Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 16

Oeuf au Gratin: I've been excited since I got to Vegas a couple days ago about eating at Bouchon again. After the amazing meal I had there last time, this time I decided to try breakfast instead of dinner. I didn't expect it to be anything less than awesome, and of course, I was right. Like I said before, Thomas Keller can apparently do no wrong, and the breakfast menu lived up to every expectation. And luckily, I found something this morning that I've never tried: Oeuf au Gratin.

Oeuf au Gratin is basically a baked egg dish, with various fillings added. Almost like a casserole, but way better. It also has a mornay sauce mixed in, which is a creamy bechamel sauce with grated cheese. Bouchon changes the fillings up daily, and this one had ham, tomato and onion confit. The entire mixture is baked in a small cast iron dish, and served with brioche toast and lyonnaise potatoes on the side. I took a bite, and it reminded me a bit of quiche, but not as dense. The egg mixture wasn't cooked as thoroughly as quiche, and the mornay sauce left a cheesy, runny liquid on the bottom that was super tasty when sopped up with the toasted brioche. I'm a huge fan of poached, runny egg yolk, and I was thrilled to find some in the middle of the dish. Combined with the crunchy, cheesy top layer, it was an awesome combination of tastes. The potatoes were perfect as well, of course - thinly sliced and cooked in a little oil with onion.

Another perfect meal at Bouchon. I can't wait to come back again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 15

Congee: Interestingly, today was the first day of this experiment where I had absolutely no idea where my post was going to come from. I've been in Vegas since yesterday, and I've had some amazing food so far. I knew tonight's dinner was going to be a little more traditional (Mario Batali's Carnevino), so I had to find something off the beaten path before then. I spotted an Asian restaurant near the casino in the Venetian, so I walked over and checked out the menu. To my surprise, they had congee, which is something I've never had before.

Congee is a rice porridge made from boiling rice until it's thick and soupy. I noticed that they had a version that included pork and "special preserved egg." Recently, a reader suggested that the salted duck egg I ate a couple weeks ago would be good with congee, so that got me interested. And I figured that the congee would be fairly authentic considering the number of Asian tourists in the restaurant. I placed my order, and the server gave me that "dude, are you sure?" look that I'm sort of getting used to by now. They quickly brought my food, and it looked kind of like a bowl of oatmeal or grits, but a lot more milky. It was topped with chopped scallions and fried wonton pieces, and the shredded pork and preserved egg were mixed in. I noticed that the guy next to me was mixing a little soy sauce into his, so I did the same. The verdict? Really good. It almost had a risotto-like consistency, and the soy sauce added a bit of salt to the mix. The preserved duck egg was a bit gnarly to look at, and it's gelatinous texture would scare a lot of people off. It reminded me of a stronger, saltier mushroom, but was really tasty. Overall, a really great find. I could imagine it being awesome on a cold day, but I enjoyed it in the Vegas heat just the same.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 14

Macarons: Day 1 of my Vegas vacation has already provided some amazing food, courtesy of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery. I got to sample their amazing pastries and coffee on my last trip in 2009, and since we're staying in the Venetian again, the bakery is right downstairs. Score.

I heard about macarons from some friends of my GF's that recently went to Paris. They promised that they would be life changing if I ever got to try, and I have to say that wasn't far from the truth.They offered several different flavors (pistachio, vanilla, passionfruit, coffee, etc.) but I went for chocolate. The macaron looked like a cookie, but tasted much different. The outside reminded me of a devil's food cookie in texture - it had a thin crunchy top, but when I bit into it, it was filled with a light frosting that almost reminded me of a ganache, but not as heavy. The actual cookie was more like a cake, but the thin, crunchy top layer was one of my favorite things about it. I could have seriously eaten 20 of these in one sitting - they were that good. I'm still trying to decide what flavor I'm eating tomorrow.

We also had an excellent roast beef sandwich on a baguette, and an insanely good carrot cake cookie. Is there anything Thomas Keller can't do well?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day 13

Cucharitas (Chili Spoons): I'm apparently on a spicy kick this week, and these were a pleasant surprise that made me sweat a little less than the Chili Balls from yesterday. I picked these up in the Latin section of the Bu-Hi Farmer's Market at the beginning of this experiment, and they looked super interesting. They're basically little plastic spoons filled with what appeared to be a caramel-y looking substance. I figured they'd be a little bit sweet and hot at the same time, and despite my low tolerance for hot n' spicy, I had to investigate.

Each spoon was wrapped in plastic on the end. I unwrapped one, and scraped a bite off the end with my 2 front teeth. I was right about the caramel-like consistency, but it was thicker, grainier, and more sugary than regular caramel. Not quite as hot as I expected, but the ingredients listed "milled guajillo peppers," which provided plenty enough heat for me. I also noticed a fruity taste, which came from another ingredient - citric acid. Overall, a tasty, sticky, spicy treat that's guaranteed to rot your teeth out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 12

Thailand Chili Ball: Ok, so when I saw this at the Dekalb Farmer's Market, I wasn't sure what to expect. The name wasn't too descriptive (chili ball?) and it appeared to be some sort of snack food in the Asian section. It looked like some kind of cracker, and I spotted little flakes on each piece that looked like nori (seaweed)

I finally opened these today, and my guesses were pretty much right. Each piece is a tiny super-crunchy ball made from glutinous rice, soy sauce, starch, paprika, nori, and a few other ingredients. I ate a few handfuls of them, and quickly noticed a burn, which made sense when I noticed that the last ingredient listed was "liquid chili." My forehead immediately broke out in a sweat, since I have a really low tolerance to heat. However, I couldn't stop eating them - these would make a great bar snack in any restaurant, maybe accompanied by a beer. Who needs those lame peanuts or Chex Mix?

Follow me on Twitter @whoeatsthtstuff

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 11

Sour Tamarind: Another find from the Dekalb Farmer's Market. I've seen tamarind listed as an ingredient in a lot of Asian cuisine, but I've never really known what it was or what it tasted like. I noticed this "sour" version at the market, and grabbed a couple pieces to try. I had no idea how to eat it, so I actually had to do a little internet research to find out.

I noticed that a few online sources called it the "poop fruit," and after breaking one open, I can totally see why. It was hard to not think of Mr. Hankey from South Park while looking at it, so I hoped it tasted better than it looked. The instructions said to crack open the hard shell, break pieces off by segment, and chew the sticky pulp around the seed. I tried this method, and was overwhelmed by the almost lemony tartness. It almost had the consistency of fig, but much more sour and less sweet. I couldn't stomach too much of it, and I'm wondering if the sweet version might more palatable. Maybe I'll seek that out next time. Nonetheless, an interesting find.

Follow me on Twitter @whoeatsthtstuff

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day 10

Guava: I'm quickly realizing that there are a lot of fruits I've never had. After a visit to the Dekalb Farmer's Market this week, this became clear to me. If you've never been there, go - lots of good stuff to be found. After perusing the produce section, I brought home a few things I've heard of a million times, but never tried in their pure form. Today's choice: guava.

The guava looks kind of like a bumpy, oversize pear. I had no idea how to eat it, so I cut off some slices and tried. The consistency reminded me of a pear, with a thin skin and firm flesh, but not nearly as sweet or juicy. I didn't find it to have much flavor at all, but I did notice a sort of grassy aftertaste. I also mistakenly took a bite of a piece that had seeds in it, and I'm lucky I didn't crack a tooth - they were really hard. I ate a few more pieces (after making sure I scooped the seeds out), but honestly wasn't that into it. I later read online that guava is often eaten with a dipping sauce or in a fruit salad, which makes sense. Maybe mine wasn't as ripe as it should have been, but I'd probably prefer it mixed with something else. Still, I'm glad I tried!

Follow me on Twitter @whoeatsthtstuff

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 9

Roti Canai: This was an unexpected and tasty find today. I met a friend for lunch at Aqua Bistro in Buckhead - he picked the location, so I wasn't sure what was in store. As I perused the mostly standard Japanese/Thai/Sushi menu, I noticed something I'd never had before: Roti Canai. It was described as an Indian-style pancake, with a curry dipping sauce. I've had curry plenty of times, but never roti. So, of course, I ordered.

The "pancake" was a light, buttery flatbread that pulled apart easily. It tasted like it had been cooked in a bit of oil, and with its airy consistency, I could easily imagine eating it for breakfast. The dipping sauce was like many other yellow curries I've had, and was served with a few chunks of potato, carrot and onion inside. However, it was a bit sweeter than any other yellow curry I've had, so I wonder if it was sweetened a bit for the roti to be dipped in? I have almost no experience with Indian food, but if the rest of it is this tasty, I must try more. If anyone has any recommendations for Indian cuisine in ATL, please let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @whoeatsthtstuff

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 8

Cheese Blintzes: One thing I'm quickly learning from this experiment is that normal, everyday grocery stores make it pretty hard to find something I've never tried before. After years of grocery shopping, it seems like I've eaten everything in the store, in some form or other. However, my girlfriend pointed these out today in the frozen section, and she was surprised that I'd never tried them. I never really knew what they were (dessert? side?), but I'm glad I tried.

After defrosting them a bit, I pan-fried them in a little bit of butter to brown on each side, then sprinkled cinnamon sugar on top at the GF's suggestion. I took a bite, and the exterior was a thin, crepe-style covering. The filling was a slightly sweetened blend of cottage cheese and sour cream. They weren't as greasy or heavy as I expected them to be, but really good. I'd like to try a fruit topping on these sometime, and I noticed that they were also sold with different fruit flavored fillings. As good as these frozen blintzes were, I really want to try fresh ones now.

Follow me on Twitter @whoeatsthtstuff

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 7

Rabbit Liver Mousse: Wow, my first week is already done. Thanks to everyone that's followed along so far. After a weekend on the road with my band, I was ready for a good meal when I got home. I ended up going with my sister to Shaun's in Inman Park, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. I've had plenty of good meals here, and I highly recommend it. I was planning on scavenging the menu for a blog-worthy item, but I saw rabbit liver mousse listed on the blackboard as soon as I walked in - score! I'm a huge fan of mousses, terrines, pates, etc. But, to my best memory, I've never eaten any rabbit products in my life. Done.

Sorry for the grainy photo - it was getting dark in there, and this was the best my camera phone would do. Our server brought us the mousse, and it was served in a small glass jar with a side of grilled bread and a micro-green garnish. It looked much like a jar of any other liver mousse I've had, but I found the taste to be a little milder and less rich than the ones I've had made with chicken liver. Spread on the grilled bread and topped with the garnish, it was a great way to start the meal. My sis tried it, and surprisingly, really liked it. Her comment: "It tastes like steak." Not sure if I totally agree, but we finished all of it pretty quick. If you're at all curious about venturing into the world of mousses/pates, this would be a great start.

I also had a killer entree of duck breast and duck leg confit, served over a farro salad. And thanks to Scoutmob (www.scoutmob.com) for the discount deal.

Also, follow me on Twitter for more updates and info (www.twitter.com/whoeatsthtstuff)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Day 6

Unidentifiable Eastern European Candy: If I told you where I was writing this post from, you wouldn't believe me. Let's just say my job as a musician requires me to be creative when it comes to finding time to update on my food finds. Anyway, today's oddity is another item I found at the Bu-Hi market last week. I'm quickly running out of the things I bought there, so more scavenging will happen soon. I love this market's Eastern European section, and have found many great things while browsing its shelves. And I'm a sucker for anything who's contents I cannot identify based on reading the package.

I figured that whatever was in this package would definitely be candy, and I was right. The only English writing on the bag just said "sea stones with raisin." Umm, ok. I'm in. Based on the picture on the front, I assumed these would be like M&M's, but with a raisin in the middle. Wrong. I bit into the first one, and immediately recognized the flavor: raisin covered in jelly bean coating. I wish it had been the M&M-like option, because these really aren't that great. I'm not a big jelly bean fan to begin with, and these things are super sweet when combined with the raisin. These definitely won't be finished by me, so maybe my bandmates will eat them. Oh well, at least they were only $0.49.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 5

Green Bean Bun: I'm getting ready to head out for the weekend, so luckily this post is being done with breakfast. This is an Asian pastry I picked up during my Bu-Hi Farmer's Market haul last weekend. I've had a couple of things from Asian bakeries before, but never one of these. Based on the appearance in the package, I wasn't sure what it was going to taste like - sweet, salty, buttery? Well, none of these, really.

It wasn't much different from a normal pastry, but the texture was light and airy, with none of the buttery glazing you're used to from traditional bakeries. The filling was made from a sweet green bean paste, but not green beans like you eat in the south. Totally enjoyable, and could be appreciated by anyone that likes baked goods. I'm really starting to like stuff from Asian bakeries, so if anyone reading can recommend more, please let me know.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 4

Lychee: Another new fruit for me this week. After the ataulfo mango mildly let me down, I figured today would be a good day to try the fresh lychees I picked up at the market. I've seen plenty of lychee flavored items in restaurants (usually cocktails), but I've never had a raw, unadulterated lychee. It's a primarily Asian fruit that looks sort of like an oversize grape with a rough outer texture.

Before eating, I had to use a sharp knife to make a cut in the leathery outer skin. Once I peeled that off, I had a shiny looking fruit that looked like a large peeled grape. You know that game that kids play at Halloween parties with the bowl of "eyeballs" that are actually peeled grapes? These would be much better - the texture after peeling was gross and slimy. I took a bite, and it reminded me a lot of red grape, only not as tart. There's also a large pit in the middle, but a fair amount of fruit surrounding it. It was good, but not something I'd crave again. If you like red grapes, you'd probably dig lychees.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 3

Cooked Salted Duck Eggs: Yet another find from the Bu-Hi Farmer's Market. These looked really interesting as I was browsing near the Vietnamese aisle, and I was pretty skeptical about any egg product that wasn't refrigerated. Which, of course, made me want to try these.

The eggs were individually vacuum sealed, and at first glance, it looked/felt like a normal hard-boiled chicken egg. I've eaten those a million times, so how different could these be? Really different. The shell was much thicker than a chicken egg, and was kind of a pain in the ass to peel off. Once I cut into the soft egg, I noticed that the yolk was a bit darker than I expected. I took a bite, and was surprised. Not at all like a chicken egg...it was super salty (hence the name) and way more rich and gamy than what I'm used to. It also had a gummy texture that I'm still on the fence about, and a weird fishy aftertaste that I can't explain. I have 3 more of these to eat, so maybe they'll grow on me. However, I doubt I'll be making egg salad out of these soon.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 2

Ataulfo Mango: This was another Buford Highway Farmer's Market find. Their produce section is extensive and tantalizing, and I saw this as soon as I walked in the door. This one is native to Mexico, and has a yellow skin instead of the green that you're used to seeing with traditional mangos.

Honestly, it really didn't taste different from a regular mango to me. If blindfolded, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference at all. I love mangos, so it was definitely tasty, but I wouldn't be compelled to buy one again. I wish I had more to report with today's post, but like I mentioned before, not all my finds are gonna be exceptional. Such is life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Dae" 1

After some late-night doubts about this endeavor, I decided to go ahead and stick to the original plan. One new food a day, for 365 days. Can I do this? We'll see. And the first entry is pretty special.

Soon Dae: This is a Korean sausage I picked up yesterday at the Buford Highway Farmer's Market. I've noticed this oddity on past trips, but never got around to trying. And I'm really glad I did. It's similar in a lot of respects to the boudin noir (blood sausage) I had last year, but different in a lot of ways. The ingredients listed are "beef casing, beef blood, garlic, salt, ginger, black pepper, msg." You could say it's more of an Asian twist on boudin noir. After taking my first bite, I also noticed an ingredient strangely not listed - glass noodles, which I assume are used as a filler. It also came with a little cup of chili seat salt, which really brought out the flavor. It was a lot milder than most sausages I've had, a lot less savory than the boudin, and super tasty. I know a lot of people are weirded out by the use of blood as an ingredient, but if you can get over that, this is some killer stuff. Highly recommend.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some background on my motives

OK, so some of you may be wondering how this all started. I'm not much of a cook, but I love to eat. And even as a kid, I was always willing to try anything once.

When I was younger, growing up in a small town, there wasn't exposure to any sort of culinary scene. After I moved to Atlanta a few years ago, I was able to start eating real food, made by real chefs, and not just corporate-controlled chain restaurant garbage. As a result, I developed a huge interest in all things culinary, which was also fueled by all the food media that's been unleashed in the past few years. With the rise of Food Network and the whole "celebrity chef" culture, exposure to new food has never been easier to come by. Atlanta also has some amazing farmer's markets and ethnic restaurants, which have been great places to make discoveries.

Just to be up front, I'm not a chef, cook or culinary pro. My background is in music, and as a result, I've had the chance to tour the country and see some amazing things over the years. It's rare that I actually get a great meal on the road, since location and time restraints usually force me to eat things I'm not too excited about. And that's why I'm doing this - to challenge myself and maybe discover some food along the way that I would have normally overlooked.

If I encounter a food I'm not familiar with, my first thought is "what the hell is that...could it be good?" I know a lot of people don't work that way, and I have plenty of friends that are the exact opposite. But so far, I haven't been let down very much, and I've discovered a lot of amazing things that are now new favorites. I rarely get burned. And if I try something and don't like it, so what? There's always another meal.

Just to show I'm legit, here's a short list of some things I've tried over the past few months, and why:

Sweetbreads: Nope, they're not dessert or breakfast. They're actually the thymus or pancreas glands of lambs or pigs. I've been reading about these for years, and they're a classic of old-school French cuisine. I recently got the chance to order them at an Atlanta restaurant called Abbatoir, which devotes a section of their menu to such things. Verdict? They tasted like fried chicken nuggets, almost like the General Tso's chicken you find in any Chinese takeout joint. Super tasty.

Chopped liver: A staple of Jewish cuisine, and a new favorite of mine. If you're an adventurous eater at all, you'll love chopped liver. Made from a mixture of cooked liver (usually chicken or beef), onion and egg, it's by far the best thing to put on a toasted bagel.

Vietnamese pho with tripe: Pho is a popular soup in Vietnamese cuisine, and after hearing many good things about it, I finally sought out Pho Dai Loi on Buford Highway in Atlanta. Made from a mixture of rich broth, rice noodles, various meats and a garnish of basil, cilantro, peppers and bean sprouts, it's some seriously amazing stuff. I decided to go all out and order mine with a combination of tripe. If you didn't know, tripe is, umm, animal guts; usually, cow's stomach. I know what you're thinking, but it was great. The only thing that bothered me was the weird, gelatinous pieces. That was a texture I just couldn't stomach, but the rest was tasty. I've since had it several times.

Fried chicken heart tacos: I first heard about these after reading a review of a new Mexican place called Holy Taco in Atlanta that was doing some seriously creative things with their menu. I read about these tacos, so of course I had to try. I don't get creeped out by food that often, but seeing a taco filled with little fried hearts, smaller than my pinky, was beyond strange. And the texture was...squeaky. It tasted better than it looked, but not something I'm likely to try again.

Spaghetta alla bottarga: I had this at my favorite Italian restaurant in Atlanta, Sotto Sotto. It starts off innocently as spaghetti tossed with olive oil and sauteed onion, but then they added in the magic ingredient: Sardinian mullet roe - that's fish eggs. Salty, oily, fishy goodness. Awesome.

Gefilte fish: I avoided this like the plague for years, based on it's not-so-appetizing appearance. This is the stuff in the grocery store that looks kind of like a jar of chunky vomit. Not exactly on my list of priorities. But after finally trying, it really wasn't bad. Kinda like a ball of sweeter tuna fish salad, and luckily not accompanied by that nasty liquid in the jar. I'd definitely eat it again.

Durian milkshake: Ahh, the legendary durian. For those of you who don't know, durian is a fruit sold mostly in Asian countries, and it looks kind of like a spiky green football. However, the fruit inside is a creamy, cheesy goo that has been described as smelling like rotting corpse. I noticed that the Vietnamese place I frequent sells a durian milkshake, so of course I had to try. I knew I was in for trouble when the server looked at me with at an expression that said "ok...are you sure?" A few minutes later, she arrived with my shake, smiling from ear to ear. As she sat it down on my table, my first thought was "wow, who farted?" It seriously smelled awful. I reluctantly took a sip, and...it didn't taste much better than it smelled. Kind of like rotting fruit mixed with bad cheese. I got through about half of it, hoping after a few sips I'd discover something new, but it didn't happen. I'm sure the kitchen staff is still laughing at me.

Boudin noir: Also known as "blood sausage," this is another classic of French cuisine that I'd been waiting to try. And last year, I got the chance to try it in the ultimate setting: Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Las Vegas. Keller is a culinary master that's renowned the world over, so I knew that if I didn't like it there, I wouldn't like it anywhere. Boudin noir is made from pig blood, pork, and some other ingredients all stuffed into a sausage casing and cooked. When I cut into it, I discovered a rich, hearty, spicy mixture that blew my mind. Yeah, it looks a little bloody, but way less than the medium-rare steak you're probably used to eating. Awesome stuff. And it was accompanied by the best freakin' mashed potatoes I've ever had in my life. An amazing meal.

Hopefully you see where I'm going with this. There's nothing I won't try. And I'll have 365 new foods to add to the list when this is done!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A few ground rules...

As I stated under the blog title, my premise is simple: to eat one new thing every day for a year (365 continuous days). Well, maybe it's not so simple. There are some rules for this experiment.

First: common variations on a food I've already had don't count. I can't just slap a flavored mayo on a turkey sandwich, put a new topping on a pizza, or buy a new flavor of Doritos. However, if there's a unique or exotic ingredient involved, it counts (ex: chicken heart tacos, rosemary & olive oil ice cream, spaghetti alla bottarga) Also, creative twists on a classic are acceptable (ex: fried Twinkies)

Second: only solid food items. It'd be way too easy to count beverages or condiments, since there are so many to choose from. Beverages or condiments can only be used as a last resort if I absolutely can't find anything else by the end of the day, and they have to be creative and/or indigenous. Prepackaged foods are OK, as are snacks and candies, as long as they’re unique or interesting.

Third: I must update every day, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing. I don't have to buy a single item at a time (stockpiling is permitted), but I must eat and post something new at least every 24 hrs.You're likely to see food from run-of-the-mill fast food joints, taquerias, convenience stores, food trucks, and fine-dining restaurants alike. No establishment is off limits.

Overall, it doesn't have to be weird or bizarre, but it has to be new to me.

My lifestyle will also present some challenges for this project. My schedule as a musician is extremely unpredictable, and I sometimes end up in some pretty remote locations to play a gig. If it means going into a sketchy grocery store in some redneck town in Alabama to look for something, so be it.

Above all, I want this to be fun. I know it'll be a challenge, but I'm up for it. Who knows what I'll discover in the next year? The madness starts on Monday, August 16, 2010...stay tuned.