Month: February, 2010

Adventures in Newcastle: Beautiful Views, Beautiful Tarts, and Beautiful Things Involving Goat Cheese

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip up to Newcastle upon Tyne for The Go Game and there were so many beautiful things to see in the city.

Beautiful Thing #1: The view of the River Tyne, including the Tyne Bridge and the Millenium Bridge, from the Viewing Box of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.

And the reverse view of the BALTIC, an old flour mill, from the Millenium Bridge. If you happen to be anywhere near Newcastle, go see Damien Hirst’s fascinating exhibition Pharmacy and marvel at the view.

Beautiful Thing #2: The plum tart from the charming and brand new six-week-old BUEE Cafe and Bistro at Side Cinema.  I actually didn’t eat it; we went for the pecan pie and the raspberry cheesecake baked by the chef-husband of the proprietor-wife instead – more on that in a bit – but it’s a thing of beauty all the same.

Beautiful Thing #3: The goat cheese and roasted vegetable pizzaiola from Cafe Royal, a gem of a cafe amidst the shops of the city centre featuring artisanal bread from their own bakery.

So much to see in Newcastle and so much to eat! Let’s take a closer look at our two exciting foodie finds…

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A Southern Spread at Rambling Restaurant: Pulled Pork, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake and Squirty Cream!

With an American-themed meal at our last Rambling Restaurant, we just had to do a dessert featuring the never-ending source of birthday party fun for all ages:  shakeable whipped cream in a sleek metal canister. They have it over here in the UK, except they call it…squirty cream. I thought that it might be just an affectionate nickname, but nope.  It even says so on the packaging.

Hilarious. Say hello to the squirty cream and a slice of sweet potato pie.  But wait, dessert first? Nothing wrong with that, but let’s rewind a bit to cover this Southern-inspired feast from the beginning. Sadly, I failed to take photos of the slices of warm cornbread with chunks of sweet corn and a dusting of paprika. You’ll just have to imagine them stacked in cute little baskets and served with pretty rounds of colorful green, red, and yellow jalapeno-chile butter.

Next up, shared ramekins of creamy mac & cheese with a crunchy cheddar and ciabatta breadcrumb topping, served up baked, browned, and bubbling.

The main course was a stomach stuffing plate of pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce on freshly baked rolls, dirty rice (made satisfyingly, mouthwateringly dirty with chicken livers sauteed in the trinity of green pepper, celery, and onion), and a light lemony cole slaw.

We had an extreme overabundance of pulled pork, which is never a bad thing, although this picture’s a bit extreme. WARNING: GRATUITOUS PULLED PORK PICTURE AHEAD.

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Weekly Link Roundup: Eating Maps, Grass-Fed Beef, Aquaponics and More.

Here’s what I’ve been reading this week. Lots of good stuff.

Most Fast-Food Per Person and Other Food Facts [Daily Yonder] – some cool maps of eating habits across the U.S.

How Eating Grass-Fed Beef Could Help Fight Climate Change [TIME] – that’s as self-explanatory a title as you can get.

Behind the Organic Pasture Rule at the USDA [Chewswise]  – a blog by the author of Organic, Inc.

The Great Grocery Smackdown [The Atlantic] – on buying organic at…Walmart? Plus a blind cookoff between Walmart and Whole Foods. Some interesting results…

The Spotless Garden [New York Times]  – a great article about backyard and basement aquaponics systems and the ‘otherworldly yields’ from this type of growing.   ‘It is either a glimpse into the future of food growing or a very strange hobby — possibly both.’

More photos and cool stuff here. All credits to NYTimes.

A Rambling Aphrodisiac Dinner, Complete With Searing Loins and Gin & Tonic Jelly

Hooray! It’s time for another Rambling Restaurant Singles Night featuring an aphrodisiac dinner, so you know things are bound to get hot.  Particularly when you have five people in a veryverycozy kitchen and have fresh bread baking in the oven, a giant vat of soup bubbling on the stove, and ten large pork loins popping and fizzing boiling oil all over the place.

Really. Hot. Temperatures. Luckily, there was also a dining room full of really hot people (yes yes, as in extremely attractive) all mixing and mingling on the other side of the curtain.  To get their taste buds primed and hearts racing, we served four courses featuring ingredients thought to have aphrodisiac qualities.  Of course, both dessert courses featured what is inarguably the most guaranteed aphrodisiac of them all – a large quantity of alcohol. Which is how we started the night as well, with glasses of passionfruit, raspberry and rosebud fizz.

Each cocktail came with a little tag marked with a suit denoting where to sit for your first table, along with some silly icebreaker questions inside to spark conversation or incite passionate debate.  Our eleven brave men and eleven brave women scattered amongst four tables to wait for these shiny happy braids of dough…

…to toast to perfection into these lovely browned plaits with a soft and fluffy white interior.

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Food Events Around London: Tea Parties, Pizza Parties and…Wine Parties?

I love parties. I’m in the process of planning a big family joint birthday party for my mom, sister and dad that may or may not involve an entire roast pig. Who doesn’t love a good party?  Obviously, the best parties include copious amounts of food and alcohol. At many London parties and events of the last month or so, my alcohol consumption has drastically outweighed the food consumption.  Often, my memories of the event can get a bit fuzzy. Luckily, I took pictures.

Here’s a photo from the Bibendum wine event at the stunning Saatchi Gallery. Can you spot the foodrambler?

Amidst approximately 149803454 bottles of wine spread over something like 10 galleries on 4 floors were all sorts of cool installations by local designers:

Equally alcoholic was the fabulous Yelp’s Burst Birthday, a surprise-filled soiree in an old metalworks building complete with a grassy garden tea party room filled with tea cups of gin and teapots of tonic amidst tiered trays of sugar-stacked snacks.  I’m still dreaming about the plate below of melty chocolatey caramelly Millionaire’s Squares…

The room was carpeted in real grass (hand laid by our dedicated friend Lizzie!) and populated by a small community of garden gnomes, one of whom came home with me at the end of the night. Chris and I named him Chomsky. We’re nerds.

The Yelp party also featured a real tube-car-as-a-bar slinging free cocktails and bunch of market-style food stalls, including fantabulous frozen yogurt, a sort of bizarre spiralled potato chip on a stick, and my most favoritest roast hog people.

Last up, I got a chance to taste the new Pizza Express menu by Francesco Mazzei, the chef from an award-winning London restaurant called L’Anima that I’m hoping to go to someday.  Shockingly, I’d never had Pizza Express before – it’s a very popular chain in the UK – but I was quite impressed with what I tasted of the new dishes.  I liked the spicy Calabrese pizza the best – a thin and crispy crust, fior di latte mozzarella, watercress in basil pesto, a few more chilies and peppers, and most importantly, nduja sausage.  Anything with nduja on it is a friend of mine.

Mmmm…looking at pictures never fails to make me hungry. I’ll take a spicy pizza, a few Millionaire’s Squares, a bottle of that rich and chocolatey Malbec, and a teacup of G&T.  It’s 2am.  Bibendum, Yelp and Pizza Express, do you deliver?

Weekly Link Roundup: The Food Porn Version

I’m up in the middle of the night with a serious head cold.  A friend suggested it might be haggisitis – which turns your internal organs to pulp and mixes them with oatmeal – but I’m pretty sure it’s more of a deepfriedmarsbar syndrome, where your sinuses and lungs get encased in a thick, viscous batter.  Either way, it’s really not a pretty picture.

Because I’ve self-medicated with an assortment of pharmaceuticals and can’t really read anything, I opened my Google Reader for the first time in about 6 months to look at all the pretty pictures.  Oooh, pretty pictures.  I will share some of them with you now.

First off, a great photo from a great article called Northeast China Branches Out In Flushing in the New York Times.

Wait a minute. Those are sticky-sweet caramel sugar strands stretching off chunks of deep-fried sweet potato? And that’s Chinese food? Holy crap. My world is rocking right now and it’s not just me overdosing on cold meds.  Perhaps my deep-frying obsession is coded deep within my DNA.  Irene Bean sent this article to me at about the exact moment the drool hit the keyboard upon reading it myself.  Go read about the cuisine of the Dongbei (literally ‘East North’) region and look at the slideshow: I promise you’ll do some serious drooling yourself.

Next, up: Boston Creme Pies from Design*Sponge

Ooooooooooooohmyyyygod.  Despite being proudly Boston born and bred, I’ve never really liked Boston creme pies.  But seeing this photo made me want to scoop up that cheeky little cake and smooosh it into my mouth in one bite.  Look at how mini it is!  It would totally fit.  Design*sponge is one of my favorite design blogs and their foodie/recipe series  ‘in the kitchen with’ has some of the most gorgeous food styling I’ve ever seen, along with some great recipes.  My camera whimpers a little in shame every time I look at the photos.  But my heart sings a bit with joy at the beauty of it all, so I do my best to temper the rising bile of inadequacy. I mean, really…how has a messy, half-eaten plate of radishes ever looked so good?

This spectacularly beautiful radish explosion is better described as a Spicy Heirloom Radish Salad and the recipe can be found  ‘In The Kitchen With’ Penny De Los Santos.

My last photo (because I reeeeeallly needed to go to bed like 3 hours ago, but I am not up of my own volition. Damn the batter in my head!) is from Slice: America’s Favorite Pizza Weblog, which is part of the jolly, fat, and friendly Serious Eats family.  If I manage to stay up to date with my Reader, it will probably be due to the daily dose of deliciousness  from Serious Eats.

Scrolling through the several hundred posts I missed over the past few months, my eyes starting to glaze over, my brain beginning to succumb to the dripping ooze of fry batter, I was shocked out of my stupor by the following photo:

Hey! I know that pizza! I know that pizza damn well, and glancing at this photo again has me tempted to book a flight to New Haven, Connecticut as we speak. Rather, as I type. And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not a huge fan of Connecticut. But seriously, Sally’s Apizza is some of the best pizza you’ll ever have.  It’s absolutely orgasmically good.  It’s also the home to one of my favorite food stories…

Assuming you have a generally adequate level of vision and sense of  spatial reasoning, I think you get an idea from the above photo how large the ‘Large’ pizza at Sally’s is.  16 slices!  It’s about the size of a small stovetop,  a mid-size bath mat, two normal ‘Large’ pizzas, or perhaps a very big catskin rug if your cat were one of those hilariously overweight cats whose pictures make me laugh on a regular basis.  Regardless, the Larges should more aptly be called Enormously Huges, and then the Large pizzas from every other pizza institution would not suffer the intense shame of comparison.

I went to Sally’s with four girlfriends – Rachel, Lex, Olivia, and Helen, all champion eaters and all wanting a different kind of pizza. I wanted to try the classic White Clam, Rachel swore by the Eggplant Parmesan, Lex refused to leave without the Mixed Hot Peppers No Mozz, and Helen preferred the Pepperoni and Onion. So of course, after waiting in line for almost two hours, we decided to get all four. In Large. For five girls. We had so much pizza, they had to bring over another table to put it on.  The guys at the table next to us started heckling – like straight-up shit talking – but we shut them up when we took down approximately 3.15 of them and had just enough to divide for leftovers the way we intended. It was one of the most satisfying eating experiences of my life – mostly because the pizza is unquestionably amazing and we waited two hours for it, but also seeing the grudging looks of respect in the eyes of those dudes.

Or maybe it was horror. I might have been too high on tomato sauce to know the difference.

Oh, and then Lex ordered another one to take home.  Seriously people, it’s that good.

Also…you’d think if I could ingest almost 16 slices of pizza, I’d be able to ingest enough Tylenol PM aka Lemsip Max All Night Cold & Flu Tablets to knock myself out  for the night, wouldn’t you?

Growing Spaces in Unusual Places: London’s Urban Agriculture and a Super Mini Garden

Seems like everyone is talking about urban agriculture these days, with innovative new ideas ranging from tiny little crowd-funded SF city farms to fantasy skyscraper-high vertical farms.  From pundits to policymakers,  foodies to farmers to futurists, a lot of people are starting to think about urban food production for the sake of local economies, the environment, community resources, jobs creation, urban design, potential food security issues. and many more reasons.  I’ve been reading this really interesting report by the London Assembly called Cultivating the Capital: Food Growing and the Planning System in London (big PDF here) about working with city planners to increase the growing potential of the city.

Nerdy, I know.  In case you don’t want to read the 93 pages yourself (almost half of it is just appendices!), the report looks at the current situation of urban food producers, the barriers they face in growing and getting their products to market, and potential innovative solutions.  It also analyzes the city land that could be used for food production and encourages the use of  unconventional growing spaces, from rooftops to parks to housing developments.  And in terms of specific action, the report recommends that the Mayor of London promote and support policy and planning to increase Greater London’s food production and distribution channels.  They’ve got lots of important reasons to back up their suggestions:

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Random Food Porn, or, What I Accomplished in Sophomore Fall

As the spring semester starts up, I find my mind wandering back to all the things I did in the fall. Remember the fall semester? Walking up the slope without getting my face windburned off? Four months of classes and pouring money into this lovely Ivy League institution? Learning about things like neuroscience, psychology and the legal system, human development, and so on? Brutalizing your savings account and learning how to bake flourless chocolate torte, braise pork belly, poach eggs, make hollandaise sauce, butcher a deer, french ribs, and so on? Becoming a shameless fan of the blood-spatter-style plating of sauce (pictured below)? Do I remember all that? Not really. Good thing I took pictures, and we’ve got recipes coming in future posts.

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The Definitely-Not-Weekly Link Roundup: Remixed Muffins, Rules Worth Following, and SF City Gardens

Link roundups are awesome. At least the happy faced chocolate chip and vanilla citrus  panettone bread pudding from last week’s Rambling Restaurant thinks so. This alleged weekly roundup of link love  is not so weekly – right now, we’re going for bi-monthly. Might get worse. May get better (unlikely).

But anyway, some interesting stuff we’ve been reading:

Is There Enough Food Out There For Nine Billion People? [The New Republic]

San Franciscans Turn Abandoned Lot Into Full-Fledged Farm [Inhabitat]

This is awesome – London has city farms all over the place. More American cities should do this, especially with abandoned unused spaces. Great for food production, community involvement, education, improvement of city aesthetics and urban landscape, and general awesomeness. For more on city farms, see below!

Rules Worth Following, For Everyone’s Sake [The New York Times]

On Michael Pollan. Yeah, we talk about him a lot. But it’s an article worth reading, for everyone’s sake.

Whole Wheat Muffin, the Remix [The New York Times]

Bittman is another foodie fave. I am excited to make this.

And the best interactive/participatory link of the week? Put your money where your mouth is on the urban farming tip. Help fund an amazing San Francisco urban garden (in my old beloved hood of the Mission) on this seriously phenomenal crowdsourced funding site called Kickstarter.

Here’s how it works: You pledge a bit of money to support a really cool project. They only take your money if they get enough funding. In return, you get to support a great idea AND you get something in return. A piece of artwork, dinner, a shoutout in a music video, whatever small piece of the project you helped get off the ground according to the level of your donation. For example, you could get an adorable set of seed packets like these for pledging $25:

Or get a gorgeous set of screen-printed posters by one of the farmers who’s also an artist by donating $250.

You can give as little as $5 or as much as you want.  Everyone wins!  I only wish I could have given $1000 for my very own garden picnic.  Someday…when I’m a baller…

Read all about Little City Gardens: An Experiment in the Economic Viability of Urban Farming.  Support an SF farm!

Ridiculously Good Spiced Brownies, Served with Almonds and Some Thoughts on Good Eating

I’ve got an absolutely amazing brownie recipe for you. Dense, fudgy, moist, a resounding wallop of chocolate amidst an unexpected touch of spices and a subtle nudge of saltiness upon encountering a buried almond. Now, I’m fully aware that I am often given to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I say these brownies are some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Make them yourself and I bet you’ll feel the same.

It’s not because of my skill at baking, which can more accurately be described as the ability to read and generally follow instructions. This brownie is based on a great recipe from Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from another great recipe from Baked in Brooklyn. Eat anything from these justly celebrated dessert creators and you’ll probably bust out the superlatives too. Plus, it’s got a lot of butter in it, and we all know the important kitchen equation: butter = awesome.

But the brownie got me thinking more about the food we eat and how it’s produced. If you just want to skip ahead to learn how to make these brownies yourself, scroll all the way down.  But first, some brownie pondering…

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