úterý 27. října 2009

Mozarella from Aromi = Insalata caprese

This is what I had for lunch yesterday.

The mozzarella comes from Aromi la bottega. This melt-in-your-mouth milky buttery goodness is no comparison to those supermarket mozzarellas. Yes, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s worth every halíř. Aromi’s la bottega is probably the best Italian deli shop in Prague, also the most expensive one. But if you are looking for unquestionable quality, this is the place to go. Good and ripe tomatoes and good olive oil are a must!

Lunch at Sakura

The number of new sushi restaurants and bars in Prague has been steadily growing in the last couple of years. Sushi is the ultimate “trendy” food and therefore it appeals to many people.

However when it comes to quality, Prague’s sushi places don’t shine. The only exception in my opinion is The Sushi Bar, which is very pricy, and maybe the more affordable Sushi point chain. I have heard some good things about Nagoya, but haven’t tried it yet. The Euro magazine issued a list of Prague's best restaurants and the only Japanese restaurant in this list in Mashhana., I've been there about a year ago and thought it was just fine.

The main problem of sushi in central Europe are the ingredients, the execution and the prices. In a country where the regular lunch menu in an average restaurant costs 100-120crowns not many customers can justify paying 100crowns for 1 single nigiri. But the thing is that high quality fish costs even more than that, as prices in The Sushi Bar suggest. So what do these new restaurateurs do to reduce prices and tempt more customers? They put way too much vinegar into the rice so that it overpowers the flavor of the not-so-fresh fish, they set up AYC running sushi belts, they employ self-trained cooks etc etc. I think many people know what I am talking about, but let me tell you that the sushi problem in Prague is diminutive in comparison to Moscow or Kiev. There you’ll find sushi places virtually on every corner and the quality of food in the vast majority of them is bad to say the least.

To be more just I have to say that the sushi in Sakura is not the worst in Prague, the running sushi in Palladium or Planet sushi (a Russian chain) are worse. Plus, we have been there for lunch, which is the more budget friendly option, maybe they do better at dinner but I’m not sure if this is the correct way to go for a restaurant.
The place itself is spacious and has a pleasant outside terrace. We chose from the lunch menu, which includes several sushi sets with miso soup and many Chinese style main dishes. The main menu is very extensive, they even offer whole Peking duck…I know it's weird.

I ordered the Sakura menu 12 for 330 crowns, my fellow diner ordered the Sakura menu 2 for 180 crowns and the chuka wakame salad for 90 crowns from the main menu. My set should have contained miso soup and tea, but I never got the tea, even after I inquired about it. Were they out of tea? They serve Yamasa soy sauce here, which is not my favorite as it is too salty for my liking. When we were placing our orders the waitress asked whether we wanted the soup. I asked whether it's really part of the set and she said yes, it is but they always ask the customer whether he/she wants the soup because many people end up not eating it, hmmmm.....

The miso soup was actually quite good, with soft silky tofu, lots of seaweed and with no MSG added as I thought.

The salad was alright but it was drenched in the sweetish vinegary dressing, it was virtually swimming in it. There was too little wakame in this wakame salad.

My sushi set contained 4 nigiri and 2 varieties of maki, california and salmon. It’s difficult to screw up a california roll and it was ok. But the other stuff was not so good. The tuna smelled bad so I didn’t touch it, I mentioned that to the waitress and she just shrugged. The prawn was one of these frozen butterflied prawns you see in Japanese stores and Makro. The salmon was probably the best item, at least is was fresh.

The other sushi set contained just one nigiri, the california rolls and cucumber maki. Again, the california roll was ok, so was the cucmber maki.
The rice itself was too vinegary, combine this with the extremely salty soy sauce and you will get the idea about the overall impression.
Was this a cheap lunch? No! The bill, with 3 bonaqua waters, was 700 crowns. And mind you, the place was packed with people!
Now let’s sum it up – I wasn’t given the tea I paid for, the tuna was smelly, the rice was too vinegary, the salad was not worth 90 crowns. The miso soup was good, the salmon was actually fine too. Was this lunch worth 700 crowns? No, we would’ve been better off in Mirellie which is a few minutes away.
What did I learn? Save money and go to The Sushi Bar!

**As I revisited the website of Sakura I was amazed to see that they have opened 2 other restaurants, one in Prague and one in Kladno. They do not seem to be suffering from recession, another proof of how popular sushi is becoming here.

pátek 16. října 2009

Salmon with garden cress sauce

Garden cress is full of vitamins but due to a very spicy taste isn’t liked by some people. It used to be called “the poor man’s pepper”. This was because it was used as a substitute for pepper by those who couldn’t afford the expensive spices that were shipped in from Asia. Today, garden cress is mainly eaten as a part of salads or in sandwiches, but sometimes it is used to cook soups and main dishes. Cress gives any dish a very distinct, peppery flavor but heating it lessens this effect and gives the final dish a very pleasant tanginess.
Garden cress, or Řeřicha in Czech, is sold in little boxes that contain shoots of the plant. What you do is cut off the green parts and use them. If you don’t throw away the box with the leftover shoots new plants may grow from them, but that doesn’t always happen. I guess it depends on the quality of the shoots or on how long they have been standing around.

2 x 250gr salmon fillets
1 tablespoon of chopped tarragon
2 heaped tablespoons of garden cress
3 tablespoons of sour cream
1 small clove of garlic – thinly sliced
150 ml of white wine
Salt, pepper

Heat up a pan with some oil and fry the seasoned salmon for 2-3 minutes on every side, depending on how thick the fillets are. Remove the fish from the pan a put onto a heated plate. In the same pan sauté the garlic for a minute and add the wine. Let evaporate until there is about 1 tablespoon of liquid left. Add the sour cream, cress and tarragon. Cook until sauce thickens, season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over the fish and serve!

úterý 13. října 2009

Na Kopci and lunch on rainy Sunday

I wanted to sample the new menu at Na Kopci ever since it was introduced in early September. Why? Because there are mussels on the menu and mussels are one of my favourite foods! On top of that, the chef at Na Kopci used to work in Belgium, a country known for its mussels!
Na Kopci has opened about a year ago and has gained much fame since. It’s located as far away from the city center as you can imagine, and I don’t mean that it’s dozens of km away but that it’s hidden in a remote and quiet residential area above Anděl and there is no chance you will accidentally come across this restaurant. People who have been there once return on a regular basis and traveling a small distance by bus or car does not discourage them.

The place itself is tiny, there are always 2 attentive and smily waiters ready to give you more details on the menu and wine list, the food comes out fairly fast and the presentation is always clean and simple, with emphasis on fresh ingredients. Na Kopci is not an expensive restaurant! Well, you do pay more than in you local hospoda, but the local hospoda doesn’t serve fresh swordfish or proper Ceasar salad does it? The prices in similar restaurants in the town center, similar by food concept but often lacking the good quality, are double in the best case. And most of all, Na Kopci is a non smoking restaurant!

We thoughtfully reserved a table for 5:30pm, there was only 1 other free table inside when we arrived. We were seated and handed the menus. We knew what we wanted beforehand and so did not have a hard time deciding. It is fairly dark inside so the pictures are not good, but I decided to share them anyway.

Husband’s creamy fish soup with aioli. There was one mussel and a piece of fish inside the soup. It was perfectly smooth and had a very delicate seafood flavor, the aioli and thin toast were a perfect complement.

My pot-au-feu beef soup. The soup contained a few pieces of incredibly tender beef, crispy celery, carrots and baby turnip in a strong, clear and well seasoned beef broth. Perfect for a cold autumn evening.

Husband’s steak with bordelaise sauce and mushrooms also included snow peas and potato slices baked with bacon. The steak was tender and perfectly medium, but the whole dish needed salt.

My mussels mariniere were served in a stylish big black pot with Moules written on it. Because the pot was so big and black and because there was so little light inside, there was no way I could make a photo of the mussels, which is a great pity because tastewise they were the best dish of the evening. They were big and fresh, lightly steamed in wine and not dry. There were crispy homemade french fries and mayonnaise served along with the mussels. These were the tastiest mussels I have eaten in Prague. But unfortunately, I also have to mention that the person cleaning the mussels did not do a good job. There was no sand in them but quite a few of them haven’t had their “hair” removed. I’m not sure but I bet this is a major flaw. Oh well, I just removed the stuff myself and enjoyed the mussels anyway.

We ended the meal with a crème brûlée. It’s probably the most popular dessert at Na Kopci, you see most tables ordering it. Remember how Amélie Poulain enjoys breaking the crust on crème brûlée with a spoon in the Amélie movie? That’s exactly what we did! :-)

I would recommend Na Kopci to anyone who wants to enjoy a peaceful lunch or dinner with good food and fair prices. You will have to travel outside the beaten track but the place is worth it. However, if you are picky about perfectly cleaned mussels, think twice before ordering them.

Rain has ruined our plans for outside activities on Sunday and so we enjoyed a Greek style lunch at home. Homemade tzatziki and melitzanosalata, store bought feta stuffed peppers and olives and greek salad with pita bread. We also had some greek style lamb with vegetables baked in claypots, which there is no picture of. All simple but delicious stuff.

středa 7. října 2009

TTTM SAPA - the Vietnamese market

There is no other place like this in Prague. In fact, there are one or two similar but smaller markets, but they can’t compare to TTTM SAPA. It’s a small world of its own and is the center of the Vietnamese community in Prague and maybe even in the whole country. It's like a small town, it has language schools, a kindergarden, a buddhist temple, hairdresser and beauty salons, casinos, grocery stores, restaurants etc. People working in Sapa are generally very friendly but speak very little Czech. The place itself is actually a wholesale market with clothes, household items, electronics and other stuff found in many smaller Vietnamese markets and shops. But all of this was of no interest to us because we were there for the food! There are many small vendors selling just one particular food and also places serving the more traditional Čínské bistro fare.
The grocery stores in Sapa sell exotic fruits and vegetables (even stinky durian!!!), live fish, seafood and meat. There are also many ready made foods sold, like whole grilled ducks, banh mi sandwiches, different sweets, fresh juices etc etc.
On our first visit we tried the Bun cha at an eatery called Hai Ha. It’s a small joint where 1 guy is grilling, 1 guy is chopping and marinating the meat, 1 guy washing and chopping the herbs and vegetables and 2 women are assembling the plates and waiting the tables. The meat is being grilled outside of the restaurant in a small adjacent side-street. The meat is marinated in a sweet marinade and so it burns ferociously on the grill, due to this the guy operating the big grill is constantly wearing a mask. A somewhat bizarre sight. The place itself has 2 big and 4 small tables. What you do is come in, sit down and wait.
One of the ladies will either come and ask you something or she will start bringing the food straight away. We were approached by one of the ladies, but didn’t understand a word she said and so I just made the victory gestrure with my fingers to indicate that we want two portions. She nodded and walked away. In about 2 minutes we were brought a dish of greens, a dish of noodles and a bowl of sweet and sour dressing/soup each. A couple of minutes we got our two plates of meat.
This is how it looks altogether.
Perfectly grilled thin morsels of delicious meat and tiny thin “hamburgers”, they are meant to be dipped into the bowl with the sweet and sour dressing and eaten with the provided greens. The noodles are aslo meant to be eaten with the dressing. These herbs are not sold in regular supermarkets or groceries, apart form cilantro and iceberg lettuce they are authentic Vietnamese herbs and their names remain unknown to me (Ngo gai perhaps?). The combination of the four elements contributes to the complex experience from this dish. The meat is tasty on its own, but together with the herbs, noodles and dressing it is a major delicacy. It costs 90 crowns each I believe.
After finishing off our Bun cha we wandered around the market and came across a vendor frying something closely resembling doughnuts. We bought to kinds of doughnuts and a mysterious
square parcel wrapped in a leaf (banana??).

The doughnuts are…uhm….unusual :-) They were extremely greasy, oil was dripping when I bit into one of them. They had thick and hard crusts inside which was some gooey substance. The most interesting thing was that they were not sweet at all! The one dusted with powdered sugar was sweet because of the sugar, but the filling and the other doughnut were not even close to being sweet. Oh well, I never was a connoisseur of Asian desserts and I guess it will stay the same :-)
The leaf wrapped parcel was another surprise! We unwrapped it when we got home and it contained a square made of sticky rice with some pastelike yellowish-grey filling. It was
something like this. Interesting, but not something I would buy again.
We visited the market again this weekend. This time a couple of friends joined us. We wandered around the market a bit and sat down in a place serving Pho.

It was very good, but I thought that the Pho soup served in the Holešovice tržnice is richer and has deeper flavours. Here is a picture of some delicious noodles I had in the Holešovice tržnice recently, these are actually also called Pho (Pho xào) but are not served as a soup.

Pho is probably the most famous Vietnamese dish. I am obviously not the only one who wonders how it is possible that there are no Pho restaurants all around Czech Republic, with so many Vietnamese people living here. For some inexplicable reason they resort to operating Chinese bistros with food of questionable quality. Vietnamese food is much healthier and tastier than sladko-kyselé kuře! You can get Pho at several places in Prague though, Sapa market being one with the best variety.
For more information on Sapa, check out Pan Cuketka’s wonderful report and a map worked out by his readers, it’s very helpful! Pan Cuketka also wrote 2 extensive articles on Pho and bun cha in Prague, here is one and the other.

pondělí 5. října 2009

Pumpkin pancakes

The Hokkaido is probably my favourite pumpkin variety. It's sweet, has a pronounced flavour and stores very well. Hokkaido pumpkins are a bit difficult to peel though, so I bake them with the skins on and then just scrape out the soft flesh. However, if cooked long enough the skin is perfectly edible too! Given that the pumpkins are organic and have not been chemically treated of course!
These pancakes are very healthy, they contain just a little flour, no eggs and you only need a small amount of oil to fry them. Served with sour cream and lots maple syrup, they are one of my favourite breakfasts!

400gr of Hokkaido pumpkin
150gr of flour
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
½ teaspoon of baking powder
about 150ml of milk
oil for frying - 1 teaspoon per each batch of pancakes

Cut up the deseeded pumpkin into several pieces, line a baking tray with baking paper and put the pumpkin pieces on it. Bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until the flesh is soft.
Scrape out the flesh and mash it up in a bowl. Add the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Pour in enough milk to make a paste like mixture that is thick enough not to fall off the spoon, but smooth at the same time.
Heat up a little oil in a non-stick pan. One tablespoon of the mixture will make one pancake, use another spoon to scrape the mixture off into the pan. I put 5 tablespoons of the mixture into the pan each time, so every batch consisted of 5 pancakes. Cover with a lid and fry on medium flame for 3-5 minutes. When you take the lid off you will see that each pancake has flattened out on the pan. Turn them around and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until brown on both sides. The baking time depends on how thick the pancakes are.

Serve warm with maple syrup, honey, jam, youghurt or anything else you like.
I sometimes keep some of the baked pumpkin aside, cut it into small pieces and add to the mixture to make the pancakes chunkier.

neděle 4. října 2009

Beef tajine with raisins and apples

I am totally in love with my tajine and the fragrant dishes that come out of it! It’s made from some special ceramic that can be used to cook on the stove, not only in the oven. And this makes it a perfect piece of cookware. I often use the lower dish to sauté or even fry things, because it distributes and holds heat very well. I am thinking about buying an Asian pot from the same product line, if only it wasn't so darn expensive! So, for now I happily stick to my tajine.
Neoluxor stocked only 2 books on Moroccan cooking and so I bought both, one in Czech and one in English. The latter is somewhat more sophisticated and calls for more exotic ingredients, that are apparently irreplaceable but also fairly difficult to find.

The recipe for this tajine comes from this book. The result was very tender meat in an incredibly aromatic and thick sauce. It is best to serve this dish with cous-cous or rice and a refreshing crunchy salad.

1 kg of beef cut into small pieces - I used hovězí zádní
1 onion - diced
125gr raisins - no need to soak them
3 sour apples
3 tablespoons of honey
4 sprigs of cilantro - tied together
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 teaspoons of ground dried ginger
1,5 teaspoons of cinnamon
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
20 gr of butter

Heat up the tajine on the stove with some olive oil and butter and quickly fry the beef. Remove the meat from pan and turn down the heat a bit, add some more oil if needed and throw in the diced onion. Saute until translucent and soft.
Add the saffron, ginger and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and sauté for another minute until the spices are fragrant, add a generous portion of the freshly ground pepper and pour in approximately 375ml of water. You can always add more water if needed. Put the meat back into the tajine along with the cilantro and add some salt. Mix thoroughly, cover and let simmer on medium to low heat for about 1,5 hour.
Uncover the tajine and add the raisins, add some salt if needed. Cover again and let simmer for another 1/2 hour.
In the meantime cut the apples into quarters and remove the stalks. Heat up some butter in another pan and sauté the apples in the butter. Pout in the honey and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Let caramelise and set aside.
Serve the meat with the apples. You should sprinkle some sesame seeds on top, but I didn't have any.

*I used more cinnamon, ginger and raisins and less saffron, but you can always taste the sauce and add more if you desire. I also increased the cooking time by half an hour.