Tuesday, December 30, 2008

World's BEST Extra Virgin Olive Oil

My mom and I first tasted this amazing olive oil at a cooking convention in DC. We were immediately enamored and bought a bottle. The Mosto oil is first cold pressed, resulting in a rich amber green color that doesn't carry the bitter taste embodied by other extra virgin olive oils. Instead, you'll find the unfiltered oil is balanced, herby, fruity, and has great depth. It's best served raw or used in a salad dressing. Cooking the unfiltered oil just covers its natural fruitiness. For a quality olive oil, it's a steal at $19.95 for a 500 ml bottle and includes shipping to most of the States.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Home for Christmas

Time for the Christmas food rundown!

Hors d'Oeuvres:

Brie with Fig Preserves
Bagna Cauda: an Italian dip made with olive oil, butter, anchovies, sardines, and butter. It sounds peculiar but it's delicious!

Main Dishes:
Deep fried marinaded pork roast: Just look at the color of that skin! My dad marinaded it for 24 hours in a mix of cajun spices, garlic, mustard, butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, etc. He must give me the exact measurements. Everyone moaned with each bite. That's the best part of food: Seeing people's enjoyment! And man was this the highlight of the meal!
Prime Rib: Look at that color and juice! We had a horseradish sour cream sauce to accompany the meat.
Roasted asparagus and cauliflower: Roasting just brings out the sweetness in every vegetable. This picture shows the vegetables coated in extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper right before it went in the oven.

My Christmas Dinner Plate: Roasted asparagus and cauliflower in the back, mashed potatoes in the middle, prime rib with horseradish sauce to the bottom left, fried pork roast with homemade BBQ sauce at the bottom, and a dollop of bagna cauda to the right. YUM!


Biscotti with Candied Fruits, Pistachio Fingers, and Chocolate Gobs with Creamy Filling
Pizzelles: Italian wafer cookies flavored with anise. They are SO good with a cup of tea! Super light and a welcome contrast to the heavier desserts.
The Table Setting: Complete with eggnog! Admitedly, I didn't like eggnog until this Christmas. For a lighter eggnog, add a splash of ginger ale. The ginger doesn't add much flavor, but it definitely lightens up the heavy and creamy texture of traditional eggnog.

So there you have it!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Caldo Verde

Or perhaps mine is more aptly called Caldo Vermelho.
Today was below 30 degrees. It was that kind of cold that cuts through to the bone. After work I was trying to warm up and came upon an article about the Portuguese soup Caldo Verde on Slashfood when I became inspired. I was planning on having my typical dinner of oatmeal--yes, even us foodies are unimaginative from time to time--when I thought to make a quick version of my own. Typical Caldo Verde uses chicken broth, chorizo or kielbasa, kale, and potatoes. Potatoes? No. Kale. No. Chicken broth? No. Okay. So to the pantry I ventured. I had beef stock, frozen spinach, and sliced cooked chorizo. Close enough, right?

I brought the beef stock to a boil and added the chorizo, and spinach. Then went in the garlic clove I turned into a paste by mashing the chopped garlic (with a generous amount of salt to work as an abrasive) with the flat end of my knife. Within minutes the chorizo began to render its fat and add a reddish, shimmery hue to the top of the stock. Being Italian I added pastina. I was out of potatoes and wanted to add some type of starch to the soup. Boil for 6 minutes and presto! The easiest and tastiest 8 minute soup you'll ever taste! I'm hardly a soup expert and I couldn't believe how much flavor was in this quick soup. It's definitely going into my file for a quick, warm, and hearty soup.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowballs: The Edible Kind

Being the holiday season, I partook in a common seasonal activity: cookie baking! The funny thing is that I'm, admittedly, not the biggest cookie fan. But I needed to give cookies to a coworker so I had to get over my cookie apathy. So we have Coconut Orange Snowballs.

Coconut-Orange Snowballs
recipe from epicurious.com

1 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon coconut extract
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablepoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake coconut on rimmed baking sheet until light golden, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and both extracts in bowl to blend well. Beat in flour, orange peel, and salt. Stir in coconut. Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Soften dough slightly before shaping.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Using 1 level tablespoon dough for each cookie, roll dough between palms of hands into balls. Place on prepared sheets, placing 1 inch apart. Bake until golden on bottum but pale on top, about 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks; cool 5 minutes. Place remaining 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar in bowl. Roll hot cookies in powdered sugar, covering completely. Cool cookies on rack.

Notes: Be careful when toasting the coconut! It goes from barely golden to dark brown very quickly! Mine did at first and I had to do a second batch that was usable!
The original recipe calls for a second coating in powdered sugar. I found they were sweet enough after one rolling, so taste yours first before double coating.

The picture on Epicurious is better than mine as my cookies were slightly bumpy and not smooth snowballs! Sadly I don't have an electric mixer so all of the mixing must be done by hand. Next time I may try to melt the butter first so as to better incorporate it into the dough. Or maybe Santa will soon bring me a mixer!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Roasted Asparagus: Sublime Simplicity

I can't believe it's taken me this long to post one of my most favorite recipes: Roasted asparagus with poached eggs. It's so unbelievably simple and, yes, absolutely sublime. AND a much healthier take on asparagus with hollandaise. Trust me, you will never ever reach for hollandaise as a complement to asparagus again.

Roasted Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Parmigiano

2 pounds asparagus
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar
Parmigiano reggiano or similar sharp italian cheese
Optional: Red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus; where they snap a good indicator of the unpalatable chewy part of the stalk. On a broiler pan lay out the asparagus. Coat asparagus in olive oil and sprinkle liberally with seal salt and freshly ground pepper (and red pepper flakes if you do so choose). Toss to coat. Roast the asparagus for 12-15 minutes until it darkens slightly in color and the tips are slightly crispy from the salt.

Bring about 1 1/2 inches of water to a simmer in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar to the water to help the eggs bind together once placed in the water. One at a time, break each egg into a small cup. Slip eggs carefully into simmering water. Cook for around 3 minutes for still runny yolks. Cook for 1-2 minutes longer for firmer yolks. Lift the poached eggs with a slotted spoon to allow the excess water to drain.

Place the roasted aspargus on a platter and the poached eggs on top. Freshly grate or shave the parmigiano on top. The heat of the aspargus and eggs will slightly melt the grated cheese.

I'll eat this for dinner by itself. Vegetable, protein, salty Italian cheese. That's sublime simplicity on a plate!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving continued...

Far overdue but here nonetheless! Weeks after recovering from stuffing myself silly--pun intended-- I decided to share a family favorite that is a must in our Thanksgiving spread.

Italian Fried Cauliflower
(A family favorite that can be altered to taste. In my opinion, it's perfect!)

1 head cauliflower
Canola oil
6 eggs
Flour to thicken
Pecorino romano
Garlic Powder (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add whole head of cauliflower and boil until al dente.
Break cauliflower into florets.
In a separate boil whisk together eggs, salt (to taste), pepper (to taste), garlic powder, and pecorino romano. Add flour to thicken. Batter should be thinner than pancake batter.
Thoroughly coat cauliflower florets in batter and fry in canola oil until brown on all sides.

Pecorino romano is a sharp and salty cheese so coat one small floret in the batter, fry, and taste before adding too much salt. The sharpness of the cheese adds a richness to the dish.

Make sure the batter is thinner than typical batters. This allows it to seep into the crevices of the floret and give the cauliflower more batter-y goodness!

Mélange what?!

After numerous questions I thought it's due (past) time to explain what the hell mélange really means. Well...

mélange: assortment - blend - combination - medley - mix - mixture 

So not only is it a mixture/combination of my ideas, but the double entendre is also a direct cooking reference.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Throwdown: Thanksgiving Style

This Thanksgiving my family decided to inject a friendly competition into the mix. My mom's brined turkey vs. my dad's fried turkey.

The contenders:

Brined turkey

Fried turkey

Much like Bobby Flay's show, the vote was inconclusive-- despite my mom's attempts to buy family votes! Due to the brining, my mom's turkey was moist and tender, while my dad's had the crunchy skin and a completely different flavor due to the cajun spices. Everyone said the flavors were too different to declare a clear winner. (I was partial to my mom's tender turkey but *shhh* don't tell my dad!)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Les Halles Washington DC restaurant closing...

Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain's brainchild, is sadly closing its Washington, DC doors. Les Halles, modeled around the typical Parisian brasserie and named after the French gastronomical shopping centers, has remaining locations in New York and Miami.
I first visited this gem a few months ago on a double date with a couple equally enamored by Anthony Bourdain and No Reservations. I was doubly excited by this French-inspired restaurant due to my days studying and living in Lyon, France. More about this below. Bourdain's Les Halles prided themselves on their french fries, and boy are they good. Every last one was crunchy and well-seasoned.

We began with a double portion of mussels served alongside crusty French bread. While the bread wasn't exactly like how it was in France, it still served its mussel-juice-sopping-up purpose!

I ordered a steak with béarnaise sauce-- one of my favorites! The steak was a perfect medium and the béarnaise couldn't complement it better. Creamy and herby from the tarragon. Delicious! My boyfriend had the steak au poivre and loved it, but he was admittedly enamoured with my béarnaise. (Not to mention he prefers MY steak au poivre!)

Dessert: Orange Crepes Suzette prepared tableside. A firey spectacle of butter, the juice of an orange, zest, and grand marnier! Quite pricey for a dessert crepe but well worth it in my opinion.

Now let's cross the pond to Les Halles' namesake. Les Halles de Lyon is an unassuming, old building from the outside-- the neon in the 'H' conspicuously missing so that the sign read, Les alles. I often passed by on my walks to Part Dieu, the train station closest to my apartment. I lived in Lyon for 6 months and sadly did not venture inside Les Halles until the end of my stay.
Rows and rows of charcuterie, cheeses, mussels, produce etc. All fresh and beautiful-- no surprise coming from Lyon, the gastronomical center of the world. Small food stalls and restaurants are intermingled, perfect if the food is too enticing and you need to sample and eat immediately. This is how it usually turns out for me!

If you find yourself in France, please do yourself a huge service and visit one of the many Les Halles locations that dot the country. As for Les Halles in DC, you will surely be missed...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How do you like your plantains?

I recently delved into a famous dish from Puerto Rico: Tostones. Twice-fried plantains. Crispy, salty, and delicious. I served mine with homemade guacamole: avocados, fresh lime juice, diced jalapenos, salt, pepper, hot sauce, southwestern spices, and diced tomatoes. I love the mix of the tomatoes with the guacamole.If you have over-ripe yellow plantains just slice them length wise and fry them once. Dip in ketchup and you're in heaven. Salty warm plantains paired with the cold acidity of ketchup. Life doesn't get much better.

(I can't take credit for the picture. I didn't take pictures of my plantain adventure and, plus, mine turned too dark. I'll have to fry my tostones less the first time around so that when they go back in the pan they don't get too dark.)


This is the coolest idea since sliced bread. TasteBook! It's your very own cookbook. There are tons of pre-made TasteBooks put together by the editors of Epicurious and AllRecipes. You can also create your own personalized TasteBook and import recipes from your Epicurious recipe box, import recipes from pre-made TasteBooks, or add your own personal recipes and upload pictures. It doesn't get much cooler than this. You select one of their beautiful cover photos (tons to choose from!), add your own title and choose the color. Then you hunt down your best recipes!

The hard cover cookbook has an easy open binder that allows you to add and remove recipes with ease. You can even order your cookbook and a few recipes and then order more as you go along. It keeps track of how many recipes you originally purchased and will subtract from that total. Just pay shipping, the new recipes are mailed, and you simply put them in your TasteBook!

Okay, enough of sounding like an infomercial. I'm currently working on mine and it's aptly named, what else, but Mélange! I'll add an update once I accumulate enough recipes and order the book!

Pile it on...

I have a bad habit. I have the tendency to layer meals to the point where they are unrecognizable. Reduced chicken broth and lemon pan sauce atop spinach, pancetta, and parmesan stuffed chicken breast atop buttered and peppered acini de pepe. This doesn't sound too bad except that all of the flavors overwhelm the intended simplicity of the dish.

Oh, and the weight of the chicken pushed the acini off the plate. It was almost impossible to serve as each attempt to serve a plate of chicken breast and acini resulted in scattered acini across the table. And by pushed I really mean spewed at a high velocity across my boyfriend's kitchen. Let's just say little acini de pepe were to be found under every crevice for quite some time.

There is much to be said about simplicity...

A Twist on Sweet Potato Pie

In my family we prefer the flavor of sweet potato pie to pumpkin and have expunged pumpkin pie from our Thanksgiving dessert spread. If you've ever overzealously prepared your sweet potato pie filling--or pumpkin if you prefer-- you may have wondered what to do with the excess. Try sweet potato brulée. We put leftover filling in a greased pie pan and let it bake alongside the regular sweet potato pie. After baking for around 35 minutes take it out and let it cool. After cooling, spread brown sugar or white sugar liberally on top and torch until it bubbles and browns. If you don't have a torch on hand, stick the cooked filling with the sugar top under the broiler for a few minutes and it should do the trick. (If you don't allow it to cool properly then the sugar will melt on top instead of crystalizing into the crunchy brulée top we all know and love.) While the filling isn't the typical custard found in créme brulée, it still has the irresistable top that cracks with the pressure of a spoon. A dollop of freshly whipped cream perfects the sweet potato brulée.

By the way, the conspicuously center-placed dollop of whipped cream is because a certain someone-- ahem, dad, ahem-- snuck a spoonful before we brulée'd it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Now THAT'S a Grocery Store

If you're from the Northeast then you've probably heard of a little slice of foodie heaven that goes by the name of Wegmans. Hailing from Rochester, NY, this 'grocery store'--although I find it blasphemous to refer to this jewel as such-- has now spurted up in several locals around the Northeast.

The interior, seen above, is pristine and beautifully decorated. It's calming and a joy to do your weekly food biddings in such an environment. It stands in stark contrast to the cold, uninteresting, unimaginative, and, frankly, boring options presented by other grocery stores. Wegmans stands in a league all its own.

They make their money in the prepared foods section with an Asian/Indian Bar, Soups, Sushi, Crabs, meals to go, pastries, oyster bar, etc. It's not your typical prepared foods section if you couldn't tell. This enables them to lower their prices on your day to day foods-- canned products, produce, rice, cereals, etc. And the cheese section. My Lord. Gruyere, fontina, pecorino romano, parmigiana reggiano, brie (3 different varieties, in fact), feta. I could go on and on. They actually send representatives from the cheese departments of their various stores to visit the producers in France and Italy and wherever else it's produced. Wegmans knows who produces their cheeses and just how it's done. Not to mention they have the best variety available. While some stores have one brand and one size of pumpkin puree available, Wegmans has fully stocked aisles of multiple brands, sizes, and options.

About this variety thing. At a recent outing for ingredients at Whole Foods I found myself highly disappointed in the options, or lack thereof. I needed shells for a stuff shells dish I was making that night and Whole Foods had not a box in sight. And no, they weren't out of stock-- they simply didn't carry it. I understand that not everyone has an olive and hummus bar with dolmas like Wegmans, but this is shell pasta for crying out loud. Italian food is very much intermingled with American cuisine and culture. And you're telling me you do NOT have shell pasta?! Oh, and ricotta. One tub available in one size. No whole milk, part-skim options. If there's one thing I hate, it's my grocery store dictating how I'll be cooking that evening.
I appreciate Whole Foods' approach to wholesome and organic fare, but veritable options cannot be sacrificed entirely for quality. And I don't believe organic beans need to be triple the cost of normal canned beans. That is what turns so many families away from this organic 'trend'. While I don't find it to be a trend, it does need to include a selection of high quality ingredients to be sustainable.

In case you're not sold yet: Wegmans is reducing prices in this challenging economic environment to 'put...customers' needs first'. How about that for a grocery store?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pizza Expedition

This weekend my boyfriend and I decided to finally have our pizza-making night in-- a much-anticipated event. What a night it was! I made a thinner crust dough that turned out well. The best part is that no rise is required. I didn't push it out in the pan due to lack of space so it still had a slightly chewy texture. If you want the crispy crunch of a typical thin crust pizza I'd form it into a bigger pizza. I don't have a big cookie tray so I used two pie pans to make two pizzas about 8 inches in diameter-- around the size of an individual pizza from California Pizza Kitchen.

After an expedition together to Whole Foods to assemble the necessary ingredients, we put together a tasty array of toppings: fontina, andouille sausage, button mushrooms, and roma tomatoes. He made a fantastic sous-chef by preparing all of the mise en place while I kneeded the dough. I spiced up Whole Foods pizza sauce (Hey, I made the dough. What more do you want?!) with garlic, italian herbs, and red pepper flakes. The fontina cheese is still a great melting cheese with a slightly sharper flavor than mozzarella. For an even sharper flavor I grated pecorino romano on top of the fontina. A chiffonade of basil on both pizzas and diced fresh jalapeno on his pie completed the dish.

The mise en place and actual cooking took around 40 minutes start to finish-- proof that you can make a home-cooked pizza in about the same amount of time it takes to sign onto Papa Johns, select and order a pizza, and await it's arrival. You're in charge of the ingredients so you can be sure there are no surprises.


Chocolate Molten Cakes

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Foe by Many Names

Monosodium glutamate. Nice to meet you. Oh, you go by MSG for short. Sure, no problem. Hmm, and Yeast Extract? Natural Flavor as well? Well, now, that's confusing, don't you think? How do you know when you're being addressed? Oh, okay, you have friends in high places. Where exactly? And how do they help with your little nomenclature problem? Okay, so it's not actually a problem, per se, but a windfall? So you're a little bit of a masked man, now aren't you? Your friends enable you to have as many names so as to avoid detection. Well, MSG-Yeast Extract-Natural Flavor-whomever you truly are, this doesn't make much sense to me anymore...

Book Club

I.am.in.love.with.this.book. Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food is spot-on accurate. I'm only about half-way through and will update as I get through the rest. How have we become so lost as to give up common sense entirely and rely on 'food science' or 'nutrition science'?
in defense cover

Let me be clear: Drinking diet soda is not a great way to pat yourself on the back and pave your way to health. If you aren't willing to drink the 200+ calories that are found in the average glass of soda, then I think you need to comprehend that your body won't be able to miraculously confuse diet soda with water. Your body can't process empty calories. It sends it on an eating frenzy and only serves to make you more hungry. And no, please do not think that you can add vitamins to make your beloved Diet Coke a health drink. If you need more proof of food 'nutrition' gone bad then take a look at my post regarding Splenda with fiber. Still fake. Still bad for you. (Yes, I know the diabetics disagree and can argue the virtues of Splenda. I understand that. I get it.)

I digress, but I highly-- read, HIGHLY-- recommend getting your hands on this book. Check out the preview on Amazon and I'll guarantee you'll be hooked if you're anything like me.

If you need more enticement to read Michael Pollan's latest and greatest, then peruse this excerpt:

Food. There's plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it. So why should anyone need to defend it?

Because most of what we're consuming today is not food, and how we're consuming it--in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone--is not really eating. Instead of food, we're consuming "edible foodlike substances"--no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy... The result is...[t]he more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

Rock on, Michael Pollan. Rock on.


Spaghetti and Meatballs

Easter Pizza


El Pollo Rico in Arlington, VA
Les Halles in Washington, DC
Jaleo in Crystal City, VA


Chicken from El Pollo Rico
Chicken in a white wine cream sauce


The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan



Monday, November 17, 2008

Splenda with fiber?!

I was just watching tv and saw a commercial for Splenda with fiber. You can't possibly think that adding fiber to Splenda makes it healthy. If you want fiber, eat naturally fiber-enriched foods. Why must 'food' producers add vitamins and minerals to ostensibly make them 'healthy'. It you're making health claims then chances are the 'food' product isn't healthy to begin with.

welcome bienvenue

Welcome to my blog! My aim is to keep it strictly to my latest cooking escapades and thoughts around nutrition (or lack thereof) in the western diet but stream of consciousness may enter from time to time. welcome to the world of a foodie's thoughts!