02 December 2011

Gesztenye Szelet or Chestnut Slices

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...Jack Frost nipping at your nose...  

Yep, I'm a big fan of the chestnut.

I didn't know this about myself until a few years agoIt was mid-December and I was traveling.  One night I was out walking and I smelled something amazing... 

Smoky.  Sweet.  Nutty?

I couldn't figure out what it was exactly but I kept seeing people carrying these white paper pouches.  I finally put two-and-two together and tracked the baggies to their source--a tightly bundled-up man holding a shovel-shaped metal scoop with a long handle huddled over what looked like a trash can lid.  Roasted chestnuts.

So exciting!

Confession.  I have this thing about trying to live out certain movie moments I've seen.  It's this kind of thinking that has led to things like a white-water rafting trip, sitting around a campfire singing to a friend's guitar playing, marching on Washington and even deciding what college to attend (the red brick buildings were just like college campuses in the movies).  Ridiculous?  Maybe, but it keeps things interesting and now I know first-hand that chestnuts roasting on an open fire are worth singing about!

Chewy, sweet, buttery and a little smoky.  Totally unique. Savory sweet.  Yum.

Now, whenever I see chestnut-flavored anything I order it. I became addicted to chestnut crepes (marron) in Paris and marrone gelato in Rome.

For years I searched high and low for chestnuts to roast and I can't tell you the number of failed experiments I've conducted.  Roasting, steaming, scoring, sweating, burning--all failed.  At least it's a little easier to find the whole nuts these days.  I picked up a bag the other day and smartly put them back on the shelf.  Tempting still, but maybe I've learned my limitations?  Trader Joe's carries peeled and steamed chestnuts vacuum-packed around the holidays.  It feels a little like cheating to me, but I'm silly that way.

That brings me to the Gesztenye Szelet or Chestnut Slices, a Hungarian recipe from Rick Rodgers' book, Kaffeehaus.

Basically, this is a chestnut scented sponge cake doused with a rum (or brandy) simple syrup topped with chestnut cream and granished with chocolate shavings.  Chestnut and chocolate?  Count me in.

You probably know by now that I have a knack for taking something simple and making it complicated!  It's part of my charm, right?  This recipe is no exception.  It's supposed to be one of those bake and serve from the same pan desserts but I didn't do that.  I have to admit that I have a certain prejudice toward cakes in a pan.  It's too grandma-ish or church social for me.  Honestly, I just don't think it's pretty or good enough for the beautiful chestnut.  There, I've said it.

Even with my fussiness, this is a simple cake.  Really.  The hardest part was finding unsweetened chestnut puree.  I finally found it at Whole Foods.  I'm hoping that the puree will start showing up in most stores like the whole chestnut has because it's an amazing ingredient that's great in desserts and makes delicious soup too!

What Happened:
Not much to tell here really.  I followed the recipe as written for all the elements.  The cake was a warm sponge like we've done with the Punschtorte and the Lúdlábtorta. Then there was making the soaking syrup with a healthy bit of rum and whipping up some cream with chestnut puree folded in.  No problem.

From the start I knew I didn't want to bake and serve in the same dish, so that's where I deviated from the recipe.  Instead of buttering a 13x9 Pyrex baker, I prepped a comparably sized baking sheet with butter and parchment so that I could remove the cake easily and assemble it my own way even though I hadn't quite figured out what that would be yet.

Ultimately, I assembled the dessert a couple of different ways after I cut the cake to fit my serving dishes:
  1. Cake on bottom, syrup, topped with piped cream and garnished with chocolate
  2. Cake (soaked with syrup) sandwiching chestnut cream and topped with melted chocolate

Things I Would Change:
  • I'd definitely stick with the decision to assemble the slices rather than follow the bake and serve suggestion.
  • The piped cream (either shells or swirls) was the best version of the cake.  Pretty and a good proportion of cream to cake.
  • Adding sliced almonds between the cake and the cream would be a nice surprise.  The slices could use some variation in texture.  The chocolate isn't enough and adding more for crunch would overpower the chestnut.

The Result:
The Chestnut Slices were good, but not mind blowing.  Texture was part of the problem.  The whole dessert was just soft and soft.  I found myself wanting a little crunch--sliced almonds could do the trick.  On the bright side, I loved the chestnut cream.  Chestnut in this form has such a delicate flavor reminiscent of hazelnut, but lighter.  The rum syrup worked nicely with the chestnut flavor in the cake and the cream and it wasn't boozy once it married with the sponge.

I found that the version of the assembly that sandwiched the cream between cake layers didn't work as well because the increased amount of chocolate threw off the balance of flavors.  Chestnut is the star here, but in this configuration the chocolate pushed the chestnut to the background.

The best part of this recipe for me was the chestnut cream.  That flavor has stuck with me and I know I'll think of a way to sneak that in somewhere down the line.

25 October 2011

Austin Eats

Bring on The Weird!

Austin has been on my list of cities to visit for a long time.

Food, music, left-of-center sensibility--my kind of town.

In Austin, the food trailer is King.

A few years ago converted airstream and camping trailers serving unique bites started popping up in vacant spaces and parking lots all over town.  Today, they are everywhere and have become an integral part of the city's landscape.  So different.

Most of the trailers have distinct themes and some are painted up in wild colors and have clever names.  The creativity and innovation pouring out of those service windows is so inspiring.

Where to start?

Gordough's.  Loaded donuts fried to order.  'Nuff said.

Fresh off the plane, before the hotel, we trekked out to South Lamar to a gravel lot with 3 food trailers.

Mother Clucker was the second thing I tried.  I originally ordered ODB.  It was supposed to be filled donut holes with icing rolled in coconut.  The holes weren't filled and it was just sweeter than I could handle so I tried again. 

M.C. is a riff on chicken 'n' waffles.  Fried chicken with honey butter on top of a big, fat, donut.  Not too sweet and the donut was more like a fried bagel than an airy donut.

Cody went for The Puddin' -- cream filled, cream cheese icing, bananas and crushed vanilla wafers.  SWEET!  He can handle a lot more sugar than I can.  I'm a sugar-wimp!

The woman in front of us ordered the Porkey's -- Canadian bacon, cream cheese and jalapeno jelly.  She loved it.  After tasting mine, I think she might have been on to something.

Gordough's has some awesome ideas and I'm thinking they're probably a big hit with those folks who get funky late-night cravings!

We also tried some dill pickle shaved ice from the Frigid Frog.  People were going nuts for it so I had to jump in.  Not bad.  Sour!!  We got a tip from one of the women at the stand to add a squirt of margarita mix to the dill and she wasn't wrong.  Made it more interesting on the tongue for sure.

It was a four day eating frenzy.  We tried ice cream and burgers and barbecue and Tex-Mex.  Madness.  But I gotta tell you about the best of the best.


Drink:  Mexican Martini at Chuy's (not the chain we know here in LA!)

Chili infused tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and olives.  HELLO!  It was like a dirty martini with spicy jalapeno.  Outstanding!
(FYI - This Chuy's is the same spot the Bush twins got busted for underage drinking.  After tasting this bit of Godly nectar I don't blame them for taking the risk!)

Oh, and the creamy jalapeno dip.  Imagine tiny, tiny pickled jalapenos in your favorite ranch dressing.  Absolutely addictive.

BBQ:  Brisket sandwich at Franklin Barbeque

This place started as a food trailer and has grown so popular they had to move into a brick and mortar joint.  Joint is the best way to describe it.  Or honkey-tonk.  I'm torn.  It's funky in the best way and has a distinct hipster edge.

Texas BBQ is about brisket and the rub.  I've had brisket (even in Austin) and nothing touches this.

Cutting the brisket, they even ask if you want the fatty or the lean (go 1/2 and 1/2).  It was moist and tender and smoky and simple and succulent and crazy delicious.  AND they had sweet tea too!

MEAL:  Uchi

Sushi in the middle of the country?  Usually that gets a big, "No Thank You."  So glad I made an exception.  The whole meal from the ginger sorbet palate cleanser to the ridiculous dessert was simple, clean and satisfying.

Our meal had such a lovely flow.  We went from cool tasting to hot tasting to the chef's selection of sushi to dessert all accompanied by this amazing micro brewed sake!


Uchi - Jizake creme caramel with brown butter sorbet and ginger consume
Barley Swine - Butternut squash ice cream, grilled foie gras with sage funnel cake
Bananarchy - Peanut butter and chocolate dipped frozen banana rolled in granola

Dessert at Uchi was the perfect ending to a great meal.  The creme caramel was velvety and full of flavor.  There was a hint of something extra in there that I couldn't quite put my finger on.  Maybe it was the sake they used--could it have been coconut???

The real surprise was the brown butter sorbet with the ginger consumé.  Again, the texture was spot on--not icy or harsh--and brown butter with ginger is my new favorite flavor combo.  I wanted to cheer after the first bite.

Barley Swine is a restaurant born out of a successful food trailer.  Their angle is small plates featuring locally sourced ingredients.  Basically, American tapas.  The real standout was the dessert.

Crunchy funnel cake (earthy from the sage) with decadent, rich foie gras and mellow butternut squash ice cream made for an amazing bite.  I couldn't believe how well everything went together.  You could taste each part and nothing got lost.  Very cool.

Favorite food trailer--hands down Bananarchy.   Made-to-order frozen bananas!

I loved designing my own banana.  If you're a commitmentphobe like me, you can order 1/2 a banana.  You know I didn't stop there, right?  Of course I had 2!

Good things about Bananarchy:

1.  They use fair trade bananas.
2.  They are huge fans of Arrested Development.  Sadly, I didn't have the stomach capacity to try The Gob (it's a double banana extravaganza), but I'm so happy it exists!
3.  Custom frozen bananas--duh!!

The best flavor combo was peanut butter, chocolate and granola (the one on the right).  It was sweet and salty and crunchy with a hint of cinnamon.

I want to bring this to Los Angeles somehow.  I also want to offer dark chocolate with grey sea salt or maybe chocolate spiked with chipotle???

That's my Austin experience.  So inspiring.  Lots of fun.  Big belly ache.  Mission accomplished.

22 October 2011

What's In A Name?

Time for my first rant.

I promise it will be short.  Unfortunately, it will be without photos--too grainy to post.  So disappointing because I would love to make my case visually!

Here it is:
I'm tired of ordering items from a menu that call themselves something familiar like pie or even soup only to get something served to me that in no way resembles pie or soup!

I was at a restaurant in New York and ordered Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie.  Given the reputation of the chef, I was excited to taste it.  I love banana cream pie.

The description was simple.  What I got was not pie.

It was a bowl of whipped cream, a few banana slices with a hard, brown sugar candy that I couldn't break with my spoon.  There was some vanilla pudding in the bowl under all that cream, but there was so much cream incorporated into the pudding that it had very little distinctive flavor.

Where was the crust? 

Hazelnut brittle?  I missed it in all that cream.

Deep Dish Banana Cream Pie--were they actually describing the depth of the saucer?

I was furious.  There was no pie in my pie!  I wrote a strongly worded note to the pastry chef on the comment card.  I explained that when you advertise "pie" that there should be pie in the dish.

Apple pie - apples with crust.

Sweet Potato Pie - sweet potato custard with crust.

Blueberry pie - blueberries with crust.

If you list banana cream pie on the menu then that's what I should get.  The word pie implies crust, not a bowl of whipped cream.  By the way that bowl of cream cost $11!

You would think I would have learned from that.  The lesson should have been to always ask the server to describe the desserts before ordering.  But I can be forgetful.

Last week, I ordered Chocolate Mousse Cake.  Seemed pretty straight-forward at the time.  What came was a cylinder of chocolate mousse.  Where's the cake?  Ugh.  Cody said he got a thin sliver of sponge cake on his fork when he got to the middle of the "cake," but that was too late for me.  I was already disappointed and irritated with myself that I hadn't learned my lesson yet.

A couple of days later while watching Top Chef Just Desserts one of the contestants prepared a dessert that he claimed was a reinterpretation of the candy apple.  The judges questioned his dish because he used chocolate (and no candy or caramel or crunch).  See!  This is what I'm talking about.  I don't remember ever having a candy apple with chocolate, do you?  He defended it, of course.

It's not just desserts either.  We ordered Chilled Shrimp and Melon Gazpacho at a nice restaurant here in Los Angeles and what showed up was a fine dice of tomato, cucumber, onion, pepper, melon with a splash of tomato water over a couple of shrimp on a plate.  Gazpacho is soup!  Soup! 

I know chefs want their customers to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  I want that too.  Part of making that happen is by properly setting a diner's expectations.  It all starts with the menu.  Just describe the actual item being served, not what inspired it.  If it's a reinterpretation of a dish, then call it something else and explain that it is reminiscent of that classic.  Or put a set of quotation marks around the name.  That can be a clue that something's different.  You could even just list the flavors in the dish and surprise me with its form. 

The point is that I don't want to think I'm ordering one thing and end up with something else.  That's disappointing.  A disappointed diner is not a receptive diner.  My mom describes it as having your mouth set for something.  It's like this:

If I have my mouth set for banana cream pie, I don't want a bowl of whipped cream.

If I have my mouth set for chocolate mousse cake, I want cake with my chocolate mousse.

If I have my mouth set for gazpacho, I want a bowl or glass of cold soup.

If I have my mouth set for soda, I don't want tea.  Well that's not really the same thing, but you get the point.

I like to know what I'm ordering.  I don't want to curtail anyone's creativity; I just don't want to be mislead.

Chefs, words are important.  It's the only way you have to get the right audience for your delicious creations, so use them thoughtfully.  Please.

End of rant.

I'm sorry, it wasn't short.

10 October 2011

Fall Crunchies: Kicky Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Fall already?

I'm trying hard to embrace the truth on the calendar,
I'm not ready.

We haven't gone kayaking yet or seen Shakespeare in the Park.  I keep thinking I have more time!

But I don't.  It's October and time for pumpkin carving and placing my World Series bet.

I thought doing a little roasting might force me into Fall.  Then I thought, if I roast a sugar pie pumpkin I can use the flesh for ice cream (told you I was stubborn) and toast up the seeds too.  A great trial run for my future Jack O' Lantern seeds.

Roasting winter squash of all types is really easy.  You just have to cut them in half, scrape out the seeds (throw them in a sink full of water to clean), rub a little oil over the halves, season with salt and pepper and bake cut-side down on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  When the flesh is soft, it's done.

Did you know the skin of butternut squash is totally edible?  It is.  It becomes chewy when roasted--just like it does with acorn squash.

The hardest part of roasting squash is cutting it in half.  One trick to getting your knife through a pumpkin or squash is to throw the whole thing in a preheated oven for about 5 minutes before trying to cut it.  The heat softens the skin a bit and it's much easier to cut.  Less dangerous too.

Roasting the pumpkin filled the air with an amazing cozy smell.  And one small pumpkin made a whole quart of pumpkin puree for me to use in bread, pie, pasta and even ice cream.  How's that for throwing myself into Fall?  The puree keeps well in the fridge for a week and can be frozen for months.

It wasn't until I started chomping on my Kicky Roasted Pumpkin Seeds that I felt the season change.  Salty, crunchy goodness with a little chipotle kick is what finally did it.

Fine.  It's Fall.  I surrender.

If you need help facing seasonal facts, these little gems can help you too!

07 October 2011

Passion Fruit Tart

Cody and I tied the knot four years ago in Ireland.

"Why Ireland?"  (We get that a lot.)

Well, there's the Guinness, of course.

And we got engaged in Dublin.
I also had this crazy idea that I'd like to get married in a ruin.  They have ruins in Ireland.

So off we went with a big dress and 20 friends in tow.

It was an amazing day and the adventure we've had since has been so rich that I'm happy to say I'd do it all over again!

Enter Passion Fruit.

Perfect for an anniversary.  More accurately, perfect for Cody on our anniversary.  I don't know exactly when it happened, but he's gone bonkers for passion fruit.  It may even rival his affection for anything chocolate.

We went to Chicago recently and while shamelessly eating our way through several bakeshops (it's research!), we tried the Passion Fruit Tart at Floriole in Lincoln Park.

I adored this place.

It's the kind of shop I dream of having.



In a great walking neighborhood.

The case was full of beautiful sweet and savory bites.

I know it's off topic, but the Canelé de Bordeaux was dreamy.  I have a soft spot for canelé.

The passion fruit tart was light and refreshing and creamy.  The crust was thin and crispy.  It was like eating sunshine.  And how cute, right?

Cody made this face... and before I knew it the little tart was nothing but crumbs.

That's when I decided to recreate it for him as a surprise.  It added a little unexpected passion to our anniversary.

I think it turned out pretty great and he was definitely surprised.

What Happened:
This tart is not complicated, it just has a few different steps that build on to one another.  Frankly, its more difficult to explain than to do!

You make passion fruit curd--curd being one of the easiest and quickest things to make.  So versatile and packed with flavor.  Then it sets.  That's when you can make the crust.  Once the crust is cooled you finish the cream, fill and chill.

This Pate Sucre is foolproof.  It's a cookie dough crust, so you don't really have to worry about ruining it.  This is not a flaky, temperamental pie crust.  It can be rolled out cold too.  Warning:  the dough will break on you.  Don't worry.  Patch or piece it back together and move on.

You don't have to have a tart pan to make this (or any other) tart.  I used an 8-inch cake pan because I wanted plain, straight sides like the one at Floriole.  I dabbed a little non-stick spray on the pan for insurance, but it came out easily.  I trimmed the sides about 3/4 of the way up the side of the pan only because I didn't want a 2-inch deep tart, but you don't have to do this.

The Results:
Pretty.  Creamy.  Tangy.

I was very happy with it and Cody was over the moon.

The passion fruit cream was full flavored and zippy.  The smell alone was intoxicating.  The crust was crispy against all that fluffy cream.  The salt in the crust helped balance out the sweetness too.

Things I Would Change:
  • Nada.

06 October 2011

The Last Taste of Summer: Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet

One of the advantages of living in a warm climate is that Summer's bounty lasts just a liiiiittle longer.  I'm a summer girl so the disappearance of tomatoes and the shorter days tends to make me a little blue.

A week or so ago I squirreled away a bowling ball of a watermelon in the back of the fridge.  I like my watermelon cold, but I have to admit I kept this one around longer than usual just because I didn't want to say goodbye to summer days with their promise of vacations, barbeques, short skirts and sandals.  I put it off eating it as long as I could, but I knew I was fast approaching the point of use-it-or-lose-it.

I used it.

It timed perfectly with finishing Jeni Britton Bauer's new ice cream book.  It's a beautiful book full of unique recipes and geeky food science facts that people like me lap up like cream--preferably frozen!

Since my watermelon was calling me, I busted out my ice cream machine and tried Jeni's Watermelon Lemonade Sorbet recipe.

Sorbet's success rests in the sweet hands of sugar.

Sugar keeps ice balls at bay and in combination with chilled churning makes for a smooth texture.  Too little sugar and you get crunchy, fruity ice.  A good safety check is to taste the base before you freeze it.  It should taste much sweeter than what you would want the sorbet to be.  That's one way to check you're on track before you finish it.

What Happened:
This recipe is so simple.  Quick too.  Basically, you puree some watermelon, add it to lemon simple syrup and freeze it.  Voila.  You could even buy watermelon cubes and bypass the step of breaking down a watermelon.

The Results:
The finished sorbet is really brightly flavored thanks to the "lemonade."  I was happy the watermelon flavor didn't get overpowered by the lemon.  It's smooth and sweet and very well-balanced.

Even with my mistake of over-churning just a bit, the texture survived.  That's how good the recipe is.  Water and sugar are in balance.  The corn syrup helps with this too.

Yeah, it tastes like late summer.  Sigh...

I'll definitely make this again.

          A word on corn syrup.  This is not high fructose corn syrup so don't 
          be afraid.  That doesn't mean you want to go crazy, but by using it 
          in your recipes you're not hooking you or your families on sugar-crack!
          Corn syrup is less sweet than granulated sugar and one of its main 
          properties is that it prevents the crystallization of sugar--our main 
          goal in making frozen treats!

What I Would Change:
Over-churned--don't do this (but it ended up ok).
  • Don't over-churn it next time.  It's supposed to be like soft-whipped cream.  I got distracted and it went a bit too far.  I will get it right next time!
  • I added a pinch of salt to the watermelon.  I like my watermelon salted.  If you have a pale melon, it could help coax out more of the melon's flavor.
  • Next time I will steep some fresh mint in the puree before I freeze it.  Watermelon and lemon both love mint and that screamed out to me with each spoonful.
If you find a lonely bit of watermelon and you're mourning the loss of summer, whip this up.  It's yummy.

02 October 2011

Food Truck Sweets

Sometimes I need a little Sunday adventure.

Reading the Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home book cover-to-cover yesterday got me thinking about creamy deliciousness.

Thinking about creamy deliciousness reminded me about an LA food truck I read about called Coolhaus.

I'd hoped to visit their new storefront in Culver City, but it's not open yet so I headed to Twitter to track down the truck.  The scavenger hunt was on.

In less than an hour Cody and I were standing in line ironing out our sandwich strategy.  I was immediately drawn to the special flavor of the day - Sweet Potato with Swirled Marshmallow.  But which cookie to choose?

Red Velvet?  Chocolate Chip?  Snickerdoodle?  Peanut Butter?  Double Chocolate with Salt?  Hmmm....

Double Chocolate with Salt.

Turns out Cody wanted the same thing!  That's against our restaurant rules, so he chose Maker's Mark with Peaches on Snickerdoodle.

My Sweet Potato ice cream was nice, but subtle and totally got lost between the Double Chocolate cookie.  The cookie was terrific.  Soft, chocolaty and I love salt on chocolate.

The Maker's-Mark was really boozy--but in a good way.  So there was peach in it too, huh?  Didn't taste it.  The cookie was not stellar.  It was definitely over-baked (a Snickerdoodle should never be brown--she's a natural blonde, people!).

Fact--crunchy cookies make for a tough-to-enjoy ice cream sandwich.  Thankfully the edible wrapper (very cool) helped hold it all together.

Being the sick tasters we are we went back for a solo scoop of Red Velvet--cream cheese ice cream with bits of red velvet cake running through it.

Hands down this was the best thing we tried.  I tasted the Pineapple and Serrano Chili sorbet too.  I liked the big kick, but the cream won today's chilly battle.

That was my Sunday.  What'd you do?

28 September 2011

Street Food Memories

Putting together the photo book from my travels this year, I'm shocked by 2 things.

One, this photo book is MAMMOTH.  I'm wondering if they'll even be able to bind it once I'm done.

Two, how many pictures of food did I take?  It's embarrassing.  Really.  But not embarrassing enough for me to leave even one of them out!

Today, drooling is my inspiration.

This time it's not over something with a million layers of sweet cream and chocolate eaten in a room where everyone from Napolean to Reagan took their tea.

This time it's street food.

Wrapped in paper, no fuss-no muss.  I just gotta tell you about the Trdelnik, Lángos and the smoky ham on a spit!

It all started with a Vienna sausage.

It was our first night and we had tickets to the Opera, my first, and I was starving.  We only had 20 minutes.  I remembered we'd passed a Wurst stand across the street from the opera house so I grabbed Cody and off we ran in our fancy duds.

Beyond my expectations!  We shared a bratwurst and it was just what I needed to quiet my Belly Beast.  It was about a foot long, juicy, the skin had a nice pop and the bun was like panini bread--buttery and crisp.

The coolest thing about the sausage I can't show you--it was nighttime and the flash blew out the image--ugh.  But I can tell you about it.  They took this long bun and impaled it on a stick that looked like a sharpening steel that warmed it from the inside.  Then they squirted ketchup and mustard into the bread hole and shook it.  Finally, they plopped the bratwurst into the hole.  I think I applauded.  The bread was warm, fit the wurst perfectly and there was no squirting of ketchup or annoying bun splitting.  Genius!!

My favorite street food in Prague was the first thing I tried, the Trdelnik.  It's a very touristy thing I guess, but I can tell you it's a better memory than a pressed penny or a commemorative shot glass.

It's sweet yeast dough wrapped on a metal cylinder (trdlo) then rolled in cinnamon, sugar and ground walnuts.  They roast it over an open flame until golden brown.  The roasted bread is pushed off the cylinder onto a tray full of cinnamon and sugar to coat it again.  Then they wrap it loosely in paper and serve it to you warm.  Magical.

It's lightly sweet, crusty on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside.  I liked peeling the rings apart and dangling them into my mouth.  Have you ever peeled apart the individual layers of a Hungry Jack biscuit?  It's like that but 1000 times better!

They come in different flavors like vanilla, caramel, walnut, etc..., but the original is not only the best, but the only one worth trying.  The others were hard and flavorless. 

The first time I was in Prague I noticed these bands of men going through a lot of trouble (in the freezing cold) to build these huge fires in portable metal troughs.  Criss-crossing through Old Town Square over several hours it became clear that they were preparing to roast meat.  No, not just meat, ham.  Parma ham.

It was bitter cold and the idea of pulling my hands out of my gloves to stand in the street and chew on ham did not sound like a good idea.  Stupid.  This decision haunted me after I got home.  Why?  Why?  Why?

I got lucky and got a second shot at the ham this summer.  It was the first must-do on my list and as soon as I set foot in Prague, I made my way to those mad pit-masters and ordered a plate o' pork.  It wasn't cold this time, but it was pouring rain!
**Side note--I'm a big fan of bacon.  I like pork, but bacon's really the thing for me.  I can honestly say that I have never tasted better pork products than I have in the Czech Republic.  Bacon, ham, pig's knee...I had it all.  I don't know what they feed those pigs, but it was the most decadent, buttery pork I have ever tasted.**

How was it???





It was worth the wait.

I didn't bother with the bread.

Before heading to Budapest I read something about Lángos in one of my guide books.  I knew it was a fried bread snack of some sort.  I was focused on the pastry and the Turkish baths (don't judge it was AWESOME) so I didn't pay much attention.

I was a little giddy from exploring of the Great Market Hall when I stumbled onto the food stalls on the second floor.  It was crowded with people munching on these pizza-esque snacks from paper plates.  The toppings varied from plate-to-plate and before I knew it I was in line at the Lángos stand.

There were lots of choices for toppings, but they all started with garlic.  There was ham, mushroom, cheese, sour cream, ketchup, tomatoes, cabbage, the list went on and on.  I was staying away from cheese on this trip (among other things) and so I went with the garlic, ham, mushroom combo.

It was about 10-inches across and warm and more garlic than I have eaten in 6 months!  Salty and crunchy and satisfying.  This was not pizza.

I left thinking it was pretty good and I was glad to try it.  I also figured that the other ingredients like sour cream would have made a big difference.

So when I was on my eating binge in the rain in Prague later in the week I found a Lángos stand (Langose in Czech) and got in line.  For the record, Mr. "Doom" didn't scare me.

This time I went with the ketchup.  My thought was they wouldn't offer it if it wasn't fantastic.  Also, it's the first ingredient listed...major clue.  I have a similar policy about fried eggs--if there's a dish on the menu with fried egg on top that's what I'm ordering.  I know it's gonna be outrageous. 

No cheese this time either. Just garlic sauce and ketchup.  I know.  BUT, let me tell you, this Lángos was outstanding.  Much better than the one in Budapest.  It was chewy, still crispy and a little salty but not nearly as salty as the first one.  Less garlic, but still nice and garlicky.  The bread wasn't greasy either.

What really made this Lángos pop?  The ketchup!  It added acidic zing that rounded the whole thing out.

Garlic and ketchup on bread--who'da thunk it?  Just goes to show you that it's worth trying some things twice.  You never know what you'll discover. 

Ice cream and sorbet were virtually on every street corner of all the places I visited.  So much so that they apparently have a cone problem.  At least it's the 4th Don't on the list!

The yogurt gelato with blackberry coulis was addictive.  There's just something about the dairy products in Europe that make the tastes a little bigger (less pasteurization I think).

Even the soft-serve which I pooh-poohed in favor of the gelato, knocked my socks off once I finally tried it.  It tasted rich, like French Vanilla. 

In Prague, during my dairy-free jaunt, I went for a watermelon sorbet that tasted like pure, pureed watermelon.

So refreshing.

Look at the color!  It wasn't full of sharp ice crystals either.

If I knew their secrets I'd open a shop tomorrow and make millions.  Until then I'll just keep looking at my pictures and reliving every amazing bite.