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Viva Las … Cuisine! Eating My Way Through Vegas, Part 1

21 Apr

vegas march 2013 013

About a month ago — ack! Did I seriously take a month to write this post? For SHAME, GKG! — THT and I made our way to Las Vegas for four whirlwind days. THT had a conference for work (tough life, right? I wouldn’t mind getting sent to Vegas to “work”) and my spring break — miracle of miracles — was during that same week. We packed our carry-on bags and flew from DC to McCarrick Airport on Monday, and landed to see that beautiful, gaudy, absurd, once-in-a-lifetime sight:

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A Toast to DC: District Wine Festival and Cherry Blossoms

11 Apr
Oh my gosh, love this. This was right before we bought gigantic cups of bubble tea. #Mmmmm. #nomnomnom

Oh my gosh, I love this. This was right before we bought gigantic cups of bubble tea. #Mmmmm. #nomnomnom

This weekend, one of my absolute favorite people — my college bestie Laura — came to DC for a packed weekend of cherry blossom-visiting, belated birthday celebrating, city-exploring, Metro-riding, and … wine drinking! While she was in town (from all the way in an unnamed Southern city — gotta keep a little anonymity in this Age of the Interwebs, kids), we hit up a great combination of touristy good times and foodie fun.

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Chapatis and Naan: Experiments in Indian Bread-Baking

17 Feb
Image sourced from indianfoodsco.com

Image sourced from indianfoodsco.com

If you’ve ever found yourself in an Indian restaurant (or at the receiving end of some delectable takeout), you’ve inevitably tried some of India’s famous breads. Whether for dipping, scooping, sopping or munching, breads like naan and chapatis are simple and delicious. They’re perfect for stew-type cuisines like Dal or Aloo Gobhi from the Northern part of the country, or Western India’s Dum Aaloo.

But for folks who aren’t as familiar with Indian food — which, like any great world cuisine, can vary depending on its region of origin — you might be asking yourself: What the flibbertigibbet are naan and chapatis? Leave it to GKG for the answer.

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Christmas Vacation (the Griswold-free Edition): Pizzas, Pasta, and a Whole Lotta Carbs

29 Dec

Hello hello, my lovely readers and friends! I’ve returned from a lengthy and lovely Christmas Break (the joys of working in education: I still have a set-in-stone-employer-can’t-touch-it end-of-December vacation. HOO-rah!) with updates of the foodie variety. As expected, my sojourn to my family homestead (figuratively, not literally — I grew up squarely in suburbia, not the big ol’ fields and pine-filled woods of THT’s childhood) was filled with food. Literally filled. The stuffed turkey and I were vying for the heftiest belly on Christmas night, and I’m very okay with that.

It was pretty wonderful to be home, actually. I mean, having come from depressingly snow-free DC, how could I beat this winter wonderland?

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com.

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com.
“White Christmas,” anyone?

And with a mama this cute, my time at home was downright fabbity fab-fab. 🙂

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Family resemblance, right down to the 80+ layers of warm clothing!

There were so many culinary highlights, that it’s hard to pin down my favorite dishes. My little sister made an amazing Asparagus Sauté, cutting the asparagus into 2-inch chunks and sauteing them with olive oil, a few minced garlic cloves, and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. My older sister’s Pignoli Cookies were so epically Italian and so darned tasty that any attempt to reproduce their southern-Sicilian magic would moot. (Or a “moo” point, if you’re Joey.) NOTE: If you’re interested in tackling their tastiness, here’s a delicious version of her recipe from Italian Food Forever.

And Grandma GKG’s Christmas Eve Italian feast, complete with Pasta with Broccoli Rabe, was, as usual, downright divine. (Spaghetti + sauteed broccoli rabe + parmesan + chicken broth + a topping of crushed croutons. Simple, huh?)

And as an alternative to turkey, my padre tried this recipe for Michael Symon’s Porchetta from Food Network Magazine. With its spicy pancetta and rosemary filling (an extra kick comes from oodles of red pepper flakes), it was a hit for the senses and the sinuses. Whoo!

Image courtesy of foodnetwork.com. Molto bene!

Image courtesy of foodnetwork.com. Molto bene!

My contributions were mostly of the sous-chef variety — scoring the pork roast, baking some bread, arranging tables, washing dishes, etc. However, I did make one of my absolute favorite pizza recipes, which I’ll now share with you, lovely readers.

Here’s a preview:

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Love the blur effect -- looks like steam on the oven window!

Image courtesy of Felicia L. / Facebook.com. Love the blur effect — looks like steam on the oven window!

One night a few days before Christmas, the task of dinner prep fell to me. (I know, how terrible … twist my arm, why don’t you, Mom? Tee hee.) I decided to make one of my specialties, White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms & Ham. I also whipped up a Pesto Pizza and Veggie Pizza, which are low-key additions to the pizza repertoire of any budding chef. (Pesto Pizza = pesto sauce, cheese, and sliced tomatoes; Veggie pizza = wheat crust, tomato sauce, and as many veggies as your fridge can hold.) The white pizza, however, is an elegant and stylish dinner treat.

White Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Mushrooms, & Ham

You’ll need:

  • 1 white or wheat pizza crust, rolled out and prepared for baking
  • 1 cup prepared bechamel sauce
  • 1-2 cups shredded fontina cheese
  • 4-6 slices of deli ham, sliced into thin shreds
  • 1/4 white onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup white button mushroom slices
  • Additional parmesan cheese, salt & pepper for seasoning

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prepare pizza crust on top of either a baking sheet or a baking stone.
  • To caramelize onions, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a small pan on medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, slowly, for 20-30 minutes, adding 1/4 cup of water every few minutes, or until water is absorbed each time. This slow method will render sweetness and delicious caramelized sugar from the onions.
  • To prepare the mushrooms, cook in batches over medium-low heat with a smidgen of olive oil. Do NOT add mushrooms all at once; keep space between each mushroom and flip once, allowing them to brown on each side.
  • To prepare the ham, simply saute the slices in either the onion pan or the mushroom pan once either vegetable is finished cooking. Allow the ham to crisp up slightly, for no longer than 5-10 minutes.
  • Spread the prepared bechamel sauce over the crust. Check here for a simple recipe. Top with shredded cheese, caramelized onions, and prepared ham slices and mushrooms. Additional parmesan is good here as a garnish, as is a grind or two of fresh black pepper.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until crust and cheese are lightly browned. Slice into small squares and enjoy as an appetizer or a main meal.

This pizza is SO darn good, it’s ridiculous. If you’d like something less labor-intensive, you can also use raw onions, raw mushrooms, and deli ham straight out of the package. The extra steps add a whole nother dimension, however, and are definitely worth the effort!

What are your favorite holiday recipes? What are your classic Christmas dishes, wintertime favorites, and seasonal delicacies? Happy eating!

Southern Livin’ (and Southern Eatin’!)

5 Aug

[Note: I began drafting this post while sitting in bitterness at BWI. Read on.]

Well friends, I hadn’t planned on writing this post until I was safely home in New Hampshire — your neighborhood friendly Galley Kitchen Gal is traveling again, only this time back to the Promised Land of the Northeast for some much-needed famiglia time — but, given airlines and their penchant for extending my residency at Baltimore-Washington International airport by several hours for no understandable reason, here we are.

[Rant over — let the eating retrospective commence!]

Last week, as you folks and friends know well, the History Teacher and I took a road trip down to Charleston, South Carolina. For a New Hampshire girl and an upstate New Yorker, this would be our first joint venture (and my first altogether) to “tha deep South,” or what’s known to folks from Savannah to the Outer Banks as the Lowcountry. It’s the region along the southern Atlantic coast of the United States that comprises much of what we think of as typical South, but with this great coastal, almost tropical vibe.

It was, in a word, gorgeous. As I told my aunt the day I returned, “…yeah, I’d go back tomorrow.”

Here are some highlights — just a few of my favorite sites around town:

Live Oaks lining the driveway at Boone Hall Plantation

Rainbow Row houses.

Sweetgrass baskets — handmade along Route 17 in Mount Pleasant

And now, for the important stuff — the food! A few highlights in photos:

DIY Gullah Gumbo — deee-licious.

A real Lowcountry boil — shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes. And, y’know, deliciousness.

Homemade pecan pralines. Somewhere, a shudder is traveling up my dentist’s spine.

It was, by far, one of the tastiest trips I’ve ever had. (And I haven’t even mentioned what we cooked over campfires back at our camp site! For a future post, fellow camping lovers. I’ll give you a hint: Grilled pizza is involved.) For those of you who may be traveling to Charleston sometime soon, here’s an index of where we ate and what we loved there:

  • Red’s Ice House — 98 Church Street, Mount Pleasant SC, 29464. Located in the Shem Creek area of Mount Pleasant, Red’s is a local institution with a waterfront bar and a great selection of classic Lowcountry seafood faves. The History Teacher noshed on crab legs, I ate the heck out of that Lowcountry boil, and we shared a Lobster and Sweet Corn dip for two as an appetizer. We washed it all down with healthy (well, not literally) glasses of sweet tea. Let’s just say we rolled out of there. If you’re headed that way, try the oysters, too.
  • Sticky Fingers — 235 Meeting Street, Charleston SC, 29401. With only 16 locations across the entire Southeast region of the US (3 of which are in the Charleston area), Sticky Fingers is a small franchise with big flavors. While their sauces are served and sold across the country, the restaurants themselves boast delicious barbecue, flavorful sauces and killer desserts. Try the bbq pork with mustard-based South Carolina-style sauce, the outrageous ribs, and the peach cobbler with ice cream. I had no time to take pictures of our food, because we consumed it at an ungodly pace of nom nom nomming.
  • Market Street Sweets — 100 North Market Street, Charleston SC, 29401. While this candy shop carries more than a few gems from its sister shop in Savannah, GA, the pecans in those amazing pralines are Charleston originals. Get thee to this sweet shop, if for nothing but the view. Walls of candy, bins of treats, free samples, freshly-popped popcorn, and an ice cream bar make this a fun, sweet-tooth-satisfying stop during a jaunt through the city’s restored old marketplace.
  • Cafe Paradiso — 51 S. Market Street # A, Charleston SC, 29401. A quick stop for delicious iced coffee, this cafe has small square footage and big personality. Check out the hookah pipes for sale as you nosh on coffee shop standards or sip your caffeinated beverages.

These are a tiny percentage of the dining options that Charleston has to offer. The city, recently named the top food destination in the United States by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, is a mecca of farm-to-table local eats. A few highlights for our return trip — or your first (of hopefully many) voyages:

  • Husk Restaurant — 76 Queen Street. A James Beard award winner for best new US restaurant, Husk is THE place to get a reservation in the city. (And one of the hardest!)
  • Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.) — 192 East Bay Street. A hallmark of Charleston’s southern cooking revival, S.N.O.B. is cheeky and fun, paying homage to the city’s culinary heritage with some of the best shrimp & grits around. (Apparently the Banana Cream Pie is to die for.)
  • Caviar & Bananas, a gourmet food and coffee shop with a location on George Street and in the heart of the Old Market.
  • FIG [Food Is Good] — 232 Meeting Street. Soft Shell crabs, seafood stews and so much more.
  • Jestine’s Kitchen — 251 Meeting Street. Lines will wind around the block for Jestine’s fried greet tomatoes and legendary Coca-Cola cake. Get there early!

While most of these joints can be found in Meeting Street — arguably the heart of the city north of Broad — nearby King Street and Queen Street are also filled with food-stuffs and goodies. Check out the neighborhoods near the College of Charleston for low-budget eats, including the much-lauded Hominy Grill. The long and short of it? You can’t go wrong, anywhere you go. Eat up, tuck in, and happy travels, y’all.

Lemon-Basil Sweet Tea (Even From a Yankee)

30 Jul

Even if I love being a culinary adventurer, at the end of the day, I have to identify myself as a Northeastern Yankee through and through. (Growing up in New Hampshire only gives me so much street cred outside of New England.)

As you can see, there’s a lot of the country left. Like 98%.

As much as I’ve come to love the South, Southwest, and all types of international cookery, I’m humble enough to admit when I don’t know a lot about another part of the world – or, more importantly for this blog, that area’s food and drink-stuffs. Which is why I’ve made it such a point to learn about the food of each place where I’ve traveled — to try things, learn how dishes are made, and understand how deeply food ties to the culture. My travels are tastier, and I feel like I’m showing a place the respect it deserves by honoring its cuisine. (Y’know, via my taste buds.)

I suppose it can even make you something of a hipster. But hey, you’re supporting a local economy, and that’s another great reason why this stuff matters.

Among the many, MANY delicious Southern bites and sips I had while in Charleston, one I’d never really tried before was authentic Southern-style Sweet Tea. That killer sweetness cuts through the brewed tea beautifully, all due – as I’ve come to find through a bit of research – to simple syrup, rather than just sugar.

Turns out that simple syrup is easy enough to whip up – combine equal parts sugar and water, and allow the mixture to cook over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Voila, simple syrup for your tea or other recipes.

But I decided to kick this up a notch with two of my favorite flavors, lemon and basil. Some quick concocting over the stove, and behold: Lemon-Basil Sweet Tea. This recipe should serve 8 full glasses, or a number of refills if you’re using smaller tumblers. (I also have tips below for how to add a grown-up kick to the recipe.) Drink up, fellow faux-Southern ladies and gentlemen.

Image sourced from elizadomestica.com. Two favorite flavors ever? Oh yeah.

Lemon-Basil Sweet Tea – serves 8

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • ½ lemon, sliced into ¼-inch thick slices. (Save the rest for all sorts of recipes)
  • 2 cold-brew bags of Lipton iced tea
  • A large pitcher
  • 7 cups cold water, plus ice (for brewing)

Here’s what you do:

  • Mix together the white sugar and water in a saucepan or small pot. Raise the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is just bubbling.
  • Whisk in dried basil. Add lemon slices and cook for 1 minute more, flipping the slices after 30 seconds. Set the syrup aside to cool. Remove the lemon slices and set them aside; you can add them to the tea mixture just before serving.
  • As the syrup is cooling, make your cold brew in a large pitcher according to package directions; you may want to use slightly less water (7 cups, rather than 8) while adding about ½ a tray’s worth of ice cubes. (Lipton teas usually take 5 minutes of cold brewing with 2 cold brew bags.) Remove tea bags and discard when finished.
  • When the lemon-basil syrup has cooled, slowly pour and mix it into the tea, according to taste. You can also leave the syrup separate to use for future tea brews, as well as a lovely topping for sliced fruit (particularly strawberries and blueberries). It should keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

If you’d like to add a grown-up twist to your tea, try the following mix-ins:

  • Add a shot of Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka or Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon to your glass; mix thoroughly.
  • Add a shot of honey liqueur (use less syrup with this one), such as Barenjager, to your glass and mix thoroughly.
  • Add a shot of any other lemon-flavored liqueur to your glass for something of a big kid Arnold Palmer; Absolut Citron, a shot of Limoncello or even a dash of Mike’s Hard Lemonade might work well. Keep experimenting!

What are your favorite Southern dishes? Are you a sweet tea person, darlin’? Or do you like yours sweetener-free?

London 2012: An Olympic-Sized (Fishy) Feast

28 Jul

Friends, as I’ve likely told all of you about 80k times, I spent a semester studying abroad in London while I was at Notre Dame. Those four months, in a word, were awesome.

I took this picture; my current nostalgia rating is at about 10,000 on a scale of 1 to 100.

Ah, memories — flashback to the spring of 2008, that wonderful time when the pound-to-dollar exchange rate was at an all-time high and my impoverished American self lived off of warm pints of ale, cans of Heinz beans (they were only 50p! Holy affordable canned legumes, Batman!) and HobNobs. (Yet, magically, did not gain weight — I am, in hindsight, grateful for carlessness and the need to walk 4-5 miles a day to and from class / on adventures. Call it the poor-student-in-a-foreign-country diet.)

Mostly, the exercise was an attempt NOT to look like Henry VIII by the time I went home. Chubby bugger.

Last night, as I watched London host the Opening Ceremonies, I definitely went all misty-eyed at the sight of Parliament, double-decker buses, and even that floppy-haired bit-of-a-goober known as London’s mayor, Boris Johnson. (Fun fact: I saw him in person once. His hair is actually quite floppy.)

Image sourced from the Press Association. See? Hilariously floppy hair.

But more than that, I’m sharing with you a few fun ideas for hosting your own London Olympic-Sized Feast, complete with an easy menu that’s very new-chef friendly. (and some tasty brews to boot!) [Thanks to the lovely Ms. LeAnn Parson for inspiring the idea, as she has her own feast (complete with Cottage Pie) in Indianapolis.] I have my own London experience and the great Jamie Oliver to thank for nahy of these ideas. His book Jamie’s Kitchen: A Cooking Course for Everyone is one of the BEST I’ve used to learn basic cooking techniques (he even teaches you how to cut an entire chicken up for saute yourself), and his Fish and Chip Recipe (linked below) is, as he’d likely say, “top notch.” Enjoy! (And as much as I love the Brits, go USA!)

Olympic-Sized Feast — fun for a party! Watch some of your favorite events and nosh on the menu I’ve created here. Many of the British items are easily found in the international aisle of your local grocery store; check the fridge case for specialty cheeses, and the Asian foods section for anything Indian.

Appetizers and Snacks:

  • Various British cheeses with crackers (Wensleydale; Cheddar; Red Leicester; even a Stilton if you’re feeling daring!)
  • Toasted naan bread, sliced or cut into wedges, with an Indian chutney of your choice (those Brits love them some Indian food)

Main Course:

  • Jamie Oliver’s Fish & Chips (recipe courtesy of Food Network)
  • A side of Mushy Peas (heat frozen peas until thawed and hot; mush slightly with a fork; add butter, lemon juice, salt & pepper to your liking)
  • All the proper fixins: Malt vinegar, HP sauce, tartar sauce, and even Ketchup if you so desire.

Dessert:

  • HobNob cookies (or “biscuits”), served with a steaming cup of Earl Gray or Lady Gray tea
  • Scones with clotted cream & strawberry jam. (All surprisingly easy to find in your mainstream American grocery.)

Ales to Try:

  • Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
  • Boddington’s (comes in a yellow can)
  • London Pride or London Porter, if you can find them
  • Strongbow cider (or, if you can find it, Magners or Bulmer’s)

And there you have it! A fun way to get your friends together, nosh on British foodstuffs, and celebrate the Olympics. Will you be watching the Olympics this year? What are your favorite snacks for sporting events? Are you a fan of British cuisine, or do you think the pairing of those words constitutes an oxymoron? 🙂