London Calling

In just a week, London has proved itself to be one of the more exciting, beautiful, and well-balanced cities I’ve had the fortune to explore. The busy streets are urban and cosmopolitan, yet are magically punctuated with quirky, tree-filled parks. The city is remarkably diverse; on any given street corner, I hear upwards of three languages. Most importantly, it’s a city that is extraordinarily walkable. Daily, I step out my front door and quite literally lose myself among winding tree-lined backstreets–easily crossing from one distinct neighborhood into another of entirely divergent character.

One thread that does run through the city and its assorted neighborhoods, however, is the appreciation for markets. Particularly during lunch hours and weekends, markets are abounty. Blocks throughout the city open their sidewalks to peddlers, independent food vendors, and artisans. The energy is remarkable, the products are quality, and the food is dangerously delicious.

BOROUGH MARKET

Welcome to Borough Market

Absolutely gorgeous bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Whole Green Olives

Borough Market is the premier food market in London. Packed with local meat vendors, artisan cheese makers, boutique olive oil specialists (to name a few), the market sprawls over a near square mile space in London Bridge (which as far as I can tell, is not falling down).

Extensive Olive Oil Selections at Borough Market

In addition to the extensive selection of take-home goods and produce, there are myriad food vendors serving up ready-to-eat local delicacies and exotic specialties, which patrons can carry to the adjacent park that surrounds a nearly 300-year-old church.

 

 

 

PIE COMPLETELY ADORE YOU

Cowboy Pie -- Cubed Beef and Veggies stewed in Ale

After seeing Sweeney Todd, I was pretty sure I would live a life fulfilled, even if that life never included eating a meat pie. Oh, the capacity of the human soul to embrace new things.

Pieministers in an award-winning meat pie shop based in Bristol, but they cater weekly to the ravenous customers swarming their stand at Borough Market. Upon recommendation, I chose the Cowboy Pie, filled with rich and tender cubed beef that had been stewed with veggies in a hearty, beer-based broth.

Cross-Sectional view of Pieminister's Cowboy Meat Pie

The flavors were powerfully evocative of autumn and made me want to curl up next to a roaring fire.

Next time, I may be more adventurous and sample the Thai Chook Pie or Matador Pie.

FISH: MY FAVORITE DISH

I couldn’t go my first week in London without trying Fish and Chips. I had a feeling that the fish served up at Borough Market might prove itself fresher, lighter and more memorable than the “Fried Fish and Chicken Galore” dive on my street corner (not to knock dives–more on that in future posts).

Crispy, Crusty and absolutely Scrumptious Fried Cod

Amidst the organized chaos of the vibrant market, I stumbled upon Fish!Kitchen. The prices were steep, but the whole-fried haddock and cod, which, even lightly fried, still retained their fish-shaped integrity, inspired me to stop. The gregarious man behind the counter enthusiastically recommended the fried cod.

He grabbed the largest piece, proceeded to expertly dunk it into a golden batter, then re-fry it. Yes, twice-fried milky cod is everything it’s made out to be. Despite the fry treatment, the meaty cod was packed with flavor and tasted even better when partnered with malt vinegar and a dab of ketchup.

FEAST FOR YOUR EYES

Dried Red Chilies

The food at the market was overwhelmingly beautiful–as diverse in flavor as in color, shape, and texture. Here are a few more pictures that attempt to capture how special Borough Market is.

Hunk o' Parm

Diverse Selection of Dried Fruits and Nuts at Borough Market

The plump, the shriveled, the briny...Olives Galore!

Array of Homemade Sausages

EXMOUTH MARKET

While Borough Market may be the Big Man on Campus in London, I don’t want to underplay how fabulous some of the smaller street markets truly are. On one of my meandering walks, about my third day in, I came across a very special market right near my apartment.

Exmouth Market

Exmouth Market lives on a narrow cobble-stoned street. On weekdays, that street is nearly overrun by food stalls representing independent restaurants around London. Herds of young professionals line up to grab food from the veritable grab bag of ethnic cuisine: Thai, Mexican, Indian, Korean, Ghanaian… Then, they take their food to the nearby park, which on a sunny day is absolutely jam-packed with diners and sun-bathers alike, enjoying the delectable fruits of the market.

GOING, GOING, GHANA

Spinach and Agushi--Ghanaian food stand in Exmouth Market

Of all the options, the only cuisine I had never tried was Ghanaian food. I have to admit that I’m still not quite sure what makes Ghanaian food what it is, but I can tell you that it’s delicious. Mostly rich, meaty stews, every option had me salivating.

Spinach and Agushi, Rice, and Lamb Meatballs

Ultimately, I selected spinach and agushi (also the name of the food stand), accompanied by red rice and a lamb meatball stew. Like so many young professionals before me, I grabbed my piping hot food and made my way to the park, where I plopped myself on a bench. Ravenous just from the smell of the sultry Ghanaian spices, I dove in and never looked back.

If Borough and Exmouth represent the brand of markets that await me in London, then I look forward to my next misstep down a unforeseen side street where a new great discovery awaits!

A Late Summer Night’s Meal

I love Labor Day weekend. Even though it’s always slightly heartbreaking to see Summer go, I consider Fall the most energized season, especially this year as I embark upon my big journey across the pond.

Mostly what I miss about summer is cooking on the grill. Over the weekend, I planned this meal with the intention of packing it up for a picnic down on the Mall. Unfortunately, weather was not on my side, but this meal tasted just as delicious eaten at home.

I like to think these recipes honor a summer full of colorful fresh flavors. Among the tastes I’ll miss most: perfectly ripened tomatoes, sweet buttery corn, fresh herbs from the garden, and the crusty char goodness you get from grill cooking. Alas, there is no reason that despite the change in season that these recipes can’t be enjoyed year round.

Grilled Chicken Gyros
with homemade Tzatziki and fresh Tomato-Cucumber Salad

Big Bite o' Grilled Chicken Gyro

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups 2% Greek Yogurt (3/4 pounds)
  • ¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • 2 large seedless Cucumbers, divided
  • 2 Lemons, zested and juiced, divided
  • 4 Garlic cloves, minced, divided
  • 3 vine-ripened or heirloom Tomatoes
  • 1 small Red Onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Mint
  • ⅛ cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil plus 2 tbsps
  • 1 teaspoon Honey
  • 1 teaspoon dried Oregano, divided
  • ½ teaspoon dried Rosemary
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless Chicken Breast, butterflied
  • 4-6 large Pita Rounds, halved
  • Kosher Salt
  • Crushed Black Pepper
Preparation:
For the Chicken, combine the olive oil, honey, juice and zest of 1 lemon, 2 minced garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon oregano, and rosemary into a large Ziploc bag. Generously season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper, then toss into the bag. Mix well until the chicken is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Once the tzatziki and salad are prepared (see below), remove the marinaded chicken from its bag and place on a medium hot grill. If you want grill marks, don’t touch for about 4 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Depending on thickness of chicken, the timing can vary, so slice open the thickest part of the fattest piece and make sure it’s cooked through and the juices run clear.

Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then, thinly slice on an angle and set aside on a platter covered with tin foil.

Before turning off the grill, brush the pita bread with a bit of olive oil and flash grill until it’s warmed through on both sides.

Homemade Tzatziki

For the Tzatziki, combine 1 minced garlic clove, 1 roughly chopped cucumber, ½ teaspoon oregano, and juice of ½ a lemon in a food processor and lightly chop. Add the yogurt and pulse until the ingredients are well incorporated. Add kosher salt to taste. Garnish with freshly chopped mint or a mint sprig.

For the Tomato-Cucumber Salad, chop the remaining cucumber and tomatoes into equal-sized, bite-friendly pieces.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad aside Lemony Whole Wheat Cous Cous

Combine with the thinly sliced red onion, the remaining lemon and its zest, 1 clove minced garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, a large pinch of salt and give it all a good toss. Add the feta cheese and the freshly chopped mint and gently mix.

This salad can be stuffed in the pita (as I like it), or can be served alongside the gyro.

Assembling the Gyros is easy. Create an assembly line that includes the warm pita bread, the sliced chicken, the tzatziki, and the salad. For those who don’t want to stuff the salad into the pita, you can also lay out a platter of whole mint leaves, extra cucumber slices, red onion and tomato.

Fixing Platter for the Gyros

Get creative with your gyro stuffings–if you happen to have garbanzo beans in your cabinet, those would make a delicious addition as would artichoke hearts or thinly sliced radishes!

SWEET TALK

Let’s talk dessert, which is something I’ll admit is neither my specialty nor my favorite part of a meal. I’m just not really a sweet tooth. Give me a bag of Cape Cod potato chips, on the other hand, and I could put it away in minutes. Still, there’s absolutely something about a summer meal that demands a tasty-sweet finale.

I found inspiration for this dish at Trader Joe’s, where they sell miniature peanut butter cups. Initially, I planned to just mix these precious little cups into a bowl of vanilla ice cream, but then it struck me. Why not use these cups in place of chocolate chips in my favorite cookie recipe, then sandwich those cookies around a luscious scoop of ‘scream? I always loved a Chipwich from the ice cream man, and this summertime treat is both nostalgic and really delicious. One bite manages to encompass those mixed end-of-summer emotions that always accompany my Labor Day weekend.
Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
cookie recipe adapted from Bobby Flay’s chocolate chip cookie recipe

Peanut Butter Cup Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • ¾-1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • ¾  teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 sticks Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated Sugar
  • ⅓ cup Dark Brown Sugar
  • ⅓ cup Light Brown Sugar
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup of Miniature Peanut Butter Cups–the diameter shouldn’t be more than a couple of centimeters (recommended: Trader Joe’s Super Mini Peanut Butter Cups). Of course, you can always substitute a cup of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips if you’re not into peanuts.
  • 1 quart Vanilla Ice Cream (recommended: Moorenko’s if you live in the DC area, otherwise Haagan Dazs is always quality)

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda in a large bowl.

Place the butter in the bowl and beat with a hand mixer, electric mixer, or arm muscle until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugars and continue mixing, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes longer. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the vanilla extract, beating until incorporated.

Add half of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Add the remaining flour, again mixing until just combined. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the chocolate peanut butter chunks.

Using a round tablespoon measurer, spoon the dough onto a baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie and bake on the middle rack until the cookies are lightly golden brown and still soft in the middle, about 9 ½ minutes. Let cookies rest for 2 minutes on the baking sheet before removing them to a baking rack with a wide metal spatula.

Let the cookies cool on the baking rack for a few minutes until they are solidified, but still a tad warm. Grab two cookies and with an ice scream scoop, simply take a scoopful of vanilla and place gently between the two cookies. Smoosh the cookies together until the ice cream oozes between the cookies.

Eat right away and enjoy!

My Maine Squeeze

Every summer since I was a wee baby, my family has traveled to Kittery Point, Maine. It’s a glorious reunion that brings together my mom’s two best friends from college and all of our families. It is absolutely one of my favorite weeks of the year. We lounge, we chat, we hang at the beach. And most importantly, we eat.

Fugasse from Beach Pea, an absolutely amazing bakery in Kittery, Maine.

There’s something about being at the beach that makes food taste exceptional. I also argue that food just tastes better when you’re eating it with the people you care about the most. Generally speaking, eating in Maine consists of standing around the kitchen island in sandy beach clothes and snacking. Snacking on cheese, bread, homemade chicken salad, fresh hunks of fruit. It’s heaven.

When we do venture out into nearby Portsmouth, NH or Kittery to eat, we pretty much stick to our favorite places, returning year after year with ritualistic determination.

BOB’S YOUR UNCLE

Bob's Clam Hut

Bob’s Clam Hut is a gem of all gems. Planted right on Route 1, which in recent years has emerged as an outlet shopper’s haven, Bob’s continues to stand out in its classically New England, no-nonsense approach to serving up superb seafood. Bob’s opened back in 1956, and as its name suggests, is famous for its clams. Fried clams to be exact.

Fried Clam Basket at Bob's

First and foremost, the clams at Bob’s are super fresh. Plucked- that-morning-from-the-ocean fresh. Secondly, they are fried to perfection. That means you actually taste the clams! There is nothing more satisfying than biting through a delicate crispy exterior to reach the briny, flavorful, melt-in-your mouth texture of the clam belly. It’s certainly enough to get us coming back year after year.

UP CHAUNCEY’S CREEK

For those of you like Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood, a pair who are known for seeking out phenomenal local food stops, you may have heard of Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier.

Lobster at Chauncey Creek

Meaty and Lovely Lobster Claw

Chauncey Creek achieved modest fame from this well-deserved shout-out, but I still feel pretty great that our friends discovered this spectacular creek-side joint years ago and we’ve been dining there every year ever since.

Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier is special in so many ways. For starters: the setting. The restaurant sits right on Chauncey Creek and boasts one of the most serene and beautifully quintessential Maine views.

Though the food they serve up–fresh Maine lobsters, ocean-fresh Steamers, New England Clam Chowder, etc.–is, in my opinion, as good as you can get anywhere in the country, the ambiance and attitude are as casual and welcoming as can be. You won’t find white tablecloths here. Instead, the deck is lined with large wooden communal picnic tables, which are as worn and sea-streaked as the old-timer cooks who prepare the fantastic food.

Steamers at Chauncey Creek

Chauncey also allows for diners to bring their own salads and other side dishes to round out their seafood feast. You’ll see guests toting their own tablecloths and candle sticks. Guests are also encouraged to bring their own wine, which can be enjoyed without a corkage fee.

Though I’m a lobster girl, I can’t go to Chauncey without ordering the steamers–hot, meaty clams first rinsed in briny broth, then lightly dipped in melted butter. I don’t think there’s anything that could bring your mouth closer to the sea.

If you find yourself in southern Maine, Chauncey Creek is an absolutely perfect way to experience the glory of fresh seafood without the pretentiousness.

PARENT TRAP

Jasper out on the Open Sea--he's loving life in Maine

Maybe its these outstanding food offerings or perhaps its the beauty and calm that Kittery Point exudes, but after years of summertime visits, my parents have decided to permanently relocate to Maine. I have to admit that after 26 years of enjoying my summertime food traditions, I’m looking forward to taking the plunge and having more time to explore what else the burgeoning food scene has to offer.

Annabelle's Natural Ice Cream in Portsmouth, NH

That doesn’t mean I won’t be returning to my favorite digs. Old habits die hard, especially when they are this tasty.