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 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!