Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Harry's Grill, Cancun Mexico

Formal steakhouse dining isn't for everyone, but it's my perfect way to celebrate. After a few nights in an all you can eat resort in Cancun it was time to head out and get something different and we weren't disappointed. Our night at Harry's was the perfect kind of meal - great food, great company and great service. 


Harry's is all about great meat and good wine with old fashioned service. A pre dinner Martini and a post dinner Cognac kind of place. There's even a balcony fit to bursting with Hispanic men sharing cigars. If you are the kind of person that fears calories and machismo, this is probably not for you. This would make a wonderful place to take business partners or a convention meal; an entire table behind us was sporting high end Swiss watches and shouting about finances. 


Aging meat on display


Choosing your cut

In the theme of the old fashioned steakhouse was the presentation of choices; not only did they bring us half a butcher's window to help choose our meat cut but later they would do the same with a rolling aperitif bar.

Now unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the entire menu, and their menu online conveniently forgets to include prices. Being clear though this was an expensive meal and we ordered as much alcohol as we did food. The Bill for two very excitable foodies came to around $500USD

We ordered waaaaay too much food, but the menu was ... everything we love and so we couldn't help ourselves but over order and try everything. We were on vacation after all! 


Rob Roy


Cucumber Martini with Chilli Lime salt ring

Each drink came with the full shaker making a Martini more like two. The bar staff are excellent and made both to order and menu items with flair. 


Fresh baked brioche with whipped butter and fresh sauces (included)


Toasted flat breads (included)


Beef Carpaccio

Another favourite - raw beef hammered thin and served with fresh herbs and spices. 



Empanadas - Blue cheese and Sundried Tomato & Six Cheese

These were amazing, no street food here! High end cheeses are folded into flakey shortening pastry and then fried. Served with fresh chili and salsa verde.


Jalapeno Mash

Honestly we didn't need this in the end  and barely touched it but I think my man got excited by the idea of rich buttery potatoes with Jalapeno chilies. 


Caprese

Honestly it was like they'd rung up our psyche and asked our favourite sites - while the boy squeed about the potatoes I ordered this caprese and then discovered it was a huge platter full.


Creamed Spinach

Again, we didn't need this at all but again... creamed spinach is one of our favourite things. They could only have topped it by adding a soft duck egg. 


Filet Mignon 8oz 420MXN

Usually my man prefers big macho cuts of steak but I think having gone a little wild on the appetizers he thought he'd order a more sensible petite filet. Melting on top are large salt crystals.


Bone in Cowgirl cut 16oz Steak 580MXN

When the staff so clearly treat their meat reverentially it seemed a must to get a bone in steak for that marrow infused flavour. This Cowgirl option is a clean cut Rib Eye on the bone, frenched in the "lollipop" style. Grilled to perfection with salt. 


2011 Terrazas Reserva Malbec

Of course good Latin beef deserves good Latin wine and there's nothing we like more with steak than Argentinian Malbec. Unfortunately most the vintages older than this 2011 were drifting off into ridiculous price territory. Of course were you in the mood to spend money they had a cellar to support any high end choice from Australian Grange to Californian Screaming Eagle.


Brownie Sundae

Having been on a diet for months it was time to blow it all with one dessert. This brownie was studded with nuts and the whole thing was topped with salted caramel. 


They billed these as "mini desserts" and so my partner ordered 2... at this point the calorie count was basically laughable so it seemed fitting.


Mini Lemon Cheesecake


Molten Lava Cake

There may have been some cognac and port that came with the dessert and coffee but honestly we were a bit tiddly by this point and I forgot to take pictures. 


Fairy Floss (Cotton Candy) included

The bill on arrival was accompanied by this huge paddle of Fairy Floss, for what I'm sure was about 20c worth of spun sugar they had the entire dining room full of otherwise serious adults wooping and cheering. 

The whole meal was absolute perfection, short of one soft egg and one order of liver parfait this was basically every single one of our favourite foods in one sitting. Add in immaculate service and a lovely setting, vacation relaxation and wonderful company... this may have been one of the best meals of my life. Had I realised how rich and plentiful the servings would have been I'd have split this meal into two visits. We chose to walk home to our resort to try and pace off some of the wine and the fat.

Harry's Grill Cancun

http://www.harrys.com.mx/

High end steak house cuisine

Harry's Grill CancĂșn
Boulevard Kukulkan Km. 14.2
Zona Hotelera
77500 CancĂșn, QROO, Mexico

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: Mazza Luna, San Francisco

After a movie outing at the local cinemas on Van Ness with some friends we were looking for a local eatery. For those not familiar with the layout of San Francisco this is a major thoroughfare through the city and not really prone to local eateries. There are some great diners nearby but we were looking for something a little more refined. Mazza Luna is a wonderfully authentic Lebanese small plates restaurant. 


Now it was early on a Sunday evening that we were going for dinner but I admit I was scared by the lack of patrons on arrrival. We shouldn't have been worried though since the restaurant was soon packed with cheery diners. 

Given that we had a group we decided on the banquet option - all of the restaurant's best dishes in portions that you would be hard pressed to finish. Despite having several ravenous foodies at the table we ended up taking most of the food home at the end of the meal.




I will say that their wine list is not that great and featured heavily on strong Mediterranean wines. They were out of most of the items I wanted to order but this local Zinfandel was more than adequate and soft enough to sit well with the salty and rich food. 



Haloumi $8.00USD

It's important to note that there were a couple of dishes we were really craving that were not included in the group sampler and so we ordered separately. This haloumi was amazing; I assume it is made on site or at the very least from a local cheese specialist. Fresh, morish, soft and not too salty. Just perfect with wholemeal pita.



Roasted Cheese Dates $10.00USD

Also not included with the banquet, but too amazing to pass up. Roasted dried palm fruits were stuffed with a soft goat cheese and served warm. The sticky dried fruit makes it hard to eat more than a couple but these were amazing and I will be recreating this dish at home. 

The rest of the food was included with our sampler at a cost of $22.00USD per person and well worth every penny. The servings were fit for a sultan and came with seemingly endless fresh high quality pita bread. 


Mezze platter - hummus, baba ghanoush, labneh and ouzi

All made in house and with great fresh textures; topped with amazing garnishes like fresh spices, pine nuts and roasted lamb.

Fatet Betnjan

Sweet soft roasted eggplant is covered with a tangy yoghurt sauce and toped with fried pita and pine nuts. Just amazing, the texture of the vegetables was fantastic. 


Arnabeet

Fried, spiced cauliflower topped with a garlic tahini sauce. This dish reminds me of Aloo Gobi the Indian cauliflower dish. 



Fatoosh

A fresh light salad topped with more crunchy fried pita. The mint/citrus dressing on this salad was double take worthy and cut through some of the heavier dishes on display. 

The small plates and dips really lend themselves to a family style serving and the group sampler was the perfect way to try their food. A Vegetarian banquet also exists; in fact owing to the family style pick and choose approach and the type of food this would make a perfect location for groups with many food issues. Vegetarians, vegans, lactose intolerants and low carb eaters could all easily choose from the menu here. 

Service was unremarkable given the family style eating, but the food did come very fast and fresh. Highly recommended. 

Mazza Luna 



Upscale Lebanese food and small plates

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Snapshot: Blue Front Cafe, San Francisco

The Blue Front Cafe is my go to casual eatery in The Haight, the oh so San Francisco hippie heartland. Nestled in between the vintage stores and bong shops there are some really great eateries. 


Blue Front never fails to hit good quality food and friendly service and is a great place to stop before or after shopping. They do a range of cafe stables like wraps, sandwiches and brunch dishes but I come for the Mediterranean platters. 

Though they never quite mention where the owners are from I assume Greece with some of the flourishes that come with the food rather than say Turkish or Lebanese. Dolmades and feta abound. 


Chicken Schwarma Platter $12.95USD

As well as meat the platter comes with a greek salad, spiced rice, felafel, dolma and some of the best Hummus to be found in the Bay Area. A basket of warm pita is provided to dip, wrap and devour!


Gyros Plate $12.95USD

More of the same with different meat options; I like the fact that they have a number of Lamb options since  Lamb rarely seems to make an appearance on American menus. All the meats I've tried here have been delicious, if you've walked off the calories then I would recommend the Kofta. 

Another great option for fussy eaters since there are many low carb and vegetarian options; request a vege platter without the cheese for easy and satisfying Vegan.

Service is super casual, it's a pay and seat yourself, wait for your number sort of place. The coffee is decent and there's a huge range of cold drinks. Sit at the window to people watch the very random assortment of folk that visit Haight St.

Blue Front Cafe


Casual cafe and Mediterranean eats
Sandwiches and brunch items 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Little Mexican Cooking School, Puerto Morelos Mexico

The thing that I like to do most when I have free time is cook so when we were on Vacation in Mexico we took the time to visit the Little Mexican Cooking School. The school is located in a small hotel in Puerto Morelos a picturesque fishing town not far from Playa del Carmen, about a half hour drive from the hotel zone in Cancun. 



The day that we attended was the first time their current chef was returning after a break so he was jovial but nervous - without reason! The entire class was well organised and entertaining and the recipes were wonderful. He took the time to plan out the cooking so that our meal was all prepared and ready to eat as a multi course meal.  



We started with some lectures on the local food and how to prepare it, some misconceptions about Mexican food and the history of some of the major ingredients. Then we moved into the large kitchen to prepare our dishes; a 4 course meal. 



For some of the attendees this included some basic guidance on knife skills, seasoning, mise en place and kitchen cleanliness but it was a great tutorial for the beginner and experienced cook alike. The range of dishes included salsas, soup, appetizers, a main dish and a pastry and covered a great variety of cooking skills was covered like baking, frying, sauteing and more. 


The kitchen is large and well kept and perfectly suited for cooking classes, I was particularly enamoured of this above stove mirror system which meant the whole room could see what the chef was doing on the stove. I wish that my school had had something similar for home economics classes as a teen. 

The recipes we cooked that day focused on Caribbean Mexican food; tropical and fresh flavours combined with the familiar spicy comfort food that many were used to eating Mexican in the US.  



The class took up a whole morning finishing with the meal as a lunch so be prepared to spend an entire day at the school. This was well worth the time out of our sight seeing and relaxing schedule though and was one of the more memorable vacation days we've had travelling. 

On leaving the school they provided us with a recipe book of everything we had done that day and a lovely apron each, that I use constantly. Here I'm going to give one of the recipes that they provided but I will say that the experience, the hands on fun and the time we had as a couple make the cooking school experience worth far more than the recipes we walked away with. Much recommended.


Chilled avocado soup with tortilla sticks and chilli oil


Fresh potato and corn gorditas; including all the salsas and salads


Crusted tuna fillet with mango salsa and cilantro lime rice


Chocolate Truffle Tart with Spicy Pecans


Spicy nut topping

1/4 cup dark agave
2tspn ground cinnamon
1 tspn ground orange peel
1/4 tspn dried chile arbol (ground)
2 tbspn brown sugar
2 cups pecans
1/2 tspn salt

Method

  • Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and set asside
  • Mix the agave, cinnamon, orange peel, chile arbol, brown sugar and salt together in a small bowl
  • Place the nuts in a skillet and set over medium heat. 
  • Add the nuts to the skillet and cook while stirring frequently for 4 -6 minutes until they start to brown and a toasty scent is found
  • Add the spice mix to the skillet and stir continuously until the mixture thickens and coats the nuts, approximately 2-3 mins
  • Transfer the nuts to the sheet pan and separate with a spatula. Allow the nuts to cook then use to top pastry or on their own with cheese or dried fruit

Crust

3 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter cut into cubes
1 large egg
1 tbspn white vinegar
3 - 5 tbspns cold water

Method
  • Preheat oven to 220C (425F)  
  • In a small bowl mix egg, vinegar and 3 tbspn water
  • In a food processor combine flour and salt and pulse slowly. Add buttter and pulse until you get a small crumb consistency
  • Add the egg mixture and continue to pulse until the dough comes clean off the sides of the mixer
  • Portion dough into 2 equal disks and rest the dough in the fridge for 1 hour
  • Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface into a 20cm (8 inch) circle 
  • Transfer to a shallow tart pan, cover the bottom of the pastry with a circle of foil and 2 cups of dry beans (to dry bake the pastry flat)
  • Bake pastry for 10 minutes
  • Remove the beans and foil and continue cooking for another 10 mins until light brown in colour
  • Rest the crust for 30 mins to cool before adding the filling

Filling

1 cup heavy cream
5 oz (125g) dark chocolate
1 tablet Mexican chocolate
1/4 cup melted butter
2tbpsn toasted ground coffee
2 oz liqueur - Xtabentun for Mexican flavour or your choice of spirits
2 tspn Vanilla extract 
1 tspn ground cinnamon

Method
  • In a small pot bring the heavy cream to a boil and then take off the stove
  • Mix the chocolates and butter into the cream folding well until you see that the butter is encorporated
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the chocolate and mix
  • Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart shell and place in the fridge for 3 hours to set completely
  • Top with spicy nuts, cream or other garnish of your choosing
  • Serve with fresh berries and wild honey

The Little Mexican Cooking School

http://www.thelittlemexicancookingschool.com/

A hands on, all day cooking class 
Fun for beginners and foodies alike

Av Javier Rojo Gomez
77580 Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo
Mexico

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies

I like to post my 'best classics' recipes on occasion for those who are just learning to cook or looking for a great rendition of a standard dish. This cookie recipe is an excellent rendition of a classic. Not too sweet, but very rich.



Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup castor or baker's sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup (250g) salted butter, softened
2 tspn vanilla essence
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1 egg
2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts - (1/2 cup Walnuts and 1/2 cup Pecans)
2 cups chocolate chips


  • I use half and half Walnuts and Pecans to get that classic cookie taste but any nuts you have on hand will do. 
  • Dark or semi sweet chocolate chips add the best flavour; using 2 or more brands of chocolate chips will give variation in the texture and add interest. 
  • To reduce calories I use sugar free chocolate chips and replace the castor sugar with Splenda. Do not use all Splenda or the cookies will not brown

Method



  • Preheat oven to 165C (325F) 
  • Soften the butter either by leaving it out of the fridge or using the microwave. Butter that is partially melted has the best results for the final cookies. 

  • Cream the butter and sugars together using an electric mixer, once the butter has lightened in colour add the vanilla and the egg and whip until well combined. 
  • Add the flour, baking soda and salt and then mix until a dough is formed.





  • Coarsely chop the nuts, if you have a herb grinder or small food processor this will give the best consistency. 
  • Add the chopped nuts and the chocolate chips to the batter and then mix thoroughly using a spatula



Testing the effect of portioning on the final results - scoop cookies, chilled batter, hand shaped, spoon drop, batter balls


  • I spent some time experimenting with different methods of portioning and baking the batter to give the "most attractive" cookies and these gave the most consistent results. Use a spoon or your hands if this is too much bother
  • Line 2 cookie sheets with baking paper or silicon baking liners; make sure to let the sheets and liners cool before reusing them or the butter in the batter will melt and change the shape of the cookies
  • Using a cookie scoop measure out the batter into drop cookies (around 1tbspn of batter per cookie) spaced around 2 inches apart
t

  • Do not flatten or otherwise reshape the scooped batter. Add some extra chocolate chips to the top of the mounds so that some chips will be exposed above the cookie. 
  • Put the tray with portioned cookies into the freezer for 15 mins, cooling the batter gives better shape and reduces spread during baking
  • Once the batter is frozen place the tray into the oven to bake for around 15 mins or until the batter is very lightly golden brown - remember that the cookies will continue to bake slightly after being removed from the oven

  • Cool on a rack and serve with coffee or cold milk. Store in cookie tins lined with baking paper and keep for 1-2 weeks if you can.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Recipe: Reuben Sandwiches

Reuben sandwiches are one of those classic American dishes that I'd not encountered until I moved to the US. The combination of flavours doesn't sound like it should be good but it is! This is now one of my go to comfort meals.



Reuben Sandwiches


2 slices rye bread
1 tbspn Dijon Mustard OR 1 tbspn Russian Dressing
2 slices Pastrami or Corned Beef
1 slice Swiss cheese
1/2 cup sauerkraut 
1 tbspn butter

Method


  • In this picture I've used sourdough but traditionally a marbled rye bread is used. Any good quality bread will do but you want something dense enough to hold up to the pickled strong ingredients
  • In a pan heat the sauerkraut and the pastrami until warm
  • Russian Dressing is a combination of mayonnaise, ketchup and other ingredients either this or Dijon Mustard can be used. Supposedly the choice of the two is an East/West coast variation 
  • Spread your condiment on the bread slices - I opt for Mustard
  • Cut the warm pastrami to size and place on the bread, then layer the cheese and the sauerkraut
  • Close the sandwich and then butter the outside of the bread
  • Grill the sandwich either in a skillet or using a panini press 
  • Serve with sweet American soda like Root Beer, Dr Pepper or Coca Cola