Last night we were at Canvas , a new restaurant in Lake Nona where, when given the option to sit outside, at a table or at the chef’s counter, I jumped on the chance to watch cooks in action.  Chef’s counter please.  I love to see what they are doing right so I can emulate it at home.  No matter that I regularly say to Z, ‘I’m struggling here.” as I cook dinner.  I am going to be clear, just because I enjoy cooking most of the time doesn’t mean I rock it out on any kind of daily basis.  Thursday night I was working on a project for a new cookbook for work and actually bailed mid-stream sending an email to my co-workers regarding my attempt and it’s new home in the trash can.  Keeping it real. Short Rib Flatbread

But, last night, at Canvas, which is basically within walking distance of the dirt, I sat and watched the line cooks make my short rib, tomato jam, Taleggio cheese and dressed arugula flatbread while sipping a Pink Flower (Hendricks gin? Yes please.)  makes me think I should keep trying.   We watched the cook, about 2-3 feet in front of us spread the tomato jam on the crisp pre-prepped flatbread, and take a pre-portioned amount of braised short ribs and then deftly drop on hunks of what our server cautioned me was strong cheese.  His comments about the cheese drove me to order this item.  It also reminds me that everyone has a different palate and to appreciate my own. A second person who works shoulder to shoulder in front of a hot oven, dressed the greens.  He plated by cutting on a board and then sending it 10 feet or so to the chef to check and clear.  Our server then picked up and brought it back to me.  So fascinating the journey of a simple flatbread.  I imagine that at least 6 and more like 8 different people worked on that plate of food. Nevermind Z’s Cuban and fries which came from both separate part of the kitchen and the fryer 25 feet down the line.  I wonder at my own struggle to produce (or try) restaurant quality food at home and this comforts me.  I’m only one or sometimes two if I ask Z to help.  I think about the fact of food quality, food cost, the number of people in a kitchen, people who complain over food costs without thinking of the human interaction and cost, literal lives spent ‘on the line’ making me dinner.     I hope I never stop appreciating these things.

That said, I loved my flatbread.  I’d eat another one today.  So far, we’ve eaten at Canvas four times and I’ve tried four different menu items along with tastes of 3 other meals.  I judged them on their burger-good, the grouper Rueben with kimchi (GREAT) and tasted the shrimp Mofongo.  I’m excited about it’s entry into our neighborhood and hopefully the future meals and conversation and engagement I’ll get by going.

When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 5-the grand finale)

A lot of what we heard while in Amsterdam, either on the canal tour or via museum, and in our day trip to Zaanse Schaans was about the Dutch golden age.  At first I might have thought they made it up because I’ve never really heard of it before.  But there is quite a lot more to Dutch history than we typically learn in the US.  Or I was out sick that week.  I’ve studied fairly extensively on the topics of the renaissance period but really learned much more about Italy than of the Netherlands.  The Dutch had quite a thing going with trade and colonial rule and all that entails.  Result?  They are still quite fond of Indonesian food and make quite a lot of it.

We saw an Anthony Bourdain Layover episode on Amsterdam and he mentioned going to a restaurant called Tempoe Doeloe.  It looked …fancy.  But it also looked …..delicious.   I gave it a shot.  Researching the website and online reviews.  I came to find it occupies a niche I had never heard of called Michelin BibGourmand.  I’m not sure how this escaped my attention before as I read food writings on a regular basis but I never did.  They are self defined as:

  1. Good cuisine at a reasonable price. Defined as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value,” BibGourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included), and are often of most value to a city’s residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants.

So, again I set out by emailing a request for a reservation and received a terrifying and exhilarating email back in confirmation.mill

We spent the third day in happy and stone cold pursuit of adventure.  We tramped to Dam Centraal where we purchased Sprinter train tickets for Zaanse Schaans (€14 round trip).  I never really rode a real train before so between that and a pouring rain hike over a canal during –which I figured I would soon be swept into– from the gale of wind numbing every inch of my being, the trip was exciting!  We made it to a sort of faux historical area outside Amsterdam called Zaanse Scaans where they have relocated windmills and restored them alongside some traditions Dutch craft workshops such a Genever distillery where I sample the local fire water and asked questions about the precursor to gin.  There is a fascinating Klompen shop with a mini museum of amazing examples of wooden shoes including bridal and Sunday best alongside specialized clogs for snowy or icy regions.  There was one windmill we could tour that had barrels of giant cinnamon sticks and cinnamon grinding on the windmills wheel.  That brings me back to the Dutch East Indies.tempoedoeloe

The Dutch found a fondness for Indonesian food that endures today and at Tempoe Doeloe they’ve elevated what I suppose is a somewhat modest cuisine of long stewed meats and spices and stunning street foods by using top notch ingredients, placing them carefully on beautiful white plates, and service.  Fair warning that we heard they weren’t great about taking cards so we came armed with cash and had no problems.  The service would be somewhat slower than we are used to in the US but I found this to be true across all venues and assumed it is really just a somewhat more leisurely pace than we are used to.  I loved the crunchy sweet vegetable salads and small dishes perfectly cooked green beans and greens served alongside the long cooked daging rendang padang – beef in a strongly seasoned sauce of chili peppers and coconut and ajam paniki – chicken in a slightly spicy, fresh sauce of pandan leaves, lemongrass, coconut and candle-/berry- nuts.  The sauces had so much texture from the long cooking process.  It was carefully made well done food.  It made what to us, being very unknown or foreign tastes, very comfortable and familiar.   The entrees came out with small dishes of accompaniments that included some lightly cooked green beans, some greens with ginger, shrimp chips and a quick bright pickled vegetable along with white rice and yellow rice.  Each bite can be composed to cover all the flavor profiles.  If you get a chance at Indonesian cuisine I’d highly recommend it.  Ask questions and  be careful of a potential fiery spice factor if that stresses your ‘system’ but you won’t be sorry.

The next morning we got up at 4am to catch that €5 bus back to Schiphol where we boarded a plane for the next leg of our adventure.    We really enjoyed Amsterdam.  It was refreshingly different from our day to day life and full of new things to learn and experience.    I hope we will be back to see more.


When I’m in Holland I eat the (part 4)

fifteen“What did you say?”  Tom asked?

“I got Jamie Oliver’s pans.” I said.

“What?” He said.

“I got Jamie Oliver’s pans.” I said.

“Pans?  OH!  I thought you said you got Jamie Oliver’s pants!” He said.

And so it goes. I’ve had a fan girl style crush on Jamie Oliver for years.  I have his pans, well, the pans he hawked for Tfal.  I have a shelf dedicated like a shrine to his cookbooks.  I even have a motley collection of UK region specific DVDs of past shows that didn’t really air in the US.  When we talked about places to go and in our research Z realized/remembered that he had an outpost of his foundational training restaurants in Amsterdam.  Called Fifteen for the number of trainees given a shot at a career in food.  I immediately found the Amsterdam version of Open Table and booked a table for dinner.  It was fun and terrifying to see the email confirmation come back in Dutch.

The restaurant is a bit removed from the main tourist district.  To be fair, not easy access if you aren’t serious and it’s a cold winded pre-spring evening.  We hit the tram service from our hotel and it got us about three quarters of the way.  The balance of the walk was made in gusty wind blowing off the wide canal at the water edge of the city.  I didn’t know cold wind could do that.   A girl could lose the will to go on!  Trailing behind Z by hundreds of feet but doing my short legged best to lean into the jet stream in my face.  As I handed my jacket to the hostess she said, “oh, you’re wearing a summer coat,” with obvious confusion and something like pity.  We figured for three days en route to the tail end of South Africa summer we could make it work.raviolibeef

It was our second experience with a virtually empty restaurant in Amsterdam.  At this point we know we are the weirdo American early birds.   Only a couple other big parties, likely after work office groups, fill any tables.  It’s decor is industrial and urban graffiti but with chandeliers.  We are handed menus that are in themselves fairly refined, edited.    There are starters, small plates and mains.  I decided I no longer know what to do with that.  Do we share a small plate and each get mains?  Share a starter and eat a small plate?  Is a small plate a few lovingly crafted bites or is it potentially a full dinner?  Throwing all caution to the wind we each ordered a small plate and a main.  Potentially too much but who even cares?   A small plate of a light brown bread and a huge fresh disk of Dutch butter quickly arrived.  I was surprised that there wasn’t much of a cocktail program.  Maybe, with the Amsterdam outpost at ten years old that is a newer concept?  Not really sure but strange.

The first course arrived.  I ordered

What I expected?  Maybe one or two ravioli with a fairly restrained butter sauce and a few walnuts and a sprinkle of gingerbread.

What I got?  A full dinner amount of ravioli, sauce and no restraint spared.  I was actually somewhat surprised.  It was tasty mix of flavors but actually a bit muddled for the sheer amount of sauce and walnuts.  I missed the flavor of the gingerbread.   Now that I reflect on that it may not have made it on the plate.

Z had the largest gnocchi I’ve seen-fairly well dumpling sized and soft and comforting.   The cheese was a soft tangy Dutch cheese that cut the richness of the pork ragu.  I finished his plate.  No shame.

And this was the small plates.  A bit nervous about that.   Then the mains arrived.  I ordered something called kataifi and it is ridiculously craveable.  Finely shredded pastry (think baklava) wrapped around caramelised salsify panfried in what must have been butter with roasted cauliflower and tangy cheese.  I could have licked that plate clean.  I want it right now.  Gah!ketaifi

Z had a more standard steak with interesting accompaniments such as apple compote and chicory tarte tatin.  We were not familiar with chicory being used this way.  It had a not unpleasant bitter taste and an unexpected softly roasted white color.

Overall I felt the mains were more successful than the small plates.  They felt natural and delicious.  I would seek out that kataifi any day.  I am excited to try to reproduce something like this out of my own kitchen.

The concept of giving training to someone who wants it and might otherwise not get it?  Worth it again and again.  Am I sure this has Jamie Oliver’s fingerprints on it?  At the core yes but I’m not sure about the far reach of the years. Am I still a fan girl and would I brave the jet stream again for it?  Yes.

so, I got to thinking…

People who cook like this on a Monday night should probably blog about it.  Let’s scroll back 72 hours.  Friday night I got home to a box on the porch from Amazon.  It held riches of books-one being Sorella.   Sorella is billed by Amazon as 100 bold gutsy comfort-based Northern Italian dishes inspired by the restaurant of the same name in NYC.  I think I am a total tool because I bought it because (I think) it was an Amazon recommendation.  For real?  Who does that?  But the minute I flipped through I knew i had done the right thing.   The dishes are for real cheffy fare and for me–super inspirational.  Fast forward 48 hours to Sunday.  I made brine while I cooked dinner last night.  I let it cool to room temperature and submerged four 1″ thick pork chops in a bowl under the brine and weighted down the top with a plate  to keep them under.  I shoved the whole thing in the fridge and forgot about it until I got home tonight and remembered while I was pushing the mower through the yard.    sorellaAfter finishing up mowing I enlisted Z’s help to get dinner on the table.  We started the olive smashed potatoes which were scented with orange zest and a tiny bit of lemon juice and I quickly boiled (hang with me here) a pint of cherry tomatoes.  I plunged them into ice water and I PEELED them.  Cherry tomatoes.  Z pulled out our smoking gun and put some applewood smoke on them.  Then I made them into a delicious little vinaigrette.  What?  Who puts these flavors together.  Then I dried and put the chops on the grill pan after rubbing them in olive oil and a touch of sea salt.  We finished the chops in the oven.  The chops were briny and porky-kind of baconlike almost.  Because of the brine they were moist and the grill pan gave them the most fantastic char.  The potatoes?  Inspired.  Orange and olive?  Amazing.   I could taste the smoke on the tomatoes.   Best. Monday. Night. Dinner. Ever.  I am so looking forward to some deep dives into this book.

Trader Joe’s

Over my birthday holiday weekend Trader Joe‘s (TJ’s) opened in Orlando.  I’ve heard lot of people discuss it – you’d have to be crazy to head over there – and all that.  Last Sunday, around noon, I asked Z if he wanted to go to Trader Joe’s with me.  He politely declined.  Since it is about a half hour door to door, I packed a cooler with ice in the trunk and headed over. It’s easy to find and only about five minutes from probably what amount to my three favorite restaurants in Orlando-Cask & Larder, Tibby’s and Four Rivers.  So, going over there will likely be combined with the occasional dinner out and won’t be a ‘weekly’ type event.  Driving up the street I could see the lineup of cars and decided to park about a half block away in the non-workday parking lot of the Civic Center.   That served well as I would stay out of the fray and also be forced to limit myself to what I could carry by myself in the 90+ degree heat back to my car.  I’ve only been in one other TJ’s during opening weekend so I have only that to judge by.  This store was busy but not as busy as the Sarasota store opening weekend and the wine section was about 1/3 the size.  You can judge that however you like.tjwinterpark

I eased my cart inside braving the mixed crowd of Winter Park locals, Orlando hippies (I’ve never seen much of them before -maybe they are college kids from UCF and I’m just getting old?), regular old hipsters and me.  I navigated through the dry goods aisles picking up na’an, pretzel loaves, and coffee and then the outer edges for cheeses, meats and prepared stuff like Wine Country Chicken Salad before hitting the center aisle that is what I’ve never shopped before on longer drives to the Sarasota store-the frozen stuff.  Many people want to compare TJ’s to something.  It isn’t like anyplace that you regularly shop–except just maybe slightly like Aldi.  I only say that for the chaos and sort of self defined mayhem in the stores.  That and they mostly sell private labelled products.  At TJ’s though, they tend to be organic and internationally and otherwise ‘inspired’ type stuff.  People who shop there seem to have their favorite items that they just don’t want to live without.  Ours have always tended to be things I would best classify as snack foods – pita crackers & pub cheese, halloumi cheese, sea salt caramels, powerberries – with a few staples thrown in for the relatively modest prices on organic products – olive oil, thai chile & lime cashews, spicy pecans and coffee beans.   I made this first local trip about trying new things and items that we could actually make for dinner.  I tried a handful of new items out of the freezer sections like shredded vegetable nests (B+), poutine with cheese curds  gravy (B) and spinach with paneer (don’t ask).  I tried some new chicken sausages with Korean spices and bought a handful of different cheeses.  All in all it was what I expected.  The customers were actually quite a bit more polite than my expectations called for and I can see that there is a demand for it which gives me some hope for my developing neighborhood (WAY) across town.

Z and I were out to dinner the other night (Tibby’s to celebrate the 4th of July/Hurricane Arthur departure weekend) and decided to make a quick stop in.  It wasn’t as busy the second go round and I was floored to see many absolutely empty shelves and coolers.   Looks like they had a little trouble keeping up with this fierce new demand they have created.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.  I was also excited to see a drop in under the TJ’s sign in the lot.  Shake Shack is coming too.  That’s another story.