Oaxacan-style enfrijoladas

“Waiter! What is this?”
“Um, it’s bean soup, sir.”
“I don’t care what it’s been. What is it now?”

– bad English joke

Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, has the highest proportion of native peoples in the country, and traditional culture is alive to such an extent that an estimated 50% of indigenous people are unable to speak Spanish. The state’s unique geography and multiple climatic zones have allowed pre-Columbian practices to persist largely undisturbed into the modern day making it a veritable living ark both for biodiversity and for those wanting to understand Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Continue Reading »

Aneletti alla Palermitana

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is to not have seen Italy at all,
for Sicily is the clue to everything.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Sicily sits apart from mainland Italy, like a rock ready to receive a swift kick from the instep of the Italian boot. Indeed, many Italians would tell you that this is precisely what the unruly, volcanic island needs. Throughout its diverse and textured history, Sicily has always been set apart somehow, having been in turn either at the very center of things or at their very periphery. Perhaps this wild oscillation of stature has had as much of an influence on the outlook and behavior of the Sicilians, their dialects and cuisine, as the people and cultures that have passed through the island over the past two and half millennia. Continue Reading »

Grilled Lamb Sweetbreads with warm dandelion, parsley and mint salad
Talk to someone about thymus glands and they will either tell you about their brutal exercise regimen designed to tackle the effects of an under-active one*, or if you’re mentioning them in a culinary context, they’ll usually make an appalled face, purse their lips, fan their hands and look away, indicating you’ve just gone one step too far towards the frightful foods classed under “I couldn’t possibly eat that, it’s gross!” Even the marketing man’s brave attempt to rebrand the humble thymus as sweetbreads hasn’t exactly seen them leaping off supermarket shelves. In part, this is because it is a recherché supermarket indeed that stocks them, but it’s also because of the incipient confusion between sweetbreads and sweetmeats that makes consumers fearful they may be about to munch on a lamb’s or calf’s balls. If you witnessed pained faces previously, you’re likely to elicit both inadvertent wincing and cupping of hands over groins at this point. Continue Reading »

zaatar-spiced horse meat kebabs
Last year there was unprecedented outrage when the news broke that the meatballs being sold by more than one European grocery chain were “contaminated” with horse meat. This was big news this side of the Atlantic for two main reasons: a) the horses in question are likely to have been American horses, and b) because eating horses is disgusting and unfathomably cruel. Animal loving organizations, like the one I used to work for, were up in arms, seething at the abject slaughter of our mighty chargers by those filthy, snaggle-toothed Europeans. After all, what truly civilized country would consider carving up their noble steeds when there are so many dumber, slower and less attractive creatures on the farm who don’t let you ride on their backs to stick a knife into? Continue Reading »

Butifarra Negra / Black or Blood Sausage with Garbanzos
Barcelona’s La Boqueria is perhaps the most famous food market in the world, and the most famous of its bar/restaurants is undoubtedly Pinotxo (pee-not-cho), run by the equally famous Juanito Bayen. His immaculate sense of dress and reputation for treating his guests like family have made him and his 14-stool establishment legendary. Indeed, such is his generous spirit that many are the tales of him spontaneously breaking open magnums of pink cava at 11am and passing glasses around. Everyone in the know food-wise, it seems, has made a bee-line for his place when passing through Barcelona on their way to other notable establishments like El Celler de Can Roca and Albert Adria’s Bodega 1900. Everyone, that is, except us. In fact, during our visit to Barcelona, we didn’t even make it to La Boqueria, in spite of staying about three hundred yards away down Las Ramblas, and we must have walked past it more than a few times as we explored the city. Continue Reading »

U-Pick Citrus, Collier County, south Florida

I have never known an aroma quite like it before: an intense, aromatic perfume. We could smell it from miles away – even before we had passed the last of the strip centers and construction sites. On one side, the low khaki scrub of the sandmine, on the other the hot, itchy pine forests, then suddenly, line after line of dark green citrus trees, all jolly with bright orbs, flicked past as we advanced into what locals refer to as “old Florida”. Continue Reading »

Dried Chorizo and Morcilla

Photo: © Nathan Rawlinson

With some cookbooks, you just open them, find something that looks good and go straight into your kitchen and start cooking. Charcutería – The Soul of Spain, the new book from Jeffrey Weiss, is not that kind of book. This is partly intentional in that the book is structured in such a way as to first provide the history and context around Spanish meat curing and pork butchery techniques, and partly because few among us have all the requisite curing salts, natural sausage casing and pounds of pork fat on hand. Continue Reading »

Duck with confit oranges, brown sugar and thyme
On our first afternoon in Buenos Aires, as we lazily wandered the Palermo district, stupefied by an overnight flight and a filling lunch featuring our first Argentine steak and an immoderate milanesa napolitana, we paused to admire the way the beautiful lilac-blue flowers of a blooming jacaranda overhung a stucco wall that years of sub-tropical sun had softened to a color somewhere between beige and blond. As we pointed and took photos, a horse-drawn cart trundled past laden with cut logs. Suddenly, a large hardwood gate creaked open just down from us and the lean, tanned face of a gentleman in his seventies poked out and broke into a smile. “De donde estan ustedes? / Where are you from?” he asked us. “From the United States,” we replied. “This is our first day in Buenos Aires.” “Ah, bienvenidos a Argentina! / Welcome to Argentina!” he responded. “Would you like to come in and see the rest of the garden?”.

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chickpea puree with octopus, mexican chorizo and cilantro salsa verde

I know that I am the best cook(er) in the world because my three year-old son tells me so when I make him fridge surprise for dinner. (The surprise being that there is anything remotely edible in our fridge.) Naturally, this makes me exceedingly happy, especially so since he tends to eat such meals with gusto. However, it is not just gastronome children who appreciate our particular brand of cookery. No, indeed. Last year, one of our pictures (from this post) was liked on Instagram by top Philadelphia restaurant Alla Spina, no less.

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chorizo, watermelon, papaya, red onion and feta salad
While awake in the middle of the night, hoping like hell one’s infant will go back to sleep soon, one experiences a range of emotions, including, but not limited to, joy, frustration, fatigue, anger, sadness, despair and, with any luck, relief. And, as one sits rocking away or pacing incessantly in the inky blackness of the wee hours, one’s mind has a tendency to wander. If sleep deprivation didn’t rob one’s short-term memory, I’m sure some of those wandering thoughts would be quite fascinating to recall. Equally, I’m sure, most would be best left unremembered.

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Poutine with Brussel sprouts

“Je me souviens”
I shall not forget / I remember

– Quebecois motto

You never forget your first poutine the saying doesn’t go. But it should. After all, what gastronomic experience could be more profound than the comforts of crispy fries, luscious gravy, and melty cheese curds, followed immediately by sleepiness, the fat sweats, and self-loathing? I can tell you when and where it was I plowed into my first poutine. And, if it wasn’t life-altering exactly – in truth it was very prosaic and transactional – it was certainly an experience that I have not and shall not soon forget. Continue Reading »

calves liver a l'estragon, L'Express, Montreal
As Montreal braces for its annual mid-winter festival, a lot of which takes place au plein air as they might say, much of the US East Coast braces itself for the kind of frigid, snowy conditions that Montrealers witness 6 months of the year, illustrating just one of the ways they and their city distinguish themselves from the rest of us.

In October 2008, we visited Montreal for the first time over Columbus weekend (US) aka Canadian Thanksgiving and came home fatter and much closer to our first stroke, but enchanted. Even though we hardly had time to scratch the surface on that brief sojourn, it didn’t stop us describing our chastening experience at the cruel hands of Martin Picard in excruciating detail nor blabbering on garrulously in a podcast about how fabulous it all was. Since then, we’ve barely touched foie gras, but we’ve been jonesing to return. The small matter of having two children making that rather more challenging. Continue Reading »

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