Beef cheek pierogi

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I had tried beef cheeks before in London and loved it, so when I went to Poland and there were beef cheek filled pierogi on the menu, I knew exactly what to order. This was at a old Jewish restaurant in Krakow called Starka, where I shared a couple of dishes with my friends.

The dumplings looked a bit anemic, boiled and without any sauce, but they made up for it in taste. The dumplings were stuffed with strand upon strand of beef cheek. Any more and they would burst. The cheeks were cooked until they were super soft and tender. There didn’t seem to be much added flavor to it, but I didn’t think the dish needed it as the beef was so strong tasting on its own.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Stewed ox tail

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I remember eating ox tail soup as a kid on special occasions such as Christmas dinner, and I always loved it. To this day it’s one of my favorite soups. You can imagine that when I went to Rome recently and I found a classical Roman dish of stewed ox tail I was quite excited. The only thing holding me back was that it was served on the bone, and I’ve never been good at picking meat of bones.

The dish arrived with four big chunks of ox tail covered in a tomato sauce – anything “alla Romana” usually had tomato sauce. Like I was afraid of, the meat was difficult to get off the bones. It had been cooked till very tender, but it wasn’t exactly falling of the bone either, so you really had to pry at it. The meat that I did manage to get off was just like I remember from the soups, mild in flavor and super tender. Just a shame I couldn’t get much meat off of it.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Cold smoked reindeer

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I was looking forward to trying some reindeer at the airport in Finland during my stopover, however, I didn’t have enough time to go to a restaurant as we were behind on schedule. In one of the shops they did sell packages of cold smoked reindeer, and I bought some to go.

They were slices of deli meat that you can put on a sandwich reminiscent of an Italian bresaola. It’s quite chewy when eaten in chunks, so it’s usually sliced paper thin. Then it pulls apart in strings if you tear it. In Holland we also have this made of beef or horse and it’s a nice thing to put on some bread, maybe with a bid of pesto or tapenade.

This version of smoked reindeer was in texture quite familiar, but not in flavor. The taste was very acidic, almost as if it was a little off. It actually was nice to just eat on its own without bread, but I don’t think I would have finished the package if I hadn’t been with friends and family to share it with.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 6

Cold goose breast

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Looking for a place to have breakfast in Krakow, I ended up at chocolatier E. Wedel where you can buy everything chocolate. I had a breakfast set that included a really tasty cake with chocolate spread as well as some goose breast. That was great for me as I had never tried goose before.

The goose was served cold and sliced thickly with the rind still on. It looked a little like duck ham, though the meat itself was more like turkey in both texture and flavor. It had thick strands of meat just like chicken or turkey, and the flavor was quite mild. That would have been great with some herbs. I didn’t like the skin though, as the fat wasn’t rendered out.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 7

Stewed rabbit

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Personally, I love rabbit. It’s probably my favorite meat. It’s so lean and tender, but yet when cooked right it’s still juicy and moist. I put it on this blog not because it’s unusual to me, but because many people don’t want to eat rabbit. For instance I haven’t been able to find any rabbit in the province where I live in China.

My first meal when I was back in Holland was a stewed leg of rabbit in a very tart vinegar sauce. I had it with my family at restaurant “Pieke Potloed” in Maastricht, a restaurant specialized in serving dishes from the local area.

The rabbit was indeed beautifully cooked. It was so tender it simply fell of the bone. You could eat it with a spoon. The sauce was a thick rich gravy of the rabbit’s own juices with a heavy hand of vinegar. Though I liked the sauce, I think perhaps a sauce that’s a little sweeter, like a beer sauce, goes better with rabbit.

Fear Factor 0 / Taste Test – 8

Elk salami

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At the airport in Finland, I was looking for something local to nibble on, instead of the usual chips or chocolate. In the fridges I found some elk salami. I do like salami, and I’d never tried elk before, so now was as good a time as any.

The meat was very dark, much darker than normal pork salami. Then when I tasted it, it also had a much stronger flavor. It reminded me a lot of beef salami that I’ve had at breakfast buffets in Muslim places like Dubai and Malaysia. As a fan of salami, the strong-tasting elk salami was a really nice treat. I don’t think I’ll come across it anytime soon, but if I do I think it will be time for round two.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

Foie gras and truffle burger

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On my birthday I went to one of the few good western restaurants here in Lanzhou, Charlies Kitchen. It’s an American style diner with amazing burgers and lots of other options. That day was also the start of a new menu, and the manager let me choose one dish that I wouldn’t have to pay for. I’m not the kind of guy who would choose the priciest item on the menu, and I didn’t there was lobster too, but I was drawling over a foie gras and truffle burger.

My followers will know that I love truffle. I even had truffle ice-cream once, but foie gras is something I can take it or leave it. I do love foie gras mousse or pate, but a panfried liver is not something I would say is my favorite thing. I like the buttery, mildly coppery taste, but the texture can be a bit squidgy and unpleasant.

The burger tasted great, with a big smack of truffle sauce that I just adore. The foie gras tasted nice as well, and paired well with the beef. When I tried a piece of the liver on its own, I still wasn’t too keen on the texture, but when eaten with the rest of the burger I didn’t mind it that much. In any case it was a great tasting burger of high quality, and even better it was free.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

Beef cheeks

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On my never-ending quest for high quality food for low prices I came across a lunch deal at Jason Atherton’s “Social Wine & Tapas” in London. You could choose 5 small dishes for less than 25 pounds. There were about ten tapas to choose from, and one of the ones that caught my attention was a braised beef cheek.

Now I’d had some wonderful stewed pork cheeks before in Paris, so I had high hopes for this dish. The meat came served on a bed of lentils, so it didn’t look that appealing. It was like 50 shades of brown. But, it more than made up for it in taste. The meat was so succulent, you could eat it with a spoon, and the flavor was so intense. Imagine leaving a pot of gravy on the stove for just a bit too long and it reduces to a thick syrup.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 9

P.S. do vote for my next dish. Brains, balls or blood?

White chocolate with bacon

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I’ve written before about the uprising of savory sweets such as salty caramel. One of the most popular of those is candied bacon. There’s something about the combination of sugar and salt that simply works. The first time I tried a bacon dessert was at a small tapas bar in Bali, Indonesia. After a great meal of Asian fusion tapas I ordered a white chocolate pudding with bacon that tickled my interest.

The pudding turned out to be a smooth and creamy ganache that tasted beautifully sweet. It was topped with small cubes of bacon that I assumed would be crispy and crunchy. Unfortunately the bacon was neither crispy nor crunchy but chewy. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the taste that I didn’t like, but the texture. I’m sure if the bacon had been crisped up I would have enjoyed the dish a lot more.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 5

Braised pork cheek

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The thought of eating pork cheek had never occurred to me until recent years when so-called nose-to-tail dining became a recurring feature in restaurants and cooking shows alike. Two years ago, long before the existence of my blog, I had booked a table for two at Alain Ducasse’s “Aux Lyonnaise” restaurant in Paris.

The very affordable set lunch menu featured braised pork leeks in mustard with mashed potatoes which I was dying to try out. The mash was beautifully smooth, more butter than potatoes, but the pork stole the show. The cheeks were so incredibly soft that you could eat them with a spoon. The flavor was equally amazing. Rich, juicy pork that tasted so much more of pork than most cutlets or tenderloins I had eaten before.

If you like pulled pork, you will love pork chees. They are even juicier and more flavorful than American pulled pork. This might just have been my favorite ever pork dish.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 10