Explore an Ethnic Market Near You

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I blogged in April about some products I purchased to prepare a meal for the Persian New Year, Nowruz. About a mile from my home is a global market, named North Park Produce, where I purchased many of those ingredients. Just walking through the doors gives you scents of exotic spices and foods.

You can find serving dishes such as delicate tea cups.

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And, of course, gorgeous hookahs of all sizes and colors.

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There is a whole row of teas and coffees imported from distant lands, labeled with exotic languages.

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And an interesting Russian sugar. Not sure what the buffalo/bison refers to.

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Shelves are brimming with dozens of ghee’s along with jars and cans of delicious food items from the Middle East to North Africa to Russia.

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And there are a huge variety of sweets, including these pure cane sugar treats, one with saffron, from the Yazd province in Iran. These particular treats are made in Orange County, CA, which has a huge Persian community (anyone watch Shahs of Sunset or Flip or Flop with Tarek El Moussa? Yes, Persians from Orange County).

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There is fresh produce along with sacks of dried peas, bags of dried limes, stacks of dates, tables piled with lavash and other flatbreads.

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A cold case brims with dairy products including many choices for feta cheese. But also, they have a fresh dairy case where you can taste before choosing the type of feta you’d prefer, including Danish, Hungarian, and Bulgarian. Yum!

Along with the fresh feta, the market has a wide selection of olives, stuffed grape leaves, plus other tasty-looking Mediterranean foods. They also provide hot prepared foods including kabobs, falafel, and gyros.

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I enjoy talking with the butcher and taking home piles of lamb or veal shank, or chunks of goat meat. They offer fresh halal meats with special selections of cuts during the New Year, which the butcher is ready to prepare for your purpose. Halal meats are specially butchered in a manner that complies with Islamic law as expressed in the Koran, and is similar to Kosher laws under Judaism. I love getting these meats because I can be assured that the animals were raised in a healthy environment (definitely NOT factory farmed), humanely butchered and bled, and that the meats have been handled in a clean and safe manner. Halal meats are definitely a cut above factory farmed meats.

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Look up YOUR neighborhood international market, explore a little, and pick up some interesting items from distant corners of the globe that you might not have seen before. Explore the world through food. That’s what I love to do.

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Going Fishin’

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One of our favorite shops to visit in San Diego is Catalina Offshore Products (http://catalinaop.com/). They are known for supporting local and sustainable fisheries, they provide local fresh fish to many of the restaurants in the area, and they are especially known for the California sea urchin, or uni. This is something we have long desired to try, but until recently hadn’t had the chance.

So we popped by Catalina Offshore and picked up a sea urchin. What to do! On the way home I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to handle this spiny creature. At home, with gloves on (the juice is almost like squid ink) and armed with kitchen shears, I cut the top off to expose the uni, or gonads, of the urchin.

 

Hmmm, not a lot of meat or uni to taste. And not sure of the taste. But I always believe in trying something at least once, and probably twice, so we’ll have a go again. After all, many foodies rave about the taste of uni.

While at Catalina Offshore, we also picked up a whole striped bass which we prepared

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simply with tomatoes, garlic, and parsley, stove top, then popped in the oven. So not so pretty when I moved her to the serving dish with the pasta, but flaky and full of flavor. And definitely enough for another meal!

 

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We also picked up a couple of beautiful spot prawns, layered in a foil packet with butter, white wine, garlic and lemon slices. Oh, yeah, beautiful AND delicious.

 

To help satisfy our cravings for all things fish, we recently discovered Top Choice Fish (http://www.topchoicefish.com), another market in our North County San Diego area, right next door to and owned by a favorite unusual meat market, Tip Top (think bone marrow, quail, rabbit, and giant tomahawk rib-eyes).

I’m not sure if they strive for sustainability or local fish, but the fish is fresh and well presented. We chose some tender baby calamari which we sauteed up with olive oil, butter, LOTS of garlic, and parsley. Very tender.

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We also chose two large prawns, full of roe. I googled a recipe on preparing and eating the whole heads of these babies (I’m kinda a newbie at whole prawn cooking and eating) and came up with this blog which was SO MUCH FUN TO READ!  http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/how-to-cook-and-eat-whole-shrimp-yes-even-their-heads-1574380827

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After laughing and stopping to read more of it to my husband, I finally got down to business. Yes! Oil (canola), chili oil, rice flour, yellow onion slivers, some chopped red shishitos from my yard, fresh ground pepper and sprinkling of sea salt.

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We really, really liked these. So, there’s our adventures in Going Fishin’. Until our next seafood adventure. Hope this inspires you to give new seafoods a try.

 

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All Things Persian

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It takes little to remind me of the exotic foods I love to delve into. But the recent Persian New Year, Nowruz, which began on March 20th this year, lasting 13 days, and celebrating Spring and the vernal equinox, had me heading to my local Persian market.

Nowruz, which pre-dates Islam by quite a bit, is celebrated by the people of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, people who are ethnically Persian. Nowruz shares many traditions with other cultures that remind their people of new life, rebirth, cleansing (both figuratively and literally) . . . you know, Springtime!

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Our Persian dinner began with a fresh herb and feta platter, named Sabzi Khordan, with a centerpiece of feta cheese drizzled with a coriander and curry infused olive oil, with a sprinkling of coarse salt, surrounded by spring onions, radishes, walnuts and microgreens. We wrapped bits of everything in our lavash and munched on the various textures and flavors. This dish can be left to enjoy during the complete meal.

But the main dish that I prepared began with the chunks of fresh goat that my Persian market showcased in their butcher section. I’ll take goat just about anyway I can get it. And I found the perfect Persian stew to showcase the goat, Abgoosht, a fragrant and hearty stew thickened with chickpea flour.

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The list of ingredients include: red bell peppers, carrots, onions, lots of garlic, fresh ginger, dried apricots, omani (dried limes — my first time seeing them or using them), olive oil, some sort of beer, sun dried tomatoes, a pouch of [cardamom, star anise, cinnamon stick, turmeric, green and pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, szechuan peppercorns, cumin, & nutmeg], chick peas (added near the end of cooking), chick pea flour (for thickening), some pomegranate molasses (for a little sweetening — something I purchased the 2nd time I made this dish), and a little balsamic vinegar (for a little tartness).

I am also a great fan of couscous, and my Persian market has DOZENS of choices, so it’s the perfect accompaniment  to soak up the intense flavors of this goat stew. I threw in some saffron threads I had soaked in a little warm water.

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I have to admit I tried this dish first using a whole goat leg.

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Let’s just say, it’s a good thing I also planned on also serving a prime rib! The goat leg cooked for 5 hours, not tenderizing at all! I cooked it later for at least 3 more hours before it was ready to fall off the bone. That little goat must have had plenty of exercise during it’s life!

So I’ll stick with chunks of goat meat (Caution! Lots of little bones!) when I replicate this dish.

If you are a lover of fragrant, exotic dishes, give it a try. So many flavors that meld together beautifully and such great textures. I’ve made this dish 3 times in 3 months, so it’s a keeper!

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Mardi Gras is Upon Us, Again

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For me and my family, we always enjoy the bit of celebration that signifies Mardi Gras, once again spent at home and not reveling in the streets.

But I have to reflect on Lent, loosely related to the Feast of Unleavened Bread observed by some cultures. The putting away of “sin”, physically portrayed in clearing out items from the home that represent foods we love, such as puffy breads (beignets?). Clearing out our minds of the things that are a wall between us and our higher authority, such as hatred, envy, contempt.

So as I prepare this indulgent meal for tonight, for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, I look to tomorrow and what I can do to become a better person. A better person to a higher authority? Maybe. To my family. Surely. But also to myself. To calm the unrest that I have found raging in my soul for the past few months.

So I believe tomorrow will be a good time to shut off the TV. Stop watching CNN, CBS, FOX, etc. Stop reading Quora. GREATLY limit my time on Facebook.

But for tonight I eat. And drink!

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It’s all about the mise-en-place, ready to go.

I’m preparing an Etouffee, that Cajun and Creole dish simmered lovingly with the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell pepper, or mirepoix, a slowly developed roux, and served over rice. It is often prepared with crawfish, but I had no time today to run an hour or so south to Catalina Offshore to acquire those muddy little crustaceans. So shrimp it is, and I chose cute little Argentinian red shrimp, which have a sweet lobster flavor.

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Creole and Cajun dishes always involve slowly developing a roux, a blonde roux for tonight.

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So tonight we revel. And eat. And drink. Tomorrow is for capturing the tortured soul and looking for calm. ‘Til next year, cheers! Laissez le bon temps rouler!

 

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Cleopatra’s Bath Secret

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As Queen Cleopatra knew, the legendary Queen of Egypt and the coveted object of many hearts, milk leaves the skin soft with a healthy, sexy glow.  A warm bath in milk was one of her many secrets to beauty and allure.

In the arid desert regions where camels thrive, camel’s milk has long been used to increase passion. And Cleopatra knew this well. Therefore, a camel’s milk bath would definitely be one of her secrets. And we think you’d rather luxuriate in a warm bath, perhaps with a loved one, rather than sip on camel’s milk.

Our Passport to Passion includes a fragrant Camel Milk soap bar infused with lavender.

As for oil of lavender, it has been proven through scientific study that the scent of lavender is a powerful aphrodisiac that many men find hard to resist. Camel’s milk soap, yes. Warm bath, yes. Oil of lavender, yes.

So, scatter rose petals to lead to a warm bath, perhaps infused with milk like Cleopatra. Just add 2 cups of milk to your warm bath water, and soap up with your loved one using our fragrant Camel Milk soap bar.

Valentine’s Day comes once a year, but love can be for any day of the year.

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A Feast for All the Senses

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As I mentioned in a previous post “The Business of a Business You Love” ((https://passportdinnersblog.com/2016/10/14/the-business-of-a-business-you-love/), the great re-boot of my company, my vision, my passion has been quite a process.

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My original Exotic Moroccan Feast box, pictured to the left and below, was fine.

 

 

 

 

It had all the organic dry ingredients and menu & preparation instructions you needed to have a nice theme dinner party, plus decorating ideas and music choices to complete the evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I desired to provide a more authentic experience, a feast for all the senses. So after being introduced to Renda from The Argan Project, Renda was able to provide me with a contact in Morocco, Farid,  through whom I could add items to my Exotic Moroccan Feast, giving the venturous cook a more authentic experience. Still great menu ideas. Still all organic food items. All our food items are hand picked and carefully measured to give you the perfect amount needed for each dish.

Even more Historical & Cultural information plus more Moroccan music choices. But enhanced with additional products such as a premium loose leaf Moroccan mint tea, sweetened with organic cane sugar, culinary Argan oil, organic raw honeys, organic Ras el Hanout Moroccan spice blend, a hand painted mini tagine, plus a hand of Fatima key chain.

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Whether you’re the venturous home cook yourself,img_3744or you wish to give a unique gift to those special foodie friends of yours, shop now at passportdinners.com. Our exotic ingredients will help you create a unique international dinner party for all the senses. And become a Passport Dinners Loyalty Rewards member.

 

 

 

 

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Loyalty

Loyalty:  reliable, trusty, faithfulness, support. No, I’m not attempting to fill a Cabinet post. I, as a small business owner, am assessing the loyalty of my customers. If you’re a small business owner also, do you have a way to draw in a loyal customer base?

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Hot off the presses! I just picked up from the printer my newly-designed Loyalty Passports. By the way, beginning to use a professional printer for all my printing needs such as brochures, etc., was a SMART idea. What took me so long? And if you’re still printing your small business products at home, run, don’t walk, to a small, local printer, not a big box store. I am so pleased with the care and service of the local person I found.

After a lot of downloading of templates (hmmm, that one is for Mac only, bummer) and cutting and pasting, I came up with what represents my company and vision and allows me to grow a loyal fan base.

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One of the fun parts was designing stamps to ship out with each dinner box, each stamp representing the theme of the box. What do you think?

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All designed to present a terrific theme dinner box experience. The re-design of the Moroccan dinner box is ready to ship out with some new authentic products just received from Morocco. Now I must speed up my re-creation of each of my existing dinner boxes and the creation of new dinner box experiences. Lots of work, but so much fun! Head on over to my website, passportdinners.com, and buy one, or more, today! Become Loyal,  Reliable, Trustworthy, Faithful, Supportive.

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