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Best Buffets in the World

The all you can eat/drink Friday brunch (runs from 1:00-4:30 PM on average) in Dubai is a major institution.

Some are dreadful, but others are actually extremely good with a wonderful selection of very well prepared food.

One particular place does an outstanding buffet that includes fois gras, oysters on the shell, fabulous patisseries and wonderful mains, along with free flowing champagne. It's $200 USD/head.

Given the high cost of alcohol in Dubai the brunches are fairly good value if you intend to drink more than two or three drinks.

about 6 hours ago
Roland Parker in General Topics

What is your perfect breakfast?

I'm boring.

Yoghurt, a few slices of fruit and a cup of cappuccino.

If I'm indulging then a croissant with the cappuccino.

As much as I love the appeal of the larger breakfasts, I can't eat too much food early in the day and I'm up most days by 6:30 AM.

Jul 27, 2015
Roland Parker in General Topics

Why everyone should stop calling immigrant food ‘ethnic’

I normally enjoy reading most of what you post but this time I'm going to offer a differing viewpoint.

Most people I know when they refer to "ethnic" aren't specifically looking solely for cheap food. If they wanted cheap food, they would have gone to McDonalds.

In seeking out the foods that traditionally was regarded as ethnic (Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican and so forth) it looks like people are seeking out exciting flavors and ingredients they normally don't eat on a daily basis. These cuisines are indeed very different from the typical American or British diet. One would think that labelling food as "ethnic" is a positivity rather than a derogatory term.

I know quite a few people who routinely dine out on "ethnic" food because they find it good value. They like the flavors and they think they're getting their money's worth. Is that a bad thing? So many ethnic cuisines were first introduced to the UK or the US in the form of inexpensive immigrant run restaurants catering to the local, poorly paid, immigrant community. That level of cuisine is what they're familiar with and enjoy, and as we know, food is a very personal thing.

High end "ethnic" restaurants are still thin on the ground in both the US and UK once you leave London or New York or a handful of other cities. If people associate ethnic food with low costs it's primarily because of this lack of exposure to much more expensive versions of those cuisines. The vast majority of Americans and British also do not dine out at expensive British or American style restaurants either. Many people who resist at the notion of spending more money at an expensive "ethnic" restaurant also resist the notion of spending a lot of money at any restaurants, period.

As someone who is an excellent home cook I can somewhat sympathise with this attitude, I've had too many $30 dollar entrees at "American" or French/Italian/Continental/Fusion restaurants that passes for the default aspirational cuisines of the western upper middle classes that were pleasant but didn't feel worth the money when I compare it to what I could make at home, whereas the $10 "ethnic" Thai or Malaysian or Indian curry seems to be much better value. I don't cook those cuisines, the flavors are different enough to be a novelty and yep (if one is careful with research beforehand) still extremely well prepared. As such, I never think of "ethnic" as a derogatory term but something that is exactly what it implies: different food generally well prepared by a relatively recent immigrant group. And, ironically, "ethnic" was a popular buzzword in the 1970s-1980s used by the politically correct to celebrate the diversity of the immigrant groups as opposed homogenizing them into the standard mass culture.

4 elegant but simple dinner recipes / menus to master for dinner parties

Like several other posters have already done, I strongly recommend Ina Garten's cookbooks.

As someone who also does the occasional corporate related entertaining for my husband's career, I've discovered that people are happiest when eating what might be termed upscale-casual/upscale-home cooking food. Ina Garten's recipes are perfect both for the ease of cooking and for entertaining.

There is also no shame in outsourcing part of the meal. Instead of making your own dessert, buy a good quality tart or cake or pastries from a reputed bakery.

How to brown cake edges?

I think there's a little confusion here over the terminology and it may be because of a UK versus US audience.

Traditional sponge cake, and as it's understood in the US and Europe, is naturally quite pale as it's made with flour, sugar and eggs, but no butter or fat or milk.

The recipe you linked is a bit unusual in adding butter but it also added a blend of melted butter and milk, which results in something different than creaming butter with sugar and eggs and then adding flour. The American version would be a hot milk sponge cake.

Given this technique and the small amount of butter, there's really not much you can do to deepen the browning of the cake without drying it out.

But when I look at the picture you have in your post I'm guessing you really have the idea of making a Victoria Sponge cake, which is much more similar to the US pound cake, or to go by another UK name, madeira cake. Many people in the UK refer to this simple cake as a "sponge" even though it isn't quite a sponge and is solidly based on a butter batter.

If you want brown edges as you find with a proper Victoria sponge, use a Victoria sponge recipe (which calls for much more butter than your recipe did and is even easier to make) and do not line the sides of the tin with parchment, but thickly butter and flour the tin. The more butter you use, the browner the cake edges will become. And yes, it's one of my favorite parts of the cake! I love a nice thick brown coating.

Jul 06, 2015
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

potatoes in chicken soup?

You mean advice?

I make chicken soup with diced potatoes in it. The potato adds a bit of starch to the soup and the potato absorbs the chicken stock flavor. It's one of my favorite things to nibble on while eating the soup. I actually prefer it to the chicken meat.

If your potatoes are already cooked, odds are they will disintegrate rather than hold their shape unless you're very gentle and add the potatoes to the soup after it's already largely cooked and only at a simmer for about 10 minutes to warm up the potato bits.

Jul 03, 2015
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

Too much sugar in dessert recipes

The issue isn't so much that dessert recipes have too much sugar. It's that your taste preference differs from the "norm."

As others have suggested, seek out recipes that call for less sugar. I have a sweet tooth but not an intensely sweet tooth. Many baked goods are mildly sweet, such as unglazed cinnamon or raisin rolls and croissants. Creamy desserts can be made with less sugar, such as freshly cut up fruit served with unsweetened whipped cream. Desserts that have a lot of fruit can withstand having the sugar content dialed back, such as apple pies, but it's much trickier with cakes.

Too much sugar in dessert recipes

I have many old cookbooks dating back to the 19th century and the amount of sugar called in typical cakes and pies seems to be about the same.

People ate large quantities of jam and preserves in the past and jam is little more than sugar with fruit flavoring.

All kinds of pickles were also popular and they also had a fair amount of sugar.

I think the big change is that sugar was started to be added to what was otherwise strictly savory.

New dining options in Bmore?

Hello Kukubura, I do remember you well. I had wondered what happened to you. Like you I no longer live in Baltimore but still have family in town and return almost every summer and Christmas.

We have scores of British relatives and friends and the one restaurant they always love in Baltimore is LP Steamers in Locust Point. They love the old fashioned "Baltimore" atmosphere and if the weather is nice, sitting outside on the rooftop deck. They will claim to enjoy the crab but being British I can tell that they're not overly fond of using their fingers and mallets to tear apart the crab, but they will happily chow down on the steamed shrimps, oysters, crabcakes and the seasoned fries.

If you are still in Baltimore and have your British coworkers with you, I would head down to LP Steamers with them. Your London coworkers will likely already be familiar with restaurants of Parts & Labour and Woodberry Kitchen calibre, but LP Steamers is different and the style and seasoning of the food is not easily found in Britain.

Would you buy dessert sauces at a farmers market?

I've seen them for sale in markets in the UK, along with the jams and relishes.

Good quality chocolate sauce to heat up and pour over vanilla ice cream would probably be a nice hit. I'd buy it.

Washington Post: Eating healthy through Ramadan

You should see Ramadan in the UAE.

Iftar buffets every night in fancy hotels for affluent Muslims, groaning with huge platters of rich food and much of it is wasted and thrown away each night, while poor labourers subsist on rice and daal after spending all day hard at work with no water or food in 110+ degree heat.

I find the whole tradition peculiar. So many Muslims take long naps during the afternoons and then stay up very late. It really affects the body metabolism. And others who have health issues, including diabetes, persist in fasting despite the dangers it presents (Saudi is expected to have as much as 50% of its population diabetic in the next few decades). And all for what?

Map: The most uniquely popular cuisine in every state

I seem to remember a thread on this topic not long ago?

I think people pointed out there was an overlap between an higher than average numbers of certain immigrant groups and the state's uniquely popular cuisine. Such as Filipino food in Nevada, despite that Hispanic immigrants would greatly outnumber the Filipino. The same is true for Peruvian for both DC and Maryland, which is due to the higher than normal numbers of immigrants from certain Central American/South American countries, but it doesn't mean that Peruvian is commonplace. At all.

One way or another, it is a silly map.

origin of Cracker Pie

I was intrigued as I do have some knowledge of food history as well as rationing during WWII.

I suspect the articles confused rationing in the UK with what occurred in the US during WWII. Apples were not one of the rationed foodstuff and given the sheer commonality of apple trees and orchards across much of the United States, something that was not in short supply. Quite a few "war recipes" called for apples. Canada even rebranded apples as a patriotic food because the war disrupted international trade, including Canada's apple export market, so the government encouraged Canadians to support their farmers by buying as much Canadian produce, including apples.

It is possible that in parts of the US without an orchard culture, such as the southwest, fruits including apples that were normally imported over large distances may have become more expensive as a consequence of the war, but it would not have been nationwide.

As you pointed out, the extant articles claiming the origins of mock apple pie on WWII rationing seem dubious given the pie's much longer history and I also suspect it's a case of one speculative writer's theory being taken as gospel by other bloggers or those anonymous internet articles and restated over and over again without much validity.

Jun 14, 2015
Roland Parker in General Topics

origin of Cracker Pie

Apples were not one of the rationed food items during WWII. Apples were so commonplace so I doubt they were really that rare or expensive. Sugar was rationed and that would have had a greater impact on the evolution of pies to suit rationing purposes.

Mock apple pie recipes have been around in the US for a long time, well before the war. Pioneers would make it when they arrived in a raw new part of the country where apple trees were in short supply and were missing a taste of home. The origins of the pie doubtlessly stretches long before even the Civil War.

Jun 12, 2015
Roland Parker in General Topics

Store-bought vs. homemade grated Parmesiano Reggiano

It's possible that the store's cheese grater wasn't fully cleaned of another cheese before grating the parmesan, and it was that cheese that went moldy.

It's one reason why I won't buy pre grated parmesan from my local Carrefour because I once opened a package and there were bits of mozzarella mixed in with the parmesan!

May 29, 2015
Roland Parker in Cheese

Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock in the kitchen

Actually you are right. I wrote in haste. Suet, not lard, was used for the puddings and fruitcakes.

May 28, 2015
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock in the kitchen

Many old British steamed pudding and fruit cake recipes included lard for the fat. A once very popular dessert was jam roly poly, which is little more than a dough made of flour and lard rolled out, filled with jam, and then rolled like a Swiss roll, and steamed for hours.

The concept of the pork cake wouldn't have been so atrocious.

May 28, 2015
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

Store-bought vs. homemade grated Parmesiano Reggiano

I use a lot of reggiano in salads, pasta, baking.

I prefer to buy by the block and process it in my cuisnart rather than buying it pregrated.

I'm of the opinion that the best flavor comes from when the cheese is grated into something akin to crumbly, hard breadcrumbs that still has texture, rather than the fine powder you associate with the generic Kraft brand. You're not going to get this grating the cheese on a regular grater. The cuisinart is wonderful for doing this, really, just about perfect.

Too often I find prepackaged grated reggiano grated into long straws (at least one Whole Foods in Maryland was guilty of doing this for ages), or into a powder, and neither brings out the best of the flavor. Quite often the store will grind a good portion of the rind along with the cheese, which dilutes the strength and flavor of the overall package.

Last but not least, I've come across grated Grana Padana labelled as reggiano!

May 25, 2015
Roland Parker in Cheese

Best type of pan for caramelizing mushrooms?

I remember reading Julia Child and she observed that the trick to browning mushrooms was not to cook too many mushrooms at one time.

If you have too many mushrooms, it releases too much moisture and while the mushrooms do cook, they become soggy in the liquid and remain gray in color.

As long as I don't crowd the pan I do successfuly brown mushrooms to a wonderful brown color and the flavor is excellent.

May 22, 2015
Roland Parker in Cookware

What's your absolute favorite/best apple dessert?

Apple desserts are perhaps my most favorite dishes to eat. It doesn't matter what kind of dessert it is, pies, crumble, cake, kuchen, charlotte, torte, tatins, pastries, if it has apples in it I'm in pig heaven.

Do I have a single most favorite apple dessert? Apple pie with a good homemade crust.

That aside, what is perhaps more important than the dessert mode is the apple itself. Apples do vary widely in tartness and texture. I love Jonagold apples for baking. Winesapp and Stayman apples for purees such as apple charlottes. Quite often I will mix apple varieties to have a blend of flavor and texture.

Hmm.... must make an apple dessert this weekend.

La Cuchara in Lower Hampden (Baltimore): A good meal had by all.

Thank you for the lovely feedback. Despite being a globe trotting expat I still remember my hometown with fondness and will be visiting for a month this summer. This restaurant is now firmly on the list as I have found your reviews of Parisian restaurants very valuable for our visits to France.

And is "LoHa" now a new buzzword for that area? My, how times have changed. I well remember Hampden of old. Who would have ever thought?

Time to get rid of the microwave?

My grandparents were among the first people to buy a microwave for home consumption, either in the late 1960s or early 1970s. They also lived well into their 90s despite using a microwave regularly for the last third of their lives. As far as I can tell it's had no effect on their health.

Likewise, my parents, who are now in their 70s, have been using microwaves since the 1970s and it doesn't seem to affect their excellent health one way or another, although my mother only uses microwave safe corningware dishes and other ceramic dishes, not plastic containers, but that's only because she doesn't like the asthetics of plastic containers.

May 06, 2015
Roland Parker in Cookware

Time to get rid of the microwave?

Since we're talking about debunking myths, can you verify your statement: "usage of microwave ovens is down among cookware nerds and all food hobbyists."

Is it true? Only curious as I consider myself an excellent cook and someone who is interested in food and I happily use my microwave daily for a variety of purposes.

May 05, 2015
Roland Parker in Cookware

Dinner Disaster!

We all have cooking accidents periodically. Even the best cooks. We know the pain!

But I am curious as to why you elected to use the "best" olive oil for what looks like a standard bolognese/meat sauce recipe? Does it normally improve the flavors as opposed to generic olive oil? I use my "best" oils for salads but not for sautéing.

May 01, 2015
Roland Parker in Home Cooking

Visiting Hong Kong and Chengdu with an 8-year old

We went to Luk Yu on our last trip to Hong Kong, dragged there by friends of ours. It does have an older atmosphere but we didn't find it special. And the dim sum was very ordinary, it's certainly "old school" heavy and greasy, and also the most expensive we had on the trip. Plus they charged us for dishes we never ordered, nor were brought to the table! We tried to argue it but the staff refused to back down.

One Dim Sum in Kowloon was easily our most favorite dim sum place, balancing price and quality. It was absolutely wonderful. And so wonderfully inexpensive too.

Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan (my favorite neighborhood in HK) was also excellent with its slightly different twist on dim sum.

Toy Kitchen Renovation: High-End Appliances, Gourmet Food

No, that would be the NYTimes.

It's just one of their periodic filler articles on people with more money than most Americans.

best website to order braunschweiger/liverwurst (organ meat sausages, etc.) from?

There's Binkerts in Baltimore:


Wonderful sausages and lunch meat. They supply the German and Austrian embassies in Washington (or at least they used to a few years ago).

Mar 28, 2015
Roland Parker in General Topics

Need advice for tipping a wedding caterer

I think you are missing the reason behind the OP's thread as well as that there is a key difference between a private catered event and a restaurant.

Restaurant wait staff are allowed to be paid well below the minimum wage because it is assumed they are going to be tipped. That is pretty much the only reason why tipping persists in America, certainly at the level of tipping that has become customary. It went from rounding up the bill to 10% to 15% and now 20% and doubtlessly will reach 25% at some point.

However, at a private catered event such as the one described by the OP, the waiters will be making the minimum wage (at least, and assuming the caterer is honest), because it's not a restaurant. Waiters at such events usually make quite a bit more than the minimum wage as it's rarely a full time position and something people do on an "on call" basis to make money outside regular work hours. If the OP wants to leave a tip as a true gratuity, it's entirely up to her and the amount is also up to her.

If I were the OP and wanted to leave a tip as gratitude for a special event I would probably give each waiter no more than $50 and the caterer herself another $100.

Mar 23, 2015
Roland Parker in Not About Food

What's for Dinner #355 - The SPRING Edition! [Through March 24, 2015 ]

Nothing fancy tonight. Warm and dusty where we are but it turned into a pleasant sunset and the smell of the sea drifted into our garden, so we decided to dine outside.

Grilled steaks, oven roasted fries (yes, the frozen ones), salad and clementines. We haven't had steaks in eons so it was a nice change of pace. I have not been ambitious with cooking for a long time, what with one son away at school and DH now traveling much more frequently for work.

Why Are All ‘Good’ Restaurants Around the World Starting To Look the Same?

No places exist in a vacuum solely for tourists (well, perhaps except Venice). Every city or destination is a real home to its people and there's a degree of snobbery in assuming that local residents should be content with whatever passes for their local cuisine or style of dining.

There is a hypocrisy in praising the increasing diversity of the world's cities and the greater choices in food and restaurants, while decrying the homogenization or globalization that has allowed these same choices to blossom in ways that were unthinkable even a few decades ago. To be frank, when I look closely at what passed for "authentic local experience" dining options in many places in the world 30 years ago and compare to what's available today, I'd rather take today.