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myMEGusta

Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

Archive for the month “August, 2016”

Finding A Date In London

Fresh Dates

Fresh Dates

Harrods food halls in London are a wonderful place to wander and admire all sorts of beautiful food displays, truly the world at your fingertips with absolutely gorgeous everything. On a recent trip to London, myMEGusta saw, for the first time, freshly picked dates sitting in the fruit bin.

Harrods Date Selection

Harrods Date Selection

Next to them sat a huge array of the more common, slightly dried dates “au naturel”, and then there was a selection of specialty dates, for example, chocolate covered.

Chocolate Covered Dates

Chocolate Covered Dates

(Having just come from a delish brunch, and anticipating a substantial dinner in a few hours, myMEGusta passed on buying any to taste, a mistake, as they would have been a good airplane snack the next day.)

Date Bars

Date Bars

Dates are intensely sweet, and not to everyone’s taste. They show up in American standards, like date bars and date cakes, and, in the Middle East, in main courses, such as in orange/date salad, lamb tagines or chicken with dates.

The palm trees that produce dates also yield a very sweet sap.

Date Palm

Date Palm

This is used in India and Myanmar to make jaggery, a type of dark sugar common in their cuisines, but rarely seen elsewhere. On a trip to Myanmar several years ago, myMEGusta stopped at a date palm farm, with tapped trees and a very potent date jaggery based spirit for sampling (oh, my!) and sale (nope!).

Jaggery

Jaggery

It is believed that date cultivation began eons ago, documented as early as 6,000 BC in what is now Iraq, and most of the world’s dates come from the Middle East. Introduced to the New World by the Spaniards, dates are still cultivated in in the Palm Springs, CA, area.

It is amusing that, according to the PR folks, “(California’s) Coachella Velley is the ‘Date Capital of the World’, as palm groves have thrived here since the 1800’s”, when the United States doesn’t even make it into the Top 10 date producing countries. But, all that said, myMEGusta will definitely make a point to seek out date shakes and date ice cream next time she is in that area of Southern California!

Date Shakes

Date Shakes

Date Ice Cream

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Portugal’s Alentejo Region and a Porky Treat

It’s fun to travel on well beaten paths, to those places in the world where there is little not to like, and where there is plenty to see and do between extraordinary meals. But, it’s also fun to get off of that route, into places where “nobody” goes, that is, nobody other than people in the know. One of these areas is the Alentejo Region, a mere couple of hours away from Lisbon by car (on good roads), known as the breadbasket of Portugal.

Vila Vicosa's Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Vila Vicosa’s Convent, now a Pousada, next door to the Castle

Recommended to myMEGusta by author Jean Anderson (The Food of Portugal, and numerous other books and articles including http://www.saveur.com/article/travels/the-food-of-alentejo-portugal ), Alentejo was a treasure trove of good eats and beautiful sights.

The Alentejo is a large (for Portugal) expanse of land east of Lisbon, traditionally a not-so-wealthy agricultural area, studded with ancient fortified hilltop castles and convents, many of which have been converted to “pousadas”, country inns in varying levels of luxury. The European Union’s funding of major highways make it easily accessible, and GPS is a good friend in navigating the back roads and byways.

It is the home of Porco Preto, the local breed of black pigs who spend their lives roaming around eating ample portions of acorns, and their rich, flavorful meat is a fixture on menus throughout the region.

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

View from lunch at Herdade do Grous Winery

As in other wine districts around the world, investors have created star worthy restaurants and elaborate estates amongst the vineyards here. Two particularly memorable lunches were at the Herdade do Esporao and Herdade do Grous. Speaking of porco preto, the star of lunch at Esporao was porco preto three ways: Roasted shoulder (like suckling pig), fork tender loin cooked sous vide, and slow cooked, then crisped, pork belly, garnished with their garden vegetables.

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade de Esporao

Porco Preto Three Ways at Herdade do Esporao

Some of the most memorable dining was in little village spots. One tiny place in Evora, every table taken by locals, did not have the most elegant of cuisines, but their pork cheeks in red wine were like the best beef bourguignon, although the sauce was richer (Thank you, big Alentejo reds!) and the meat totally succulent. The sign read (translated): “We may not have a Michelin star, but we have the best pork cheeks in the world.”

Pork Cheeks in Evora

Pork Cheeks at Sao Domingos in Evora

Pork “Alentejo style” – chunks with clams, cilantro and garlic – is also ubiquitous, although myMEGusta has to admit that a recent sampling of this dish at Ipanema Restaurant in Manhattan was at least as good as she had in the region. Although the piggy was surely a standard US breed, the amazing flavor was probably due to the pork shoulder having marinated for a very long time in garlic. The accompanying black beans and rice were a reminder that this was a Brazilian, not Portuguese, restaurant.

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Alentejo Style Pork and Clams with Garlic and Cilantro

Preserved porco preto, like a good jamon Iberico or prosciutto, usually appeared as a “cover” (amuse bouche for which one is charged) at lunch and dinner, a perfect preliminary for any meal.

A few thin slices between crisp bread slices was also a great way to start the day.

Breakfast in Alentejo!

Breakfast in Alentejo!

More on beautiful Portugal in future postings!

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