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Hungry? Want to eat something out of the ordinary that will confuse your brain and challenge your taste buds? If the answer is yes, then go find yourself a food truck and sample its tasty offerings or, better yet, go to a food truck festival and indulge in new gastronomical experiences! A long weekend of celebration for my family often means consuming massive quantities of food. My recent trip to Southern California was no exception. At my son’s suggestion we attended a food truck festival at the Santa Anita Race Track. Yes, a race track!

After paying a $5.00 entrance fee, we walked through a long tunnel that carried us under the track. As we emerged from the tunnel and caught our first glimpses of the Festival, we felt like we had entered another world. Picture a racetrack. Now picture an infield, the grassy center of a track, filled with colorful umbrellas, picnic tables, a DJ playing loud music, a bounce house, pony rides, and carnival games! Ringing the infield are over 70 colorful food trucks offering almost every type of food imaginable. This is dining at it’s most unique and is not an experience for the unadventurous or for those with digestion issues!

Immediately ahead of us was easily a two-hour wait for the line of people wanting to place an order at the Grilled Cheese Truck. Although this truck serves grilled cheese sandwiches, most of them are not the type your mom or Denny’s served to you as a child. For example, if you order Mom’s Apple Pie Melt from this truck you’ll get sweet brioche bread grilled with sharp cheddar cheese, caramelized apples, and candied walnuts. Or if you prefer a sandwich with a little kick, you’ll ask for the Pepperbelly Melt which is served on cheddar jalapeno bread grilled with habanero jack cheese, homemade chili, Fritos, fire-roasted salsa, and cilantro lime sour cream tucked inside! This all coming from a chef who got his start with his famous Cheesy Mac & Rib Melt.

While walking the track and taking it all in, I was impressed, not only by the bright-colored and cleverly-named trucks (Let’s Be Frank, Great Balls on Tires, Crepen Around, Shrimp Pimp, etc.), but also by the creative fusion of food styles. Jogasaki Burrito successfully offers a fusion of Japanese and Mexican food. We, unsurprisingly, devoured delicious Sushi Burritos and Spicy Tuna Nachos. At the Calbi BBQ truck, soft corn tortillas carefully cradled Korean barbecued meat and shredded cheese. Not all the food at the Festival was fusion, though. Food trucks serving epicurean delights from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Japan, Thailand, Greece, Vietnam, France, India were also doing brisk business.

The chefs driving these trucks (literally and figuratively) are not slouches. An article on About.com mentions the interesting pedigrees of some of the food truck chefs in the Los Angeles area – a former chef of Michael Jackson, a former Wolfgang Puck chef, and a chef from Top Chef Masters!

If you’re adventurous and live in or are visiting a major city and you want to get something good, but different to eat, track down a food truck by using your smart phone. There are several apps available which track the locations of food trucks – you can either check the location of a particular food truck or find out which food truck is nearest to you at the moment. Trux Map is an example of a popular one. A word of warning if you seek out a food truck: GO ON AN EMPTY STOMACH!

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It’s all about the food. Sometimes the best way to learn about a country and its culture is to learn about its food and its cooking traditions. Lucky for me, my daughter, who was a student in Greece for nearly five months, was not only my tour guide to the ancient sites, but also my culinary guide.

From dining in little tavernas that speckle the narrow side streets of Athens to eating fresh-caught fish off the coast of Santorini, I was introduced to the exquisite textures and flavors of Greek food. Sampling inch-long baby okra cooked in a light tomato and onion sauce, devouring tiny fried whitebait fish – head, tail, spine and all, and spreading pureed dried yellow peas on bread, were just some of the opportunities I used to discover the gastronomic resources available to the Greeks. I learned that some of the varieties of legumes we eat today are the same ones once eaten in ancient times.

And because the sun shines most of the year and very little rain falls, Greek tomatoes and peppers are exceptionally sweet. The freshness of Greek ingredients cannot be denied. Most foods are simply delicious because they are prepared with fresh and few ingredients. Very few over-processed foods ever made it to my table while I was in Greece.


Scorpion fish or grilled octopus, anyone? The seafood in Greece was as good as I had anticipated. The subtle lobster-like flavor of the Scorpion fish and the chewy texture of the fresh octopus were both delicious, but it was the fried calamari that really got my attention. Maybe it was the freshness of the squid or the very lightest dredging of flour or the addition of exactly the right amount of salt, but this Greek version of fried calamari was by far the best I’ve ever tasted!

The Greeks love their sweets. The sweet scent of freshly baked pastries found me following my nose into more than one local bakery. Even before I left home, my daughter had warned me about this temptation. I’d heard her stories about Bougatsa me Krema and was looking forward to my first taste. It did not disappoint. How could warm layers of buttery, thin phyllo sheets filled with creamy custard, and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon be disappointing? Before the introduction of sugar, ancient Greeks used honey to sweeten their food. Thick, creamy, Greek yogurt and honey is a traditional treat and Greeks like to make sweet syrups from honey to pour over their cakes and fried sweets. Many Loukoumades or Greek donut balls coated in a honey-syrup called out to me.

Now back at home, I wanted to try my hand at making the memorable Bougatsa me Krema and I found a recipe online. Flakey, buttery and filled with custard – mine was pretty darn close to the deliciousness I experienced in Greece! I share this temptation with you.

Bougatsa me Krema or Creamy Custard Phyllo Pastry

-Courtesy of Nancy Gaifyllia of About.com with comments by Linnell-

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Ingredients:

* 4 1/4 cups of whole milk

* sliced peel of 1 lemon

* 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar

* 3/4 cup of semolina (durum wheat flour which I found in my local grocery store)

* 4 eggs

* 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

* 12 sheets of commercial phyllo dough

* 6 ounces of butter, melted

For the topping:

* confectioner’s sugar

* ground cinnamon

Preparation:

Warm the milk and lemon peel in a saucepan. Stir in semolina with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly blended and thickened. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until light and add to the pan, stirring over medium-low heat until it reaches a creamy custard consistency. Remove from heat, take out and discard lemon peel, and allow it to cool completely. Stir occasionally to keep the custard from forming a skin on top.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Lightly brush a baking pan (13 X 9 X 2 or equivalent) with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with 8 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet well with the melted butter. Add the custard filling. Fold the excess phyllo that overlaps the pan in over the custard. Top with the remaining phyllo, brushing each with butter. Use a scissors to trim the top sheets to the size of the pan. Spray the top lightly with water and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while hot, and serve warm.

Serving tip: In Greece, Bougatsa is cut with a pizza cutter.

Enjoy!

Adventures in Greece – to be continued . . .

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