Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Halloumi is a wonderful and unusual cheese. It originated in Cyprus and is popular all over the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey. This cheese is unlike other cheeses because it can be flambeed, fried, grilled, broiled and baked without losing its texture and shape. Halloumi is not the only cheese which can be fried but it may be the oldest.

When enjoying Halloumi it is not necessary to apply heat, it can be enjoyed as is right out of the box. This cheese will be squeaky on your teeth before frying and more so after frying. You can use this cheese fresh in place of Feta and is often served with watermelon. But the real glory of this cheese does not surface until heat is applied.

This cheese can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert. You can stud the Halloumi with pine nuts and fry it, or toss with garlic, lemon and dill and grill it. You can sweeten it up by serving the cheese with a drizzle of honey, sprinkled with almonds, mint, and grilled peaches. It is great with olives, seafood, and veggies. It is also popular for breakfast with bacon and eggs. Halloumi can be chucked, skewered, and grilled like a cheese kabob. If you are BBQing this summer and worried that some vegetarians might crash the meat fest, this will make them happy.

This cheese can do almost anything but melt. I usually do not advocate the freezing of cheese but http://www.cyprushalloumi.com/ states it can be "frozen for up to one year". They also suggest grating it on pasta, salads, and using it as a ravioli filling. This cheese will pair well with a minerally Sauvignon Blanc as well as a fruity Chenin Blanc, a medium bodied Pinot Grigio, and a light Edelzwicker Wines from Alsace.

When making Halloumi, the curds are cut and pressed into molds then removed from the molds and reheated in hot water or whey. The warm cheese is kneaded by hand and shaped. This is very similar to making mozzarella or pasta filata cheeses. The cheese is often sprinkled with mint but I have yet to find that it imparts any noticeable flavor. It may have been used at one time to tell how fresh the cheese was like burrata being wrapped in a leaf. If the leaf was brown the cheese was old. In these modern times, Halloumi is vacuum packed with a much longer shelf life.

Halloumi can be enjoyed the day after it is made but is often ripened for about a month. Halloumi is a salty cheese but you can make it less salty by soaking the cheese in water. I have tried two types of Halloumi, Shepherd of Cyprus 100% Sheep's milk Halloumi and Mt. Vikos Halloumi which is a blend of sheep and goat's milk. I much preferred the Shepherd of Cyprus Halloumi. It had a better texture, flavor, and browning. The Mt. Vikos was a little gritty.

Halloumi is a protected cheese which can only be made on Cyprus. They take their Halloumi very seriously and have a Halloumi police force. They make sure that Halloumi is being made within regulations and using traditional methods. There was an uproar recently when it became known that many producers were making this cheese entirely from cow's milk. The Sheep and Goat Farmer's Association is also working to remove the term Halloumi from low fat and light options that are being marketed.

Halloumi is made with sheep's milk and can be blended with goat's milk and cow's milk. As of 1985 when a law was passed, cow's milk cannot exceed the percentage of goat's milk. But there seems to be some debate regarding the interpretation of current standards for Halloumi production. Standards may not change soon as that would affect the pending application with the European Commission for a Product of Designated Origin.

Sidqui Effendi was a Turkish writer who wrote a cookbook and called Halloumi a "good food which enhances sex". I cannot see any scientific reasoning behind that comment but it is amusing. But maybe we need to conduct some studies on this matter, maybe there is a grant out there for some such study....If you conduct any research of your own, please tell us all about it by commenting below!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Crazy Japanese Kit Kats

While visiting Okinawa I read an article on wasabi. The article said that Kit Kat made a wasabi flavor which I then became obsessed with finding. I looked everywhere for these alleged wasabi flavored Kit Kats. While we were visiting Okinawa World, I found Beni Mo kit Kats and bought a box. Then at a Family Mart gas station I bought what I thought was a wasabi Big Kat Kit Kat bar but it turned out to be green tea. I had bought 3 of them so I shared one with my nephew and brought the other two home with me. My nephew got the green chocolate all over his face which looked usually gross.

Then in Tokyo I found a much larger selection of Kit Kats, I found Soy Sauce, Sweet Potato, Corn, Deep Roasted Soy Bean, and Green Tea with Cherry Blossom. I spotted the elusive Wasabi Kit Kat just as a shop in Tokyo station was closing its gate. But I was able to finally track down the confection at the Naritia Airport along with a few of the previously mentioned varieties.

I had also seen raspberry flavor Kit Kats, and citrus Kit Kats but I chose the most unusual to bring home. I never thought I would return from Japan loaded with Kit Kats. I have only seen the classic Kit Kat, the Big Kat, and white chocolate, and dark chocolate variety available in the US. Now I wonder why they would only offer such crazy flavors in Japan? After all, corn is an American staple and we love sweet potato pie. I would love to see some more interesting flavors available in the US.

With way too many Kit Kats to enjoy with just my husband, I invited a few friends over for a Kit Kat tasting. I apologize that I did not photograph this event as I got carried away by candy. But this pic comes from a friends cell phone.

We started with the Green Tea Big Kat, then moved on the the Green Tea with Cherry Blossom. This was a favorite of the ladies with its sweet floral notes. In the past, I have even added Sakura (cherry blossoms) to goat cheese. Sakura is a flavor more commonly used in Japan, like the Sakura Moochi (an ice cream rice ball) I enjoyed in Tokyo.

Then we tried the Corn Kit Kat, which had a different kind of sweetness and was very enjoyable. The sweet potato and Beni Mo were both very good. But it was the Deep Roasted Soy Bean and the Soy Sauce flavors that were surprisingly delicious. The Soy Sauce tasted like a maple candy and the Soybean was very nutty. The Wasabi was surprisingly mellow, at first it tasted like white chocolate then at the end there was a bit of a kick. Most of them had a white chocolate base so that flavor was always underlying.

One thing that was very surprising was the packaging. The smaller Corn and Green Tea with Cherry Blossoms were packaged to be mailed. The packaging reminded me of Valentine's day candies which space on the back to write "To" and "From". The other boxes were much bigger and did not have space for an address but inside every package were individually wrapped candies. The big box had 12 individually wrapped Kit Kats each containing two half sized sticks and the smaller box had 4 to 6 individually wrapped Kit Kats each containing two mid sized sticks.

Wonder what kind of classic American flavors Kit Kat could produce? Philly Cheesesteak, Soft Pretzel, Maryland Crab, Sour Apple, watermelon? I would just like some more of the Deep Roasted Soybean flavor. I did have a bit of a belly ache after all that candy.

Sidebar Observations

The Japanese really seem to love their packaging. We bought some "wheat germ" crackers and inside the box were wrapped packs of crackers that were more than an individual serving. I bought some McVities Salt and Chocolate biscuits and they too contained little packets of wrapped cookies. I guess they don't want them to go stale? My sister in law sent me home with some Okinawa Fashion Cookies and that big box contained 8 individually wrapped cookies.

And every store wants to give you a bag that they then tape closed. Some of the bags were very pretty and of course I saved the paper. Oh, and did I ever mention that they had hand sanitizer everywhere?! Don't even get me started on that shit.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I have a Passion for Fish

We live in Reston and often walk our dogs around Reston Town Center. It is a great place to people watch on Friday and Saturday nights as people pour out of the patio at Jackson's and hang out near the fountain. There is plenty of al fresco dining options and the recent nice weather put me in the mood to eat outside.

I went to PassionFish for lunch with a girlfriend shortly after moving to Reston. We had a really great lunch and I knew it was a place I wanted to take Patrick. Someone near us had ordered the Oyster Po Boy and I knew it was a sandwich Patrick would love. We often walk our dogs by there and try to keep them from peeing near the patrons. It felt a bit odd being on the other side of their patio.

It was Friday evening and the place was packed. We were told 30 minutes for a table outside and waited in the crowded bar. The interior of the restaurant is very clean and modern with great paintings of fish. I love fish, love to eat them, look at them, even feed them or swim with them. Lady luck was with us and we got seated outside in no time. This was a relief as the crowded bar had started to frustrate me and Patrick was very hungry.

We had a nice table outside with a great breeze to enjoy. Patrick had a beer and I indulged in a glass of Cava. One glass of Cava is enough to get me buzzed and not give me a migraine the next day. I asked our server if the grilled baby octopus was breaded and was happy to hear that is was not. He asked if I had a wheat allergy and I said yes which is easier then explaining that I avoid wheat because I have arthritis and wheat is inflammatory and when I eat wheat my joints hurt worse than they already do. He said they would be happy to cook my food separate to avoid any possible contamination. Wow!!! I have never had such wonderful gluten free service before.

We ordered our food and shortly our server returned to tell me that the blue crab and corn chowder was roux based and did have wheat if I wanted to ordered something else. I guess their computer ordering system has space for food allergies and if something conflicts it will come up on the screen and notify the server. Gotta love technology!

We started with the Grilled Baby Octopus with Greek Salad, Grilled Halloumi and Tzatsiki. I love Halloumi and last weekend I did a Halloumi demonstration at work which I will blog about later. The octopus was wonderful, tender, well seasoned with a taste of char from the grill and was complimented by the salty Halloumi cheese. The Greek salad and tzatsiki sauce was fresh and made me wish I ate wheat to sop up its goodness.

Patrick ordered the Beet Salad with Farm Fresh Goat Cheese, Greens and Spiced Pecan Vinaigrette. It was a nice salad, the cheese was tangy and fresh and the pecans were really nice but it was light on the beets. I had never seen beet carpacio before and wondered if the price of beets had suddenly sky rocketed or maybe they were running low on beets. It was a nice salad but not quite 9$ nice.

Patrick asked our server what the Big Daddy was for $69 and we were told it was 8 oysters, 8 clams, 8 shrimp, lobster, and crab and maybe some other stuff, I forget. The server told us they also offer the Little Dingy which is half a Big Daddy for half the price. Patrick was overwhelmed by a crazy week at work and too many great choices on the menu and went for the Little Dingy. It was a fresh and delicious monstrosity. It was served with 3 sauces which seemed to be a classic red sauce, a creamy white horseradish, and an overly sweet vinaigrette. The horseradish was the best of the 3 but the sea food did not require much sauce. The lobster tail however was very chewy and overcooked.

I got the Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut with a Green Papaya Salad and Passion Fruit Panang. This item is usually breaded with yummy yummy Panko but the fish is breaded to order and they could do it without the Panko. I was so happy to hear this and enjoyed the dish. It may not have been crusted exactly but the flavors were wonderful. The Panag was really delicious and I was tempted to lick my plate but controlled myself.

Our server came with the dessert menus and the bad news that the only gluten free dessert was the Caramel Creme Brulee. They offered sorbet but they add a gluten stabilizer which was disappointing but I was happy that he was so knowledgeable about the menu. We skipped dessert and I had made Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream the day before and was looking forward to eating it when we got home.

This was a wonderful meal which made me feel special. PassionFish has a great atmosphere, wonderful food, and a great staff. They are very accommodating which was proven when they tried to arrange the patio furniture for a party of six and after many configurations took a table inside. But it showed that the staff was willing to do whatever it takes to make their patrons happy. I highly recommend this restaurant and recently Washingtonian Magazine said they had the best clams casino.

Club Co Co

My husband, Patrick and I went to see Exit Through The Gift Shop (which was totally awesome and you should see it if you are at all interested in street art) at E Street Cinema in downtown DC. The movie got out around 9:30 pm and we were looking for a place to eat. We headed over to Co Co Sala as I had heard great things about the place which is a "Chocolate lounge and boutique".

When we got to the restaurant we were hoping for a table outside as it was a nice night but the last open table had just been snagged. We did not have reservations but we were free to sit at the bar but by the time we checked the other side of the bar for open seats, all available seats had been filled. So we walked out of the restaurant to discuss plan B.

As we were standing on the sidewalk, the restaurant manager came out and asked if we were leaving because he had arranged a table for us if we could come in and have a look. We went back in and found a table near the front door that was crammed into an odd little corner. But it would do and plan b had not materialized.

The interior of the restaurant was very dark which made it hard and awkward to read the menu. You had to huddle close to the tea light candle on the table. It was also loud with some head bobbing Night at the Roxbury music. But it was posh with a huge bar and cozy seating. But then it got worse, around 10 pm the DJ went on and played some 70's/80's funk which would have been better left alone. Once he let the beat drop with a most horrible sound. But we were there for the food, not a club night.

We started with a flight of their Hot Coco. You pick three from their choice of six options. I wanted the pumpkin but was told they only have it in the fall which lead me to wonder why was it still on the menu in May. So we got the dark chocolate, peanut butter, and salted caramel. The dark wasn't that dark and we were told it was blended with milk chocolate but the salted caramel was very good and I loved the peanut butter. You can order the coco hot or cold but the flight is only served hot, not really sure why.

On to the food, Patrick ordered the charcuterie platter which was standard but served cold which is sad as salami and cheese are always more flavorful at room temperature. I got the Alaskan black cod that was marinated in honey then crusted in bee pollen and served with creamy lemon lime asparagus risotto. I like my fish to flake apart but I actually had to use my knife to cut it and was unable to tell if it was under cooked because it was too dark to tell. The fish also did not seem to be crusted with bee pollen but sprinkled. The risotto was more chunky then creamy which left me wondering if it was really risotto. The dish was saved by a generous amount of micro cilantro and citrus flavor.

I was really looking forward to dessert and had heard customers exclaim that this or that was the best thing they ever had. I asked our server which items on the menu were gluten free and he came back with a disappointing answer. The only gluten free dessert option was sorbet. Chocolate itself is gluten free but most of their desserts consisted of cookie, crumbles, and cake. I know I could not have been the first person to come in who does not eat wheat and I was disappointed but their lack of options.

So I ordered the trio of sorbets which included passion fruit, green apple, and pear. They were good but nothing special and easy to do at home. Patrick got the Basil and Berry Shortcake and the best thing about it was the basil foam. If you are living gluten free, don't bother with Co Co Sala. It is a tease of things you cannot eat.

I had hoped for a nice romantic late night nosh but it turned out to be a most stressful event. We should not have walked back in that night but you have to learn these lessons. It was a Saturday night and the place was packed but even still it took a ridiculously long time to get our food, then longer to get our dessert. Considering the only dish that needed to be cooked was my cod and everything else laid out on plates, our dining experience really should not have take an hour and half.

We were told there was a computer error but we really didn't want to hear excuses. Our server was nice and attentive even thought he seemed less than knowledgeable about the menu items. We were rather unhappy and ready to get the check when our dessert was finally served. We did complain to our server about the volume (which made me wish I had an app for a decibel meter) and long wait for our food. He must have mentioned it to the manager who lured us back in because he came over to our table to hear our grievances.

He was very nice and told us that after 10 pm it turns into a lounge atmosphere and the music is loud to keep people awake. OK that's fine, it was our fault for coming in so late at night but do you really have to deafen us? He would not let us leave without a goody bag and his card. Inside was chocolate dipped bacon. I do love bacon but I would rather have a Mo's Bacon Bar from Vosges.

I also hate restaurant websites that have music, especially lame club music. But it is not surprising that http://www.cocosala.com/ has a great example of this and no silent button on the site. Their website takes a bit to load even with a fast connection then tries to invoke a seizure with some flashy photos most of which you can't figure out what the image is even supposed to be. The set up of their site does not work well with my small lap top computer as it cuts off the top navigation bar and when I hit the back button I have to start all over and flash through the opening of their site.

Co Co Sala might be a great place if you are on a third date and have exhausted all conversation but still want to get your date into bed or really love to eat while clubbing. It is a trendy place that is all flash and no substance. It was a great place to people watch which was nice as conversation was difficult over the loud music. They need to decide if they want to be a restaurant, bar, lounge, or club. Do they want to focus on food or atmosphere because so far they are not living up to their potential.