicious version of the juicy lucy.)
7. Bon Beef: The burger is a burger much like at Fridays or Chilis. Bon Beef is that sort of place.
8. Django Burgers, Hipolito unanue 101, Miraflores (10th block of Ejercito): good burger. so so fries.
Okay, eight. Then there are these other places that have been recommended to me or that I have been to:
Cafe A Bistro: This gas station bistro was recommended to me for their burger. I thought it was okay until I hit a piece of cartilage (set the grind on a finer size!). Then I stopped.
El Jefe: It’s a burger but I didn’t find the meat tasty and it had that mealy cardboard texture that makes me think of certain fast food chains…
Food Rockers (not Fuddruckers): Located a bit off the beaten track in San Borja, this place has a burger but it’s the black ice cream that’s worth the visit. More about that in another blog posting.
Quisso: First raclette based restaurant in Lima. They melt cheese on everything including an artisanal burger freshly ground for the restaurant.
I have not been to this place but, Hamburguesas Artesanales, Av. Gral. Eugenio Garzón 977, Jesús María, won the 2018 Burger Fest.
******* Updated February 2020******** My idea of a good pizza is chewy Italian style pizza. Apparently, what I like is called an artisanal pizza. Having now eaten lots of pizza for a few months, I would say that there are four types of pizza in Lima. Andean: thin crust; Lima-style: cracker thin crust: artisanal as in hand stretched, artsy, and often with a moist center; and American as in from the USA in the style of Pizza Hut or school cafeterias with a bready high crust.
My favorites are:
Troppo’s pizza dough is the best in town — it is salty, crunchy, chewy, and made by a prize winning Italian chef.
Spizza, recently moved to Miraflores: a chewy Italian style crust and the oven is all wood burning. Some of their toppings are not good but select carefully. They also deliver through food delivery apps.
Punto Italiano, in La Molina: touted as a non-fancy place, I’d say it has a sort of rustic feel but it’s not a hole-in-the-wall, and the waiter speaks English. All wood burning oven as well.
Mercado 28: has a good pizza place. Few options but good.
La Caleta: cracker thin but good toppings.
Pan Sal Aire, Almirante Miguel Grau 320, Barranco: all wood burning oven but pizza crust is very wet and they use CANNED mushrooms which I think should be illegal when fresh ones are available.
La Pizza de la Chola: The oven looks right, the place is “hip” looking, but, but, the wood is for show, and most of the time, Chola (the owner, also owns El Pan de la Chola and Chola Dasso), fires up the gas in the oven when he bakes the pizzas. Good ingredients and super-chi chi such as Stilton Cheese and Caramelized Walnuts (I think). There are only four flavors.
Antica: Don’t go for the cocktails (I say this because some folks do go there and think that they will also be able to get a good cocktail…), but they make a solid pizza and have the closest thing to a pepperoni a la the U.S. pizza that I’ve found here. They also make a nice oily spaghetti with oil and chili (when having carbs, go for carb with carb!).
Fornaria 850, in Barranco: they look legit, have the oven, but their toppings are not top. But, I’ll say that when I went, they gave me a free arugala and proscuitto pizza. That was good. The other toppings are not.
Pizza Al Volo, a mobile wood burning oven pizza cart, 984 714 955; email@example.com: the owner, Brian, speaks fluent English, and he will bring his wood burning oven to your garden party. It’s thin pizza but he can make thicker ones if you want him to. See photo above.
Morelia, Miraflores: very kid friendly. Good salads, and the pizza is actually a large oblong flat bread which they cut in half for the “personal size” pizza!
La Linterna: an old fave with the Limenos. Also good carb on carb pasta options.
Veggie Pizza: a chain. Each of the locations has a different feel. The pizzas look artsy like sushi or dominoes. I took mine home and added meat. The story of this chain is cute because it’s four or three brothers who wanted to improve the health of their other brother.
Then there are other places that also serve pizza: Donatella, Danica, Rafael (yes, THAT Rafael) who all make Lima style pizza. Not exceptional.
Mama Rosa: this is high foccacia (but not as tasty) style pizza.
Lima has a Pizza Street. For Limenos of a certain age, they recall wandering down this street (off of Parque Kennedy) after a night out. I did not go there for my great pizza hunt.
As obsessions go, cheesecake is not one of mine. But, recently, I had a cheesecake that I actually liked. Here is the recipe from King Arthur’s Flour. I encourage you to read it out loud so you can enjoy saying “zwieback” — just because. Also, for the optional topping, I would simply cook some fresh berries with a bit of sugar. Keep it simple. Or serve fresh berries and not bother with making a sauce.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs OR zwieback crumbs
Select a pie pan whose inside top dimension is at least 9″, and whose height is at least 1 1/4″. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the crust by stirring together all of the crust ingredients, mixing until thoroughly combined.
Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan, making a thicker layer on the bottom than on the sides.
Make the filling by mixing together the room-temperature cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Mix in the eggs and vanilla, again mixing until smooth. To avoid beating too much air into the batter, use a mixer set at low-medium speed. To avoid lumps, make sure the cream cheese is softened, and/or at room temperature.
Set the pie pan onto a baking sheet, if desired; this makes it easier to transport in and out of the oven, and also protects the bottom of the crust from any potential scorching. Pour the filling into the crust.
Place the cheesecake in the oven. Bake it for 20 minutes, then add a crust shield; or shield the crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake for an additional 10 minutes (for a total of about 30 minutes). An instant-read thermometer inserted into the crust 1″ from the edge should read between 165°F and 170°F; the filling won’t look entirely set in the center.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven, and set it on a rack to cool while you make the topping. Once the cake is cool, refrigerate it, covered, until you’re ready to serve it.
To make the topping, place the frozen raspberries in a bowl to thaw. You can hasten the process with a quick trip through the microwave, but don’t let the berries cook.
Add 1 tablespoon Pie Filling Enhancer, and stir until well combined. Is the topping as thick as you like? If not, stir in another tablespoon Pie Filling Enhancer.
Add 1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, to taste. Stir in a pinch of ground cinnamon, if desired.
Spoon the topping over the cheesecake, and cut slices to serve. Alternatively, cut slices, and top each with a dollop of topping.
Colombia is so green and there are many cows so I expected the dairy products to be amazing. When I first got here, I’d go to Carulla and admire the rows and rows of dairy products. But, then I realized that most of the dairy products were various yogurt drinks. I like yogurt drinks but I really love fresh milk. Carulla does have two brands of fresh milk (and someone, a birdie, told me that on Tuesdays, they carry a third brand) in full-fat, low-fat, and lactose free.
On one of the weekend adventures, I made a point of visiting the “Alpina Lecheria” in Sopo, as I had been told that this was a good place to visit. As we approached the dairy, there was a traffic jam — all traffic coming out of the dairy! Higher up on the hill, the large steel tanks glinted like giant sized milk containers. Sadly, there was no tour of the dairy, no lines of cows chewing their cud, and no Heidi with braids. The main attraction was the outlet shop selling dairy products, ice cream, sandwiches, and gift baskets of dairy products. In front of the store, hundreds of people sat on the grass enjoying their dairy.
I went in the store. I looked for the fresh milk. I found long life milk. No fresh milk. I asked an employee for the fresh milk. He lead me to the same milk that I had just looked at. Long life milk. Expiration date in April. I told him that I was looking for milk that would go bad in a few days, not in three months. He told me that I needed to go to the countryside if I wanted fresh milk. Not sure if he thought I should find someone milking a cow…
As I am no longer in Bangladesh, I cannot afford a personal chef, so I took a cooking class, which is the next best thing. There is nothing like cooking with a world class chef to remind you of how superb food should taste. Jan Van Haute of Haute Saison Catering is Belgian, but this particular cooking class was in Portuguese food. The cooking class was at a private residence of an expat/international type in DC which was fitting as Jan has a fancy curriculum vitae (he was the Belgium Ambassador’s chef, he cooked for the Belgium royal family, won prizes, worked in Michelin starred restaurants… Despite this, he’s extremely laid back and down to earth — and no, he did not pay me to endorse him!).
Our cooking class was a small group of five and it cost $60 per person. For that we got a lovely setting, three course menu, wine, and food to take home. The cooking class was not a regimented class with chopping exercises, and for those of us (ehem, me) who wanted to take photos and drink wine, no chopping was expected of us. Just my sort of class!
Here’s what we made:
“Pão de queijo” or Portuguese Brazilian cheese bread
“Salada de Bacalhau a Grao-de-bico” or salt cod, chickpea, and egg salad
Octopus rice stew
“Pastal de nata” or Portuguese egg custard tart
First we made cheese bread (actually, first we had a glass of wine), which reminded me of the Colombian “pandebono.” While these were in the oven, we made the salt cod chick pea salad. Then we sat down to eat these while the octopus cooked. Then we returned to the kitchen for to make the next two courses. Finally, we returned to the elegant table and chatted. It was much like a dinner party. The owner of the house had been to Bangladesh which I should have guessed as she had a “nakshi kantha,” or Bangladeshi embroidery, on her wall.
A few words about octopus: The octopus looks quite scary to many people. It is slimy. It is rubbery. But, not that night when cooked properly. The flesh was soft like conch meat. Seriously surprisingly tender and sublime.
The evening and the cooking class ended with us packing leftovers to eat the next day. As part of his philosophy of sharing good food, Jan offers these private cooking lessons. But, as they say in the bread business, “get it while it’s hot!” As his business grows (it just started a few months ago), he may not have time for these small classes. I really hope so because experiences like this are what life can be… plus, it was just so much fun. By the end of the class, I felt more like I was in the company of friends.
The food was revelatory and Jan made us feel totally capable, and at ease, which made for a stellar evening. Wonder what’s on the menu next time?
We were whizzing past the views of paradise on Waiheke Island off Auckland’s coast. The bus driver/guide had suggested places in his well rehearsed voice but after all the other tourists got off at the beachfront restaurant, I asked him again. Where would you eat? He mentioned a vineyard that had won some award last year. He said it was a bit of a walk at almost a kilometer.
We got lost. We asked a local for directions. He heartily endorsed Casita Miro. When we found it, we went in through the kitchen. Like everything else in New Zealand, it was both casual, elegant, and ridiculously fresh. The restaurant bakes all their own bread and their food is tapas style. They make good coffee as well so you can enjoy a latte as well (in New Zealand, they have another drink called a “flat white” which is a latte with no foam hence flat. The best one we had was made by an Italian guy down at the harbor in Auckland).
Casita Miro is only open for lunch so plan for it. Enjoy some of the vineyard’s wines… make this a destination.