Vietnam: A Short Drive to Hanoi

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credit to edencenter.com

There is a magical place right outside of DC that transports you to directly to an indoor Vietnamese market, straight out of Ho Chi Minh. (OK, I’ve never been but I did Google photos – and it looks amazing). This special place is called Eden Center. It’s a strip mall/indoor market made up of more than 100 stores in Falls Church.

Matt and I passed by Eden Center one day when we were on one suburban adventure or another and  could not figure out what it is was. After some quick internet sleuthing we knew it would be where we would enjoy our Vietnamese cuisine.

It would be a few months before we made it back out to Falls Church when we decided last minute to buy Foo Fighters Tickets from someone. On our drive out there we debated dinner options but once we realized Eden Center was close by, the decision was made.

This is the part of the blog post where we would normally transition into how great the food was but hold you’re excitement. The night that we decided to drive out to Fall Church was also the night that that crazy storm had this happen near the Nats game:

We made finally made it to Eden Center and this was our view.

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My photo doesn’t do this storm justice. Needless to say, we weren’t getting out of the car for some time. There was a slight let up in the rain, so we made a run for it to Huong Viet. I’m going to be honest, the food was OK. We started with a small bowl of Pho and Bi Cuon (shredded pork rolls).  For entrees we had  Bo Luc Lac and Bun Thit Nuong.

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On top is the Bi Cuon (shredded pork rollls).   On bottom is the Pho Nho
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Bo Luc Lac (Marinated beef w/ peppers & onions)
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Bun Thit Nuong (Rice vermicelli with grilled pork)

The really remarkable part of our adventure to Eden Center came after our dinner. We walked around the center and checked out the other shops and stopped in a few pastry shops in search of a dessert and some infamous beef jerky.

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We found a dessert and the beef jerky in as tiny shop called Huong Binh. The dessert we chose was che, a pudding made with tapioca beans. Our che was made with chunks of bananas. After getting past the texture, the flavor was enjoyable. We couldn’t finish the cup though, it was a little too sweet.

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The jerky was recommended in Serious Eats post about Eden Center. Of course Matt had to find the jerky. The jerky was sold in a plastic clam shell that we didn’t open until we got home. The jerky was great. We picked the Chinese 5 Spice flavor. Matt thought it was a little sweet at first but after a few more pieces over the rest of the week, we both loved the fresh jerky. It’s worth heading back to Eden Center just for the jerky.

-Bridget

South Korea: The Other KFC

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credit to jdland.com

Fried chicken.  Probably the two best combination of words in the English language.  Usually I prefer mine served in a bucket with an old white “colonel” on it.  The Koreans decided to fry it twice and soak in a special sauce.  Bonchon (us.bonchon.com) has perfected this and brought it to America.

Bridget and I both are a big fans of southern fried chicken, the best way in America to have it.  Usually served with a hefty side mashed potatoes and mac n cheese.  Bonchon is a twist on this usual American style.  Since the chicken is fried twice it is less greasy and much crunchier.  Also they use a sauce that gives it such unique flavor.  While this might be the original KFC, Bonchon did a great job changing my mind one what fried chicken is the best.

To go with the meal I started out with a Cass beer.  Cass is a Korean brewed light beer.  After drinking it I would call it the Miller Lite of Korea.

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When we did sit down at a table we were happily joined with the company of the Kolskys.  I forgot to mention that coming to Bonchon was not just an out of the blue choice, it was another mystery shop.  Because of this, I went ahead and just ordered some appetizers and entrees for the table.  These dishes were added to the feature of the night, fried chicken.

For an appetizer I went off the entree list and thought we could split something that turned out to be a dish not really intended to be shared.   Japchae is a Korean noodle dish that is stir fried with vegetables and beef.  The beef was delicious and the veggies were mixed in well but the noodles used were just odd.  This Japchae was served using glass noodles, which were hard to split on small plates from the bowl.

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The obvious choice for an entree tonight was of course the fried chicken.  Due to the fact this was another mystery shop, I took advantage of the situation and ordered more food than really necessary.  A traditional Korean dish that consists of marinated beef and a side of fresh steamed vegetables.  The bulgogi came with a side of white rice to finish the dish off.

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For the Coup d’etat (not Korean at all) we ordered the fried chicken.  As stated before, the chicken is fried twice.  It’s a unique technique that Bonchon has perfected.  They offer to serve the chicken with two sauces: soy garlic or spicy.  We decided to split the chicken up and get half and half.  The Kolskys and I both ordered a large platter of wings and drums for the table in both sauces.

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The soy garlic chicken was outstanding and I watched Zak put away about a dozen in 30 seconds.  The spicy was spicy as hell.  The server wasn’t kidding when he said we would need something to cool down our tongues at times.  A bowl of  pickled radishes were served in the middle to help cool the tongue.  If you like spicy food you should know water does nothing for when your mouth is on fire.

We ordered a large amount of food for the table that the Kolskys, mostly Zak, didn’t mind helping with.  I may have been a big fan the fried chicken served by a colonel in white but the Korean version might of won me over after tonight.

-Matt

South Africa: On Safari for Tasty Pudding

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Months ago, before we started on this adventurous challenge, I put out a text to a friend that was a native to South Africa. Thanks to Lynne Rosenkoff I was given a few recipes to try from and from that text I picked 2. I knew that this was a country I wanted to cook at home and enjoy because the recipes she shared with me looked too good to not attempt.  Tonight we cooked bobotie for our main course and a dessert called malva.

This adventure started out with me taking over and doing all the cooking.  I had a random night off and ran to the grocery to get a few ingredients.  Some of the ingredients were a little strange (apricot jam, stale bread, golden raisins) but I went with it.

This brings us to the story within in the story.  I went to our “distressed” Safeway near us.  As I am searching the store all over for these random ingredients I hear a loud yelling by the front.  I, of course, had to find out what the commotion was all about.  As I was making my way to the front I hear over the intercom, “Security to the front for a fight.”  Not only did this get me moving faster to the front of the store, but everyone else.  I got there too late, sadly, to see any good punches but got to see 2 security guards rolling on the floor with 3 large women.  Hair was being pulled, pants were being pulled down, and there was plenty of hollering.  No blood so no real fun but the theater that went before dinner was enjoyed.

So finally I got the hell out of that Safeway and made it home.

The first dish we made was the bobotie.  Bobotie is basically a meatloaf bake but with totally different ingredients.  We went with the healthy version and used ground turkey instead of pork (I know, crazy!).  Folded into the meat is chopped up dried apricots, raisins, and apples.  And finally, I mixed in tons of spices, the majority being curry powder.  Bridget tossed all the ingredients and cooked them in a pan, when done she threw it in a pyrex dish.  I whipped up a custard to throw on top and we had bobotie.  Cooked for an hour, it turned into a tasty South African meatloaf.

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To go with the dish we made some yellow rice and peas.  Both sides are traditionally eaten with bobotie.  The meal was fantastic, the fruit was a little different with the meat but we both gobbled it up.

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During our last home cooked adventures dessert was not really important or even thought of.  I was not having that with this meal and so we decided to make a dish called malva.  Malva is a South African sweet pudding.  When I say sweet,  I am not doing the dessert justice, it is beyond sweet.

Let me put it this way, the dessert asked for almost a whole stick of butter, 5 ounces of sugar, and fresh cream.  Mind you, this is only the sauce that goes on top of the pudding, which has plenty of sugar and butter as well.   The dish was quite easy to make and came out perfectly.  The dessert was half gone before I realized it and was the highlight of the night.

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A big thanks to Lynne for the great ideas and recipes she texted me.  That South African blood runs deep in her and I still have no idea what she is doing with Matt Rosenkoff.

-Matt

Russia: Moscow Mules & Blinis

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With my parents coming to town I wanted to take them for a cuisine from a country that they would enjoy.  Since half of my ancestors came from Russia, taking my parents to Russia House would make them feel right at home.  Also, I’ve heard that the vodka is amazing and the atmosphere is one you must enjoy first hand.  Seeing the menu had rabbit I was more excited to have something I’ve never enjoyed.

We sat down in the bottom floor but it didn’t feel like we were put in a basement.  After waiting a long time for our server we were helped by a lovely Serbian waitress.   The drink menu was three choices only, vodka, vodka and more vodka.   Bridget and I decided that we should start with a Moscow Mule.  My mom ordered a Cosmopolitan, it only took her a few sips to really enjoy it.

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We started the meal with a couple of appetizers that the server recommended.  This was after she disappointed me by telling me there was no Elk & Cherry sausage to order.  Instead we went with the pierogies and croquettes.  The pierogies (on left) were stuffed with sour cream pasta and lamb confit.  The chicken croquettes (on right) were fried well and placed on top of two different Russian salads.  One salad was potato and the other was egg based.  The salads were traditional “Olivier” and were outstanding.  The flavor of the salads were unique and had a wonderful pickle taste.

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I was excited to order the rabbit for dinner and was  looking forward to a protein I’ve never had before.  Then the server came over to take our menu and disappointed my night, they were out of rabbit.  I overcame this disappointment and went ahead ordering a traditional Russian dish called “shashlik.”  Shaslik is lamb kabobs marinated in cider vinegar and many different herbs.  My lamb was served off the kabobs around a rice pilaf and dilled cucumbers.

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Bridget also went with Russian traditional food ordering the Kulebiaka.  The kulebiaka is a puff pastry filled with baked salmon, fennel, onions and potatoes.   I thought it was a bit odd to have a pastry stuffed with salmon but Bridget enjoyed it and there was none left when the meal was done.

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I figured my parents would be boring but my dad proved me wrong.  He ordered what I thought was the best looking item on the menu, pan seared duck breast (on left below). Ordered a little rare, it came out perfect and was enjoyed by all.  The meal came with a fun Russian treat, a blini (more about them in the desserts).  My mom got an appetizer, as the Cosmo probably hit at this time making her not as hungry.  She got the stuffed peppers (on right below) for her entree.  The peppers were stuffed with short ribs and were just enough to fill her up.

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It seemed that everyone was stuffed after our appetizers and entrees, usually meaning no one would want dessert.  However, if you haven’t been to dinner with my family dessert is the most important part of the meal.  I was raised in a household that owned an ice cream story when I was a kid, dessert is very important.

I was looking forward to this dessert because of the Russian treats of Blinis.  Blinis are basically little Russian pancakes stuffed with sweets from the heavens.  They also make them savory but how is that exciting?  Bridget and my mom shared a creme brulee but really, who cares?  The blini I ordered was stuffed with fresh fruit and sweet cheese.

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The blini capped off the night leaving a full-flavored and fruity taste in my mouth.  That or the 3 Moscow Mules I ordered cluttered my mind and confused my taste buds.  Either way, the 3 drinks I had helped me on the way out explain how Uber worked for the 100th time today to my dad. (Another story for another time).

-Matt

Columbia: A Dinner Adventure in Photos

Instead of simply writing about the meal we enjoyed this time, Matt and I decided to try another approach, a photo blog.


Disclaimer: We were still getting the hang of taking photos and at the right moment so bare with us! 

For our next food adventure we are off to South America to try Colombian cuisine. The closest Colombian restaurant was pretty far from us so we decided to try cooking it a few dishes at home. How’d they turn out? Check out the photos below and see for yourself!

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Cubed steak marinating in onion, cumin, garlic, and beer (Miller High Life). After 5+ hours it will become chuzos de res.
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Marinated steak was placed on skewers to be grilled.
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And then it was grilled to perfection.
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While the steak marinated, we got to work on the next Colombia dish – arepas de queso.
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We mixed the masarepa with the secret ingredient and formed palm sized balls to that we would then press into round discs.

OK, the secret ingredient was cheese! I know you were dying to know.

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The discs are then pan fried. This proved to test my patience. Like I’ve learned while frying plantains, hovering over the pan and poking at it does not make it cook faster. Not pictured: The arepa that fell apart because I watched it too hard.
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See these three are perfection! We’re just not going to talk about the fourth.
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While I was poking at the arepas (figuratively), Matt got started on the last Colombian dish we were making – papas saladas (salted potatoes). What may seem like a harmless pot of water with small red potatoes is actually a pot of water with small red potatoes with A LOT of salt.
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The potatoes are boiled until all of the water evaporates leaving behind a crust of salt.
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Finally it all came together to form a plate of Colombian perfection (with some salad for color).
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Buen Provecho!

-Bridget