Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Things I Wish I had Blogged

Like many people, some of my favorite memories are encompassed not only by the people I was with, and how I enjoyed the experience, but often with the associated tastes and smells. Food is universal comfort. Each individual eats differently, and has different tastes and preferences, and each considers food to be of varying importance. But, more often than not, food has been an essential part of our collective experiences.


Our first anniversary - a night at the Inn at Little Washington:
What can I say? It was a truly superlative experience.


London at 22 (a.k.a. broke) - testing the boundaries of just how many meals I could eat at Pret in one week:
A girl can only eat fish & chips so many times, and at least from my perspective, London is not a city to experience cuisine for the budget conscious.


My first time in Vegas (also at 22) - being asked to leave the Le Cirque because I didn't know how to dress like a grown-up:
Ok, so this is probably not a 'favorite' memory, but it's one of those moments in life that leaves a mark on you. I learned a painful lesson in dignity (and fashion) that day. I was so excited because the NY version of Le Cirque had been closed that summer for renovation, and I was ready to eat. Never having been to Vegas (and only being familiar with my dad's description of the 1980s trashiness), I packed like the student I was. Jeans, t-shirts, and a cheap sundress. Needless to say, thinking anything goes in Vegas, I showed up in an unacceptable ensemble involving denim and shoes walkable enough to travel up and down the Strip. Mea culpa - my outfit was just awful, and looking back on it, I honestly don't know what I was thinking. But, the disdain from the hostess taught me a valuable lesson. As C comforted and encouraged me through my embarrassed tears, I promised myself that one, I would I always be an advanced planner and never put myself in such a situation again (and certainly never give business to any establishment owned by Le Cirque), and that two, from that point forward, no one would ever treat me (or anyone in my presence) like that again.


Truly horrible fare at tourist traps in Venice:
Venice is a really lovely city. I know some folks have hit it in the wrong part of the season and despise it, but we had a rather perfect three days there. That said, I don't think we had one good meal in that time. How then was it a perfect experience? We were honeymooning and relaxed (and I'm never relaxed, so this was a very good thing). So, we were just too lazy to seek out, or wait out, the best dining experiences. Instead, we often wandered in to the most convenient locations. In one such instance, lubricated with wine, we stumbled our way back to the hotel laughing about how the vodka sauce actually tasted like the kitchen staff simply spilled a bottle into the pan at the end, and the sardines tasted as if they had been treated in lye. So many morsels spit into napkins, but such happy memories nevertheless.


A pig roast for high school graduation:
There are certain things you can only get away with in a small town - a dude (who I believe has since gone to jail ) hauling a spit with his pickup into our backyard for a pig roast is maybe one of them. But, let me tell you, that pig was phenomenal, right up there with Komi. We were giving away bags of meat for weeks and had pork in the freezer for almost a year after the event. And still, I crave it at times!


Desperately wanting McDonald's in Barcelona:
At this point, C and I had been traveling through southern Europe for about two and a half weeks. We had some culinary triumphs (see Santorini below) and some disasters (see Venice above). But, by that point, we were a little sick, a little exhausted, and we were just done with the rich, flavorful European fare. We wanted something simple and dull - we wanted McDonald's. Whilst tiredly walking down Las Ramblas, we saw them - the shining Golden Arches. I had never been, nor have I been since, so happy to be beneath their glare.


Our blow-out meal at Michel Rostang in Paris:
Ok, so I kind of covered this one. We decided that you are only young and in Paris once, so just before starting our family, we had a beautiful long weekend there and spent an obscene amount of money on a crazy meal at Michel Rostang. We were the first or second to arrive for the dinner seating, and we shut down the place sometime well after midnight.


Steak frites and chocolate mousse at a little bistro which we enjoyed so much more:
I'm not laissez-faire. Perhaps I mentioned it? Oh yes, in this post actually. So, the idea of spending the amount of money we did at Michel Rostang for just one meal, I just couldn't let it go. I'm a saver by nature. When we had the perfect steak frites, wine, tartare, and chocolate mousse the following evening, at maybe a tenth of the price, this left a feeling a bliss. A simple bistro and a quiet evening with the one I love - now that experience was worth whatever the cost, but heightened by the fact that we did not pay much.


C's taking one for the team - the notorious garbage can dinner:
There are so many goodies to be had while camping - fresh caught walleye sauteed in a cast-iron pan over a campfire, smores, pudgie pies. But, some folks just love tradition - some folks define experience by really bad food. Those folks are the members of my church, who camp annually over Memorial Day weekend. Mind you, I love these people - they were an integral part of my upbringing. That said, whomever amongst them that decided throwing random pieces of hot dog (and other 'assorted meats'), veggies, and water into a (new) steel garbage can and setting it over a fire to "stew", that person really needs to be punished. It is truly disgusting and my family, over the years, came up more and more creative ways to avoid the annual garbage can dinner. We were often 'late' (after eating a meal on the road), forgot something at Meijer that we needed at that very moment (once, we left my poor grandma there), or had something we had to cook or it would go bad. My brother always trotted out the vegetarian excuse (though what's left in the pot could hardly be considered meat). Well, at some point, the 'church elders' started to suspect that perhaps our family's excuses were more than coincidence. This happened to coincide with C's first year of joining us for the camping excursions. We were greeted by the our smiling camping comrades who had saved us ample portions of the garbage can dinner. Now, I don't remember precisely how this happened, but C ended up taking one for the team. Before the rest of us could be forced to down the disgusting stew, he choked down bowl after bowl. I believe he nearly vomited after the exercise. This was the moment C became a member of the family. We will all be forever grateful for his soldierly valor in defense of the clan


Denny's in Amarillo, Texas - the one I will never forget
When we moved to Cali four years ago, we road-tripped it. After many, many hours through Oklahoma outrunning tornadoes and then the sparse panhandle of Texas, we were so very, very hungry and tired. I have never had corned beef hash that tasted so good.


Pizza on the docks in Napoli:
I know, I know, there is no substitute for Neapolitan Pizza; it needs be to be the certifiable good stuff. That said, I'm convinced that Pupatella serves up a better pie that the dockside bar in Naples (it was an Italian holiday, and the sailor bar was the only place open). It was laughably bad.



Greek pastries at sunrise in Santorini
This is rather self-explanatory. Blissful buttery goodness, coupled with the sun glistening over the Caldera. Doesn't get much better than this.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In Pursuit of Katsu

So, a few weeks back, I put out messages asking for suggestions for authentic katsu (Japanese fried pork cutlet) in the DC Metro area. I quickly heard from Metrocurean's Amanda about Sushi Taro's katsu don, and then randomly from my aunt in Wisconsin about Temari Cafe.
 
This past week, the quest was put into action. Wednesday, it was Dupont's Sushi Taro for lunch with my workmate and friend M. I'd never been, before or after the restructuring. Hungry as I was, I started with the rainbow roll, and then moved on the katsu don. The rainbow roll was bliss - enough alone to make me want to return for omakase. The katsu, well, not so much. Don't get me wrong, the flavors were perfect, and the poached egg and onion I devoured. The pork, however, was not up to the rest of the dish. The cut was fatty, and included tendon. It was so chewy; I left most of it on the plate. That, and the breading was not crispy.

On Sunday afternoon, I dragged C and baby out to the upper end of Rockville Pike for Temari's katsu curry (they have katsu don as well). We walked in the door, and I knew my aunt had hit the mark when I'd asked for a DC version of the little holes-in-the-wall that make up the outdoor pedestrian mall of LA's Little Tokyo. Comic books, random menu listings all over the walls, and Japanese game shows on the television. It was perfect. So was the katsu. Served on a palatial platter with pickled radish, I'm still thinking about how I savored every bite. The pork cutlet, crispy with panko, lean and tender, and flavorful, was everything that Sushi Taro's was not. The curry was flavorful and rich. Perfect. If you are looking for authentic katsu, or other Japanese dishes (ramen, udon, sashimi), I highly recommend Temari Cafe's offerings. I'll be back again soon.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Putting the Social in Social Media

Ever since having my son, blogging has become more important to me than I ever would have thought.  For goodness sake, I've bested my 2008 and 2009 yearly totals, and it's only May. My wonderful husband recognizes that this is important to me and offers support, assistance, and insight in my endeavors. This has allowed me to become more and more involved in the blogging world, which is something I never imagined I would be even interested in, not to mention enjoy.

Recently, I've found that with the blogging, comes bloggers, and that food bloggers are one fun group of people. I had the opportunity to collaborate with Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen and Mrs. Wheelbarrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen in covering a Marcus Samuelsson event. If you don't know Steamy Kitchen or Mrs. Wheelbarrow, you should. At the event, I also had the opportunity to meet Elyssa of State Dinner, Jason of DC Fud, and Justice Fergie. Like I said, food bloggers are a fun group of folks.

I've also been to the last couple of DC Food Bloggers Happy Hours, at Art & Soul and Restaurant 3 (or 3 Bar, or whatever it is now). Next up - Zentan - join in on the fun! Met a ton more fun folks, most of whom you will find listed here. It's great to meet a person and three seconds later, share a meal. Like I said, food bloggers are a fun group of folks.

Speaking of sharing meals, we were so all over that at this week's GNO at Lyon Hall with some lovely ladies. Quick thoughts on Lyon Hall: semi-coed bathrooms - I don't think I'm a fan; Euro brasserie fare is good, not great (certainly not Liberty Tavern - had their takeout again recently - so good), but I do think it will improve once some of the kinks are worked out; I like the selection of small plates, as well as the wine and beer lists; vibe and crowd is hard to pinpoint - at this point, it's a mix; finally - they need to get themselves a real website. It really didn't matter what Lyon Hall was like, our group was going to have a fabulous time. Like I said, food bloggers are a fun group of folks. (People who leave you with quotes like, "I would do Coach [Taylor] so hard!" - how can they not be fun?)

Next week, I'll be dining in with some blogger-prepared goodness and tweeting with friends at a Capital Cooking Show event. Cause, like I said, food bloggers are a fun group of folks.

Finally, things I learned today: Control+P while using Blogger means 'Post' not 'Paste'. RSS Feed followers - sorry for the multiple links.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What do Lost and Blueberry Pie Have in Common?


...my Tuesday night.

Ok, so it's time to say goodbye to Lost (well, it will be a process, this week and next). It's not much of a goodbye at this point as my favorite characters were already killed off. I cannot express how ridiculous the grief I felt was; seriously, I know that Sayid and Sun and Jin are characters on a silly television show, but they have always seemed the most complex and they were killed off so quickly, and one after the other, that it was heartbreaking. I was crying for a good fifteen minutes, and had to watch Glee before going to bed just so I would not be so melancholy for Wednesday. For me, that particular episode may better any finale to come. Well, it sure as hell betters last week's. This past week's episode was like Alec Baldwin following Betty White, no Baldwin was actually better than that. I think we can all agree, all the mysticism and glowing light came out of left field. There may be some folks out there who enjoyed it, but I for one thought it was utter crap.
For me, Lost has one small potential window of redemption. We will explain this all away as one little CJ gone bad confused episode in which the Lost producers needed to explain some lingering questions, and simply did not know how. Here's how it is going to go: we properly get a sci-fi or just scientific explanation that all this freaky-deeky stuff is related to the island's location on Earth and it's natural electromagnetic properties relating to said location, that the folks who lived on the island many many years ago were not learned and thus did not know about electromagnetism and mistook 'the light' for something mystical; yada, yada, yada. Said explanation ensues (along with all the other dramatic parallel life crap, blah, blah, blah) and no one gets hurt. That, or I'm going to have to eat this whole damned blueberry pie out of frustration. I do love simplicity in a dessert (the ingredient list: pastry flour, butter, water, salt, sugar, brown sugar, lots and lots blueberries). For your enjoyment, blueberry pie in process:




















Baked goodness to be tweeted tomorrow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Little Late: Ris

I'm a little late in getting this one up; it may have had something to do with Ris' beverage selection being just as impressive as their dinner menu. Yes, it was lazy Sunday for me after a Saturday night in which C predicted I would be asleep by 10:30 (our dinner reservation was at 8). Yes, I'm a grown up now, which means one cocktail plus two glasses of wine equals an early bedtime for me.

The trouble started when I spotted both a cocktail and wine by the glass that could not be passed up. The cocktail, the 'Seaberry Sage', sounds like something that deserves an XL TGIFriday's style glass (a la Snooki; oh dear, how do I know this girl's name?), but Ris' version is much more nuanced and delicious. Blueberry Vodka is mixed with citrus (I believe lime juice) and sage on ice - finally, a cocktail that does not include simple syrup amongst its ingredients, but is nevertheless flavorful. I also found another Willamette Valley wine (loyal as I am to these vintages - when you find something that works for you, stick to it), the Adelsheim Pinot Gris, that will now be counted amongst my summertime favorites. (FN1)

I continued to have issues choosing as I diverted my attentions to the dinner menu. I seriously considered ordering three appetizers. If they had been the size of my soft-shell crab, just about right; if the size of C's large crock of pork posole, way too much. The lemon salt-crusted soft-shell crab, served with onion jam, was tasty, though I'm not sure what the salt crust added. This version was lightly-fried and perfectly cooked, but I could not discern any flavor or tenderness gained from the crust. My favorite component on the plate was the schmear of fava bean puree. C adored his pork posole, which was hearty and was served with zesty salad of radishes and microgreens. I thought it lacked a little flavor, though the preparation was quite nice.

The same held true for my lamb shank. Truly, the tender meat melted in my mouth, but that was the limit to the flavor, meat. In addition, the enormous portion was not built to withstand the length of time it took to eat it - the pita withered in the juices, and the yogurt served on top warmed quickly. I did enjoy the spinach that soaked up the braising juices, however, and as I noted, the meat was perfectly cooked - without hesitation, C was waiting to finish off the rather large portion. He enjoyed his Cowboy Steak (seriously, the words ribeye and bone-in are like crack to C), a special for the evening, but noted that hands-down, the lamb shank was the better dish.

Again, dessert was yummy, but probably not something to write home about. We split the strawberry shortcake sundae, including sorbet and white-chocolate lavendar ice cream. It was refreshing, and very berry-ee. It's no Tackle Box blueberry pie though.

Ris made for a nice night out, amongst GW parents, notably dining for the most part without their graduating offspring. Such guests included one guy wearing these shoes:
I don't know if they are spinning shoes or not, but they are shiny, bronze, and velcro, so needed to be recorded for posterity's sake. The food at Ris was good, but not great. I think a more proper outing may be Meatloaf Monday (had a sample at TON and it was fabulous!) or happy hour, with tasty-looking temptations ranging from $4 to $6.30.

Notta bene - unlike most restaurants in the West End, which tend to be in hotels, Ris is in the bottom floor of an apartment building and does not have valet parking, but there is an open-air lot across the 23rd street with a reasonable weekend flat rate of $6. It's very convenient, but fills up quickly (though the attendant was nice enough to move some cars so that we could squeeze in).

(FN1) It was so good, I had to order two glass, which brings up another point. I noted that the wine and cocktail lists sported prices averaging around $11. These prices are hardly excessive,  but most of the main courses average $22. This all seems a bit imbalanced. Perhaps it's just me - wine ordering is always a problem when C and I go out for dinner a deux. He does not drink, and well, I do have some restraint, and realize that I will never be able to polish off a bottle myself and make it upright out of the restaurant's door(s). It's always an economical dilemma when I want two glasses of wine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mid-May Deliciousness

Trending over the last week or so; #caneles, #this smackdown; and #potential Minibar and Komi reservations up in smoke (at least we got to Komi first).

Rick Bayless is slated to cater the next state dinner, for Felipe Calderon of Mexico. Perhaps this means a Topolobampo reservation is off the table too.

I the opportunity to meet lots of fun folks at the most recent DC Food Bloggers happy hour. Excited for more opportunities to blog collaboratively soon (to come: Marcus Samuelsson, Girls Night Out at Lyon Hall, and TBD on the 25th). In other exciting blogger news, I reached pre-pregnancy weight on Mother's Day, about 5-7 pounds from optimal (ran a half-marathon prior to getting pregnant and somehow gained weight in the process?!; and no, it could not have been all muscle). Speaking of optimal, I've learned to embrace realism in setting 'optimal' goals. I realize that my thunder thighs mean I will never be a zero, and that's okay. I'm a mother, lawyer, wife, cook, blogger; you get it, a busy lady. I don't need to kill myself for a number. As long as I'm healthy, and feel fit, there's no reason to not be happy with myself. Plus, as a close friend once told me, she doesn't want to have to tell me again that I look like I need a doughnut (bless her heart).

Speaking of happy Mother's Day thoughts, what exactly is wrong with a free burger on Mother's Day? Some people want a burger so bad, they are willing to break in to cook one (from my top notch detective skills, it appears that said culinary burglar was at Caribbean Breeze in Ballston).

The new criss-cross sidewalks debuted in Chinatown. Anyone had the pleasure yet? Does it actually work? Less taxicabs available (one friend raised this concern)?

Clarendon has got to get some freaking originality.

Another reason to indulge in Willamette Valley Pinots.

I'll also use this occasion to close out with a little insider information. In case I left much question for any of you, I am not in fact W. Mark Felt (a.k.a. the Watergate informant). Nope, he's deceased. I'm a wife and new mom alive and kicking in Arlington, lawyering for the federal government, and blogging my way through foodie and other adventures. I choose to blog anonymously because, well basically, because I'm paranoid. 99% of the time, there is no content considered even slightly controversial to be found on this blog. In addition, most friends and family know about my blog; and there are a handful of fellow bloggers out there who know my first name and what I look like. But, I started under-the-radar, and it works for me. No need to reveal my identity just yet.

Up next week, Ris, the things I wish I had blogged, and thoughts, theories, and goodbyes to Lost.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lunch Liaisons: Zengo

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).

Had a surprisingly delicious lunch at Zengo on Monday; not that I thought it would be bad, just not as tasty as it turned out to be. We've been to Richard Sandoval's other local outpost, Sandia in Tyson's Corner, which is acceptable enough, but Zengo sets the bar.

Though the menu offers economical Bento lunches ranging from $10 to $19, we were too intrigued by the various temptations to 'box' ourselves in (admit it; that at least gave you a little chuckle). We had trouble deciding between dim sum, rolls, small plates, rice dishes, and sandwiches, so we ordered as many of the courses as we could possibly finish. C, smart man that I married, asked that the courses be served as they were ready, so we had a nice progression of dishes. We started with the duck tacos, which were somewhat anticlimactic, because they were absolutely my favorite dish of the meal. Yum! The Peking duck was stewed with jalapenos, and served with daikon pancakes (brilliant! - light to balance out the duck) and curried apple slaw. Even without the orange-coriander sauce (also v. tasty), the tacos were full of flavor. The Thai chicken empanadas, which I was convinced would be dry and dull, were actually quite delicious, especially when topped with the mango salsa. We went with a Kobe beef roll because it seemed to be a house specialty. While not horrible, the tangy flavor of the Tamago was not enough to overcome the tough seared beef. I wish we had saved room for dessert instead. Things improved quickly, however, with a palate-pleasing salad of seared tuna, avocado, pears, and wasabi-lemon vinaigrette. Finally, we finished stuffing ourselves with a pork carnitas torta, perhaps the best integration of Sandoval's Asian and Latin Fusion flavors on display at Zengo. This 'torta' was not an open-faced tortilla, but a Chinese bun topped with purple cabbage, smoky carnitas, and a serious salsa verde. The accompanying 'Togarashi' fries are really Five Guy's cajun fries, but I was so distracted by the delicious sandwich that I didn't have time to bother with the fries. All in all, worth a repeat visit.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We All Scream for Ice Cream: Garam Masala Gelato

A childhood friend shared this awesome recipe for Garam Masala Gelato. It sounds so deliciously fragrant that I had to share. I feel like this spiced ice cream would go well with anything from chocolate cake to poached pears. It looks incredible M! Mmmmm.....

Ingredients (aside from the milk, eggs yolks and sugar, these are all very approximate)
1/4 to 1 tsp (depending on your preference for certain flavors) of each whole cloves, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cardamom seeds, star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
1" piece of peeled ginger, cut into large chunks
3 cups milk (preferably with some milkfat in it)
4 egg yolks
3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp chopped up candied ginger pieces (optional)

Roast the spices (excluding ginger) in a pan over medium heat until they smell good and toasty.  Put all spices and raw ginger in a medium saucepan with the milk and half the sugar.  Heat slowly over medium low heat until the milk is steaming and almost boiling.  Remove from heat and let the spices hang out in the hot milk for anywhere from 15 - 60 minutes. 

When you are ready to move on, separate your eggs, and add the remaining sugar and the vanilla to the yolks.  Beat on high speed until pale yellow. Strain the spices from the milk. Add some of the warm milk to the egg mixture and stir.  Then put all the egg mixture in the saucepan with the milk and heat over medium low heat until the mixture is steaming and almost boiling.  It will get glossy.

Remove from heat, and cool in the fridge.
 
When it has cooled down, put the mixture in an ice cream maker and make according to the machine's instructions.  When the mixture has firmed up about halfway, add the chopped candied ginger, if you are using it.  Continue to process, and then put the gelato in the freezer to firm up.  It tastes better after a night in the freezer - the ginger pieces get a little softer.






Sunday, May 9, 2010

Escape to Middleburg

For my very first Mother's Day as a mother, well, I have been sitting at home doing as little as possible, and that's been just about perfect. On Saturday, however, C decided that we must do something to celebrate, and we spent the day in Middleburg, Virginia. This little village in outer Loudoun County is perfect for getting away from life for a couple of hours.

There's not a lot to Middleburg, but there are some really special spots. One such spot is the French Hound, a quaint little inn, with a beautiful patio and fantastic views of the surrounding hills. I will not rave that the cuisine here is the best French food around, but it seems every dining experience I've had here is a memorable one. Last time, we had a perfect lunch on the patio; tasty and satisfying steak frites for both of us. For this outing, we brought along a couple of additional diners (a.k.a. baby holders) and soaked up the indoor setting. The terrine of foie gras, chicken liver mousse, and red wine demi glace excited our palates nicely. The wagyu beef tartare wasn't great; not as tender or flavorful as it could have been. Generally, the sandwiches were hits, as was the lobster pot pie. The heavy cream sauce was balanced by a light pastry, and vegetables that genuinely tasted fresh from the garden. And, finally, I don't know about you, but I for one find it sacrilegious to skip dessert at French restaurants. Our table split the apple fritters, or beignets aux pommes, which were scrumptious. Though I'm fairly certain that the ice cream was pralines and cream, rather than the advertised salted caramel (which I would have preferred), the donuts were perfect.

After a bit of shopping (cause really, a girl's always got to be in pursuit of something she needs desperately), we made sure to hit up the Market Salamander for some gourmet grub to take home. I first tried their pecan butterscotch scones three years ago, and have only missed them on one subsequent trip to Middleburg. Let me explain - they had already sold out, and I was almost in tears. But I digress, because I successfully retrieved my scones this time, and they are waiting for me in my freezer as I write this post, making me a happy girl.

And finally, as we do on almost every trip to Middleburg, we wrapped up the day at Chrysalis Vineyards. I'm a big fan of this winery; Sarah's Patio Red (a chilled Norton blend) and Sarah's Patio White are rather constant presences on our wine rack. On this particular outing, we concluded our relaxing day by sitting on the patio enjoying a bottle of Norton, because that's what proper Virginians (forget Missouri) should do. It was a relaxing conclusion to a relaxing day, a perfect Mother's Day gift. Good job C!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Wrapped Present

I'm really a pretty horrible food photographer - no need to link to the various examples within this blog (it becomes pretty obvious why pics of plates, therefore, are not part of my particular schtick). The beautiful plate presentations at Present, however, make me wish I was much better.  I would have to liked to have 'borrowed' some of the pics from Present's website to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, but they've got good security, so I'll encourage you to take a look for yourself. Oh, wait, I did find this Tom Sietsema pic from his review (this is the jerky and papaya salad, which we've had before, and it's very good, especially the papaya. We just didn't have the table room this time!):


The family at large love love loves Vietnamese, but after some less than satisfactory outings at Four Sisters, we started looking for a preferable upscale selection.  Since finding Present about eighteen months ago, it has become our go-to. Between the whimsical dish names and the adorable staff, I cannot get enough. Frankly, I think it's better than Four Sisters has ever been (blasphemy, I know), even on the one occasion I went with a family friend of the famous sisters. Last Saturday's relaxing dinner with family was a great alternative to all of the other fun events going on to which I lacked an invite (no, I'm not jealous; no, not at all). Though, ok, here's my small tangent - seriously, Kim Kardashian (please, someone explain to me why she is relevant)  was invited to the WHCD?, but rumor (but of course now I can't find the link) has it that actual White House Press Corps members were lacking tickets. Something is wrong there.

On this occasion, for apps, we went with the Treasure from the Sea, a salad of pineapple, shrimp, julienne vegetables, and calamari, served in a carved out pineapple. So very refreshing and light.

... and the Smokey Petals, baby clam served in a rice cracker 'shell' (fairly sure that this is my favorite item on the menu). Smoky is an appropriate descriptive term; I love this dish so much that I'm itching to try other baby clam fare.

...and the Silken Shawl Autumn Rolls, pork and shrimp "rolled" with vermicelli noodles, and flash fried, one of our consistent favorites.

We also almost always get the Mosaic Pathway, a cellophane noodle dish with lump crab. This particular instance did not live up to prior experiences, but was still tasty. Another tasty dish was (gotta love this name) Gift from the Sea on a Fresh Haystack, egg noodles with crab, shrimp, calamari, and sauteed vegetables.

Did I mention that my father-in-law has a hollow leg? Yes, there were more dishes. Fish on the Steamboat, a whole steamed red snapper (get the whole fish, served with the add-on wrapper option, with bean sprouts, bananas, cucumbers, and pineapple). The accompanying shrimp paste we could have done without - the waiter's quote regarding the sauce was entirely accurate - people either love it or hate it - we were of the latter category.

And finally (yes, I'm wrapping up), tis the season for soft shell crabs, which Present eclectically calls Basking on a Sandy Beach. It's not the best fry I've ever had, but the accompanying salt/pepper/vinegar/chili paste sauce is zesty and unique.

As always, the service was outstanding, friendly, outgoing (especially the hostesses, who basically seemed willing to babysit while we dined), and informative. I adore the people here. I always leave feeling pretty special, and well, that's pretty special in and of itself. But, not to be ignored is the fact that the food, is pretty, and special, as well.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Week's Worth of Recipes

Recipe for a v. fattening Saturday and Sunday

Recipe for improving a rainy Monday evening (subbed with swiss chard)

Recipe for being charmed by a cooking lesson on a Wednesday (to be blogged soon; working with some co-collaborators on this one)

Recipe for breaking a town's collective heart on a Thursday :(

Recipe for at least one player partially redeeming himself (still on Thursday)

Recipe for covering birthday reservation and gift in one step (the hubby knows we are well beyond hints at this point) - don't care which day of the week - I Flip For Food's Review put me over the edge.

Recipe for superbly acted television on Fridays (if you have not watched FNL, you are missing out; we all need a little Tim Riggins in our lives)

A Weekend's Worth of Recipes

Perhaps pulled pork and cupcakes are not the types of dishes that should make multiple leftover reappearances (my waistline is groaning as I type this) over the course of two days, but they sure did this past weekend (I'm not the greatest food photographer, but see the pulled pork with fried egg sandwich pic below - breakfast Sunday morning). I'm in store for a Weight Watchers meeting this week - back to a lifestyle of moderation (I think the problem was that I was subscribing to the Mark Bittman theory of recovery, only after a week, it catches up with you). Anyway, if you don't mind the caloric content, both of these recipes kicked butt if I do say so myself.

As I suspect is the case with most home cooks, I draw culinary inspiration from what I read, from what I see, and from what's in my fridge and pantry. I've had a Boston Butt in the freezer I was itching to make some BBQ out of, and I recently saw a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives that convinced me that I just had to smoke the bloody thing. Well, I tried to find the episode online and couldn't, and I did not have time to buy smoking wood, so long story short, my smoking became roasting. If you are interested in smoking though, check out this guy's post. That said, things worked out just fine with my roast. First, I brined using this tutorial. My brine included star anise, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, mustard seed, and vanilla. After soaking the butt (which is really a shoulder, but the 'butt' makes me go hehehehe like a third-grader) in the brine for 8 hours, I then covered the butt in a rub. You can make your own (basically, it just involves salt, sugar, paprika and a lot of spices), but I prefer a prepared version. I used some Arthur Bryant's that I picked up in KC last year, and added coffee, sea salt, and dried chipotle and ancho peppers.

Next, the butt roasted on low heat (200 degrees) overnight for 8 hours. I thought this would finish off the roast, and while the meat was cooked through, the fat had not cooked off and the roast was rather dry. So, not wanting to waste what I knew could turn out to be some great BBQ, I cut up the meat and put it in the crock pot on low for another eight hours. The fat cooked off perfectly and re-hydrated the meat. I think that one of two things could have happened with the original roasting method, (1) The salt&sugar to water ratio was off in the brine, or the meat should have brined far longer, or (2) I should have left the roast in the oven for several more hours letting the fat cook off and rehydrate the meat. Because of fear of drying out the meat further, I wussed out and went with the crock pot, but these were my alternative thoughts. I also prepared my own BBQ sauce with the following ingredients (simmer pan drippings in vinegar for 5 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer on low to desired thickness (about an hour):

2 tablespoons pan drippings
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
3/4 cup brown sugar
1-6 oz. can tomato paste
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. hot sauce
4 tbsp. soy sauce
(if the sauce is too strong, cut to your liking with ketchup and/or white vinegar)

Originally, I planned to serve the pork with corn bread and fava beans, a la these mouth-watering NYTimes recipes, but we already had plenty of calories between the pork, BBQ sauce, and soon-to-follow cupcakes, so instead, we just eat the pork on simple whole grain buns. I for one did not feel that anything was missing.



Did someone mention cupcakes? And not just any old cupcakes, but my version of the Velvet Elvis at Hello Cupcake. Frankly, I'm going to go ahead and call this one a success, especially given the number that have already disappeared from the freezer.

Banana Cake
2 medium bananas mashed, and one small banana mashed, reserved
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
OMG forgot to include the 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 cup 2% milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Peanut Butter Frosting 
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1-8 oz. package nuefchatel or cream cheese
Pinch of coarse salt
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
(note, this makes creamy frosting; for fluffier frosting, substitute one stick of butter for one-half of the nuefchatel cheese)

Yes, these directions are a little more involved:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin and 6-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside. I used my new sil-pat liners that I got at the Williams-Sonoma outlet for $9.99, yup marked down from $25 at the store. I picked up these liners up with my new Calphalon non-stick pans that make life so much easier.



In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and 1 small mashed banana; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Add two medium mashed bananas and cream together. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping with a spatula as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups (yields eighteen). Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.


For the frosting, cream together peanut butter and  nuefchatel cheese using the paddle attachment to the standing mixer. Add salt. Add confectioner's sugar 1/4 cup at a time. Because of the creaminess of this frosting, if you add the confectioner's sugar slowly, there is no need to sift. Yields frosting for 18 cupcakes, with some extra.