Friday, 28 November 2008

27.11.08: Pea, pesto and mushroom risotto

Playing it safe, He put together this favourite made up of peas, homemade sundried tomato pesto, regular mushrooms and dried porcini 'shrooms too, pairing it with a spinach salad of avo, julienned carrots, and physalis. And he even managed to plate it in time to get Us out the door for a members-only open house at the Tate.

HE SAYS: I think the dried porcini mushrooms added another kind of intense savoury flavoursome something to this batch. I forgot to dress it with the usual sprinkle of parmesan cheese and basil but I don't think it suffered for it. The avo was nice and creamy in the salad tonight, by the way.

SHE SAYS: Always cheered to see a bowl of this risotto coming my way. The usual raves apply: garlic-basil-parmesan heaven from the pesto; luxurious texture from the arborio rice; and a subtle richness from tthe mushrooms. Quibble: the peas needed a little more time to soften, but they were ok. Thouroughly enjoyed the mix of sweet, tart, crisp and smoooooth from the salad too.

26.11.08: Lamb Lasagne

Trying hard to make up for last week's baked dish disaster, He went to work cooking up a minced lamb, spinach, carrot, onion, peas and many cheeses lasagna. A radish, spinach and physalis salad poked its head 'round the corner.

HE SAYS: I haven't cooked minced lamb before and I'm not adverse to eating or cooking lamb usually, but I quickly realised that cooking the minced variety is gross and the smell makes me want to gag. So I was put off my food from the start, and the rest of the ingredients, including the sea of cheese, could not hide the lamby taste of the lamb. Now even the thought of it makes me feel ill. I should've just used minced beef instead or the quorn alternative. The salad was a refreshing refuge and helped fill me up. Aaaarrrgh.

SHE SAYS: This is one of those rare nites when we completely differ in our dinner reviews. I absolutely loved this indulgent pasta pie. Prob'ly helps that I didn't cook the mince. (I do recall feeling similar revulsion when attempting to cook minced turkey years ago.)

Truly, this dish was really just a lamb and cheese conveyor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the very lamby taste he despised, and thought the lasagne would have had little flavour without it. Really not so in favour of the quorn substitution unless a heavier flavour playa is introduced next time, too - maybe some sundried tomatoes? Meanwhile, the salad played its role of fresh crunch provider with slightly acidic dignity thanks to the physalis.

25.11.08: Fusion broth with grilled chicken

She whipped up this fragrant winter warmer of a dish: Jamie Oliver's fusion broth with dry-grilled chicken plus ginger, Chinese greens (pak choi), and rice noodles. A spinach salad of pear, radish and chopped beetroot waited in the wings.

: This dish was lovely and warm in my tummy on this cold night. You can't go wrong with juicy grilled chicken swimming in a nice and savoury, salty broth. Add in some red pepper for some heated distraction and lime for a zesty, piquant overtone and I'm a happy camper. The pear and radish in the salad did their usual magic too.

SHE SAYS: Def. one of the most delicious healthy dishes we do - can't believe it's been hiding away in the Naked Chef book all these years (about 8?). Brothy and tangy and everything He said. The main risk is adding too much soy sauce at the end, and I was afraid I did, as the soup turned an ominous shade of brown, but the first tentative taste reassured me it was just shy of overload. (Note to self - less than 1/4 cup, more like a Tbsp.) Salad was sweet and crunchy as par, but not attracting me whole lot tonite.

24.11.08: Out to Mildreds

After an evening of thought-provoking storytelling in town, They decided to introduce the veggie wonders of Mildred's to some willing compatriots.

: I had the veggie burrito (above) once again and I was not disappointed. The pinto bnz were yum: tender and well seasoned. Loads of fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream helped the deliciousness factor a little too, I'm sure. The pud that She and I shared was dark and dense and richly satisfying. After a few pints and sharing a bottle of wine, We stumbled home late, me more than slightly tipsy but ultimately pleased I didn't need to drive the porcelain bus that night.
SHE SAYS: Funnily enough, I had the same thing I did last time we came here - sunblushed tomato and buffalo mozzarella risotto cakes served with wilted spinach, green beans and grape mustard cream sauce. Really, I wasn't sure when I ordered it if it was quite the same item. My mind conspired with my tummy, then, to have this combo of creamy, fresh and just a tad zesy all over again. And thanks to our dining companions, there was more to come...

Some sort of choccy tofu chzcake with whole raspberries in. Not truly as good as it sounds or looks – the choccy was not so prominent and I'm not sure I exactly love the rasberry-choc combo anyway. But it was a splendid idea.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

23.11.08: Leftovers, a little bit of everything

She warmed up the extras from last night's 'do plus some red prawn and mango curry from earlier this week. The scallop-looking spuds are also from yesterday, but they're the ones that got away (from the frying pan). She'd boiled up a lot of potato slices in prep for the panch phora part of the programme, but after two fry-batches, She raised a little white flag and stored the rest of the parboils in the fridge.

SHE SAYS: It was like one of those retrospective shows that clog the telly these days: instead of Best Comedy Catchphrases or Wrinkly Remains of
'80s Pop Stars, we had Mealtime Hits o' the Week. Well, anyway. You already know what we thought of the individual elements. The curry played nicely and spicily with the other foodstuffs, and if there was a little tastebud confusion, it was a small price to pay for so much enjoyment and so little work.

HE SAYS: I admit, I wasn't convinced the shrimp red curry would still be be okay tonight. I was very wrong. It was better then alright, and so was the rest of the meal. The boiled potatoes reminded the rest of the plate that plain doesn't always mean boring: a little salt and pepper and a shake of hot sauce brought them out of their skins.

22.11.08: Dinner party with friends

We invited over some friends and gave a little sumpin' sumpin' of a dinner party. She finds it hard not o try and impress, and so prepared a rather fine variety of vittles: braised carrots from Eating Well, Real Simple's chicken marsala, Ramsey's sautéed potatoes with panch phora, and Nigel Slater's fennel, pear and watercress salad. For dessert (yes, there was dessert! at home, even!) we tucked into baked ricotta with carmelised peaches - also from Ramsey.

HE SAYS: We haven't had the carrots or the chicken dish for a long time, but both were as tasty as I remembered. The carrots had a lovely jammy texture with a hint of sweetness and quite a robust citrus kick to them, I likey a lot. The masala chix finely balances the saltiness of the pancetta with the sweeter masala wine sauce. Ramsey's potatoes were also a success (I could've done with more seasoning on them, but that's a small quibble). Salad was a crunchy affair which worked well with the rest of the plate and the dessert was simply gorgeous: subtle creamy peach infused ricotta, what more could I want?

SHE SAYS: I thought the carrots were brill: spiky flavours joined forces with soft textures to deliver a hearty wake-up call to my tongue. (I fear our guests, who are French and take ther food v. seriously, were not as impressed with the garlic-lemon pairing, but c'est la vie.)

I'd debated whether the panch phora potats were worth the extra spicing, but a quick check back to our previous attempt showed it would be worthwhile, and I thoroughly enjoyed the hints of fennel and onion seed...really, how can you miss with homefries, however fancy or plain?

Chicken was delish and had fancy sauce on it - style and substance, that's what I was going for, people. A prosciutto wrap is such a cheat, anytime, but your humble chicky breast needs to dress to impress. I took mine slow to enjoy the savoury nature with the capers' floral uplift.

Our guests seemed most intrigued by the salad, which does deliver a taste sensation much more than the sum of its parts. Something about pear, lime and fennel creates another flavour entirely: sweet + acid + aniseed = transcendent.

Dessert was okay. The peaches were meltingly sweet and tingly, but the ricotta was pretty bland, and maybe a little odd for being served hot.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

21.11.08: Sheesh Mahal takeaway

They decided to have a Friday night in around the telly with a curry. He contacted the Sheesh Mahal hotline and half an hour later a colourful plate was made. They proceeded to dig into a plate of chicken tikka masala, lamb rezalla, chana bhajee with pilau rice and a spinach, beetroot salad. Geeta's chutneys aided and abetted.

SHE SAYS: All good in the neighborhood with the smoky chickpeas rating highest on my list. I do think they make some dishes too sweet, and I'm afraid this extends to the CTM. Lamb rezalla calmed it all down with deep tomatoey savouriness, and I probably spooned a little too much tangy chtuney for my own good.

HE SAYS: There is nothing nicer then a curry on a Friday night. Rich, satisfying and spicy, I have nothing bad to say about our local Indian emporium. The lamb rezalla is always a treat with large chunks of meat smothered and covered by a fragrant array of onions and spices, mmmm.

PS: One of Our two readers has reminded Us we could and should make our own channa masala, and her channa recipe does look mighty simple and good. This is the same lady who magicked up the saag paneer recipe we luv, so you know it'll be good.

Friday, 21 November 2008

20.11.08: Blk bnz with a pear and tomato salad

He escorted this ole fave to the table. Herby blk bnz with avo were the headline while the pear, tomato and shredded beetroot salad offered moral support.

HE SAYS: Lots and lots of fresh coriander was duly chopped and placed in the pot for this batch (about a handful or two over the normal quota) and the result was herbtastic. Unfortunately I cooked up brown rice instead of the silky smooth palenta that we've come to know and luv, making it feel a little heavy on the tum. Still, a satisfying bowl of wonderfulness was had by all two of us. As for the salad - lovely, pear is the new radish this week for me.

SHE SAYS: Truly excellent batch o' bnz. Adding lots of coriander is one of the keystones of aromatic black bnz (selectively pureeing to release full flavour is the other), but he took it to a new height tonite. It really was too-too. I did wish we'd had polenta, though - perhaps you've noticed we're a little riced out this week? Wasn't sure how tomato would take to pear, but they traded sweet for acidic well enough.

19.11.08: Red prawn and mango curry

After He unsettled their taste buds last night, She fell back on the true and trusted red prawn and mango curry made with butternut squash, sweet potato and mango, courtesy of Nigella Express. Adding the surprise elements to the evening were some leftover baby sweetcorn to the curry, and taking the place of the usual brown rice, some pearled spelt. A mixed leaf, avo, carrot and sweetfire beetroot salad appeared before their eyes.

SHE SAYS: I applied some good technique tonite - scooping out the prawns after only two minutes while the mango and lime juice bubbled away a bit longer to establish their flavours - so the prawns were delicate and juicy once reintroduced to the bowl. Plenty of coconut milk (1/3 can more than recommended) ensured a nice, light colour and undercut the fish sauce just enough. Salad was a perfect match in colour and clever counterpoint in texture, with plenty of crunch. Carrot and avo are esp good partners; who knew?

HE SAYS: I never tire of this one. The baby sweetcorn added a little crunchy variety and the pearled spelt was a revelation. Much lighter in texture than rice, subtle but distinguishable flava and it had a similar taste sensation to eating tapioca balls in bubble tea, very cool. Julienned carrots in salad are always a nice touch.

18.11.08: Vegetable cottage pie

He picked up this recipe from the local Waitrose and proceeded to construct this vegetable pie. Hiding underneath the parsnip and apple mash topping was a quorn, carrot, onion, tomato, peas and redcurrant jelly filling. A side of grilled thinly sliced courgettes and baby sweetcorn stood by. Nestled next to it was a pear, beetroot and rocket salad.

HE SAYS: Unfortunately this pie looked a lot better on the recipe card then it tasted in person. Too, too sweet and the ingredients sort of clashed with one another. It was quite the undertaking to get this one to the table so my disappointment level was larger. The side of courgettes and baby sweetcorn was pretty nice and lifted my spirits somewhat, but there weren't enough of them to jettison the pie and treat them as the main part of the meal. Hot sauce did manage to pep the pie up at least to make it edible. Thankfully, the pear-beetroot combo was a treat in the salad portion of the programme.

SHE SAYS: Um, not so much, I'm afraid. It was edible enough I couldn't justify binning it, but it was not nice to work thru: as He says, a strange combo of sweet and bland, as well as stodgy and almost dry. Not the gravy-pie experience I was hoping for. This is the kind of dish that gives vegetarian food a bad name. It's not His fault, though - a closer look at the recipe shows this ickiness was inevitable.

The courgette and sweetcorn dish was surprisingly yummy, the olive oil adding
depth to the roasty sweetness. Salad offered welcome freshness, though I was in no mood for more sweet stuff.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

17.11.08: Magic lentils with pear and tomato salad

She quickly whipped up the magic lentils tonight consisting of coconut dal with spinach plus brown rice with all the usual spices. A pear and tomato spinach salad pushed its way into the spotlight.

SHE SAYS: What He says.

HE SAYS: Creamy - check. Spicy - check. All round yummy - check. Another great batch of the splendific magical lentils. The salad weren't half bad neither (you can't beat a nice, ripe pear in a salad, that is fo' sure).

16.11.08: Breakfast 4 dinner

She put on her pinny and served up some brekky in the evening. On the plate were: pork n' apple chipolatas, black bnz, plum tomato and balsamic vinegar salsa, cheddar cheese omelet, plain bagel and a fig and carrot mixed leaf salad.

HE SAYS: Always somewhat of a treat to do a great switcheroo with the meals. The tomato salsa thang was incredible, very tangy and morish. The blk beans were from a box of dried flakes that we brought over from our trip to the States. They were pretty good, a little soupy, but next time we'll add less water and all will be right with the world.

The chipolata snausages never let us down, and as always they were tasty but We did miss the maple syrup which is their perfect accompaniment. The omelet was good and cheesy and best eaten in combination with the bagel, so I tried to construct a breakfast sandwich by towering all the ingredients on top of one another but feared a collapse. Quickly rethought my plans and carried out a controlled demolition, eating each ingredient one by one. Luckily no one was harmed.

SHE SAYS: Aah, yum. Brekky really is the perfect dinner, esp when there are apple-packed, sage-kissed chipolatas to be had. I slathered the sweet-tang tomato salsa (just tomatoes and balsamic vinegar cooked down in the pan after the sausages) all over my bagel slice and took it slow. Agree with Him about the bnz - will do better next time, but still amazed by how nice they are. I wouldn't consider them a replacement for my aromatic black bnz, but they make a great snack or quickie side dish. Ashamed to say I was too full for salad and had to have mine next day!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

15.11.08: Pesto pasta with carrot and pumpkin seed salad

He remembered to defrost the fresh sundried tomato pesto He'd made a few weeks ago and She came up with tonight's dinner plan as well as cookin' and stirrin' the pesto, some spelt penna pasta, grilled portobello mushrooms, grilled butternut squash and parmesan shavings. The salad was a concise affair: julienned carrots and roasted pumpkin seeds on a bed of mixed leaves. The rest of the wasabi dressing stood by to help out.

HE SAYS: She added some white wine to the mix and it helped add a more rounded, intense flavour to the ever so rich and satisfying milieu. The mushrooms were meaty and the squash was an inspired choice with its sweet syrupy deliciousness shining thru. The pesto was a pretty good batch; it freezes well and defrosts in seconds (okay, a few hours). It's miles above the oily stuff available in stores. Roasted pumpkin seeds make any salad better but especially this one. (Paired with its orange cousin, the humble but brilliant carrot, it seemed to try a little harder to impress).

SHE SAYS: I was slightly afraid the butternut would be a bit too heavy with the pasta, but it simply added a nice Thanksgiving-like note to the proceedings. I only salt 'n' peppered the squash this time before roasting, and it was still amazingly sweet, proving the perfect foil for the soy-sauce drizzled mushrooms and mmmworthy tangy, garlicky pesto. (This sounds like too high a pile of flava-flavs, but it all balanced in an autumal savoury way). Would def. pair butternut and mushrooms again. Salad offered a similarly sweet, roasty flavours, but added crunch and bite.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

14.11.08: Pollo alla Cacciatora and beetroot, mozz and avo salad

Instead of going out to eat as is usual on a Friday nite, they instead stayed in as He rustled up this familiar favourite resplendent with cannellini bnz, chix thighs, pancetta, crushed tomatoes and the usual herby goodness. A mozz, sweetfire beetroot, and avo salad served as its willing accomplice.

SHE SAYS: Perfect herb-heightened and tomatoey, chicken-brothy flavour, marred only by the firm-skinned bnz, which really needed some stewin'. He took Nigella at her word and served up after merely stirring them in. They've got to mellow, dude. Mozz was a pleasing surprise, subtly creamy in taste and with that fun pull-apart stringy texture.

HE SAYS: I should've cooked the bnz a little longer as they were a little less then tender but still edible. I added twice the recommended amount of the pancetta cubes although I felt it ultimately didn't benefit from the indulgence. The addition of a few shakes of hot sauce helped brighten its taste, adding to the richness, and after adding the forgotten capers (which are not part of the original recipe), the bowl delivered on its delish promise. I went back for a second heaping bowlful, obviously. The salad had a good balance of creaminess from the cheese and fruity sharpness thanks to the sweetfire beetroot; I managed a second serving of it and thus cleaned the bowl, burp.

13.11.08: Mac n' cheese and Quorn with fennel salad

Using one of the culinary treats brought back from the States, She enthusiastically put together the evening meal which included Annie's rice pasta mac n' cheese, quorn cutlets and snap peas. The fennel, radish, and spinach salad felt jealous and missed its pomegranate companion.

HE SAYS: Yum. It's been a long while since we ate mac n' cheese at home and it felt sooo good. Since it was wheat-free it also felt oh-so-virtuous. The quorn was crispy but I missed its usual pasta sauce accomplice to aid in alleviating the dryness quota (the mac n' cheese was too good on it's own to combine with other bites). The snap peas were nice if a little boring but they helped highlight the taste sensation of the pasta even more.

SHE SAYS: This meal was like a throwback to 2003, when we ate Annie's mac 'n' cheese every week, with Boca burgers. I reeeeally wish we'd brought home a crate or so of this v. American delicacy, but have you seen what they're charging for overweight luggage these days? anyway, it was perfectly creamy and tasty, and the pasta lost nothing for being rice, not wheat. Agree with him the quorn could've used some saucy assistance, but I speared the plain but perfectly al dente snap peas with some of the quorn bites to help.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

12.11.08: White bnz, chorizo and greens with carrot and pomegranite salad

She made the white bnz tonight with canellini bnz, chorizo, curly kale and onions, then got out the KTOTY, julienned a carrot and added it to the slightly familiar spinach and pomegranate salad.

SHE SAYS: Good but not as good as some previous incarnations; I think the kale blanded it out a bit, and possibly stole most of the brothy and chorizo flavours, b/c when tasted alone the kale was fab. We keep noticing how nice the onions are in beany dishes, they add a lot more texture than you'd think. Nope, not tired of pome-spinach salad yet, esp when guest star j. carrot is in the house - made it extra juicy and injected some sly sweetness.

HE SAYS: This was another big bowl of steaming goodness. The kale was a little heavy as greens go and added little flava to the broth but the onions and bnz more then made up for it. The carrot helped pep things up in the salad bowl and succeded in making the pomegranate (wow that exotic fruit does yield a lot, but then again it's a pain to harvest their seeds) seem less of a tired old rerun, like Bill Murray in Groundhog day.

11.11.08: Lemon chicken with radish and pomegranate salad

The week of family faves continues with the obligatory lemon chicken, lovingly prepared and roasted by Him. A spinach salad of pomegranate and radishes crept into the picture.

HE SAYS: After weeks away I began to question my love for the lemon chicken; how foolish I was to ever doubt the power of this hearty, zesty treat. The 'taters were crunchy outside and fluffy inside; the chix was tender, juicy and crispy; the green bnz, garlicky, lemony and light. What more could you ask for? The salad offered two types of peppery sensory experiences with the pomegranate and radishes competing for my attention.

SHE SAYS: Like He says, never was the deeply familiar such a good surprise. This time I think the green bnz absorbed more than their fair share of flavour, but draping my chicken with the jammy lemons added plenty to the palate-teasing taste o' chicken. Salad continues to add extra-satisfying crunch after weeks mostly without.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

10.11.08: Nigella's chickpeas with pomegranate and avo salad

After a while away, a week of classic meals was in order to get back on track. Thus, she cooked up the chickpea staple, adding the ho-made harissa for good measure. A spinach, avo and pomegranate salad nudged into frame.

SHE SAYS: Now I'm feelin' it - that evening pleasure that only the classics can deliver. Velvety soft chickpeas with cumin-seed fragrance got the necessary garlic and coriander spice kick from the harissa, and the salad was just what I'd been missing from our travels: a cool, fresh, tart counterpoint to savoury bliss.

HE SAYS: As good a batch as ever, the chickpeas still silky and flavorsome with the harissa propelling it skywards in taste and yuminess. The salad was sproused up with the pomegranate seeds, which added a certain fruity, tangy and peppery touch that only pomegranate seeds can deliver.

09.11.08: Pork vindaloo with fennel and pomegranate salad

She craved some home-cooked Indian-inspired nosh, and so whipped up this family fave consisting of: pork loin, vindaloo sauce, fragrant brown rice and a spinach, fennel and pomegranate salad in record time.

HE SAYS: Nice to have a home-cooked meal after 3 weeks of restaurant food (I could never be a restaurant critic however much it looks like the best job in the world) and one we haven't had in a while to boot. I think one jar of the vinderloo sauce was plenty in this version. The flavas were intense, especially the rice with the added cinnamon, and I was grateful for the mild fresh salad which offset them. The pork was a little overcooked, but all in all, a very nish winter warmer of a meal.

SHE SAYS: I wasn't sure how much cooking mojo I could muster - still jet-lagged after long intervals of slumber and waking - but once I thought of Indian food, I had to have it. This is probably the easiest of Indian dishes we make, and it's the only one that uses a bottled sauce to good effect. It was deeply satisfying, esp paired with the tart, bracingly crunchy salad. I think I probably feel asleep again as soon as I put down my fork...

08.11.08: Boiled egg, miso and cuppa

After hours upon hours of travel we arrived back in London early in the morning, totally jet-lagged. We slept slept thru the entire day after which She proceeded to conjure up this late night snack/dinner at 2am (US time). The meal for Her consisted of miso soup with glass noodles and spinach with a side of boiled eggs sans soldiers and a freshly brewed cup of tea. For Him, a Marmite bagel with boiled egg was on the menu (not pictured) plus sips of Her soup and his own cup of cha.

HE SAYS: Ooooh, that tea tasted good. Oh, and the egg and Marmite combo is only second to the grilled cheese and Marmite option in my pantheon of delicious midnight munchy food. I helped Her finish the soup and noodles and it was also tasty, in fact, what with the Marmite and miso I nearly went into umami diabetic shock.

SHE SAYS: I pretty much sank into that soup, still feeling really fragile, and dipping into the egg with a teaspoon, sprinkling salt along the way, seemed pure plain-food heaven. Glass noodles are not ideal in miso, but they filled the role of life-giving starch nicely. This meal gave me just enough energy to stumble back to bed for a few more hours!

07.11.08: Plane food again

Ho-hum. On our way back to Blighty, we had no choice but to tuck into some sort of chicken and veg casserole, plus a green salad with what turned out to be freshwater mozzarella, a slice of apple pie, bread roll with butter pat, and a mini-Crunchie bar. We did have a choice of wine, however: French or California.

SHE SAYS: Top tip - if you have a choice of wine regions on the plane, always pick French! My wine was far more palatable than his, nicely balanced with a pleasing touch of acidity. The chicken etc. was passable, decent frozen food-grade. Salad was bland but fine, and the apple pie had noticeable hints of cinnamon...if only it weren't quite so very cold! Crunchie bars are always welcome, and this time I had it straightaway - no pocketing for later.

HE SAYS: The Air steward missed our row as he was giving out the meals, and when I managed to get his attention they were out of choices, so it was the chicken or nought. I didn't expect much but this meal was actually worse then the meal on the outbound journey: watery and soupy with a sweet tomato sauce and rubbery chicken. I was glad we got a Crunchie, one of my fave chocolate bars second only to a DAIM bar. The salad and apple pie were okay, my wine was insipidly dreadful.

06.11.08: Home cookin' w/relations, NYC, NY

His aunt 'n' uncle have given us ample houseroom in NYC quite a few times now, in their lovely upper east side doorman building. And if that weren't enough, they agreed to feed us, too. A very welcome spread of roast chicken and veg (turnips, blue potatoes, sweet potatoes and shallots, a heaping emerald pile of steamed spinach, and a salad of leaves and radishes (how did they know?) out a homey finishing touch to our holiday dinner adventures. (Dessert of strawberries and blueberries baked up with touches of cream and brown sugar didn't go amiss, either.) It's been a treat most of the time, but We are rarin' to get back in Our own kitchen!

HE SAYS: Simple home goodness was on the menu for tonite. You can't beat a freshly roasted organic chicken, and with the veggie medley I was satisfied enough. Add in a green salad and a glass or two of wine and it made a cosy end to a great trip.

SHE SAYS: Properly nourishing and tasty, with perfectly seasoned chicken and naked spinach - it was the most welcome kind of plain, soothing and filling. Note to Self: blue potatoes are extra-sweet, how innaresting. Many thanks to his NYC relatives for giving us yet another excellent welcome and comfy hospitality.

The Dinner4deux vacation diary: proof we took notes and didn't make it up off the top of our heads when we got back

05.11.08: Bali Nusa Indah, NYC, NY

Which do We devour first?
Another long-lost pal, Candy Sue, directed us to a swell Indonesian joint in Hell's kitchen where the three of us proceeded to feast like royalty on a set meal that included (deep breath):

- shrimp crackers
- mixed salad with a tangy peanut sauce dressing
Sato Madura
- chicken broth with cellophane noodles and bean sprouts
Ikan Pepes - broiled red snapper fillet with lemongrass sauce wrapped in a banana leaf Rendang Padang - tender beef simmered in a coconut and chilli sauce
Kari Kambing
- lamb curry
Ayam Asam Manis
- chicken with garlic, onion, scallion, in a sweet and sour sauce
Kari Sayuran - vegetable curry
Sambay goreng udang buncis
- stir-fried spicy hot shrimps and stringbeans
Satay Ayam - chicken satay with peanut sauce dressing
- steamed coconut cream custard and palm sugar

Satay Ayam, or chicken satay with peanut sauce dressing to you
SHE SAYS: Shame on me for calling to mind only peanut satay upon first hearing "Indonesian". This was really too good: The soup bright with lemongrass, the salad deeply flavoured with fish sauce, all of the main dishes rich without being heavy. The greenbnz & scallops stood out as mild and moreish. The Satay Ayam was tender and p'nutty.

Shrimp crackers We gobbled up
Best of all was...the beef! The coconut and insistent citrus flavours worked my tastebuds to a tickle. The only dish I didn't sneak more of was the Ayam Asam Manis - bit sweet for me, and there was just too much gourmet goodness to be had. Dessert was chai-like in taste, and calming. Meanwhile catching up with Candy added great spice and enjoyment to the whole endeavor. Girl, get over to London already!

The fragrant rice was nice
HE SAYS: Have to agree with Her, this was a great evening. Firstly, it's been too long since we connected with the fantastic Candy, a swell chick that we used to roll with back in the day. Secondly, the food was not just your Indonesian wanna-be joint. We have been trying to budget a little on the last leg of our trip but the set menu was too inviting to pass up. Again, I agree with Her that the beef was great, the scallops very morish. The pudding was a little too sweet for my tastes.
The Sarikayo dessert She liked more than He did

04.11.08: Election nite w/ Alex and Amy's, NYC, NY

We love Obama! And Obama cake, thoughtfully provided by our hosts.
Well, you'll have guessed already this turned out to be a celebration feast, complete with friends we haven't seen for far too long. Amy & Alex magicked up some fantastically indulgent macaroni n' cheese; grilled some generous cheese burgers; and mixed up a salad of green leaves, raisins, sweet pepper, cucumber, and some sort of tasty vinaigrette. Although We didn't manage to snap a sneaky pic of the meal we did pop a pic of dessert: a special funny confection Alex had picked up and called Obama cake. Lest you think this choccy reference was all in bad taste, may we assure you that we all thought the nite's outcome, like the cake, was so, so very sweet.

SHE SAYS: Well, that does it: I eat beef now. In-N-Out was not just an anomaly (Fact: I've not eaten beef willingly my entire life, in any form, whether McD's or Mignon - until this week!). The burgers were med-rare and grilled with a hint of smokiness and topped with some nice white cheddar, plus Our pick of tomato, lettuce, and the usual condiments.

But it's the macaroni I savoured most. So creamy, piquant and uniquely American. The spiral pasta was very substantial and in generous supply - such a treat after a whole day's near-fast of airline peanuts, 1 granola bar, and a vanilla yoghurt. The salad offered cool comfort and contrast, while the moussey Obama cake delivered sweet creamy bliss. With the added, intense enjoyment of reuniting with long-held friends, plus the euphoria of the 11pm announcement, this may well win "Happiest dinner of 2008" all 'round. Thanks to Alex and Amy for being hostesses with the mostesses.

HE SAYS: After a hectic day of travel, nearly missing our flight from LAX to NYC, it was so good to meet up with old friends, good food and entertainment. The burgers were juicy and tender, heaped with large tomatoes, onions and salad; it left little room on the plate for the fantastically indulgent and spicy 'ome-made mac n' cheese. It surely was the creamiest and cheesiest version I've had the pleasure of scoffing. The salad was definitely a bit player in the scheme of things but still tasty with added interest from the inclusion of sweet raisins.

The chocolate dessert was intensely chocolatey, rich and funny. Not sure what we would've made of McCain cake but I'm sure it wouldn't have been so deeply satisfying and tasty (I'm not such a fan of white chocolate either).

Monday, 10 November 2008

03.11.08: Pinches Tacos w/guest, Los Angeles, CA

Her spicy pork, nopales, and pollo mole taco plate
Our dear, longtime pal Martin guided us safely to this smashing taqueria he described as 'humble but good'. Accurate, but let Us intensify that second bit: fresh, delicious, well-balanced, and very well-priced.

SHE SAYS: My combination plate of three tacos - nopales (cactus), spicy pork, and pollo mole (chicken) - accompanied by rice and tortilla chips plus pinto bnz, was by far the best Mexican fare of the trip. The firm, juicy cactus, well seasoned and slightly crispy pork chunks, and, above all, the deeply savoury chocolatey mole all had me wanting more, if only I wasn't pushing my waistband limit already. The mole esp showcased the chocolate as it should be in a mole sauce: not sweet, or vinegary, or overly tangy, just richly approaching bitter with a hint of cinnamon for flavour equilibrium. And no wonder, given that it's a family recipe unchanged for 114 years, according to the PR on their website.

The pinto bnz did their best to match all the other goodness going on with a rib-sticking creaminess and a satisfying measure of salt. We shared a Coke since it came in a bottle (seems nicer somehow). And the company of our Mexifood sherpa completed the feeling of good, lively nourishment and pleasure.

His shrimp burrito
HE SAYS: I felt like we redeemed our last Los Angeles Mexican experience with the meal we had this evening. I ordered the shrimp burrito first, which was packed with fresh big ones. The portion was not giant, but manageable. I espescially enjoyed the zestiness of the salsa, which I applied generously like hot sauce.

After scoffing the burrito I couldn't help but order my own mole chicken taco after tasting a little of Hers. The mole sauce was how it should be: a savoury base with subtle sweetness. The chicken was shredded and tender, and the salsa added fresh herby heat. It was great to have fantastic food while we caught up with an old friend before having a few drinks at a bar a few blocks away.

Martin's pork and pollo tacos

02.11.08: Corktree Cellars, Carpinteria, CA

His flatiron steak with sweet potato fries
We stopped in this little joint on the sleepy main street of this charming little beach town for an aperitif, intending to roll down to the old hotel down the road for a slap-up seafood meal. But. One glance around the dining room of The Palms - brightly lit salad bar, dimly lit and dreaded 'carving station' - and we fled back to the cosy Cork.

HE SAYS: I had the flatiron steak with a pinot noir reduction gravy and a green salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. On the side, I tucked into some crunchy sweet potato fries with a creole mustard dip. We sat at the bar, and the staff were friendly and prompt.

My steak was cooked just right and very tender. The pinot noir reduction was darkly flavoursome with a fruity note. I loved the fries, which were very crispy and slightly sweet, glazed with rock salt. The mustard dip, although a little weird, really balanced the sweetness and delivered a little tang to my tongue. I was happy to have stumbled upon this quiet little Sideways-esque bistro in such a quaint little beach town.

Her lobster melt and nice salad
SHE SAYS: I've not been able to avoid bread as much as I normally do while travelling and still enjoy an affordable, satisfying meal. So I went for broke: the lobster melt with havarti and an excellent salad of field greens, purple haze goat chz, caramelised beets and almonds, plus a citrus vinaigrette, proved not too bloaty and didn't break the bank.

The lobster chunks were sweet and tender, and the havarti was judiciously applied to merely bind bread and seafood, not overwhelm. The vinaigrette was v. light with a hint of grapefruit, and our barmistress later confirmed they put no oil in it. Casual gourmet, all in all, and well-suited to both our needs and wants for the evening.

01.11.08: In-N-Out Burger, San Diego, CA

His double cheeseburger deluxe with fries
It's a dream He's treasured ever since reading about it in Fast Food Nation: to dine at one of only two(?) fast food chains even Eric Schlosser could approve of, CA's In-N-Out Burger. There was only one catch: She doesn't eat beef. And they don't do chicken.

A brief negotiation ensued. She protested She could just have some fries and get a snack elsewhere if needed. He protested that it wasn't a full meal, and he didn't want to drive farther in search of more food at 9pm if She still had an appetite (admittedly likely). She prevailed...and there was a surprise yet to come!

Her reg'lar cheeseburger - first ever!
SHE SAYS: That's right - I succumbed! Fully, happily, greedily. I started out with the fresh-cut, all-potato fries, but kept eyeing His double whammy of a burger. Gosh, but it smelled good! So...I had a taste. And then, as if my tum exerted a will of its own, I found myself at the counter inside plunking down $2.10 for my first-ever (ever!) full-fledged cheeseburger (no onions, thankyou).

It was chargrilled, not overdone, and pleasingly coated in some very American cheese. not too salty, not drowned in sweet relishes and ketchup. It was actually better than some so-called gourmet (lamb) burgers I've had. The fries were a little dry, but purely potato - no sugarcoating going on here. I don't think I'll be seeking out more beef for comparison, tho'; in In-N-Out I trust!

In-N-Out vs Mickey-D's!
HE SAYS: It may look a little like a Mickey-D's, but the burgers are a lot better. The limited menu gave me no choice but to sample their double cheeseburger deluxe and freshly cut fries. I went back for a single cheeseburger just to fill out the edges and that also satisfied my burger craving. I espesh liked the crispy onion and lettuce garnish that came with. A cheap and easy eating solution. Why can't all fast food be this fresh and good?

31.10.08: Kiki Sushi, San Diego, CA

Nothing spooky about the offerings at Kiki Sushi, tho' raw food on Hallowe'en is entirely appropo. Nothing fancy about the locale or location, either, but it was nice to sit outside on the deck and watch the revelers parade by (pirates are a big theme in a city by the bay, doncha know). And now, on with the show:

Salmon and tuna sashimi
Veggie roll: cuke, avo, some kind of mushroom stuff, sesame
Eel roll
Tomago (egg, for Him)
Crunchy roll: shrimp, crab, tempura crumbs

HE SAYS: The sushi was pretty good, not spectacular. Highlights for me were the tomago, which was better then most, moist and not too shweet, and the crunchy roll, which looked pretty, had loads of crunchiness to it and gooey crab filling.

SHE SAYS: All quite good, with the crunchy roll standing out for its juicy shrimp. I didn't care for the mushroomy bit in the veggie roll, but it was more than passable, and at least half of it passed my lips.

The salmon sashimi was far better than the tuna, with the languorous mouthfeel provided. Tuna was a little oceany, but again, passable. Eel in the roll was warm, flaky and sweet, not bad, but nowhere near as good as the ho-made kind. All in all, I was satisfied if not blown away as I'd hoped to be by CA sushi.

Best bit: The thousands (I kid you not) of costumed cyclists flooding the road, weaving between the cars, guarding the intersection expertly in the wildest occasion of Critical Mass we've ever witnessed - and all while deciding on the next piece of sushi to munch. Live footage from MasonMaysun above (we were dining in Hillcrest, but didn't make it into the frame).

30.10.08: Satali's Pizza, San Diego, CA

We strolled along the main street of San Diego's overmarketed 'Little Italy' in search of cheap 'n' easy, and found something satisfying in this pizzeria - which was mainly a takeout joint by the looks of all the people lurking in the doorway.

First, a small salad to share: basic leaves, tomatoes, chickpeas, cuke slices and peperoncini accompanied by the obligatory oil and vinegar cruets. A hot pie of pepperoni-mushroom graced the centre as we held our knives and fork poised for dining pleasure...

SHE SAYS: Humble and tasty, with a perfectly toasty thin-medium crust. It was good basic stuff - the sauce not too sweet, not greasy, and in all respects a perfectly decent American pizza. Even and average pie like this blows Britain's sorry excuse of a pizza joint out of the water with savoury gusto.

HE SAYS: Okay, not New York standards, but as She says it blew Pizza Express away (it puzzles me how they stay in business). The crust was firm and pretty thin, and we were able to pick up and eat slices without the toppings sliding off the edges. The local brew I drank in between bites had a satisfying malty, full-bodied taste just right for a pizza nite out.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

29.10.08: Jesse's El Conquistador, Los Angeles, CA

His 'no comment' bean soup and a deadly brew
Lazily following the rec of our B&B host, we headed to El Conquistador, a neighborhood Mexi-dive a few blocks down Sunset Blvd, drawn mainly by the prospect of 'their famous margaritas'. Indeed...

His mole enchiladas
HE SAYS: This was the worst Mexican I've had, including London Mexican wannabes. The mole sauce was very sweet and treacle-like, the cheese was tasteless, and the chicken squidgy and plain. My margarita was pure alcohol with not a hint of fresh limey goodness. This was definitely Mexi-can't.

Her spinach-mushroom enchiladas
SHE SAYS: My spinach-mushroom enchiladas in a 'tangy' tomatillo sauce, w/guacamole, sour cream, refried bnz and Spanish rice, were not really so bad...but they weren't so nice, either. Just a lot of gloop, really, and a bit bland. The salad was the best part, with very fresh mixed field leaves and basic vinegar and oil for dressing.

Her plain but very fresh salad
What made this all a huge thumbs-down for me was the bowl-o'-margarita full of incredibly proof alcohol masked by copious sugar so that 2/3 of the way thru my plate, I realised I was fully smashed. I didn't even get tipsy - went straight to faceplant drunk. He wasn't much less wobbly, and we stumbled back to the room with rocks in our stomachs, unable to head downtown as planned. Boo, hiss!

28.10.08: Pix and Pambiche, Portland, OR

The inimitable Ichabod Creme
Dessert first: coffee and a treat at at Pix, the little dessert place down the street she kept making eyes at for three days. The Ichabod Creme We shared was impressively composed of spiced almond creme, caramel, and a pumpkin creme brulée - not to mention the dark choccy nest, edible gold leaf, and glazed pumpkin seeds and pecans.

Lest ye think that was the highlight of the evening, let us gently inform you otherwise. A pdx magazine perused over Our pastry revealed a neighborhood spotlight feature - 28th & Burnside - that led us to Pambiche, a Cuban haven brightly coloured and glazed in delight.

Her rich pork and plaintains
SHE SAYS: My Lengua en Salsa - tender chunks of pork bathed in a rich, red creole gravy 'scented with plump raisins and toasted almonds', accompanied by white rice and tostones (fried plaintain chips) was pungently mmmworthy with every bite.

Like we said, Portland proved an unexpected tastebud paradise. I mean, we've only reported on dinner. You don't even get to see the mapled-glazed-bacon–studded
fresh hot waffle from the waffle van - yes, the waffle van! formally known as the Little Blue Waffle Wagon - down the block from Our guesthouse, for starters. Really, if I lived here, I'd be big as a house...or maybe not. The restaurants are in proportion to the nature trails, so I'd run/walk it all off.

His 'old clothes', with fried bread
HE SAYS: My Ropa Vieja, or 'old clothes' - garlicky shredded beef laden with yellow onions and green peppers, garnished with pimientos and petit pois, served with Cuban beans & rice, plus pan frito (fried bread) - was intensely flavoursome. My Cuban wine was fine, and all in all, we had a jolly good time.

subliminal persuasion by signage
Portland's food in general was excellent, kicking Austin's hot little ass for variety and quality, and this meal was no exception. It was so good we went back for brekky a mere 12 hours later (tho' to be fair, they gave us a two-fer-one coupon. Yes, we are weak.) Best Cuban food I've had, would make it a reg'kar haunt if we lived here, that's for sure.