Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Some of you might remember my post declaring my love for mackerel. (You don't? It's here.) It's a kind of a "romantic abnormality", if you remember the best Simpsons episode ever, "A Fish Called Selma". Well, imagine how happy I was when I went to Ikea last Sunday and found their new Mackerel decor. I found a tray and napkins.

Mackerel Tray

I couldn't stay much and see whether other items now sport my favorite fish. Maybe the Poang chair? If I may, I'd like to suggest shower curtains, dish towels, ceiling lamp, and a massive rug.

Mackerel Napkins

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Here is another Betty Crocker vintage recipe card from a 1971 collection I found at a yard sale (to see other posts in the series, see Vintage Recipe Cards). The first time I flipped through the cards in this series, I thought this was a recipe for strawberry shortcake. Something wrong registered in the back of my mind, though, and it kept itching in my brain all day until I went back to the recipe card and noticed the olive totem on the top and the raw broccoli floret laid on the plate like a carnation on a grave. I finally checked the title... "Crusty Salmon Shortcakes" and I literally gulped.

Let me tell you what Crusty Salmon Shortcake is. It's a split Bisquick roll smeared with a chunky slop made of olives, pimiento, milk, condensed cream-of-mushroom soup, Worcester sauce, and canned salmon. And as wrong as this ingredient mix already sounds, with its bastardized béchamel and the completely avoidable Worcester sauce, we all know it's really the canned salmon that takes this "Impromptu Party Fare" to the next level down.

I have very little to say to this. I can imagine its grittiness, its clash of cheap flavors, its useless saltiness, and I get depressed. I can only see this as a mini ziggurat of 70s culinary confusion, a monument to ill-advised shortcuts. Let's throw some more broccoli at this, huddle ourselves in our raincoats, and walk away.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


You have to be a pretty terrible food tourist to come back from Palermo, Sicily, bored and with an empty camera. In this city, street food is fantastic and available EVERYWHERE. Whereas Venice requires thorough investigative work to dig out the really authentic spots, in Palermo you only need to stumble outside to find incredible local foods served pretty much everywhere. Outdoor markets, carts, delis, gelaterie e friggitorie (delis specialized in fried food), restaurants and trattorie, street festivals, and bars are open pretty much around the clock to make your taste buds as happy as can be. In a matter of a few hours, you'll realize you need to make room for another mealtime in your day. Just thinking about it makes my stomach growl. But it's almost brinner here after all!

Here is a compilation of street foods I ate in 2010 during a 5-day trip to Palermo, including two brief visits to the towns of Erice and Marsala. My travel companions and I fell in love with the delicious treats of Palermo and with its regal, multiethnic, and mysterious charm. (One of the great mysteries of our stay, for example, was the disappearance of my room's toilet seat two days into my hotel stay.)



Here's a great afternoon snack I had near the Vucciria (the most famous outdoor market in Palermo). The fish was fresh, sweet, and crispy. No heavy and herb-rich breading like you would find at an Italian-American restaurant. I believe these calamari were only dusted with flour, but I'm not sure.


Again in Vucciria market, where a fishmonger is cleaning bottarga (tuna roe) on a fountain ledge, while some plump stray dogs (not pictured) gather around. We all know you would NEVER, EVER witness anything like this in a U.S. farmers' market, but on this issue I have to side with Palermo.


Grilled fish is omnipresent on restaurant menus in Palermo, and rightfully so. The fish is wonderful and cooked to perfection. Swordfish steaks are lightly breaded and oiled, just as described in Genesis before the original sin, I believe.


The sfincione is a cross between a pizza and a focaccia and is available from carts pretty much everywhere in Palermo. It is served warm, topped with a little bit of tomato sauce, garlic, onions, and a mix of grated Pecorino and mollica (breadcrumbs made from the soft inside of the bread—no crust). So soft and flavorful, the sfincione is one my dearest memories of Palermo.


And here is Palermo's gold, in my opinion: the Spleen Sandwich, or, to use the name coined by my brother-in-law, the Spleenburger. The shop where I bought the sandwich in the photo had a huge menu on the wall listing the prices for up to 50 spleenburgers. You need 34 sandwiches? No need to ask the cashier: The price is on the wall. This was my first time eating spleen, and I will tell you it is not as intense as you might imagine. The juicy meat is slapped on a roll, dredged with spleen gravy, and then sprinkled with grated Pecorino. Verdict? I could pretty much eat this forever around the clock.


Babbaluci is the Sicilian name for little snails. In this picture, you can see 2 lbs. of babbaluci we ordered as an afternoon snack. As much as I loved the idea of this snack when I pressed my travel mates to order some, I have to admit that seeing the snails' little eyes and mouths up close annihilated my appetite. Babbaluci, adieu!


You might know arancini as small, breadcrumbs-coated rice balls that look like little oranges (hence the name). The Palermo version is called bomba because it's massive, and can better be described as about one and a half portions of risotto rolled up, deep-fried, and served as a snack. Kissing an arancina bomba before eating is not customary, but it's hard not to do.


If you're anything like me, you had already taken notice of this brick of beauty in the preceding image, and you are there wondering, "Hey, what about that doll?" Well, the brick is called spitino, and it's a breaded and deep-fried masterpiece of architectural design made of slices of white bread alternated with meat ragù. Some recipes have the sandwiches dipped in béchamel sauce before the breading. Mr Bee was mesmerized by the spitino, which he referred to as deep fried lasagne. Whatever you choose to call it, this alone is worth a trip to Italy.


I know you see the fries, but it's the rest that is worth noting. The round potato croquettes are, as you can infer, the crocchè in the title. The small fried triangular snack on the back are panelle, which are chickpea fritters (mind you, they are made with chickpea flour, not whole chickpeas). The small cups are filled with salsa rosa, which is basically Russian dressing. Not the sauce you would expect in Sicily, I know. But Italians love salsa rosa, and you need to accept it.


Fresh ricotta has been my favorite food since I started eating solids. I hope you'll then understand my horror when I moved to the United States and realized that ricotta here is available everywhere, but in a version so corrupted and distorted to make it completely unrecognizable from the original. I don't want to start a debate on this right now, but please know that ricotta is NOT made with lemon juice and vinegar. Sicilian ricotta is made from sheep's milk and is used in a myriad of knockout recipes. In this open market, we found baked ricottas covered with olives, caramelized onions, and herbs. We were lucky enough to taste them right there at the stand, while sipping some cold beer served to us by the stand's owner. My version of happiness.


A few hours from Palermo, on the left corner of Sicily, you will find beautiful Erice, an ancient Greek town on top of Mount Erice. In this picture, you can see (from left to right), small cassate, cannoli, and finally the genovesi, Erice's specialty. Genovesi are shortcrust pastry filled with cream and served strictly warm right out of the oven. You'll find them at Maria Grammatico pastry shop. 


This is me, in a pastry shop in the town in Marsala, holding my soul mate, the Sicilian cannolo (I specify "Sicilian" because where I come from a cannolo looks like this). Our friend and guide from Marsala took us to this shop because the ricotta filling is made last minute, and not simply every morning like in most other pastry shops. I didn't dare confess that even the last Sicilian cannolo abandoned in a sewer for a month and covered in dog hair is a trillion times better than those you find anywhere else, but the thought of another level of deliciousness for the cannoli I had tried in Palermo shut me up.


Mr Bee and I had heard tails of terrifying and delicious mystery meats offered in veiled secrecy from beneath large baskets by gentlemen at the far edges of Palermo's markets. We looked for the telltale baskets at each market we visited, but saw no signs of these mythical vendors. However, on our last day in the city while revisiting one of our favorite markets I encountered this gentleman sitting, as described, at the edge of the market behind a huge covered basket. I approached him timidly and asked for a sandwich, and I stood there watching him rummaging in the basket with his bare hands and fishing out strips of warm meat that he then slapped on bread. The specialty here is frittola, which consists of waste bits of veal left after butchering (fat, cartilage, tendons). This type of frittola was served on a roll, but I hear you can also eat the meat bits on their own. It was an exciting, scary, delicious mid-morning snack that tickled and awoke my Sicilian blood.