Back in 2003 I went on a car trip in CA with my newish boyfriend, the tallasiandude. We had a really good time (nudge nudge wink wink) driving up Highway 1 and stopping every half hour to do something or other.

One of the stops was in Solvang, a bizarro tourist-trap town billing itself as a bit of Denmark in southern California. We stepped into a bakery and for some reason I was entranced by these simple-looking cookies. Little nondescript beige logs with an appealing crackly surface. I bought them even though they were some form of marzipan cookie — normally I hate marzipan or anything almond flavored besides almonds — because I was so entranced by them.

These were the most delicious cookie I had ever had, right there in that moment. No idea why. Still not especially fond of almond-flavoring, but with the memory of those cookies in mind, I tried a few almond-flavored things in Sweden last year and they were all delicious, so I decided to trust the Scandinavians in general on this topic.

Ever since that trip in 2003 I had been trying to find a recipe for those cookies on the internet. Of course I’d instantly forgotten what they were called, which hindered the search considerably.

But somehow or other, a few weeks ago I stuffed the right terms into the search and this recipe came up. Shazam! That looked like my cookie!

I resolved to try it. It even called for the very same brand of almond paste I had brought back from Sweden.

Today I made them, and I was right — same cookie. Crunchy chewy crackly outer layer, sticky marzipan innards. DELICIOUS! They stick to the parchment like a motherfucker, so next time around I think I will butter the paper. I wonder if I can source Odense almond paste anywhere closer than Sweden?

cold weather cookery: Korean

I am on a massive Korean food jag. Has something to do with the deep freeze temps outside, and something more to do with the cold I am fighting off. And perhaps a little bit to do with the side trip I made to the H-Mart on the way home from a certification test I had to take for work, heh heh. But the craving was there before the H-Mart trip; that was just enabling.

The refrigerator case at H-Mart had a little tub of pre-seasoned various greens and mushrooms that one can mix in with rice to make bibimbap. I added a grated carrot that cooked in the heat of the rice, and a bit of hamburger scrambled with minced garlic and soy sauce, plus of course the fried egg on top. And ssamjang made by mixing commercial ssamjang with some “sauce for soup” that is a bit spicier, plus a touch of agave syrup and a couple tablespoons of sherry vinegar (thank you, David Chang, you studmuffin you).

I pillaged the pan chan selection in that refrigerator case, too, making away with a seasoned nori, a cucumber pickle with sesame, a sliced omelet, and a pickled whole garlic in spicy sauce that I have been macking down with abandon in hopes of killing the bug I’m fighting. It’s quite strong but I gotta say, that sauce is nom.

I also got a tub of the young radish kimchi with greens, which is really excellent — I’ve had it before and it is a delightful mix of fresh and fermenty. Radishes and their greens are supposed to be chockablock with vitamins too and very good for you.

And then I hauled off and made a kimchi stew. Fried a bit of sidemeat (pork fat with pepper, basically) with an onion, then dumped in kimchi, a bottle of clam juice, 2 bottles of water, and a spoonful of that spicy sauce for soup, a 1/2 tsp of sugar b/c the sauce had a bit of sugar in it too, and a tablespoon of coarse Korean red pepper powder. Simmered half an hour then dropped in a half package of tofu, sliced, and some Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp. Drizzled a little sesame oil over to serve. Based on Maangchi’s recipe on her site. There are not words for how good this is on a cold winter night, with some hot rice and pickley bits on the side.

I also did a congee with some of the leftover vegetables and some Japanese sweet potato that came out pretty awesome. I love hot congee with lots of stuff in it when I am feeling poorly.

I took a break for a Chinese-style chicken and oyster mushroom stir fry because they had adorable packets of oyster mushrooms on sale for $2.99. And we’ll probably eat the leftovers of that next week as a pan-fried noodle because they also had packets of pre-cooked yellow noodle that were irresistible to a foodwhore magpie.

Sushi tonight, most likely, as part of Nerd Date Night. (Wooo, Tron Legacy!) But then back to more kimchi stew, I think.

eating in montreal

We were in Montreal for a dance weekend, and between the sleep deprivation and the language barrier, we were not going too far afield. Happily the dance venue was smack in the middle of what appeared to be Little Saigon, so we ate pho and banh mi the whole time. The banh mi were particularly good, on skinny crunchy baguettes with a schmear of pate and mayo on each, plus the grilled pork or cold cuts and daikon, carrots and wee hot peppers.

Then finally last night we had a bit of time so I asked one of the Montreal dancers where the really good poutine was to be had. He sent us to La Banquise, and he was not wrong. Yum.

Poutine from la banquise, montreal

Really delicious, crisp fries as a base, with good gravy and squeaky cheese curds on top, and then you can go nuts with variations. T got his with hamburger meat and sauteed onion, which was the best. It’s basically a burger and fries all smushed up together on the plate — can’t go wrong. I had smoked meat which was not as good as you’d hope, and tallasiandude got merguez sausage but what came wasn’t nothing but a hot dog as far as I could tell. So I guess stick with simple toppings and stay away from cured meats. Anyway, absolutely the best possible meal with a beer after two solid days of dancing. Open 24 hrs, too, doing a brisk business in cheesy gravy fries. Hell to the yes.

Penny Cluse Cafe, Burlington VT: Best Sammich Evar

Or pretty darn close anyway. Ham Randy: thick cut smoked ham, cheddar cheese, fresh red tomato, lightly spicy jalapeno mayo, on grilled sourdough. DAYUM. Available at Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington VT, where we are visiting pals.

Comes with delicious bread and butter pickle slices and some cilantro-cabbage slaw. We also got a side of excellent mac-and-cheese, and a broccoli-cheese-cherry pepper relish grilled sandwich, and a side of bucket-o-spuds (homefries with cheese, pico de gallo and sour cream). All excellent, but eclipsed by the glory of the Ham Randy.

Mt. Airy, NC

Little Richard's BBQ

This was my dinner tonight at Little Richard’s BBQ in Mt. Airy NC. Both my clients and the hotel staff told me to go here, so I did. That’s chopped barbecue and barbecue slaw (finely chopped cabbage with ketchup and vinegar, I am told — delicious, especially with the meat), and some fine NC hushpuppies, and in the background some corn fritters.

These last were recommended by my client, and they were terrific, little globs of creamed corn breaded and absolutely perfectly deep fried super crunchy, even past the point where the barbecue was et and they went into their little go-box to head home to tallasiandude. THAT is some quality fry technique.

And of course there was vinegar-pepper sauce and sweet tea. They were out of banana pudding.

I was also tipped off by my client to the fact that supermarkets here sell country ham in vacuum sealed shelf-stable packets. Off to Food Lion I went, and now my luggage is full of salty pork. Here’s the loot.

Food Lion loot

There’s a few packets of different brands of country ham slices and ends and trimmings, some smoked pork jowls and chunks of side pork (both for flavoring beans and greens and such), 3 meaty country ham bones that are going to become winter melon soup when the weather gets colder, a bag of salt and vinegar pork rinds, some pork chop breading mix and the cutest damn bag of locally ground cornbread mix I have ever seen.

There is also some pimento cheese, liver pudding and blocks of local sausage that I am going to go back for tomorrow on the way to the airport. They’ve also got a huge array of Utz chips, and those good Lay’s Carolina BBQ chips, plus another flavor in that line I’ve not seen before called Cajun Spice or something along those lines, which I really want to get but probably won’t because I can’t carry it home. Ditto for the bottled vinegar barbecue sauce, Yuengling and Shiner Bock. Stupid TSA and their rules that prohibit me traveling with runny foodstuffs.

Oh, and there’s a Biscuitville next door to the hotel. Stopping there too en route to the airport.

They may vote wrong down here but they sure do eat well.

not-grilled cheese sandwich

I learned something useful today when I put Kosciusko mustard on bread, added some thick slices of cheddar, and stuck the whole thing dry into the toaster oven for a double toasting. And that lesson is that such a sandwich comes out even crispier, and stays crunchy longer, than a sandwich grilled in butter. WIN!

also: Kosciusko mustard is very likely the most delicious mustard on earth. yum.

mid-atlantic food tour

My parents just went on a road trip through PA and NJ and VA visiting old friends, and they brought back some treasures.

Snapper soup from Ponzio’s diner, drizzled with sherry: goopy and brown and savory and delicious, just the way I remember it from childhood. Apparently the diner we used to go to has changed hands and no longer makes the soup, but there’s a vaguely affiliated alternate location elsewhere, so disaster was averted.

Scrapples: Dietz & Watson, Hatfield, Ed Hipp’s (made of turkey not pork), and Habbersett. Habbersett was the traditional one we used to get, but surprisingly we found that to be the blandest and starchiest of the 4. The turkey scrapple was remarkably good, so pork-avoiders should seek out Mr. Hipp’s product and enjoy. I liked the Hatfield and the Dietz & Watson the best, as they were most flavorful. All of these 4 were milder and less liver-rific than others I have eaten, and even the tallasiandude liked these pretty well.

Taylor Pork Roll: Presliced thick or thin and ready to go. Comes in the best retro packaging ever; I really should make the extra effort to get a picture up. Pink and porky and full of nitrates and delicious when fried golden in a pan.

Lebanon bologna & sweet bologna: hard sausages, classic with a sweet or spicy mustard and a cracker. We love a smoky in-your-face Lebanon bologna, but the sweet bologna was a surprise hit.

dill pickle Route 11 chips: DUH.

peanut butter opera fudge balls: apparently a regional favorite. Soft and velvety centers with a slight peanutty flavor, dipped in chocolate. They are downright delicate, almost like the fudge is made with confectioner’s sugar.

souse: head cheese pickled in vinegar. Not bad, soft in texture, lightly spicy, and not too many gnarly bits. Good dipped in dijon mustard, but not especially compelling.

relish from Rutt’s Hut: yellow, smushy, slightly sweet & tangy cabbage-based relish. Spectacular with the Lebanon & sweet bolognas.