Presenting The Faux Gourmet!

The Faux Gourmet has been on hiatus for a while. I began this blog as a creative outlet during law school. After law school, I started other blogs on other topics and no longer needed this as a creative outlet, not to mention my diminishing free time.

But I kept cooking, kept taking food pictures and garden pictures, kept wanting to share the little tidbits of what I'd made. I occasionally did this on my personal blog (to which, I'm sure, people yawned and wondered when I'd post another cat picture). But I started to miss this space. Of all the blogs I have, this format, culled over several dedicated years and incorporating that adorable illustration by Sam Wedelich (see info the left) is by far my favorite.

So I'm back!

Expect short and sweet posts. Less food porn, more recipes and tips. If you want food porn you can look at any of the 5000 million existing food blogs. I don't have good lighting in my apartment and don't have time to style plates. I just want to make something yummy and eat it. If that sounds ok with you, stick around.

Looking forward to being back in touch!


The Faux Gourmet

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    Monday, March 31, 2008

    One Hot Date

    Beautiful, delicious, and incredibly easy:
    Another amazing faux gourmet trick

    Taste & See: My obsession with dates met a rather lovely match the other evening in Xunta, a Spanish tapas bar. Somewhere between the flamenco show (Thursdays @ 8:30, Saturdays @ 9:30) and the sangria (Small Pitcher, $21) I chanced upon a new delight, grilled bacon wrapped dates (Tapa $5.50).

    I'm not a huge bacon fan but the salty crunch was a perfect counterpoint to the sweet, caramelly softness of the dates. I immediately made some for a dinner party & they were a hit with my hungry guests, who enjoyed nibbling on them as I scurried to finish up the rest of the meal. The appetizer literally took minutes to make and minutes to cook. Not to mention- they were delicious.

    Do it Yourself: Why wait for a dinner party to make some for yourself? Treat yourself by throwing some in the oven; they'll be done before you even have a chance to decide on a take-out order.

    Notes on Ingredients:

    I substituted
    prosciutto for bacon; I find it easier to work with and like the taste better. Plus, for health reasons you can easily pick off the side fat without sacrificing any taste, a questionable exercise with bacon.

    I also added cheese. Soft white goat cheese--chevre--is one common addition, as seen in this photo from Self Magazine below:

    I, however, tried small slabs of a rich brown cheese from Norway, also made from goat's milk.

    Domestically the cheese is known as Gjetost, but in Norway itself it is called Brutost. The cheese is thick, fudgy, and a little creamy, like cold peanut butter. It is utterly difficult to describe because it is utterly unlike any cheese I've ever had; the flavor is distinct, a bit sweet with notes of caramel and apricot. It is best in small doses, eaten slowly to take in the rich flavors little by little.

    Gjetost seems to have a cult following, albeit a love it or hate it kind. One guy has even provided a helpful recipe for making it yourself, boiling whey down like a syrup to concentrate the salts, sugars & proteins left when whey is separated from the curds. I don't feel like I miss out by buying a slab at my local deli.

    I may no longer be a
    date virgin, but I'm still pretty inexperienced so I don't have any real thoughts on the kinds of dates to buy. One date vendor claims Medjool dates are the best:
    "Grown exclusively for royalty in ancient times . . . Medjool Dates will delight even the most discriminating connoisseur."

    All I know for sure is pitted dates remove about half the prep time, so my Faux Gourmet self is a major fan. I have only ever had dried dates so I'm not sure how the same would work if you could get your hands on fresh ones.

    What you need:

    Dates, approx 4 per person
    Gjetost, brown Norwegian goat cheese
    Skewer sticks

    What you need to do:

    Turn on oven to 350 F
    Wrap dates with strip of prosciutto and sliver of cheese
    Spear with skewer

    Set skewers on pan and place in oven for about 5 minutes on each side, or until prosciutto is nicely crispy and brown

    That's it! Now all you have to do is sit back and take the compliments from your dinner guest
    s or engage in your own sighs of satisfaction.

    Dig a Little Deeper: If you want to get creative with your Gjetost or dates, check out the ideas (and tasty photos) on these other food blogs:

    Spoonful of Sugar has a lovely little ode to Gjetost & some suggested ways to eat it, including a recipe for reindeer stew
    Ooh you tasty little things
    offers a creative use of Gjetost in the form of little apple tarts
    Mango Power Girl shares her momma's recipe for Winter Dates & some lovely photos

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    My New Love Affair

    "Those photos look like porn."

    Taste & See: Have you ever seen a candid portrait of someone caught in a moment of pure, artless beauty? Not beauty because the subject objectively is beautiful, but because the eye capturing the image views his subject generously, indeed, uncovers beauty in something that is, perhaps, quite ordinary to an untrained eye. The adoration is channeled into the resulting photograph; you see this image, and immediately perceive the photographer truly loves his subject.

    This was my gut reaction to my own photographs of the Persian & pan-Mediterranean food below. When I first showed a friend a full-screen photo of the jumbo shrimp, below, she promptly responded: "Those photos look like porn." The roasted vegetables and grilled prawns are luscious, even lusty. Soft candlelight bathes the food, giving mere glimpses and shadowing the rest in a kind of hidden intimacy, to be known only with senses beyond sight. The food is, how do I say it . . . sexy, objects of my unabashed adoration all.

    It began with a goodbye dinner for a Persian colleague this past summer in Bangkok. Or was it a birthday meal at the lovely Zatinya in DC last February snug around a fireplace as flurries of snow built up outside? Or . . . well, maybe this particular affair crept up surreptitiously. All I know is now I see my own photographs and know immediately I am in love.

    This is still a rather recent obsession, so please pardon the lack of tried & true recipes as I get to know a new range and combination of flavors: cinnamon, cumin saffron, raisins, almonds, dates, lemon juice, garlic, parsley. For now, please feel free to lust after the food in the photographs. I'm not a jealous girl; I'm happy to share this particular affair with all who wish to partake.

    Zatinya: I have seriously considered hopping aboard the Chinatown bus for the mere pleasure of a meal at Zatinya, conveniently located in DC's own Chinatown. I have no doubt the food fantasies would pass the hours there, and the sighs of contentment the hours home. In the mean time I content myself with a visit every time I'm in town. Zatinya serves mezze, small platters meant to be shared with the whole table. Their website kindly informs that:

    "Mezze, also known as meze, maza and mezethes, are the small plates of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East . . . the extensive menu reflects the rich, regional diversity of classical and contemporary Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. It wouldn’t be accurate to describe mezze as an appetizer. These small bites are not typically served preceding a meal. Mezze are better described as party food, a meal meant for socializing. The perfect thing to serve at gathering of friends and family. A drink, a little conversation and mezze shared by everyone at the table."

    I am perfectly happy to oblige with the drink and conversation, though with such lovely dishes even the best of us may find ourselves hoping a sudden bout of illness among our dining partners forces us to enjoy all the food ourselves.

    During my last visit we began with Sarikopite ($7), a butternut squash puree in phyllo over yogurt topped with arugula and a honey vinaigrette.

    Lately I've been loving the crispy-outside creamy-inside contrast, present here. Mildly bitter arugula provided a second lovely contrast to the lightly sweet dressing and squash puree filling.

    I have high hopes of recreating the dish below. The flavors involved-- jumbo shrimp, butter, parsley, garlic, olive oil-- have so much potential they hardly need a skillful chef to delight.

    What they do require is a deft hand, patience & trust; one must cook only just to the precise moment the beautiful shrimp are done, but not rubbery. As with tuna, it is all too easy to make lovely raw ingredients utterly unappealing by mishandling. Avoiding this is a skill that only comes through practice . . . which means I'll just have to keep practicing this dish at home. How I suffer for my art.

    Seared Sea Scallops with Yogurt-Dill Sauce ($8.50), like seared-tuna, take patience, precision and faith. You simply cannot overcook them or all the time gone into prep will be wasted, the meaty sweetness giving way to flavorless rubber. These, however, were gorgeous, just a bit of a caramelized crust seared on top.

    The absolute highlight of the meal came while I was absentmindedly sampling the waiter-recommended Seasonal Mushrooms ($10). I had ordered them with great hesitation; how good could plain mushrooms be? Turns out, very good.

    A light dose of high quality olive oil & slivered almonds bring out a rich, woodsy flavor in the mushrooms. But the true jewel came in an unexpected soft caramelly jolt that momentarily brought conversation to a standstill. I gazed heavenwards and shut my eyes to absorb the incredible flavor-- and my partner thought I was choking. No, just admiring a piece of luscious roasted date.

    I kid you not, when a friend asked about my weekend, all I could think to report was, "I had an amazing date." It took me a minute to realize this statement was open to misinterpretation.

    We finished with meat, clawing to the bone two Lamb Chops with Hommus Bil Toum ($11).

    The grilled lamb chops were served with roasted garlic atop a chickpea puree. I feel there is no need to elaborate on the pleasure of eating this particular dish; lamb chops speak for themself.

    I accompanied my meat with a Mavrodaphne/Merlot, Antonopoulos, Achaia, Greece ‘05 ($12) which was a bit heavy on the tannins at first sip, but smoothed out as it had some time to breathe. (For those unfamiliar with wine terminology, 'breathe' just means the wine has some exposure to air in the glass and mellows out a bit.

    Ravagh: When I planned a recent outing for a group I was charged with finding something charming, approaching fancy, and cheap as possible. I did a favor to my reputation for good eats by choosing Persian food from Ravagh, on recommendation from D, a Persian friend who, along with half of Yelp, claims it is the best Persian food in the city.

    D helped me concoct a set menu scanning a variety of delights, including some surefire hits destined to please the least-adventurous eaters, and a few entirely new dishes. But with suggestions like Pomegranate & Walnut Chicken over Crispy Rice how can one go wrong? Best of all, our spread of multiple appetizers & entrees from several different families of food was a mere $10 pp. My only complaint-- I was forced to share all these delights with a huge group of equally infatuated eaters, none of whom wanted to hold off until everything had been properly photographed. I suppose is it my culinary duty to return for more involved research.

    Our menu included, among other things, Mast & Moosir, homemade yogurt with shallots ($3.50); Torshi, a plate of homemade pickled vegetables ($4.00); Kashk Bademjan, eggplant with tomato sauce, seasonings & yogurt sauce ($5.00); Ash Reshteh, a Persian soup with vegetables, chick peas & kidney beans ($4.00); various Kabobs, each of which come with rice, grilled vegetables and a side salad; and several stews, such as Khoresh Fesenjan, the aforementioned pomegranate walnut chicken ($12.00).

    To start with, piles of warm Flatbread:

    And Crudites for munching:

    Those lusty Grilled Vegetables:

    Meat Kabobs & heaping sides of Rice, no threat to anyone unsure of their readiness to venture too far out, but thanks to succulent flavors and tender meat, far from boring:

    To my dismay, no one ended up being unadventurous and I had to share the more intriguing, richly flavored dishes with everyone else. Alas. The important thing was everyone got to try a little something new and wonderful. And that the food was so sexy, it made us feel like dancing . . . When was the last time you left dinner saying that?

    Monday, March 3, 2008

    Stop 4: Lankawi Island

    Lackadaisical Island Living

    Taste & See: The only problem with island life is the happily lazy pace makes it hard to work up the constant hunger that comes with frenetic sight-seeing. Get up late, lay by the pool, walk down to the beach, read until I doze off . . . with all this busy laziness, I have so little time to get hungry. This, of course, creates a real difficulty, since ideally I would be consuming (Malaysian) island food in great quantities.

    Proximity to the sea obviously makes for fabulous seafood, e.g., shrimp the size of tennis balls, ordered at a Chinese 'pick - your - live - seafood - from - the - tank' style restaurant, across the street from the ocean.

    Small convenience stores all along the main road display lovely produce of all shades, like this magically shocking pink Dragonfruit.

    Within easy walking distance of our hotel were at least a dozen restaurants, some obviously catering to backpackers & tour group buses, others barely a stand with a couple stools and hastily scrawled menus in Bahasa Malay. You might be able to guess what caught our eye . . .

    Some things are the same everywhere, so we were pretty sure what we were getting into when we asked for Samosas:

    The rest of the time ordering was kind of a game, picking out words we'd seen (and eaten) in different contexts and trying to make our best guess. Below, Mee Goreng, or fried noodles, a dependable standard:

    And a surprise, based on the point - to - a - random - dish - on - the - menu method: lovely fat Mushrooms in Spicy Sauce with Scallions. No complaints here.

    On days of excessive lackadaisicality, when walking to the beach & back was about all the activity I could muster up, I was content to eat the happily authentic Malaysian food at the hotel restaurant. For example, Laksa- a fish based soup in a spicy broth with egg noodles.

    This was Curry Laksa, or in Penang, Curry Mee, one of several variations of Laksa found in India, Malaysia, Singapore & China. This Laksa has chewy egg noodles, a hard boiled egg & a broth of curry and coconut milk, unlike other variants of Laksa in the region. The soup is chalk full of tofu, fish cakes, and shrimp-- and would usually have cockles, but for the tourist setting. [Well, maybe the hotel was not so authentic.] The soup is accompanied by sambal chili paste and Vietnamese coriander.

    Another traditional dish, Nasi Lemak:

    Strewn on a banana leaf around rice are various toppings, such as marinated prawns, shredded chicken, spinach, peanuts, cucumber slices, dried anchovies, hard boiled egg, pickled vegetables & sambal, a spicy-sweet sauce. The name means "rice in cream," which refers to the cooking process: soaking & steaming the rice in coconut cream, sometimes with knotted pandan leaves, lemongrass or ginger for extra flavour.

    At night we often opted for some of the more upscale restaurants in the area, which tended to set us back a whopping $10-15 per person, twinkly lights, candles and drawbridges inclusive.

    A for ambiance:

    And attention to decor detail:

    The food at this place wasn't bad, but I can't help thinking the dollar samosas and mushrooms from lunch would have been equally enticing. We are clearly paying for the atmosphere. And the English menus.

    Mixed Vegetables:

    Chicken Rendang:

    is a popular festival dish for Malays. It may look like a curry, but it is actually quite different, at least when it is authentic. It is typically made with beef, though we had chicken, above. Many other kinds of meet, or even jackfruit or cassava, can also be used. The meat is 'marinated' in coconut milk and spices like ginger, galangal, tumeric, lemongrass & chillies for several hours, boiled slowly until the liquid is nearly gone and the meat is coated in flavour. Then the meat is fried as the liquid evaporates. The long slow process makes the meat very tender.

    Steamed Fish with Vegetables:

    And finally, my favorite meal of the island, and the most egregious example of inactivity leading to inability to fully consume the feast before me, the Nasi Campur Kampung sampler. For a total 69 RM, approx $21, A & I had a full tray of a dozen small dishes of beautifully presented Malay food.

    What you see below includes the following, from left to right, back to front:

    Row 1
    Satay Ayam Dan Daging - Chicken & Beef Satay
    Kurma Daging - Beef in Mild Curry
    Ayam Gulai Kampung - Spicy Chicken
    Rendang Tok - Marinated Beef
    Bayam - Stir-fried Spinach

    Row 2
    Cucumbers & Onions (for Satay)
    Ikan Alu-Alu Bercili - Barracuda with Chillies
    Nasi Putih - Steamed White Rice
    Nasi Kuning - Yellow Rice
    Sambal Sotong - Dried Curry Squid
    Rice Chips

    Row 3
    Peanut Sauce
    Masak Lemak Labu - Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Curry
    Udant Kapitan - Spicy Prawns
    Pajeri Nenas Dan Terung - Pineapple & Eggplant Curry
    Jelatah - Pickled Vegetables

    The Pineapple & Eggplant Curry, simply divine . . . a bit sweet & tart from the pineapple juice, rich, smooth, complex.

    And after dinner, home to bed to work up energy for another day of loafing & eating. What a lovely lackadaisical life indeed