Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Welcome to the adventures of a Culinary explorer...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Café del Hidalgo

Café del Hidalgo

35 Hypolita Street, Saint Augustine FL 32084

On 28th of December, 2009, my family and I went to Café del Hidalgo in the famous Main Street of Saint Augustine, for a celebration of my parents' 19th wedding anniversary (which was really on the 26th, they were just not in the mood for it then).

Let me tell you, when you enter Main St., it's like stepping into a time machine that takes you almost a century back in time. Walking down that street on a December evening, with the sun slouching to a set behind the warmth of my beret, I could smell a crisp scent of chocolate and cigars sprinkled in the air. You really have to be there to see the homeless guitar player that tickles you for some change with a pathetic original song in praise of Angelina Jolie. And believe it or not, you laugh.

We passed "Ye Old Drug Store" (with every flavor of tea you can imagine), pottery craft stores, a barrel fruit wine store (my parents had fun here, acting like wine tasters, sloshing tester sips in their mouths as though in France), many many chocolateries (chocolate stores), and finally couldn’t resist the aroma inviting us into the Café del Hidalgo.

Turns out we weren’t the only ones the aroma had captured with its tantalizing whiffs of freshly brewed coffee. The place was packed.

Now I’ll skip the whole part about finding a table (they don’t take you to one), blah blah blah, and come straight to the arrival of the steaming food. I envy you reader, this is too easy for you…

But as we sat down on a big mahogany table, with vintage European paintings on the wall (we had a bull fighting poster painting by our table which I wasn’t too happy about. Bull fighting isn’t cool… but that’s a rant for another day), my brother, Aakash’s, Meatball Parmesan arrived first. Here’s the description of his Panini: Italian meatballs, celery, tomatoes, onions, provolone and parmesan.

Know, my brother was never (NEVER) the food experimental kind. He’s the whiney little brat who picks the tomatoes, lettuce… well all vegetables out of his sandwich, the kind who won’t eat a meat dish if it looks merely close to its original form, like chicken legs or much seafood. So, as soon as he saw meatballs, and minimal vegetables to pick out, he knew he was getting that. And for some weird reason, he liked meatballs in bread, not in pasta. But anyway, Aakash offered me a bite, and in all truth, it wasn’t so bad. Actually it was the best meatball sub/sandwich/Panini I’d ever had. The cheeses blended so well together, and oozed out on the sides with hints of meat. The meatballs were promised “Italian recipe”, and I couldn’t disagree.

Next came mom’s “The Mediterranean Panini”. And my mother loved it, which comes rarely because she’s an Indian vegetarian and nothing, I say NOTHING, satisfies her as much as a good home-cooked Indian meal. But this she simply loved. I mean who wouldn’t chow down a hummus, provolone cheese, field greens, feta cheese, tomato, cucumber, and onion Panini? I simply love the risk they take with the combination of cheeses. Provolone and subtle feta here, and provolone and parmesan in the last meatball one. To be honest, I couldn’t identify which cheese is which just by tasting/sniffing it (come on, I’ve just begun. I’ll get there), but I sure can tell when flavors blend. Well.

Then came the last Panini. My Panini! (Now you’re wondering, hey Henna, what about your dad? Did you just let him starve and stare at you as you pigged through your delicious food? The answer is no, I did no such thing. Our Panini’s were cut into two giant halves that none of us could finish on our own. They were also all served with tons of chips and pickle. Dad’s like me, wanting a bite of everything. And that’s what he did. Had the half of every Panini. A platter… smart man) But anyway, my “Sicilian Tuna Panini” arrived, incasing albacore tuna, tomato, red onion, celery, lemon, salt & pepper, olive oil, and light Swiss cheese. Those of you who think I’m a freak for remembering every single ingredient, or am an insane genius Sherlock Holmes for recognizing ingredients from a single bite, then nay. I have their take out menu in my hand for reference.

The Sicilian tuna was warm, not just in temperature, but still warm after I ate it. I know this will sound a little absurd, but it was like having a cozy heat-pack snuggling the insides of my tummy. And this helped quite a bit because of the dropping evening temperatures on the now brightly lit-up Main St (Holiday lights… if you’re wondering). But, the tuna Panini was pure bliss. I could have more lemon though… the tuna was finely chopped, so it wasn’t awfully chewy like the canned ones you can find at a local mart. The onions made it crunchier, I love onions. (Yes, I carry mint)

To keep warm we also ordered dark chocolate mint coffee and macadamia nut coffee. They were good too.

After heating ourselves up with Panini’s and coffee, looking like lazy bulls after a good meal in the pasture, we still couldn’t keep our noses from lingering over to the smell of fresh Gelatos (Italian ice-cream made from fresh milk every day, instead of artificial flavors and preservatives).

To be honest, I have never liked ice-cream. OK, stop gasping, freaks like us do exist. Ice-cream always managed to seep into the core of my teeth and poke the pulpy center. Ugh the feeling is pure pain. But a Gelato… Oh a Gelato is DIVINE! (From now on, I will be using the word “divine” to describe edible wonders of the world)

We had six kinds. No we’re not fattys, there were about 20 kinds, so we did good. Here are the flavors we got: cheesecake, mango, pistachio, oreo, toblerone, and amaretto.

Pop quiz: what’s my favorite kind of nut? A pistachio! What did I just call divine? A Gelato, bravo! Now put the two together… HEAVEN! Heaven like you’ve never had. Silky, creamy, divine heaven…

And that’s all I remember floating back home from Café del Hidalgo… a place to gather.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas stash!

This Christmas I got every non-living thing on my list and more! I say non-living because a kitty (I was going to name Brie or Scones) was also on my list, but I guess Santa doesn't make kitties in his workshop. But what he does make is:
-Julie and Julia book by Julie Powell
-The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
-Are you really going to eat that? Reflections of a culinary thrill seeker by Robb Walsh
-Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
-Garlic and Sapphires, a secret life of a critic in disguise by Ruth Reichl again
-Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West
-Shaheed Bhagat Singh a biography by Gurdev Singh Deol (For people wondering why such a random book, know I'm a die hard fan of Bhagat Singh--a freedom fighter from India during British rule. He's "the bomb"! Those who get the reference, bravo.)
-A Paris journal (Sometimes I ask why I wasn't actually born there...)
-A Juicy Couture perfume set
-A lovely pair of shoes
-some pretty clothes
-A bicycle
-Movies: Bhagat Singh, Rang De Basanti, and Inglorious Bastards

What a loot huh? Especially with all the food writing books! I really don't know where to begin and end. For now, I've started Julie and Julia to compare it with the movie. And let me tell you, reading this book after seeing the movie, is like having an insider peek at Julie's life. I'm on Day 23 Recipe 34. The sad part is the book doesn't come with Julia's recipes. Although, Julie does explain how to make some of her favorites like the Potage Parmentier and the famous Boeuf Bourguignon. I will write about every food writing book I finish, and let you know my recommendations.
Remember my Sushi blog from two months ago? I said I'd be venturing for some more seafood, and as promised I am. Soon I will be visiting Gene's Seafood Restaurant on Beach Blvd to review their food. I'm Not sure of what to get, I've had (love) salmon (again, if you get the reference, bravo!), and I had mahi at Mimi's Cafe at Town Center... Tuna is one recommendation. Any more for a tropical newbie?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Guess who e-mailed me?

Let's play a round of Can you guess who e-mailed me?
Your hints:
1. This person is serving as an inspiration
2. He (yes, a man) is linked to Liz Van Hooser
3. Therefore, he is linked to The Florida Times Union
4. He is also linked to food writing

Guesses? Nope, not him.
It was Coulter Kirkpatrick! I believe he is still the Editor of The Florida Times, but he is applying for Liz's food writer position (I mean, who wouldn't?). He'd heard about me from Liz, and she'd told me to e-mail him. I did, months ago, and finally got a reply. He was busy blah blah blah... but I got a reply and if I may-- I am psyched!
From his e-mail, I know that he has great knowledge about Indian food (despite being non-Indian). He talked about his favorite Indian desserts, ingredients for making them at home, and some more food writer talk. :p
But, I replied, and I hope to receive a reply again. Maybe I can go meet him just like Liz! *fingers crossed*

P.S. If Coulter Kirkpatrick is reading this, I just google imaged your name and chose the first one that popped up. I'm pretty sure this is you, and not the guy with the snake in his mouth... Maybe.

The Holiday Food Competition

I am so sorry I have taken this long to write about The Holiday Food Competition. Things came up, got sick, blah blah blah... but now here's the story just for you!
On 14th of December, I woke up thinking: I am about to do something I hope to do for the rest of my life. EAT.
We all eat, but this was a different kind of eating. I would get to have good food and judge it along the way...!
All this and more came true in the next few hours. At school, I had one of the lunch tables in the cafeteria dolled up with a crisp white table cloth, flowers, and best of all, prizes. There were signs up, onlookers wondering what in the world was going on (even after the gazillion morning announcements about the upcoming event), and all I had to do was wait for the bell to ring for lunch to start.
Riiiiing!!! And A-lunch came rolling in. I was astonished by the turn-out. My fellow judges: Ms.Dvorak (Don't try pronouncing/butchering that if you don't know french. I call her Ms.D), Ms.Harbin, and Mr.Allen-Black, all showed up with their assigned score sheets and notepads. The tasting began (I'll just let you look at the pictures and let them speak instead of me babbling on about every dish. Note: Some dishes in the pictures are missing, my camera died by the last lunch :( ).
After all the tasting was done, the judges sat down to collaborate scores. Ms.Harbin described the discussion similar to an American Idol judge panel. Haha
After much "discussion" and great judging, we came in agreement with the following winners:
Brandon Edwards for his crab rock-a-feller (very daring!)
Song Naber for her breakfast French muffins (can somebody say...Yum!)
Brittany Stephenson for her rum cake (before pressing charges, alcohol consistency vanishes when cooked. I got your back girl)
Callie Dixon for her ooie gooie pumpkin butter cake with home-made whipped creme (tasted just as good as it sounds)
Amber Cresgy for her beautiful apple pie (the crust on this beauty was a new shade of gold)
Honorable mentions:
Erin Reifsneider for her brilliant broccoli casserole topped with cheese crackers
Casey Hewitt for her gorgeous carrot cake

The event was a major success. Even our Principal came by to visit. There might be another food competition coming up, this time with a mandatory secret ingredient.
I am so thankful for everybody's support in keeping The Skillet sizzling. Stay tuned for more inside stories. =]

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Xmas List

Here's some food related goodies I would like for Xmas:
1. A cute apron
2. Julie and Julia DVD (and cookbook)
3. A mustache cup
4. A tea set

I bet there's more, but I simply can't remember right now. I'll add to the list as I remember... =p

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Xmas/House Warming Party

Today was quite a wonderful day (not literally mind me. Forecast: Rain. All day...). I had friends over in the occasion of showing them our new house. The party went exactly as I had planned, house tours, laughs, games, and best of all, the food.
On the menu we had an entree of herb chicken stuffing deep fried in egg roll wraps. The crispy treat with the warm stuffing in the middle went very well with our famous "Indian Sauce" (that's what my friends call the Maggi Hot and Sweet ketchup, a rare find in the US. My mom wishes to get my friends that for Xmas. They are excited. (??)Haha).
For the main course we had (nope, not any curry) gourmet Mexican tacos. Or that's at least what everybody said. My mom and I set up the kitchen island to mimic a Moe's restaurant. We had tons of bowls, all lined up, filled with fresh ingredients: a salad (made from shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and onions, topped with cilantro, salt and pepper, and lemon juice), grated three cheese, soft and hard tortillas, sour creme, guacamole, and hot salsa. The main big bowl had chicken in it, cooked with tomatoes, onions and Indian spices. And that's what made all the difference. The tacos were enjoyed by everybody, I couldn't get over the fact the meal was so extremely easy to put together (cheap too), and yet it gave off the grandest look on the table.
For dessert we had different flavored donuts (I just had the chocolate covered coconut topping donut. Calories are OK during this time, just trust me, we can shed them off in a zap). There was also wonderful pie, brought in by Tyler Gordon.
Other than that, there was an intense air hockey tournament in my backyard. Let me tell you, Rebecca Stark does not differentiate air hockey from football. When she's on the field, she's there for the kill. Very literally. I was her kill (AGAIN!), which means her puck came flying my way and as I tried to block it from smashing into my eye, it hit my fingers like I'd just gotten shot by a bazooka. (OK, fine, yes this is hyperbole. But oh well, it hurt.) Last time, she slit my fingers with the puck to the point they started to bleed. No lie.
Haha on that note, I have left-over chicken from today's lunch left in the refrigerator and I think I will snack on some of that yummy goodness.
Goodnight y'all. (Or to whoever that is reading this. Anybody?)

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Holiday Food Competition

This for all those attending DASOTA.
Dec 14th, Monday, is The Holiday Food Competition! You may cook and bring holiday foods from home and have them judged by a panel of faculty judges and myself. The categories you can enter are: breakfast, lunch/dinner, and sweet treats. Sign up outside of room 110 in the English building (Ms. Dvorak's room). You can enter more than one category.
There will be exciting prizes, and tons of fun! So get your skillets burning for a holiday food extravaganza-- a first at DA!

Henna Bakshi
Your food columnist