Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Brunch

Easter was probably my favorite holiday when growing up. I think I liked it more than even Christmas and the huge meal we eat on Christmas Eve. Even though we're in the US now, we keep up with most traditions regarding the food. We still dye eggs and eat a nice brunch meal on Sunday.

This year's main course included two types of protein: grilled turkey breast and pork skewers. The skewers also had baby mushrooms and roasted red peppers. We had two side dishes as well: a beans/corn salad and a fresh green lettuce salad. My mom's beans and corn salad is one of my favorite things. She uses canned pinto beans and pre-made tomato sauce, but she adds freshly cooked carrots, celery and corn kernels. An interesting (and secret) touch is the addition of ketchup... I could eat this salad as a main meal. I can never have enough!

The lettuce salad is a traditional Bulgarian dish that's part of most of my family's meals over the spring and summer. Here we used green lettuce, but romaine also works great. It's cut up on small strips, and tossed with a little bit of salt, oil and vinegar. It's this simple. You can add sliced cucumber and kalamata olives to make it even better. Sooo light and delicious!

Unlike previous Easter meals, we added a dessert this year. The name of it is officially Tulip cookies, but we heavily customized it :) At the bottom of the plate there's a cookie wafer that tastes just like a fortune cookie. However, we left them out overnight and they lost their firmness and became too soft to hold their shape as a wafer cup. Inside the "cup" we added some orange sherbet. We customized this basic dessert by adding tons of fruit: melon and pineapple slices and a fanned strawberry. To top it all off, there's a drizzle of cherry syrup.

Finally, it was time for the two most-traditional Easter items: kozunak bread and dyed eggs. The kozunak looks like challah bread, and is flaky like challah, but it has quite a different taste. I can't even explain what it tastes like; it's a very distinctive flavor. All I can say is that it's sweet and thus a dessert bread. (Yes, we can eat two desserts on Easter... Or three desserts on other random days... Remember, Cashew? :P)

In Bulgaria we're very particular about dying eggs. The process of dying can be done only on the Thursday or Saturday before Easter, the first egg must be dyes red, and you need to rub your cheeks with this egg later for health. By the way, we don't do any egg hunts with Easter eggs. Instead, we play a game with them right before we eat them. To play the game, each person chooses an egg. Then, one person "fights" another to see whose egg is stronger. The fight consists of bumping the eggs together: first pointy end to pointy end, then the butt of one egg to the butt of the other. If your egg becomes cracked, you eat it. The goal is to choose an egg that "kills" the most opponents' eggs. Of course, it's pure luck. It's quite competitive, though, and some people resort to cheating. You can buy wooden eggs that look just like real, so you can kill everyone else's eggs.

Anyway, I think all the traditions surrounding Easter made it so much fun as I was growing up. There are a lot of non-food related things. Some examples include circling the church as part of the service, passing under a table inside the church, going to midnight service (huge with young kids not allowed to stay up late!), fighting for flowers when the pastor starts throwing them at the church goers during one of the services, walking home after a church service with a lighted candle and trying not to have the flame extinguished... I never learned the religious importance and symbolism of any of these, but they sure were fun to a little kid :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tapas Time

After the fabulous time at Pura Vida, Cashew and I were excited to try more tapas. This time we headed to Iberian Pig in Decatur. The place has a great reputation, so we were very excited to see what it was all about. Well, the experience started off on a bad note when the hostess tried to seat us on a loft table in a room without any windows when we asked for a window table... We eventually sat outside. Thankfully, the rest of the staff was very friendly and polite. We even got a chance to chat with the owner for a few minutes!

But let me come back to the main point: the food. We had the Pork Cheek Tacos, Eggplant Fries, Arroz con Iberico, Pan con Tomate and Calamares. We chose those items after a long discussion with our waiter about his recommendations (the tacos) and what we wanted to try (almost everything else). We were also interested in the BBQ Octopus, but the waiter recommended against it because it supposed had a very briny taste. Now I wish we had tried it anyway. The pork cheek tacos that he suggested were good, but not amazing. I expected them to have a much fresher taste considering they had corn and lime juice. Instead, they felt kind of heavy.

One of the items on the menu we were most excited about were the eggplant fries. That seems like a really creative idea, right? On par with the avocado with chorizo chips at Pura Vida. I had very high expectations for those fries. They weren't met at all... The fries were just soggy and tasteless. There were maybe just a couple of bites when I could detect eggplant taste. Contributing to my disappointment, the fries came with aioli (i.e., mayo). When will restaurants get away from the aioli fad??? Tomato-based sauces are so much better! Even store-bought ketchup would have been better.

We ordered the rice (arroz) dish because it had the Iberian ham that the place is known for. Well, the dish was basically like a creamy Italian risotto. The ham was probably fried to get a bacon-like texture, but also lose its taste. Overall, there was nothing special in this dish.

The two dishes I kind of liked were the rustic bread and the stuffed whole calamari. Coincidentally, they both had some time of tomato sauce in them rather than creams... Get the hint, restaurants? The bread also had roasted garlic on top, so it had a very earthy flavor. It got soggy as the night went on (from the runny sauce), but I didn't mind it too much.

I saw a chef make stuffed whole calamari (well, with tentacles removed) on TV once, and I've wanted to try them since then. The ones at Iberian Pig were baked in a tomato sauce and covered with cheese. They had a slightly fishy taste, just how I like fish. So, I did like the dish, but it wasn't anything extraordinary or something I couldn't do at home.

Well, the food at Iberian Pig was by no means bad. It was all well-cooked and well-seasoned. But it wasn't anything special. I don't get what the hype is all about for this place when Pura Vida is so much better. Well, Iberian Pig is better than Pura Vida in one aspect: our check was much lower :P

Sunday, April 10, 2011

French Vietnamese Fusion

On an amazing spring night in Atlanta, Cashew and I went to Com Dunwoody, a restaurant in - you guessed it - Dunwoody. She had been there before and raved for the lamb they serve. She also mentioned that it wasn't traditional Vietnamese food, but it had a French influence. I have to admit, I am not used to hearing about lamb or French influence in any Asian cuisine. However, I trust Cashew's opinion on food, so I couldn't wait to try this place.

I guess the good weather made the night seem festive, so Cashew and I decided to order drinks. Our waiter scared us when he said that the mango mojito was really sweet, but Cashew decided to try it anyway. It wasn't sweet, just very minty and perfect. I opted out for a refreshing Pegu which contained gin, lime juice and contreau. This time the waiter warned us that it was sweet. Well, he was right here... I felt tipsy after a few sips and couldn't wait to get my food.

For appetizers, we shared a Crabcake (half of it pictured here) and the Com Goi salad with beef that contained a bunch of sliced goodies: green mango, cucumbers, papaya, apple. The crabcake was very crabby (a good thing!), and the salad was very fresh. I loved both of them.

Our entree was the Banh Hoi with the lamb I had heard so much about it. I need to go on a little tangent here. I ate tons and tons of lamb in Bulgaria. I considered lamb to be a very tender and moist. I tried lamb a few times in the US, and I hated it! The biggest reason was that lamb here had a smell that it didn't have in Bulgaria. I don't know if it's because it's not as fresh, but it also tasted different. So eventually I stopped ordering lamb here.

Despite all of this, I agreed to try the lamb at Com because Cashew praised it so much. Well, it didn't taste lamby at all! Clarification, it didn't have the taste of US lamb, so I was happy. In addition to lamb, the dish came with noodle "pancake" under the lamb, a lot of the grated things found in the Com Goi salad, lettuce, cilantro, basil and mint. One thing that was kind of ridiculous was that the dish didn't come with any rice paper that's REQUIRED for making the wraps, and you had to ORDER it separately. They also brought a bowl of hot water for the rice paper. So once we had everything, we dipped the rice paper in the water to soften it, added a little bit of everything on top of it, and made our own spring roll-type wrap. Delicious! Now I want to buy my own rice paper, so I can wrap whatever I want in it :)

More sushi? Of course!

I get bored with foods kind of easily. If I eat something a few times in a short period of time, I stop liking it. Well, I haven't had this problem with sushi yet :) A couple of weeks ago I went with some friends to Thaicoon, a sushi place close to Emory. I knew of its existence for a long time, but I didn't think it would be any good with a name like that... I finally agreed to go there after some friends recommended it to me and wanted us to go there.

One of the reasons I love sushi is because, based on what you get, it contains fresh ingredients and is healthy. Finding anything healthy at Thaicoon was a challenge. At the end, I gave it to my cravings for a Spider Roll, and I was happy I did that :) The roll was really tasty and much bigger than rolls at other places.

I also got to try the Hawaiian Roll and the Tiger Roll that my friends ordered. I loved both of them, as well. So the verdict is, if you're not in the mood for something healthy, Thaicoon is amazing :)