Archive | January, 2012

The Groupon Experience

20 Jan

What was thought to be a wine tasting experience, quickly turned into a Groupon experience.   Everyday I receive emails from this deal of the day website about their offers.  Well a few weeks ago I purchased one for a wine tasting with appetizers for two (4 glasses of wine each, appetizers and two take home bottles).  What a picture it had, a full glass of wine and assortment of cheeses around it.  The first hint that this would not be as sweet as it sounded was when calling for reservations. I was quickly told after referring to Groupon that I must come at 5pm, contrasting with what was written on the offer by 7pm. (After a little back and fourth we agreed on 6:30pm). It was not only this but the tone of voice that really gave away the fact Groupon customers weren’t so welcomed. Like the response you get when a salesman offers you a great deal and makes you excited but than immediately tells you about the hidden costs, that dramatic drop in your tone of voice…”oh, ok well I’m not interested.”

We arrived to the restaurant, a little, low lighted Italian place with candles and cheap looking deco. Immediately we are seated in the front and given the “4 glasses of wine each” as promised, they were tastings rather (about a few small sips). I should have read into this more, the title said tasting but the fine print said glasses. These were a pinot grigio, chardonnay, malbec and pinot noir, with a small dish of appetizers in between us. The night went well though, at least we had the equivalent of one glass of wine and some things to pick at while conversing, with the exception of the music selection, Celine Dion and some other really cheesy music. Coming out, I will say that they really tried to hard, over the top, to make it a nice place, kind of like a nouveau riche house.

We lingered soaking up the wine and cheesiness until feeling it was time to get our two free bottles to take home. Retrieving our coats and wine, I asked the manager if he wished he hadn’t signed on with Groupon.  Apparently most Groupon customers don’t tip very well and it doesn’t help businesses as much as predicted. Wow, the response was blatantly lying through the teeth with a smile, “No, we like our Groupon customers.” It did not take a lie detector to decipher that statement.  So we left and without a word walked right into “Big Daddy’s” burger joint next door as it was on both our minds and just laughed that we had just made this subconsciousness switch in atmosphere .  So much for the refined night we had been expecting…

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Deep-fried party in a guerilla restaurant

17 Jan

“ Give the croquette to the dog and come in, you want a drink? ” says Kate while sticking a dog croquette in my hand through the still half open door. Me, babbling: “Hey, I’m Carole, you might be Kate?” Once the dog calmed, Kate, the host for the night, welcomes me with a glass of Cranberry Mojito in her red and white apartment. That’s how began last Saturday night, my first diner in an underground restaurant. A tummy temerarious experience…

Underground restaurants appeared in the US. Underground, pop-up, guerilla, at home, whatever the name, the concept is the same: an individual hosts guests, restaurant style, usually for a financial charge. Most of the guests and hosts don’t do it for money though. Nor to become hospitality professionals: experience, meeting new people and tasting unusual food prevail.

Last Saturday, I was on the guests list: 10 lucky people attending a Deep-fried party. Kind of unusual for the French I am. Kate, who is a chef in “real” life, had prepared 4 frying stations in her big kitchen. Professional utensils: large pots, thermometers, frying skimmers and oil cans. Don’t mess about frying! (I won’t mention the flour collection, the variety of whisks and peelers, the avocado pit utensil and the 20 spices pots above the sink.)

For my first Deep-frying party, I had decided to cook vegetables and cheese croquettes, cod-fish croquettes and banana/bacon donuts. Last minute I realized that: the cod-fish needed 24hours to desalt, there was no fresh mozzarella in my supermarket and they had a bargain on Plantain bananas. So I started improvising, 2 hours before the diner. Finally, after struggling with flour, eggs, bread crumbs and resilient bananas, I was armed with 30 croquettes: mashed potatoes-apples-curry, Plantain bananas-spicy mustard-bacon, butternut squash-onions.

On the menu: deep-fried mayonnaise, avocados, ginger, eggplant, lemon, kiwi, raspberries, risotto croquettes, steak meat, PB&J sandwiches,  crab cakes, broccolis, cheesecake… Unlimited wine and Mojito. My stomach stands and I try the deep-fried pizza. Last extravagance of the night.

Everybody being full and feeling a little bit crummy, the night goes on with a game and more cocktails. Some start being unsteady, eyes are closing, impossible to think, time to leave!

Conclusion: friendly and curious about food guests, fun, small investment and a very rich experience.

One lesson: deep-fry the peanut butter at last; it gives its taste to the oil.

Next diner theme: seafood tapas, at Alicia’s.

La purée de Mamie

13 Jan

Personal memories linked to a special cook or a special meal from the past can be a stereotype or a common topos in food writing (this is what Dianne Jacob suggests in her book Will write for food evoking editors’ exasperation with these stories). But I am convinced that they are worth sharing. So let’s get tummy nostalgic for a moment…

One of my favorite meals is smashed potatoes. It comes from the days of my grandmother (the inspirational grandmother is what constitutes the cliché; but we love our grandmothers and they deserve being remembered one way or another). She used to cook the exact same lunch every Saturday: a juicy beef steak cooked in a big piece of margarine and ground pepper, lettuce salad with shallots vinaigrette and smashed potatoes. She would serve me a piece of steak and then creamy potatoes, digging a hole in the middle and pouring in some of the meat sauce. Usually I would go back to the pan and take more sauce as the purée would disappear from my plate.

Smashed potatoes are easy to cook but the result always varies depending on the ingredients used to flavor them. Even if she was not using any specific recipe, I know from memories of watching her preparing the meal while listening to the 1pm news on TV that she would mash the potatoes with milk, then put a large piece of margarine with salt and ground pepper. I am not sure but I think she would also add some whipped cream. At the end, she topped it with an egg yolk to give it this beige color and link the whole preparation into a very creamy one. I use to complain to my mom that her mashed potatoes were not as good as her own mother’s. My grandmother always answered vaguely about what made it so special. Maybe she did not know herself, but I am still very convinced she had a secret. The smell filling up the small apartment, the consistency and the well known taste of it constitute a vivid memory. I was never able to cook the same mashed potatoes or make that sauce by myself, nor was I able to taste it again anywhere.

Years later, I had the chance to taste mashed sweet potatoes during my first Christmas in an American family. Sweet potatoes are not a common ingredient in France and I must admit I was a little bit skeptical about it. I know the tendency of Americans to sweeten everything, from mustard to chicken.  And the idea of mixing it with marshmallow was a total affront to my grandmother’s meat and margarine sauce. But what I discovered enchanted my palate: creamy, with a slight sense of maple syrup, the mashed sweet potatoes were not only savory but good looking with the marshmallows on top, alike a lemon pie topped with small meringues.

I forgot to ask the cook the recipe so it will stay a mysterious tasty memory, alike my grandmother’s mashed potatoes.

Will Manolo knock?

11 Jan

While in Spain, I had the great pleasure of being a tenant in the house of Manolo.  An aging porteños (citizen of El Puerto de Santa Maria and Buenos Aires), Manolo still lives with his mother which is a common characteristic in Spain for men.  As we (North Americans) see this as an infringement on our freedom, for Manolo, it is not only normal but an advantage as he is able to learn all of his Franco era hardened mother’s culinary recipes and secrets.  And for me, well this was a great stroke of luck, one well worth putting up with her many strong Andalusian accented spouts about god knows what directed at me, another tenant, or of course Manolo.

So, how was this lucky for me?  Well after coming home for lunch in the afternoons, many times I received a waited expecting knock on the door from Manolo to come help him cook lunch, the biggest meal of the day in Spain.  Stopping my own lunch prep, I gladly always followed him across the courtyard into his house.  For me and many other Americans, lunch tends to be a quick meal, either eating on the run or in front of the computer at work ;p  But not in the House of Manolo, or in Spain for that matter.  No, lunch was a carefully prepared, aesthetically detailed, Sherry drinking, culinary experience.

Pouring Sherry from jugs, communicating in broken Spanish and hand gestures, with the windows open to the courtyard in a beautiful Spanish afternoon, Manolo would teach me some of his passed down trade and give me the authentic taste of Andalusia.  Caracoles (snails) in a tomato sauce, conch, grilled octopus, sauted Durado, sword fish, salmon, boquerones (anchovies), squid, Choco, crawfish, oxtail!!!!  Fresh figs with goat cheese, oranges, thinly sliced Iberian ham (pata negra) with fresh olive oil and bread, fried eggplant with salmorejo and gazpacho!  What a tummy terrific time!

And did I mention this all came from the farmers market down the street…

Hello tummy!

9 Jan

A collection of hungry tummies stories…

Why write about food, simply put because Tummy boy and Tummy girl love it. They love eating, and they love eating good: rich and creamy dairy, fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, meat or anything they can’t pronounce.

From this blog they just want to document their food experiences in creative way through Reviews (Tummy tips), Food history (Tummy traditions), Recipes (Tummy treats) and Travels (Tummy trips).

If you enjoy this make a comment or just keep reading!