The Magic of Capturing

Food can be magical.

From potbelly D.C

I wish there was a less cheesy way of putting it, but right now, today, at least for me, there isn’t.

Looking through forgotten photos I understood this “magic”.

Food does its trick, when a photograph, years ago takes you back into the waves of time.

And you immediately remember the sentiments of this moment.

The details are impeccable.

And it is unreal how the place, the people, the time, the snap, and the flash are vivid.

Barcelona, Spain

Miami, Florida

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida


A Deliciously Soggy Burger

I told myself I would NOT be part of the infamously never-ending burger phenomenon.

Why?

Because, I think we all get the point.

Burgers are good.

Whether they come in the form of mini sliders or massive- can’t even fit in your mouth burgers, in brioche buns, in wheat buns, in potato buns, in ciabatta, in sourdough bread, or even in french baguette.

With a cheese selection that ranges from Roquefort , bleu, gorgonzola, brie, mozzarella, provolone, swiss, cheddar, American, jack and/or including a spin on onions, garlic, and Portobello mushrooms.

Switching the protein to lamb or turkey, adding on to the mess: a slice of hickory, beef bean chili, quail eggs, or guacamole.

And finally, pouring on top a damn, good, homemade aioli or barbecue sauce.

Now more than ever, burgers aren’t just a form of alimentation but more so categorized as a trendy yet annoyingly redundant topic that everyone seems to comment on.

Nevertheless, the burger talk is tricky to avoid because we are constantly being tantalized and suffocated by any take on two buns and a piece of meat.

Hence, this post.

Here goes: the story of the soggy burger from DC.

Sometimes ugly and sloppy means “good stuff”.

“Top Chef” contestant Spike Mendelsohn has created a joint of ubiquitous burgers at Capitol Hill, were even Obama has casually dined, explaining the “Prez Obama Burger”.

And it really is no big deal.

Photo by Valeria Miranda

This two-story townhouse, home to the “The Good Stuff Melt” (my personal favorite−although I have yet to give the other little fellas a chance) has created a low key ambiance for our most prominent hill staffers and public officials, were it seems like no one feels entitled over the next big name and everyone waits their turn patiently, in a line that is definitely worth making.

Once at the front, my eyes glanced at the oversized menu and quickly my decision was made.

“The Good Stuff Melt”.

In this medium size burger package came a Mixture of two melted cheeses: Muenster and Cheddar, mushrooms, caramelized onions and “the good stuff sauce”.

When it arrived, I’m not kidding when I say it seemed like it had been whimsically smushed between two yellow school buses in a cartoon crash. It was drenched in cheese and sauce.

Photo by Valeria Miranda

Carefully, I pulled off the “delicious” marked tissue-like wrapping and began the excavation.

Besides the fact that I’m one that goes unhinged for sauces that are intoxicating and can stand on their own, “the good stuff sauce” was it.

That “it” factor that would leave me stupefied,thinking, breathing, talking burgers, and dubiously questioning, “How can something so Sloppy taste this good?”

Tips:

Try Spike’s Village Fries (Regualr price $3.79) for a taste of what only seems like a munch on mountain potatoes covered in fresh thyme, rosemary, and sea salt.

Take the time to explore the selection of mayonnaises that Good Stuff has to offer. It definitely boosts the flavor of these teeny weeny Thumbelina fries. (MY favorites: the Mango Mayo and the Siracha Mayo).

If you are feeling crazy, try the Soursop Hop Strawberry Homemade Shake (it provides that sweet contrast you need when digging and grubbing into your burger and fries).

Photo by Valeria Miranda

Here is a Hint: Pork, Pistachios, Pumpkin and Apricots

I’m not in the kind of mood, where I write out, or share a recipe and expect those that are interested to follow it precisely.

That is one thing about cooking that doesn’t exactly correspond to my personality. The structure of how some things have to be in a kitchen. The science and intricate timing that can go behind making a meal.

I respect and admire it, but I guess, ironically, it just takes something away from the ability to be free and express yourself in a kitchen, if that makes any sense.

Regardless, of whether I enjoy it or not, it is what it is.

Organization is key in preparing a meal.  Which probably explains the thrill I get when writing memorable and unexpected stories that environs around food.

Although, it might seem unorthodox and challenging wouldn’t it be more exciting to see photographs and try to imitate what you see, or better yet, be inspired to create something that surpasses your OWN expectations?

Give it a try …

Swimming in a Sauce of Mole Poblano

For those French Fries Fanatics, my blog title must seem like a tease.

It’s been six months and no sign of anything as greasy and worth gaining additional pounds for, until now of course.

The thing that I appreciate about French Fries, besides the crispiness yet at times soggy texture, is the fact that you can be endlessly creative in the way you prepare and eat them.

Mouthwatering with anything from dusted sea salt, lime, red wine vinegar, labneh, Salsa Valentina, gravy, a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup, I’ve even seen them paired with chocolate!

Today courtesy of my sister who lives in Washington D.C, our French Fries will be swimming in a sauce of mole poblano.  

"José Andrés’ favorite potato fries in a mole poblano sauce of almonds, chiles and a touch of chocolate, topped with Mexican cream and queso fresco cheese"

We strongly advise you to try this at home!

Here is a small blurb she wrote :

I went to brunch at Oyamel, José Andres’ Mexican restaurant, I was very surprised to see “ papas al mole” on the menu. I asked the waitress if she recommended this dish. She said it was really good, but not a lot of people ordered it because mole wasn’t exactly the most popular thing out there. I was a bit skeptical: I had never really liked mole, I found it too strong and overpowering for my taste.

Maybe it was the pitcher of piña colada mimosa or curiosity got to me,
nevertheless, I decided to order it.

BEST DECISION EVER.

The hint of chocolate and almonds mixed with the queso fresco unloaded all over the fries was a great combination. I devoured them instantly smacking away hands as they tried to steal some from me. This mole was subtle yet, exploded with flavor.

Jose Andres’ mole needs to be sold by the bottle so I can dip it in everything I love!

When in Lebanon…eat as the Lebanese eat

It feels like a million posts back, where I promised to share more about the food journeys I had while traversing through Lebanon.

It may come as a physical shock to your amateur stomach, but when traveling all those long hours to a country as exotic in flavors as Lebanon, it’s worth gluttonizing in a bowlful of anything.

Why?

Because the food is fresh and real.
Everything tastes the way it should taste.

Here is my petit yet, carefully constructed guide to keeping your stomach undeniably satisfied.

The ones that surprised me, worthy of mentioning, that have been overlooked and uncommon for those that are foreign to Lebanese cuisine are:
1. Foul for breakfast : beans with extra lemon in Tyre. Scoop them up with pita bread.2. Ravishing Radishes3. Kibbeh Nayeh: Raw Kibbeh with drizzled olive oil, a touch of mint, and evenly scattered salt.

 4. Makanek: For an interesting flavored sausage.

5. Manoushe at Deir al Qamar,the pizza for the Lebanese, with nothing but Zaatar.
6. Mint lemonade with the smell of watermelon, at Mir Amin Palace in Beit Din, on a scorching day.

7. Knafe Bi Jibn in Tyre, a cheesey and traditional dessert.
8. Cherries  from Bchare, If I can promise you one thing it’s this: these are REAL cherries.

An Unpretentious Croissant

Three weeks prior to my visit to New York City, after an exaggerated quantum of Google searches for “places to dine in NYC” or “top restaurants in NYC” and numerous conversations with some “local” friends about where I could eat quality food(“local” because they are not born and bred New Yorkers), I was anxious to see what I would find.

Some sort of planning and pre-booking needed to be made, which goes against what I love most about traveling: that sense of spontaneity and/or adventure. The idea of aimlessly wandering through East Village, West Village, Soho, and tottering upon a place, expecting a clean and clear table was blissfully unrealistic.

So much direct chatter buzzing around everywhere about how the overwhelming yet irresistible big apple is one of the best places to eat in the world, and I… was truthfully disappointed.

Maybe my expectations were exceedingly high, maybe the options were never-ending, or maybe I just didn’t look in the right places. Either way the choices felt satisfactory, nothing more than that.

However, I did manage being contently surprised with nothing less than a freshly made oven good by the name of croissant.

A simply chaotic croissant yet organized in flavor distribution hitting the right spot on my tongue every time. Every mouthful contained cheese, ham, and the touch of all touches, a milk- based, creamy béchamel sauce.

I dawdled the moment, hoping that my enjoyment of this unpretentious croissant would last longer than forever.

The crunch felt like I was sticking my teeth in a mille-feuille pastry, crumbs exploded all over the inside and outside of my mouth. Messy yet delicate, an unparallel combinations that worked!

The best part being, that it was unplanned. The only regret I have was not going back for a second one.

Thomas Keller has lived up to my expectations just with this croissant at Bouchon Bakery. I cannot imagine how mesmerizing dining at Per Se and the French Laundry would be like.

But for the risk of sounding repetitive and emphasizing the value that food has, I want to stress this:

If it tastes good…

If it leaves you stupidly wondering…

If it takes you to a happy place, perhaps, nostalgically in the past or in the future, then it’s really good, it’s worth remembering, and worth flavoring and taking small ant-size bites.

This croissant transported me.

It took me to Paris. Where I had an out-of-body experience:

My french self was sitting at the edge of the Seine near Notre Dame with the petit croissant carefully placed on top of the wrinkled paper bag waiting to be swallowed.

Cliché?

But I can’t help it! This is a city that can be deceivingly dreamy, with a magical effect; you are lifted, floating above the ground.

Moments, Places, People, and Macarons

Let’s take a break from all things Lebanese and focus on a man named Franck Monnier.

It’s worth an interruption, to tell you about the two privileged hours I spent at this pastry chef’s warehouse.

First lesson when making macarons:

It’s easy to fail.

Unless, you are someone like Franck or Armand, Franck’s secondary pâtissier, who can make a batch of 1800 shells or 900 complete macarons per day.Two individuals that are passionate crafters of beautiful desserts.

Half asleep and nervous, in this well-equipped space surrounded by ovens, trays, sinks, and ingredients of all kinds, the conversation flowed effortlessly.

At the beginning I apologized for all my questions. I hated the idea of interrupting and maybe even overwhelming them with all the thoughts that came to me like darts, thinking that I could break their concentration.

But, how naïve of me!

These are professionals!

They could probably create their master-pieces blind.

Having no time to prepare questions and subject matters to dabble at, nor informing myself with Franck’s career accomplishments,

I really just went with it.

Bizarrely enough, I’m actually grateful that I was unprepared.

It just fits the story better this way.

I do however, confess that my mom previously informed me of the work he had done with the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

But, if I had known that he worked closely with Pierre Hermé at Fauchon, I’m sure I would have lost focus and been in utter wonder…

Which is really were I find myself right now.

Thinking and pondering how remarkable it is that moments, places, and people mark your life without you even realizing it, at the very instant, as if your life was a theatrical performance, just waiting to be played out.

For instance since I was 13, and maybe even before then I’ve retained blurbs of memories of Fauchon’s black and pink packaging, their tea varieties, chocolates, sauces, jams, mustards, and more.

When I was 20, over a year ago, in March 2010, a friend introduced me to Pierre Hermé macarons.

But what was this recurring interest with macarons?

This path that has led me to today, began 6 years ago when I was 17 at the Setai Restaurant in Miami Beach Hotel, where I discovered my first macaron.

Now 22 and growing, in terms of my relationship with macarons, the questions that I’ve developed about these tiny bites were beginning to be answered. I was finally starting to understand my curiosity.

It was more than just the idea of this popular trend that has been flourishing for about ten years now. It’s about the work and patience that goes in the creation of these delicate treats.

Recognizing that making macarons is a daily art that requires science, something difficult to verbally and even physically teach.

It just seems like it’s a gift that only the lucky can develop.

What macarons lovers, makers, and attempters have to understand is, like Armand said, the key is in the feeling.

Mr. Monnier explained that everyone has the same recipe! Nothing really changes, minor twitches and recommendations but really it’s something you have to know and feel.

Photo by Jimena Montemayor at L'Atelier Gourmet

Which is what makes them so fascinating!

And even in their explanation, Franck and Armand still managed to find the words to vocally demonstrate the procedures that it takes to creating macarons, but always coming back to the feeling, knowing from years of experience how to arrive at the consistency needed for a macaron.

http://www.lateliergourmet.com/

http://www.fauchon.com/

http://www.pierreherme.com/

My Recollection of Lebanon Part 2: Knowing Pomegranate

There is something beautiful yet something strange about this photograph.

These lucid, rosé wine, colored seeds were decoratively placed at the center of our moutabel or baba ghannouj, an eggplant inspired dip. But what where pomegranate seeds doing here.

I had never seen this before.

And as we continued on, through our exploration of Lebanon it grew into something familiar.

Something rare became ordinary to me. However, just because it grew to be common didn’t mean it would be forgotten.

In fact, it left me wondering.

What was the purpose of this ingredient?

It turns out that pommegrante molasses, are used in Lebanon to acidify stews, meats, and can be a substitute for lemon and vinegar dressings.

Had you noticed the acidic importance in Lebanese food? I had! And let me just say that I love that lemony taste in a dish!

This might have seemed like a simple decoration, an extra touch on top, for the enjoyment of this mezze, but pomegranate had a past.

Pomegranate, was the fruit from the Punica Granatum tree with 2,000 more, years of life than us. 

Pomegranate was religiously and culturally recognized. A fruit that was significant in prehistoric Troy, in Greek Mythology as one of the symbols of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and I was lucky enough to have stood in the ruins of Ba’albak, Lebanon where carvings of pomegranate were found.

The ruins of Ba'albak, Lebanon

Traveling continues to open up my palette. 

It led me, to know the origins of pomegranates.

Coming from the Mediterranean and western Asia,varieties differing from sweeter to bitter flavors including Ahmar, aswad, and halwa from Iraq, Mangualti from Saudia Arabia and malissi and ras el bagh most enjoyed in Syria and Lebanon.

I thought it would be a tease to show you these pictures and not include a recipe for baba ghannouj.

This is a recipe from my grandmother, handwritten by my father in Spanish and translated by me with a twist!

For one bowl, you will need:

1 Large Eggplant

Lemon Juice

Tahini

Salt

Paprika

Garlic

Let’s keep this simple.

All you need are the correct ingredients and patience.

The first time you make something can be challenging. But if you take it for what it is, a learning experience, something will turn out right and help you improve your recipe for the next time.

When making my first moutabel mezze I have to admit that I didn’t really follow any exact measurements.

With the help of a friend, we grilled the eggplant for awhile, about 20 minutes, till it felt soft and deflated into what looked like a bean bag chair .

Quickly, as the eggplant began to explode its juices and liquids, we removed the skin and stem.

For a smoky taste, we added paprika to the warm eggplant and used a spoon and a fork to separate the strands of eggplant from each other.

Separately we mixed the freshly made lemon juice with Tahina clumps, stirring until they dissolved into one.

Then all in one bowl we used a hand blender to combine the lemon and Tahini mixture with our eggplant adding salt and paprika. We had only added three spoonfuls of Tahini, which wasn’t enough to arrive at the consistency that we needed. We were looking for a clumpier versus a more runny texture.

So we just kept tasting and adding Tahini until we were more than satisfied.

A tip for those who have not worked with Tahini before, be careful not to add too much because the flavor can be quite overpowering.

Finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and paprika galore.

The only thing missing are those pomegranate seeds that grow in Joun, Lebanon.

Reference from:

‘Akkar to ‘Amel: Lebanon’s Slow Food Trail by Rami Zurayk and Sami Abdul Rahman

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

Oxford English Dictionary

My Recollection of Lebanon Part 1: Marquq, an Essential

Bread is an Essential.

Bread has been overlooked and at times may be even undervalued by itself.

For instance, we think of bread as an ingredient for a pastrami sandwich or the element needed to dip into olive oil. Both delicious but we tend to forget that bread can stand on its own.

Bread tells history, and even though nowadays we push the breadbasket away from us, it once was praised, pleasing the first of our kind, and actually sustaining the human race.

Bread is beautiful and it deserves its own story.

Marquq bread deserves its own story.

While traveling in Lebanon, Marquq was a remarkable surprise that I had never experienced in the States but common in Lebanon. It is simple bread that is served with most Lebanese meals.

I had managed to ignore how well it complements mezze dishes like moutabal, tabbouleh, or labneh (one of my personal favorite combinations).

Thinner and tastier than a pancake, with the thickness of a crêpeMarquq has natural shades of beige, light to darker browns spots, unbiased cracks, crispy and soft textures.

Where no one piece is the same. Marquq pertains to the category of translucent and heavenly flat-like breads.

Marquq or markouk, meaning “flattened into a thin layer”, is made on a saj, similar to a smooth black pebble with no rough edges.  The thin dough is carefully, yet nimbly spread out to cover this hot pebble in order to cook.

It is a process that is completed by the raqqaq, “he who makes the marquq”.

I witnessed an older woman who seemed extremely experienced. She formed small dough balls of yeast, salt, water, and flour and then used a white fluff pillow to mount the bread on the saj. Cooking time is fast, it only takes about 30 to 45 seconds for the thin layers of Marquq to be ready to serve or packaged.

The secret lies in the thinness of the bread; your tongue and a mouthful of marquq meet and easily dissolve.  

Marquq fulfills your taste buds, yet doesn’t fill up your stomach.

Marquq is worth respecting. I’m starting to feel like I’m becoming too dramatic and trying to be more inspiring than I can actually be. But it’s honest, it’s a lesson not only in food stories but in life to appreciate those little things that we sometimes take for granted.

By having a Lebanese grandmother, Marquq has some sort of history that relates to me, maybe not affecting me on a quotidian basis but I’m grasping at a chance to get to know Marquq and my roots.

Is it strange to say that sometimes I feel that as I type away I’m surprised that simple food, like Marquq, can have something to teach me?

Photos by Andrea Becerra

Reference from ‘Akkar to ‘Amel: Lebanon’s Slow Food Trail by Rami Zurayk and Sami Abdul Rahman

Introduction to My Recollection of Lebanon and its Liberating Flavors

Two months ago I found myself enthralled by the towns of Lebanon, surrounded by abundant plates of Lebanese mezze and trays of cherries, peaches, watermelon, and apples that seemed to arrive in dozens.

52 km east of Beirut, in Zahleh, “the town of poetry and wine” (Zurayk and Rahman), we lunched at Mhanna, one of the restaurants of the Berdwani River.

Most of these eateries outside of Beirut resembled each other in style and quality of food. I couldn’t really tell you which one was the best of the Berdwani, because we didn’t read Arabic and could only judge the place on what we saw being carefully carried out on silver platters.

A quick look around and fate led us to Mhanna.

The place took in the habitat, with trees hovered together and overflowing greens.

The rows were never ending, each table longer than the one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, fitting not only the twelve apostles, but their cousin’s cousins.

But listen to what is interesting about all these restaurants: they had the same basic principles, white table cloths, exhibited the epitome of Lebanon, and what is at the center of Lebanese culture, the love of simple food and the love of large families.

And we witnessed it everywhere; trips to Zahleh, Broumana, Hammana, Jounieh, and Ehden were extremely family oriented. Where constant plates were tip toeing back and forth at a fast-food pace.

Except it wasn’t fast-food, it was slow food, it was fresh, it was culture, it was the people of Lebanon, especially the towns and villages that preserved authentic flavors and cooking.

You cannot quote me on this but I’m sure that this style and these dietary habits had existed for centuries, even since the inauguration of Mhanna in 1880.

This is a country, a city, a town, a village, that has a story and within that story is a food story of even the simplest ingredients like za’atar and labneh.

I won’t promise that the stories will come in order but there will be many and maybe some of these dishes will grow to be meaningful to you and even help compose your last supper.

Photos by Andrea Becerra

Reference from ‘Akkar to ‘Amel: Lebanon’s Slow Food Trail by Rami Zurayk and Sami Abdul Rahman

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