Wednesday, November 24, 2010

T-minus to Turkey

Cranberry orange relish, check. Gingered butternut squash soup, check. Pumpkin ginger cheesecake pie, check. All that's left is the cauliflower gratin, the roasted brussels and the herb butter basted bird. And of course the table setting, the gravy, the last minute inevitable chaos. And accommodating the seven other sides being supplied by others.

Only six for Thanksgiving this year. I'm so used to cooking for crowds that this feels ironically more challenging. Note to self: do not make a vat of anything.

My family is one of the "you don't mess with classics" variety. For many years I found that stifling and bland. I always introduced one new dish to the classic line up, on principle. It was also in hindsight what spawned my growing obsession with cooking. Thanksgiving for me was a time to try things out in a safe environment where my experimenets were backed by many, many other tried and true recipes to fill in if I failed.

All these years later, and hosting another Thanksgiving with friends instead of family (albeit only the second time I've ever not been with my family) I find the menu I gravitated towards to be a mix of favorites, experiments and dishes I've tried but are on their way to being classics.

Ironically it's not the turkey that inspires nerves. Can I do the cauliflower the way my mother, grandmother and aunt have? I've never done it solo. What if it's not the same? It's the one dish that's a nod to my family traditions this year. The butternut squash soup is a favorite of mine, easy, delicious and healthy. The pumpkin ginger cheesecake pie was a hit at a few events last year, courtesy of another blogger friend. The roasted brussels are a common table adornment around here, having emerged as the only way I like the veg. And the potluck component of most meals at 1660 ensures that there will be plenty of new dishes to try.

In some ways my Thanksgiving table resembles my approach to life these days, a nod to tradition but the curiosity to keep experimenting.

Happy Turkey Day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vacation, in the Vernacular

Vernacular: of, relating to, or characteristic of a period, place or group. In essence, native.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how travel and food intersect. Not just because I’ve only recently returned from a fabulously food filled vacation, although I have, but more because I find the two interests so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. And then today, voila, an online chat about the New Yorker’s food issue with three writers supplied the term I’ve been searching for. Writer Calvin Trillin said he mostly writes about vernacular food, food attached to a specific place. He said his dislike of fancy restaurants often comes from the sameness you can encounter.

It’s perfect. Yes, I can eat Turkish food in the U.S. versus traveling there, and have done so deliciously twice in the last seven days, but what I loved about both meals was how firmly grounded they were in being Turkish. I might not NEED to travel to Turkey to eat those foods (though I would love to) but I do want the meal to make me feel as though I did.

I think I’d take Trillins thought one step further to include the totality of what vernacular means, essentially that a meal can be tied not only to place, but to the when and who of a meal as well. The experience of eating something is inextricably bound up in where you are when you consume it, when you consume it and who you share it with. Eating is about things that taste good, but as I’ve said on this blog before I don’t believe it’s only about what tastes good.

October brought a wonderful two week vacation that was very much about vernacular food and encompassed a trio of locales. A pitch perfect week in London with BOG /W, a long weekend in Kent for the wedding of PA/A, and four days in Barcelona to round it out. It was far flung and wonderful and full of fun, dear friends and delicious food.

In fourteen days we ate more than I could possibly include in one blog post, I’ll have to dissect and describe the culinary compendium later. But suffice to say highlights, in addition to the seaside paella, included: curry near Brick Lane; pad thai at a restaurant that features chilies so hot they brought the fire department, literally; grilled razor clams at a tapas bar inside La Boqueria; partridge cooked in a pear cider sauce in a 17th century inn in Kent; wonderful, lemony Afghani food in a tiny London storefront; churros and chocolate during a festival celebrating a saint represented by flies (long story involving French invaders and swarms of defensive insects supposedly sent by a dead saint); cozy soup in a cook book store turned café; and countless other meals.

Why is it that food tastes so much better when we’re traveling or on vacation? Even basic things seem luxurious. Is that because we’re paying more attention? Because drinking that bottle of wine at lunch on a Tuesday seems just a wee bit naughty? Whatever the reason I seem to find all my meals memorable when I’m traveling. And this trip was no different. The multi-cheese picnic consumed on the train after strolling around Borough Market stands out in my brain just as clearly as the two fantastic tapas meals I had at Tapas 24 in Barcelona. Go figure.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wanton Chicken

I was vindicated today to find that Julia Child’s recipe for basic roasted chicken is almost the same as the one I’ve been using. Simple. Delicious. Humble. I can’t imagine anything better than the smell of a chicken stuffed with lemons, rosemary, thyme et al roasting away. Perhaps I can’t imagine it because right now that’s all I smell.

JC and I differ on one element. She trusses her chicken, tying the legs together to make for a better presentation. She’s quite adamant that to leave the legs swinging free is wrong. She makes some noise about overcooked drumsticks but her main concern seems to be keeping up appearance. Actually, the word she uses is “wanton”…. Leaving the legs splayed “gives the chicken a rather wanton look,” JC says in her lovely cookbook co-written with Jacques Pepin. I love that that’s the word she chooses. I usually can’t be bothered to dig out my cooking twine. So wanton chicken it is.

I’ll admit that roasting a chicken is an odd activity for a lazy, gorgeous Saturday when lunch is past and it’s not quite dinner time. But this was a: when the oven was free in my cook crowded home today, sandwiched between the farmer’s market inspired breakfast cooked by one housemate and the zucchini cake baking frenzy of another who is valiantly trying to tame our CSA share. And b: if I didn’t make this chicken today it was going to be a lost cause.

Hence roast chicken at 3pm.

My approach to roast chicken is simple. Having never owned the proper v-shaped roasting rack I strew the bottom of the roasting pan with onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, leeks: whatever’s in the house and will lift the chicken off the bottom of the pan. Rub the bird’s skin with butter or olive oil, s&p, put some in the cavity as well. (JC calls this a “generous butter massage,” wanton indeed!). Cut a couple lemons (or a mix of lemon and orange if there are oranges to be had) into thick slices. Squeeze the lemons over the chicken and stuff the cavity with them and fresh herbs. We always have rosemary and thyme so those tend to be my preference. Whatever lemons don’t fit in the cavity I toss into the bottom of the pan. Roast at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 for somewhere in the neighborhood of an hour.

That’s it. It makes for very simple, delicious chicken. With some yummy roasted veggies in the bottom that basically basted in butter and chicken fat…. Really what’s not to like. Although the “veggie rack” I use might not be universally appealing. They are very mushy and very intensely flavored and can end up on the salty side as basting washes some of the salt from the skin into the pan. I love it. But it might not be for everyone.

And I have to say that JC’s system for testing chicken’s “doneness” is preferable to my mind. If I cooked a chicken until the meat thermometer said it was done it’d be sawdust. I swear that’s why chicken has such a bad rap. Stuffing the cavity with citrus does slow the cooking time if, like me, you’re over exuberant about citrus. But I just allow for extra cooking time—a necessity with 1660 Hobart’s ghetto oven anyway. Julia says the chicken’s done when the juices run clear and the legs move easily in their socket.

Bon appétit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I think I may have found the cure for my pathological fear of baking. Booze! LL’s birthday was Aug. 27 and per the birthday girl’s request I was charged with making an ice cream cake. In keeping with LL’s tastes I decided on chocolate stout cake for the “cake” layer of the ice cream cake and used a Hobart favorite: Milk Stout. I have to admit I did not make the ice cream myself. I need to log quite a few more hours on the Dixie Bell (our aptly named retro ice cream maker) before I’d venture to include one of my own creations in something as important as a birthday cake. I chickened out in other words and bought Haagen Daz. Vanilla.

As an aside have you ever read the ingredients of most ice creams? I did the other day and it is truly terrifying. The vast majority are most definitely not Fit For Human Consumption. Why on earth are there so many unpronounceable ingredients in them? Having now made our own ice cream I can attest that it’s a refreshingly simple recipe. Cream. Ice. Salt (for melting the ice). Whatever fruits or flavors strike your fancy. In an entire case of ice cream at Whole Foods the ONLY brand that had just ingredients I could identify without a periodic table or a degree in food science was Haagen Daz. Ridiculous.

So ice cream purchased all that remained was the topping. I again relied on a Hobart favorite: bourbon whipped cream. I worried in the days leading up to Laura’s birthday that the stout, chocolate, ice cream, bourbon combo would be overwhelming, that there was too much going on. But if the reports of those who ate the cake are to be believed it all married surprisingly well. The bourbon notes in the vanilla dovetailed nicely with the bourbon whipped cream. And the dense chocolate stout cake seemed to benefit from the cool smooth vanilla flavor of the ice cream. I’m going to try the cake solo for guests this weekend as a comparison, so we’ll see how the recipe does at room temperature with nothing to distract from it. I think the cake definitely benefitted from sitting a day or two. The milk stout gave the chocolate cake an almost sour taste which while not entirely unappealing really mellowed out over time.

I don’t have the attention to detail required for light fluffy baking. Dense, intense flavor I seem to be able to manage. Chocolate stout cake definitely falls into the latter category.

Hobart St. Boozy Birthday Cake

Cake recipe (courtesy of the NYT, adapted from Epicurious)

Butter for pan
1 cup Guinness stout
10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/8 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1. For the cake: heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, combine Guinness and butter. Place over medium-low heat until butter melts, then remove from heat. Add cocoa and superfine sugar, and whisk to blend.

2. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add to Guinness mixture. Add flour and baking soda, and whisk again until smooth. Pour into buttered pan, and bake until risen and firm, 45 minutes to one hour. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely in pan.

Ice Cream layer:

Allow a container of ice cream, recommended flavor vanilla with bourbon notes, to soften at room temperature. Line an 8 inch spring form pan with plastic wrap. Pour or scoop ice cream into the pan and smooth into an even layer. Freeze until hard.

When hard, put cake layer on top and freeze again. (Note: my intention was to do 2 layers of cake with ice cream in the middle. Using the above cake recipe you would need to double it, the one cake isn’t tall enough to split horizontally. But the single layers of cake and ice cream worked just fine.)


1 pint whipping cream, powdered sugar and bourbon to taste (Buffalo Trace worked nicely). Mine was a little too bourbon-y so be careful not to over pour. If there’s a “right” time to add liquid to whipped cream I don’t know what it is-I dump the powdered sugar and the bourbon into the cream in the stand mixer and flip the switch. For topping a cake stiffer whipped cream, practically butter texture, is preferable. It was easier to use as frosting.

Cover cake with whipped cream frosting. For frosting technique I recommend getting lessons as I did over the weekend from a trained cake decorator! I would’ve been a train wreck on my own. (Thanks AM.) Otherwise do the best you can. My philosophy is that taste matters more than aesthetics anyway.

The assembled ice cream cake is best if you allow it all to freeze again. Perhaps even overnight. Day 2 and 3 of LL’s cake outstripped day 1 hands down. The whipped cream sets up more like frosting and the flavors seem to meld better. But if you’re antsy (or like me perpetually running behind) it can be eaten in the ooey gooey stage right after frosting. The flavors are all there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tomato Tomahto

I always have trouble answering that ubiquitous “what would your last meal be” question. On premise it bothers me to narrow down an answer. And in reality who can pick just one thing?!? That is, until late summer hits and brings with it the bounty of lush tomatoes and fragrant basil. Ask me now, and I definitely know my answer.

I have to come clean, I’m a tomato addict. I blame my father. When tomatoes were in season when we were kids every dinner and many lunches were accompanied by a plate of glistening tomato slices. No dressing, no fancified cheese and basil stacks. Just. Tomatoes. Maybe salt. It’s simplicity and appreciation for good ingredients at its unvarnished best. Sometimes, the best times, the tomatoes would hit the table still slightly hot from the sun.

I’m violently opposed to refrigerating tomatoes. I’m also violently opposed to any tomato someone tries to sell me out of season (with the exception of those imported grape tomatoes I purchase with all the shame of a junkie looking for a fix). Pink, mealy January tomatoes shouldn’t be eaten. And they certainly don’t deserve to be classed together with the gorgeous beauties rolling into my kitchen right now.

After the tomato blight heartbreak of last year, I’ve hedged my bets in 2010. Good thing too since this year’s garden is once again suffering. This year the twin pillars of my fabulous CSA and the MtP farmers market have kept my habit well supplied. This weekend was even better, a visit to see BG staying with her family in Pennsylvania was totally tomato focused and once they recognized my…obsession they sent me home well kitted out to keep my three tomato a day habit humming along.

And they outfitted me with a sizable bouquet of basil to go with it. BG’s dad tried one of those aero gardens that I would’ve dismissed as a gimmick until I saw this basil plant. The size of a tree ya’ll, without getting woody or making the basil bitter! Amazing. I am so getting one of those, because if there’s anything that can improve on an in-season ripe tomato it would be its favorite companion, basil.

I have to cop to sometimes slightly fancifying my tomato dinner platter from my dad’s version. If I have access to good cheese, which I did this week in the form of a mozzarella braid from Calander’s dairy in Nazareth PA, it’s hard not to add that to my tomatoes and basil. Olive oil, salt, pepper. Perfetto. Although I’m more inclined towards a bite size chop of the ingredients than the large, round stacks of caprese typically offered in the U.S. Just a personal preference.

This year I can’t get enough of the raw unadulterated tomatoes but soon I’ll make some sauce to store. Maybe a tomato tart (there’s a recipe for one with gruyere that is delicious). And WaPo ran an intriguing article about homemade ketchup today. We’ll see. As long as I can keep the tomatoes coming I’m a happy woman.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Zucchini, Take One

The oppressive heat of a Washington summer arrived early this year. The District has been a sticky, sweaty, humid, hot mess on and off since May. The only added bonus of all this early heat and humidity is that it’s pushing a lot of my favorite summer crops onto an earlier timetable. And apparently into a supersized realm.

1660 Hobart got its first monstrous zucchini of the season from our fabulous CSA the week before I headed out on vacation in Costa Rica (more on that at a later date). It rivaled some of the late summer fruit from last year, longer than my forearm and almost twice as wide. Big honking zucchini always spell zucchini bread for me. It’s delicious, and freezes well. And knocks out a large zucchini that might be past it’s flavor prime. My favorite recipe is an Epicurious standby for spiced zucchini bread, lots of cinnamon and allspice and tweaked to add chocolate chips. Delicious. The loaves that came from last year’s steroidal zucchini lasted us well into the epic blizzard last winter. And made a lovely breakfast pre-sledding if I do say so myself.

Under a time crunch from my impending vacation departure and AK's bday at all you can eat Korean BBQ (clearly not to be missed) I chose to bake my first batch of zucchini bread on an unbearably hot night. Ugh. But had to be done. The heat addled my brain however and one whole batch of bread made it into the oven missing one crucial ingredient (oil) and with significantly less than was called for of another (sugar). There’s a reason Liza doesn’t bake very often people, being easily distracted is a hard problem to fix in finicky baking recipes.

On JB’s suggestion I decided to call it an experiment since inadvertently I’d made a healthier version. The final result needs some significant tweaks to improve the texture, but all in all the verdict was it wasn’t half bad. Worth playing with if the zucchini keep rolling in. The second batch was spot on: dense, gooey, chocolate-y zucchini goodness. And with a truly frightening amount of vegetable oil in it, anything but healthy.

Six loaves later there was still a massive quantity of shredded zucchini so JB and I had a zucchini pancake showdown the next night. We tried two competing recipes: one with mint and feta, the other with curry. Both were super easy and delicious, although it was agreed that some texture issues needed to be ironed out. In an effort to retain the health benefits of the zucchini we tried to minimize the oil used which meant the crispness they would’ve had from being deep fried wasn’t there. But the flavor was. A fair trade off in my mind. If we keep getting zucchini the size of baseball bats we’ll need some healthier options to dispose of the bounty-even I can't eat that much zucchini bread.

Curried Zucchini Pancakes
1 large zucchini, shredded with a grater or food processor
1 sm. Onion, shredded with a grater or food processor
¼ C egg white
¼ C cottage cheese
¼ C matzoh meal or bread crumbs (more if the mixture seems impossibly wet)
1t curry powder (choose your favorite)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients together and use a quarter cup measure to make the pancakes. Cook until brown on both sides, pushing down on the pancakes to flatten them. Benefits greatly from the addition of Greek yogurt to balance out the curry. (A yogurt sauce of some kind with some cool mint or cilantro, maybe tzatziki style might also work here.) Also the addition of shredded carrots might give it a little more flavor depth.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

I’m not a very patient person. It’s what makes me infinitely more suited to the farmers market than the garden. I’m working on it, but it’s admittedly harder to get inspired by something that won’t come to fruition, literally, for months.

That being said I think I’ve achieved a good balance this year. Saturday was the second farmer’s market, I stocked up on enough asparagus to make a super easy vibrant green soup to chase away Sunday’s blustery early spring feel and more rhubarb and strawberries to start stockpiling batches of my new favorite compote. (thanks Shea).

I also managed to spend upwards of 30 dollars on seedlings for our much improved communal garden, despite exhibiting an unusual level of self control buying herbs to plant. Managed to contain myself to just buying lavender, lemon balm, spearmint, tarragon, African blue basil and thyme to join the thriving rosemary and parsley in the herb bed.

I think the herbs are the best way to combat my impatience with gardening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for tomatoes. I love tomatoes. But after last year’s blight plague on the east coast stunted our success I don’t know if I can take the heartbreak again. I needed a solid plan b. Or multiples.

That’s why I love our farmers market and the proximity of DC to farm country. This year 1660 also joined a CSA that involves visiting a farm once a week. (As a Vermonter who's dwelled in cities for the last decade I find this part especially exciting.) The farm share we have includes pick your own opportunities on top of a weekly share. Plus the farm does some really neat work to keep their program accessible for those with no disposable income. I’m sure I’ll wax on about the CSA quite a bit this summer. Our first pick up is next weekend, and I’ll miss it due to a family obligation but I can’t wait to see what we get.

I think the balance of surprises from the CSA and what comes out of the yard, with the support of the far more dependable offerings from the farmers market should make for a delicious summer. Asparagus soup recipe below--it's kept me a happy eater all week. Keep in mind I don’t really measure when I cook…. Consider all these numbers in the “ish” range.

Herbed Asparagus Soup

(heavily improvised and adapted from Eating Well to match existing refrigerator contents)

NOTE: this makes a large quantity of soup. I appear to have inherited a family gene that makes it impossible for me to cook for less than an army. The skill serves me well on Hobart, but obviously adjust measurements according to quantity and taste.

2 medium leeks or onion, chopped

2-4 cloves garlic, minced

2lbs asparagus (trimmed and cut into inch long pieces)

1 and 1/3 cups green peas (frozen or fresh)

4 cups chicken broth

4 small to medium sized potatoes (peeled and diced)

4-5 T finely chopped herbs: dill, parsley, chives (any combo you like, i went heavy on the dill).

½ C crème fraiche

S&P to taste

T or 2 of lemon juice

Saute leeks/onion in olive oil until tender but not browned. Add garlic and sauté, stirring, until fragrant 1 minute or so. Add chicken broth and potatoes, simmer until potatoes are tender. Add asparagus and peas and cook until just tender but still bright green. Remove from heat, stir in herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Puree soup (I used an immersion blender which if you don’t own you really should. Fantastic kitchen toy.) Add crème fraiche and incorporate well using immersion blender. Bring soup back up to temperature. Just before serving add lemon. Top with herbs and Greek yogurt or more crème fraiche if you like.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Loads of Lemons

I'm having a citrus moment. Ok, it might border more on an obsessive compulsion these days. It started with my discovery that these Meyer lemons I'd been reading about for years that all the lucky food types in warmer climes waxed on about were available for a very reasonable price in the P Street Whole Foods.

I've come late to the Meyer lemon party, but for anyone who hasn't seen them they are both delicious and truly lovely looking. They're smaller than a regular lemon and smoother and they glow with the most intense yellow lemon-ness. They also smell and taste divine-like a cross between a lemon and a clementine or tangerine, lemon but sweet enough to eat alone. You get the picture.

I bought them by the dozen for as long as I could find them. Then friends started buying them for me and delivering them to me. They're irresistible.

I made good use of the bounty of Meyer lemons that came my way. In salad dressing,in intensely lemony shortbread, as a marinade with oranges and parsley for fantastic grilled chicken. I froze juice, I candied lemon peels. I even made some preserved lemons despite never having cooked with them before. I had Meyer lemon fever, which gave way to a very citrusy winter/spring in general when the Meyer lemons were no more.

When forced to move on to more pedestrian citrus the results were still pretty great. The roast chicken we served for a part of passover seder this year was heavenly, basted in a combo of lemon and orange juice. And you've already heard about the grapefruit marmalade which we just ran out of sadly.

It's nice to have something bright and fresh to tide you over these last few weeks before growing season really hits. Washington's season starts earlier than the brief summers in VT, but not early enough for me. I'm positively itching for the neighborhood (producer only) farmers' market to start and our CSA kicks in at the end of the month. The citrus filled the hole admirably, but despite my inclination to buy local whenever possible I'm not ready to give up on lemony recipes. The pasta with tuna, capers, basil and lemon zest that I made for a recent barbecue served as a good reminder of lemon uses in summer. Mmmmmm.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bacon Cake

Appropriately, albeit accidentally, we observed National Pig Day early this year. (Yes there is a National Pig Day and it happens to be today.) Bacon cake actually had another name. It's something along the lines of bocconcini stuffed Mediterranean bacon pull apart bread. But it should be called Bacon Cake.

It is every bit as decadent as it sounds. Herb bread rolled and sealed around tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, rolled in butter, bacon fat and parmesan cheese and baked in layers, in a bundt pan, with a mixture of bacon, green onions, olives and sundried tomatoes sprinkled between layers.

"Bacon cake" sounds appropriately decadent and just a little bit dirty. As it should. This is a naughty cake. You feel just a little bit dirty eating it. This is a cake you pretend not to like, because you shouldn't. This is a cake that looks sweet but is in reality salty, tart and indulgent. It's a surprise, this cake. It's nuanced, with just the right dash of naughtiness.

This is a cake you should make. But a word of caution. It is not to be trifled with. It is also a cake that should be made when it can be easily disposed of on willing guests. Otherwise you're likely to wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about sneaking down for just one more bite. It's hard to resist, this cake. You'll want to eat the whole thing. And really, no one needs to be that naughty....not whole bacon cake naughty.

The illicit thrill fades when you over indulge. And really, the fatty, salty, slightly dirty bacon-ness of it all should be savored--good behavior be damned.

Here's the recipe. And I'm linking to it rather than retyping the recipe so you can see the flights of obsession it inspires in others. Namely the author of the blog that kindly supplied us with the recipe. So you'll know I'm not crazy.

The inaugural bacon cake was consumed as part of a Foodie Films night featuring "Mostly Martha," which I am at this very moment watching. Again. The movie is also indulgent and a little bit decadent. It's fabulous. And it's a movie that I suspect would totally get bacon cake, seeing as it's a movie all about the naughty, slightly-dirty-in-the-best-way, sensual appreciation of food and what that can do for people. I recommend it (just ignore the dated sax music and focus on the food. And the bursts of Louis Prima.). And clearly I also recommend the bacon cake.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canned Sunshine

In flipping through past posts it's clear we're deep into winter. It seems as though there was so much more to write about in the summer and fall. The seasonal proclivities of FFHC seem to follow the seasonal trends of crops as well. Bountiful in the fall....lacking in the winter months. We still cook a lot but like the crops my creativity seems to be fallow these days. Unfortunate really since writing is the perfect cold weather activity.

Tonight we're having the second of what hopefully will be a regularly occurring dinner and a movie night focused on food themed films. The first featured "Chocolat." Following a dinner of grass fed beef and simply prepared veggies (including my new favorite quick braised cabbage) we had a dessert of chocolate fondue, naturally.

Tonight's dinner and movie are less closely aligned out of sheer laziness on my part. Watching "Mostly Martha" and eating pasta. Pasta's just such an easy way to feed a large crowd with ingredients that are on hand. I'm dreaming about farmer's markets and gardens but even in my more southern location these days that's months away.

The one sunny bright spot of the culinary landscape? The multiple cases of citrus fruit that arrived courtesy of a fundraiser for a local choir. The sunny bursts of citrus scents and color in the house might just help me survive until the weather turns. To that end...trying my first canning experiment under the tutelage of KF. Grapefruit marmalade is percolating away on the stove as I type. It smells wonderfully sunshiney. I'll let you know how it turns out, this is a multiple day project.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Fish in Favor

Anchovies appear to be having their moment. Evidenced here and here. Which bodes very well for the multiple cans of anchovies in my cupboard. I accidentally overbought them in a fit of overexcitement over a recipe for a romanesco cauliflower pasta dish this fall when it was in season. So pretty. And oddly, the first time I had actually cooked with anchovies. I had a hard to shake suspicion of canned fish for a long time. No more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I had time to ponder the affects of snOMG 2010 (insert favorite snowism here, there were many) on my wintery trek to work today. Secretly the Northerner in me takes a small amount of smug joy in all this snow paralyzing the city.

I should probably be more understanding of the panic that gripped the city, given that this region is entirely unprepared for any significant amount of snow. The large number of flat roofs alone indicates just how unprepared. Don’t worry, I got my comeuppance yesterday when the skylight in my house succumbed to the large mound of snow on it and started leaking like a sieve. Smug Northern revelry officially stifled.

It will take DC a long time to dig out from under this one, but despite all the memorable images, inch counts and snow drifts still in evidence, the memory of the storm is largely fading for me into a pleasant blur of social gatherings. Specifically comfort food driven social gatherings. We clearly survived the storms by eating our way through them. (And maybe drinking a little way through as well.)The first round of snow over the weekend fueled some great impromptu neighborly feasts. Nothing like a fabulous, remarkably well coordinated, last minute Indian feast to beat the cold. Lots of heat. Yum.

Saturday morning IAG treated us to panko crusted deep fried soft boiled eggs with sriracha remoulade. And yes it was every bit as decadent, delicious and artery clogging as it sounds. Justifiable winter fuel in my mind and an experiment worth repeating.

I also learned how to cook polenta this weekend, and found myself wondering why it took me so long to get around to it. So easy. So delicious. And so very useful. We followed Bittman's recipe in "How to Cook Everything." It made a wonderful base for two slow cooked beef dishes on Saturday and Sunday. Nothing says “winter” in my mind like a slow cooker or dutch oven meal. Both were delicious-one winier than the other, but aside from that not terribly different preparations in the end. Also delicious: the chili WM and BO’G served for their Superbowl gathering. Great game.

Sunday morning JB whipped together some great sweetpotato hashbrowns with diced local bacon. Lovely with an egg on top. Not one of IAG’s super stylin deep fried kind, but an egg nonetheless.

The second round of snow Tuesday into Wednesday produced an avalance of baked goods. A yummy, sticky, chocolatey assortment of goodness that came with the added bonus of being largely delivered to our door by stir crazy friends. Hooray for intrepid neighbors!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I Brought a Hand Grenade to the Potluck

Food is love. I've read about this concept in various places over the years. The gathering of people and ingredients, the sharing of cooking talents, making and eating. I think they said it best in the wonderful documentary "I Like Killing Flies", "Making food is about as intimate as it gets, I mean, they're going to put it in their mouth."

However if making food for friends and family is a way of bonding, a way of loving, making food for the public is War. Yes, I try to put Love into everything I make. I'm not joking. I think it tastes better that way. But working behind a sushi bar, where horde upon horde comes flooding through the door. There's an overwhelming feeling that we are out-manned and out gunned. How can these people still be hungry? Where are they coming from? Didn't we feed everyone in town already?

Prep time, before we open is all about getting ourselves ready. What are we preparing? Food sure, but more accurately: Ammunition. We want to make sure you never run out of bullets. So we stack our ammo, our tuna, our avocado, our rice, our sauce; we stack it high. On a busy weekend we'll go through 200 pounds of fish and 300 pounds of cooked rice. When we run out, things begin to spiral out of control, that foreign army gets a little closer, a little more irate, a little more unpredictable and we start to lose the battle.

Sometimes the noise level in the restaurant rises to the point that I have to use hand signals, two fingers pointed to my eyes and then at a table to let the waitress know from across the room to look at them. I found myself shouting out at customers mere feet from me because if I didn't they wouldn't understand. I turn my head to hear their response directly into my ear and nod, as if we're all hunched under a chopper that's about to take off.

While our bar works best in it's U shape, to maximize seating capacity, it's hard not to think that we've dug a trench and are now surrounded. When you leave the trench, to go to cash register, to help the helpless at the door, you feel as though your exposed, somehow in danger of being taken to floor and beaten for what little sushi you might have left.

To top this, more than half the time I have an extremely sharp knife in my hand, that I have, on at least one occasion, threatened a customer with and on many more occasions secretly thought of stabbing someone with. Think I'm crazy? Try not to think of it as a weapon when someone is yelling at you.

This brings me to final point. You see the face of Evil working in a restaurant. The way humans treat other humans can be both amazing and horrifying around meal times. I've seen the most disfunctional of dysfunctional families. I've see food thrown as live ammo. I've seen spitting indoors. I've seen grown men puff out there chests over who was on the list to sit down first. I've heard parents tell their kids that they're too fat to have any more. I heard jeaous wives ask their husbands if they wanted to just "fuck the waitress and get it over with".

And yet, like some kind of adrenaline junkie, I keep coming back to work. Because every night I get that rush, like I just might not make it out alive this time, but somehow at the end, they all go home and I live to fight another day.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dear Eater

First credit where credit is due: Shea needs to be lauded not only for discovering, testing and disseminating this carnitas recipe but for mailing me a package of the specific Mexican spices required and making it harder for me NOT to try it than it was to just make it. And boy was I happy I made it, as were my New Year’s Day companions if the number of helpings I saw consumed were an accurate indication.

I’m linking you here to the recipe on Shea’s other blog. Get it. Make it. It really does live up to any hype I can give it. A side note, I simply made the carnitas and tomatillo salsa for sandwiches and didn’t mess about with eggs or cheese.

What I really loved about making this particular carnitas recipe (aside from a renewed appreciation for the values of patient slow cooking) was how unexpectedly and completely communal it felt. Food creates community by bringing us together around a table and binds us together in shared experiences and shared tastes. This recipe sent from the other side of the country was just that.

Cooking this carnitas recipe from Shea, with spices he sent, for my family and some DC friends he has yet to meet was like reading a well written, deliciously filled letter to them. You remember those letters right? Before the internet took over? Those letters that made you feel like you'd just had a great chat with an old friend? It was one of those.

It was as if Shea sent me a complete moment in the mail. Almost like sharing a meal…..with a slight pause between bites.

Technology has broadened our horizons in so many ways and has clearly made communication across great distances far easier. Shea and I can both contribute to this blog despite having lived a continent apart for almost ten years (eek). Clearly we’ve embraced new technologies. But food, at its core, is still a fundamentally sensory experience. The taste, the smell, the texture can’t be replicated in bits and bytes (note I’m resisting the urge to go for a trite bites v. bytes joke).

At a very basic, human level communing over food still involves an in-person experience. Which this most definitely was. And a delicious one.

Clearly, nothing can replace the joy and connection felt in sharing a meal with friends and family. It’s time to be savored whenever possible. But in the absence of having all my nearest and dearest living right next door, this meal that was mailed to me was almost as good as the real thing. Almost.

P.S. Both of the recipes I made over the holidays that garnered the most positive feedback came to me via friends. This Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake Pie via my book club compatriot MissMangoHands was also a hit, and well worth making (scroll about halfway through October for the recipe). Particularly for any ginger lovers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Holiday in Menus

The holidays always mean food and lots of it in my family. Luckily the family is packed with great cooks, although I volunteered to spearhead a good portion of our eating regimen for the last week. Resolution for 2010: volunteer in much lower profile ways. But it was great fun. The weather cooperated to make the holidays appropriately snowy....and justified some of my favorite comfort foods as well as providing ample opportunity for snow activities and board games with family and friends. What more do you need at the holidays?

Christmas Eve-a Valenta tradition (courtesy of KV and co):
a multi-ethnic buffet

Christmas morning-an ironic breakfast:
Bagels and Lox

Christmas Dinner in NJ (a team effort):
Sausage crostini
Winter vegetable soup
Grilled herb and garlic crusted lamb with a port/red wine reduction
Coq au vin
Mushroom risotto
Honey glazed carrots and parsnips
Green beans in a shallot vinaigrette
Horseradish mashed potatoes
Roasted sweet potatoes
Braised red cabbage
Apple pie, rum cake, assorted cookies….all topped with a Cognac whipped cream

Boxing Day (this was all JV with some sous cheffing)
A trio of grilled pizzas: prosciutto and gorgonzola with balsamic glazed figs and shallots; white pizza with broccoli and a lemon wine sauce; roasted peppers and mushrooms.

Second Christmas in VT:
Pan seared steak with a red wine tarragon sauce
Oven roasted potatoes
Butter braised carrots

A Healthy Respite:
Red lentils and rice

VT Welcomes DC (courtesy of my sissy Abby and pops):
Butternut Squash lasagna
vegetarian chili

NYE-a fridge purge:
Broccoli with shallots and balsamic
Copious amounts of champagne/VT beer/maybe a little mescal direct from Mexico

New Year’s Day- a comfort food bonanza:
Breakfast: hash brown casserole and eggs
Dinner: outrageous pork carnitas with tomatillo salsa (Shea's recipe)

A snowy visit with the G-parents:
Macaroni and cheese
Spiral ham with a brown sugar glaze
Pumpkin Ginger cheese cake