Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Waffle Iron Cooking: Polenta

I use my waffle iron more than any other appliance in my kitchen ... well, besides my coffee maker that is.  And no, not because I make a lot of waffles.  Or, at least, not traditional waffles.  I use it to reheat just about everything, rather than a microwave or a oven.  You can read about all my ridiculous waffling adventures from my master post.

Most of the time, I use the waffle iron to reheat leftovers, very rarely do I use it to actually cook something in its original form.  I'm not sure where today's experiment falls though, I wasn't just reheating leftovers, but I also wasn't cooking exactly ... I'll call it *almost* cooking, more advanced than simply reheating leftovers.
Block of Polenta -> Polenta Waffle with Ratatouille.
My adventure started because I had leftover ratatouille, and I wanted to do something interesting with it.  I could have served it over pasta, or cracked an egg in it, or served it with some crusty bread, all standard ways of serving ratatouille.  The idea of serving it over creamy polenta came to mind, but, I didn't have any creamy polenta just hanging around, nor the desire to make any.

But what I did have was a block of shelf-stable pre-made polenta in my pantry.  I knew I could work with that.  That, and my waffle iron, of course.

My creation was a success, a lovely polenta waffle, topped with ratatouille!
Block of Valsugana Polenta.
I started with a block of Valsugana Polenta, pre-made, pre-cooked, shelf-stable polenta.

It came as a big solid block in a plastic package like tofu.  It seemed perhaps like a step up from tube polenta, but, barely.  It was pretty gross and slimy, and really not appealing.

The package claims this is Italy's #1 polenta, but, it sure didn't have anything going for it straight out of the package.
Slices of Polenta in the Waffle Iron.
Since it is pre-cooked all you need to do is slice and heat however you want.  They recommend cutting into triangles and grilling or pan-frying.  I of course had other ideas.

I sliced the block lengthwise to form large nasty blocks of polenta.  Into the waffle iron they went.  The size was great, it fit into the iron easily, and was a good size serving.  I was able to cut 3 slices from the block.

Since the polenta was so firm, I had to press down hard on the waffle iron to get into the solid mass of polenta, but once it warmed up a bit, it was fairly easy.
Polenta Waffle.
The polenta took longer to cook than I expected, and at first, it didn't seem like it was going to crisp up.  I raised the temperature from 350° to 400° and that helped.  It still never got an amazing crust on it, but, it did get a little bit crisp.

The waffle came out decent enough.  The ridiculous firm solid mass worked well for this, and it held together great.  It wasn't as magical as when I waffled cheesy grits, likely because plain polenta doesn't have cheese or other fats to crisp it up.

I would have been bored with it at this stage, far too plain.  But I had my toppings at the ready.
Polenta Waffle Topped with Ratatouille.
I topped each polenta waffle with ratatouille, the thing that inspired this whole adventure in the first place.  It soaked into the waffle, was super flavorful, and made the dish.  Without it, it would have been boring, but with it, I deem this success.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lisbon Airport Dining

My visit to Lisbon concluded at, well, the Lisbon airport.

Airport dining may not normally be high on anyone's list of things to get excited about, but I read online that Terminal 1 had a great new food court, featuring actual good versions of Portuguese baked goods, from some famed establishments from the city.  I of course welcomed this chance to get “one last pastry” before jumping on my TAP Portugal flight, where I knew the food choices would be abysmal.

Although I didn't have much time in the airport before boarding, I managed to scope out all the options, and visit not one, but two bakeries to get a pão de deus from each, since I discovered that I loved them at A Padaria Portuguesa at the end of my trip.

Pastelaria Versailles

I started at Versailles, the one I had read the most about.  It is a cafe that has been around since the 1920s, apparently with amazing elegant ambiance (think: crystal chandeliers, marble counters) at the main location in Lisbon.  I didn't visit the real cafe, only the airport location.  
Display Case.
The display counter was loaded with a fairly small selection of treats, far fewer than what I was used to from swinging by bakeries around town.

I was planning to get one last Bolo de Arroz, after being fascinated by the one from Sacolinha, but the ones at Versailles didn’t really look good.  I also had my eyes on one last pão de deus, but, alas, they didn’t have any plain ones, just ones stuffed with ham and cheese.  It wasn't quite what I wanted, but is what I went for, knowing I could discard the fillings (or, perhaps be a more reasonable human and actually have some protein with my sweets?)

The ordering/payment system was kinda crazy.  You order and pre-pay at one counter.  That made sense.  No card reader, but, they do take credit cards, they just have to pull out a machine every time.  For an airport location, this seems crazy.  Then, you are supposed to know to take a few steps over, put your receipt onto a tray, and then someone else will go begin fetching your goods.  If you, like me, just throw your receipt into your pocket, your stuff will never come.  Sigh.

Then your stuff is put onto a tray eventually, and you are supposed to be watching and grab it, as nothing is ever called out when your order is complete.

To recap: no orders are sent to be filled, no orders are called out when ready.  I struggled with strange ordering/paying/pickup systems all over Lisbon, but this was certainly the worst.

I was not the only one who was confused by all of this, as I watched everyone around me mess it up.  Anyway.
Pão de Deus Misto. 3.95€.
"Ham & Cheese Coconut Topped Bread".

I had only had two pão de deus at this point in Portugal, and was eager to get one last data point.  I loved the absolutely dreamy one from A Padaria Portuguesa, but I knew that was actually not the authentic style, as it was softer and had more of a coconut paste on top, and was not crispy.  I also had the horrible ones from the Sheraton Lisboa Bistro Restaurant buffet, hard and stale, but, I have a hard time believing those were a legit version either.

This one seemed to be more like what I read about.  The top was a bit crunchy and the bread was still fairly soft, basically a cross between the two versions I previously had.  The dough wasn’t particularly interesting, soft but not fluffy, not really sweet.  Better than the Sheraton version in that it wasn’t stale and it wasn’t hard, but, no where near the perfectly lightly sweet fluffiness of the one from A Padaria Portuguesa.  Same with the top - definitely not like a paste like the one from A Padaria Portuguesa, but not quite as crispy as the Sheraton one.  There wasn’t as much topping as the A Padaria Portuguesa one, but, again, I think this was a more authentic ratio.

Overall, kinda boring, honestly, but I think this is what the bun was supposed to be like.

The ham and cheese were just a thin slice of each.  No spread of any sort, aka, mayo or mustard, to jazz it up.  I’m not sure I understand the combination of sweet coconut bun, ham, and cheese, although I guess Monte Cristos are a mix of sweet with ham and bread …

Anyway, I was glad to have one last chance to try the version that I think is representative of what they are supposed to be, but, alas, I just wished I had one more of the dreamy, soft, fluffy, not authentic ones.  Ojan however said, “that is one of the better Portuguese desserty things I’ve had”. Later, he said, "That was pretty tasty, it was like honey ham, but, with the honey in the bread!".  So, I guess it had its place.

Pastelaria Aloma

I’m a strategic person.  Although I was grabbing the pão de deus to take on my TAP Portugal flight to Paris, I tried a bite immediately just to make sure I’d like it, else, I had to make a backup plan.

If you couldn't tell from my review above, well, I didn't really like it (not tons of coconut topping, crisp top, soft but not very sweet nor fluffy bread).  I really wanted something more like the version from A Padaria Portuguesa.

So, I hightailed it to another bakery in the airport, Aloma.
Croissants, Local Specialties, Sandwiches.
Aloma too had a display case loaded with goodies.

They had pastel de nata baked on site.  While literally every single merchant had nata, these folks had ovens, right there, in the middle, and they were coming out hot.  This seemed much more promising.

And ... they had pão de deus!  The pão de deus looked softer, fluffier.  And there was only one plain one left, over with the croissants on the far left.
Sandwiches, Croissant Sandwiches, Pão de Deus Sandwiches.
I quickly jumped into line to order the last one, hoping no one before me would get it.  That said, they also had a ham and cheese stuffed one, and plenty of those, so, I could have gone with that to compare.

This shop's ordering made sense: you ordered from one person, they got your food, and you paid there.  No crazy multiple lines, putting out your receipt, etc like Versailles.
Pão de Deus
This pão was indeed closer to the one from A Padaria Portuguesa.  It was softer, the dough sweeter than the Versailles version.  Not quite as soft, not quite as dreamy as the A Padaria Portuguesa one, but I’m pretty convinced that no where else’s compares to that.

The top was also soft, not crisp, and more like a coconut paste.  Again, not quite as good as the A Padoria Portuguesa version in that there wasn’t as much topping, and it wasn’t as sweet, but, still, I really prefer this to the authentic crispy style.

So, overall, it was ok.  If this was the first pão de deus I ever had, I probably wouldn’t have tried another.

Turns out, the first one I ever had really was the best, I should have just stopped there.
Pastelaria Versailles Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 27, 2017

Catering by Wise Sons

My apartment building recently hosted a brunch with catering by Wise Sons Jewish Deli.  I'm not a big lover of bagels, but, I know many in the city consider these to be "the best", so, I had to try them out.

I've reviewed Wise Sons before, but since those were always visits to the actual stores, I'm separating this catering specific post into its own, since, well, catering isn't reflective of your experience visiting in person.
Assorted Bagels & Shmear.
"Our bagels are kettle boiled, double- coated in classic toppings, and carefully baked for just the right amount of chew."

The hosts arranged for bagel and toppings platters, each of which came with assorted bagels and cream cheese (dubbed shmear).

We had an assortment of bagels (plain, sesame, everything) and shmear (plain, scallion and smoked salmon).

I tried an everything bagel.  It was ... fine I guess.  Chewy, if you are into that style.  A normal sized bagel, not a monster like the ones from Panera.  It had all the standard "everything" toppings: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, onions, salt.  I thought the salt was a bit too strong. Since it was an event, no toaster was available, so I can't evaluate its toastability.
California Veggie Bagel Platter. $85.
"Choice of assorted Bagels and Bialys with Hummus, Plain and Scallion Shmears. Served with Pickled Onions, Olives, Cucumbers, Radish and Roasted Seasonal Vegetables ."

The plain and scallion shmears came with the "California Veggie" platter.

I tried the cream cheeses, and they were fine, but really, just cream cheese, nothing particularly interesting about them.  The scallion one did have lots of scallion bits, clearly freshly made.

I also tried the roasted squash since it was a bit funny to me that they put huge chunks of cold roasted squash on a bagel platter.  I had no idea how I was supposed to use this on a bagel.   I think it was pumpkin?  One chunk had ... a stem.  It was fine, but just roasted squash.

The pickled red onions were a nice compliment with the cream cheese.
Smoked Salmon Platter ($160).
"Choice of assorted Bagels and Bialys with Sustainably Raised Smoked Salmon, Whipped Cream Cheese, Cucumbers, Radish, Red Onions and Capers. Served with Dill Pickles ."

From the other platter, I tried the briney capers (standard, but I always love capers) and crisp slices of watermelon radish (again, just something I love).

I wish I had snagged a dill pickle, as there was a full pint, but they were gone by the time I returned.
Intelligentsia Drip Coffee. $21.
Catering coffee comes in large cardboard boxes with a spout.  The cardboard box doesn't keep the coffee particularly hot, and is a bit difficult to serve from.  But, without renting real carafes, not sure what they can do better.  The catering package included Wise Sons branded cups, lids, half and half, sweeteners.

The coffee is Intelligentsia.    It was fine.  It certainly would have been better if not lukewarm.
Wise Sons Jewish Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato