31 May 2007

A Correction and a Worry

In a previous post, I mentioned the Central Market. It is actually called the Capital City Market, and more commonly known as the Florida Avenue Market. There has long been talk of "revitalization" here, which has encountered stiff opposition. The market's future seems once more in question with a development concept to build condos above a retail commercial space. (Oooh, that's a new concept, NOT!) The Florida Avenue market is a unique and vital wholesale and retail commercial location in the District catering particularly to immigrants and restaurants. While a general "clean-up" might make it a bit more hospitable for your average upper middle class consumer, making it look and feel like every other condo complex in any city seems such a shame. I'm afriad the war against diversity is winning and that the homogenization of city scapes everywhere will prevail. See this article for details and additional links.

23 May 2007

A Real Find also turns out to be a Disappointment

We had friends for brunch on Saturday. Not in the Hannibal Lechter sense. They had a baby recently and they hadn't seen our house that we moved to in November. After trying for weeks to marry up our schedules and find a time that we could actually spend a couple hours together, we made a brunch date for Saturday. I planned a menu of potato frittata (which I prefer to call tortilla espanola), grilled asparagus, chicken breakfast link sausages, fresh fruit salad and these puffy, chewy custard buns from the Chinese bakery, mimosas and coffee. The day I went to the grocery for provisions, the asparagus was a bit wanting so I decided to make a spinach salad instead. Then I decided I would add a sour cream cake, the handwritten recipe for which I had discovered recently among my grandmother's recipe cards. I liked the name of it particularly: "Sock It To Me Cake" which is better than "Sour Cream Pound Cake."

Friday night, I made the cake so it would have plenty of time to cool before glazing. My grandmother's recipe card said cooking time of 45-55 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven. After 45 minutes exactly, I pulled the cake out and it was, shall we say, mahogany on top -- in other words, kinda burned. I let it cool a bit and flipped it out and cut myself a piece to see if it would be serviceable for the next day's dessert. Turns out it was super light and fluffy and yummy, slightly crumby and dry from the over cooking but not burnt tasting, and I thought once the glaze was on, it would be fine, especially with coffee. I went to sleep thinking about how my grandmother's recipes come through every time. She really delivers when it comes to food.

Saturday was so much fun. We had plenty to talk about, did the house and yard tour, got all caught up on each others' news and the baby was adorable and quiet for the most part. We made it through a bottle of bubbly and oj with the frittata and everything else. Now it was time for cake, which I served with sliced fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream and coffee. Not dry at all, not burnt tasting at all. Just about perfect if I do say so myself. Pretty much irresistable evidenced by the fact that by Monday evening, there was no evidence of it left anywhere!

I was at the grocery yesterday picking up some fresh veggies for dinner and thought I would get a boxed cake mix to make that Sock It To Me Cake again soon since it was so good and disappeared so fast. Oh, to my happy surprise the boxed cake mixes were on sale -- I bought TWO. Happiness is buying two boxes of cake mix on sale.

Get home, unload the groceries, putting away the boxes of cake mix and lo and behold on the freakin' side of the cake box is the recipe for my grandmother's Sock It To Me Cake. My "Real Find" of the recipe card written in my grandmother's graceful hand came from the side of a Duncan Hines box. The discovery of this is a disappointment but won't stop me from making it again (especially since I have TWO boxes of cake mix).

Sock It To Me Cake (aka Sour Cream Pound Cake) - as written on my grandmother's recipe card, not the side of the box!

Cake batter:
1 box Duncan Hines Golden Butter cake mix
1 8-oz container sour cream
1/2 C Crisco brand vegetable oil (other brands make the cake fall!)
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C water
4 eggs

1 C chopped pecans (I used walnuts)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

2 Tbsp milk
1 C confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend cake mix, sour cream, oil,
sugar, water and eggs (one at a time). Beat at high speed for 2 minutes (important for lightness). Pour 2/3 of the batter in a greased and floured Bundt pan.

Combine filling ingredients and sprinkle over the batter in the pan. Spread remaining batter evenly over the filling mixture. Bake at 375 for 45 to 55 minutes, until cake springs back when touched lightly.

Cool right side up for about 25 minutes, then remove from pan. Prepare glaze and pour over cooled cake.

Asian Salad and a movie

For the past couple weeks I've been craving some seared tuna (raw in the middle) sliced thin over a crunchy, crispy salad. I like a salad with seared tuna in two main varieties: Asian or Southwestern. Last night was the night and Asian was the style.

For the dressing I used a bit of yellow miso paste, a couple drops of lite soy sauce, fresh orange juice, a few drops of Chinese rice wine, a little minced garlic, a lot of grated ginger, freshly ground black pepper, a drizzle of roasted sesame oil. (If the dressing is too thick or too salty, add a little water.)

For the salad (4 dinner-sized servings):
1/2 small head savoy cabbage, shredded
1 medium heart of romaine
big handful of bean sprouts, stringy ends trimmed off
big handful of snow pea pods, julienned
1 small yellow bell pepper, julienned
3 scallions, green part only, cut on the bias
2 medium oranges, segments only, skins removed (What's the technical term for this method? I'll have to look it up.)
big handful of sliced almonds
big handful of julienned carrots (I buy them already done)
chopped cilantro (optional)
La Choy brand crunchy chow mein noodles for topping (find in the asian packaged goods aisle in your regular grocery, usually bottom shelf)

For the tuna, about 1 pound of sashimi grade should cover your 4 main course salad servings. I drizzled the tuna pieces with a little toasted sesame oil and then sprinkled a combination of a southwestern dry rub mixed with a mild chili powder. (Well, dinner was mostly Asian inspired but needed that little bit of southwestern zip.) Get a grill pan nice and hot to just about smoking and set each piece in. Leave for about 2 minutes before flipping and cooking another minute or so. Don't forget to sear the sides also. Remove from the pan and let it rest while you toss the salad with the dressing and put the crunchies on top. Slice the tuna and set the slices on the salad to serve.

On another note, I watched a quirky movie this past weekend called Everything is Illuminated, not a movie about food but nonetheless contains a funny food scene involving vegetarianism. The film itself is a very odd road trip with interesting characters all searching for their own stories and making new memories along the way. One of the best lines in the movie comes toward the end. The old Ukranian lady who collects items to remember the dead says something so truthful to the young man, Jonathan, who comes to find out about one of them. Holding a small jar containing a wedding ring, this lady says something like, "You are not here because of it. It is here because of you." This physical thing, symbol of a history, a memory, only exists because someone seeks out that history. Without a person or a society taking that journey back in time to learn the history, the thing/event doesn't exist at all, it has no relevance. The title is so appropo for this film on so many levels. If you've seen it, I'm interested in your comments. If not, I recommend you do!

14 May 2007

Herb butter for grilled corn

You've probably seen this done many times and never done it yourself. It couldn't be easier or tastier or say "Summer!" any louder.

We went to the Central Market this weekend near the intersection of Florida and New York Avenues in The District. It's a loud, industrial, dirty, primarily wholesalers market that covers about eight city blocks. We didn't see the entire thing -- it's just too big and some places are not open on the weekend, but there were a few interesting things that stood out. One of them is a West African grocer and butcher. The butcher counter was absolutely packed and all you could hear was the din of Bantu (maybe?) over the butcher's saw cutting goats. The second thing that we liked was a vendor called The Mexican Fruit Stand (I think that's what it's called). Kind of a mini-green grocer, all fruits and veggies from Mexico. We bought a crate of corn on the cob and some lovely tomatoes. I spent most of Sunday shucking and boiling and de-cobbing corn to have in the freezer for the winter.

I saved out a few ears of corn to eat this week. Last night I grilled corn and made herb butter for it. This is how it goes:
~1 stick of organic unsalted butter
good quality chili powder to taste (I used one that wasn't very spicy but had a good chili pepper flavor - something I found in a latino grocery)
a pinch of kosher salt
a handful of chopped fresh cilantro
a squeeze of fresh lime

Chunk up the butter and dump everything in the food processor. Whiz around until everything is well incorporated. Plop out onto a piece of wax paper and roll/shape it into a log and refrigerate until ready to serve on hot, grilled corn on the cob. Serve with an iced cold Margarita. :) It (the buttered corn or the 'rita) is a great southwestern accompaniment for grilled flank steak. It would be great to garnish a nice charcoal-grilled steak with a little pat of this as well. Does this herb butter on corn scream summer to you?! It does to me! Woohoo, summer has arrived!

03 May 2007

Eating Out Over and Over Again

The night I came home from Vegas we at out. The next two nights I ate salads for dinner at home. They were pretty good salads, if I do say so myself. The first night I had a grilled tuna medallion coated in yellow miso paste and grilled very rare sliced thin over an Asian themed salad. The second night I had a very rare grilled tuna medallion of Southwestern flavors (chili powder and cumin) over a Southwestern themed salad. Then we went out to eat Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, cooked a big lamb fest at home on Sunday night, ate out again on Monday night and Tuesday night. Whew. It was literally eating out over and over again, or at least that's how it felt.

The ones worth talking about:

Friday night we ate out at Euro Bistro in Herndon
Saturday night was The Melting Pot in Arlington
Monday night was Ardeo in Cleveland Park, DC
Tuesday night was Oyamel and then Titus Andronicus at The Shakespeare Theatre

Euro Bistro -- It says Euro, but has a definite Austrian/Tyrolian focus as you can tell by the daily specials menu typed on a sheaf of paper, and an Asian fusion flair on its regular menu. I would highly advise ordering from the specials menu. You won't be disappointed. In fact, without fail, order the Sauerbrauten. This is a very tender piece of beef in a slightly sweet and sour sauce served with spaetzle (potato noodles) and red cabbage. This is not what I ate on Friday night but have had it there before and it is excellent. If you like white wine, get the Anton Bauer Greuner Vetliner, which is full bodied enough to have with a meal, dry enough to pair with just about anything.

The Melting Pot -- we ordered "The Big Night Out" and surprisingly did not feel disgusting when we left about two and half hours after arriving. Cheese fondue, salads, main course variety of meats, chicken, shellfish and vegetables in broth fondue, chocolate fondue (actually pecan, caramel, and chocolate) for dipping strawberries, bananas, pineapple, pound cake, brownies, marshmallows, and cheesecake. Yummy yummy in my mouth and tummy! This is a meal event where you need to take your time and enjoy the food and the companions you're with. If you were a big fondue-er in the '70s, you will feel like reminiscing.

Ardeo -- modern American cuisine, menu heavy on fresh fish. The peaky-toe crab appetizer served with micro cress and geletinized mango (or something like that) was tasty. The halibut served over a pancake of fresh English mallow peas in a buttery foam sauce was very good. Nice decor, very unobtrusive excellent service. There is nothing distracting about this place. Next up would be the one right next door called Bardeo, a wine bar and cafe with a completely independent menu.

Oyamel -- another Jose Andres small plates house, it doesn't disappoint. Recently re-opened from its move from Crystal City to the theatre area in DC proper, Oyamel serves Mexican antojitos, or appetizer sized dishes including individual small soft tacos. Be brave, order the grasshopper taco -- roasted brown and crunchy, they are hardly recognizable by not-so-close visual inspection and have a wonderful lemony citrus finish, like a good glass of French sauvignon blanc. There is almost nothing else "weird" or "creepy" on this menu. Oh, if you're drinking, order the Classic margarita made with Herradura Silver tequila. If you like a less sweet drink, ask for Cointreau in it instead of the Triple Sec that comes in it. To chronicle what else we ate...
  • Nopalitos - a salad of the cactus leaves with tomatoes in a lime dressing

  • Camarones al epazote - shrimp cooked in tequila, shallots, adobo, and epazote - a kind of petroleum smelling herb that is native to the south of Mexico and gives American Mexican food a more authentic Mexican flavor, especially refried beans.

  • Machuco relleno de fríjol con salsa de coco - a fritter of plantains stuffed with refried black beans and topped with coconut sauce - this was terrific

  • Pescado Mexicano al Cambray - fish tacos

  • Tacos de Chapulines - grasshopper tacos

  • a mushroom salad special of the day

  • a chili pepper stuffed with a stewed meat served at room temperature - maybe one of my favorites-- it's circled in red on the menu

  • another special of the day - grilled baby corn served with crema sauce

We were too crunched for time to order dessert. Have to save something for next time!

Titus Andronicus -- brutal and compelling, it tells a story of death and dismemberment not only in the physical sense but also in the emotional and societal sense. It is a timeless story as all of Shakespeare's works seem to be. In this stage production, Aaron steals the show, and there are some disconcerting even distracting misplaced things like Ninjas and modern suits and ties. I know this is to reflect the agelessness of the story but it's entirely unnecessary for a sophisticated Washington audience. While the story is serious and sorrowful and regretful and revengeful, the director and cast do well at inserting light-hearted moments and you are not afraid to laugh out loud. (Although the script itself is edited in the film version simply called Titus, rent it and watch it. It features excellent performances by Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins. ) This one is all about revenge with an absence of consciousness and next up is Hamlet, which is all about revenge with a conscience. We're seeing that in June.

No more eating out for a while if I can help it. Back on the healthy eating bandwagon.

what I ended up cooking

My last post was about what to cook for the family Sunday night. Had a lot of trouble deciding and so we went with three of the four starters that I had under consideration. We had rillettes and cornichons (see my earlier post about that), not your average spinach dip with crudite, and mushroom spread on baguette toasts (see earlier post about New Year's Eve snacks for those two). We served a South African sparkling wine with all that called Krone Borealis. If the cork hadn't popped itself out of the bottle, it would have been pretty bubbly but as it was, it ended up being kind of frizzante instead, but dry and clean. I think we picked this up at the sparkling wine tasting at Cleveland Park in December for about $25.

For the main course we had grilled lamb kebobs; zucchini, yellow squash, vidalia onions, and campari tomatoes; basmati rice mixed with grilled corn and fresh mint; and a yogurt sauce (my version of tsakziki). We got a leg of lamb cut into kabob sized pieces from the Lebanese Butcher. I marinated the meat in a little extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh rosemary, and minced garlic, then skewered them and grilled them outside on a charcoal grill. For the veggies, I cut the zuchs, squash, and onions all into think rounds, tossed with a little extra virgin, salt & pepper, and rosemary, and skewered them. Since I didn't have enough room on the grill with all that meat, I put them under the broiler until they were just fork tender. I didn't skewer the tomatoes, but gave them the same treatment. For the rice dish, I grilled 4 cobs of corn the night before so that some of the kernels were charred slightly with grill marks, then let them cool and cut the kernels off the cob. After the basmati rice was done cooking and still hot, I tossed the corn and rice together (used about 3 cups uncooked rice -- whatever that turns out to be when cooked) with a good pinch of salt, half a stick of softened unsalted butter. At the very end, stir in a big handful of chopped fresh mint leaves and serve room temperature. (This is a very summery dish and great to take to a picnic or cookout. It's easy and since it doesn't have mayo, can sit out and there's no fuss about what temperature you serve it. It's lighter than other starchy dishes you could take and it will be a big hit. Everyone loves this dish.) Finally, the yogurt sauce: about 1 cup of good quality low fat yogurt, the juice of one whole lemon, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt, a whole medium sized juicy cucumber sliced paper thin (maybe best to use a mandoline for those not very skilled with a knife), a generous 2-3 cloves worth of minced garlic. This is good with the rice, the veggies, and the meat!

For wine with the meal we offered 2006 Bellevue Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine for the white wine drinkers and Yarraman Estates Hell Raiser Cab-Merlot blend for the red wine drinkers. The white is grapefruit all the way. The red was pretty light and fruity and paired well with lamb. The lamb itself probably could have stood up to something stronger but with the summery vegetables and rice, the light red was just the right match in my opinion.

For dessert we had chocolate panna cotta (see an earlier post for the recipe) topped with fresh whipped cream and coffee. The panna cotta was just about a disaster. I made it the same way I had done it a few weeks before and set it in the fridge to congeal. When I checked it after about 2 hours, it looked like chocolate soup not pudding! So I dumped all the contents of the ramekins back into another saucepan and warmed it up, stirred in some extra gelatin and poured that back into clean ramekins, set it in the fridge and crossed my fingers. Well... the result was a very thick, overcooked custard instead of a pudding. Oh well, everyone still enjoyed it, I think mainly because it was good and chocolately but not too sweet. Anything would be good with freshly made whipped cream anyhow.

Well, that was Sunday night. We ate out on Monday night and Tuesday night as well so I will have entries on those shortly.