Saturday, January 31, 2009 chocolate

What can warm you up better than this on a cold night?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing I tell you.

In case you need more convincing:

And still some more:Double take:

You know what that is on top? Freshly whipped cream. Oh, yes. The first time I made this for my boyfriend he looked at me like I was crazy when I was whipping the cream. When my hand hurt I gave him the whisk--we do manual labor here--and let him go at it. Once it reached soft peaks I added 1 tablespoon vanilla and confectioner's sugar to taste. I then took the wheel and whisked until it reached stiff peaks. Et voila. My boyfriend stood there, mouth agape. I love that I can still surprise him with such simple things.

So this time around he made the fresh whipped cream, start to finish. And he was still in awe. I wish I could have a time-lapse video but I don't so pictures will have to suffice!

Can you see it taking shape? So cool.

Now for the chocolate part of the hot chocolate. Whole milk (2% works just fine too), about 3/4 of a Lindt 70% dark bar, Madagascar vanilla, sugar. Add the chocolate, vanilla, and sugar to your own taste. Add some, taste, add more, taste again. Really, that doesn't sound bad now does it?!
And the adorable mugs that housed the chocolate gold. I have a pretty large mug collection so I'll have to post about that in the near future!

Jaleo my soul

Jaleo: one of 7 of chef José Andres' restaurants/hotels around the Washington DC environs. My God. Can this man cook. Each restaurant has a different theme. Oyamel: Mexican. Jaleo: Authentic Spanish tapas. And so on. Andres is the host of PBS' Made in Spain series featuring authentic Spanish cooking at Andres house in DC and showing the origin of the food in Spain. If you find yourself in front of the t.v. on a Saturday at 12:30pm I would highly suggest checking out his show. Andres is quite the character and so passionate about food! He has also served as a judge on Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain visited Andres' restaurant Cafe Atlantico on the Washington DC episode of this season's No Reservations.

I took a picture of the sugar packet below since it lists not only the famous restaurateur, but all of his restaurants as well.
Now let us begin the show! My boyfriend and I went to Jaleo with another couple who is equally the food enthusiast. Being a night out, we began with a white wine I had never heard of-- Xarmant txakoli. This is the best white wine I have ever had. Crisp with honey, citrus, and herbs. You know the wine is good when I don't touch my water. This Crystal City location of Jaleo (there are 3 total) has a wine shop on the second floor. We all loved our wine so much we checked out the shop afterward. Of course the restaurant sells it for $34 at the table, but it was a steal for $17 in the wine shop! I'll be saving this momento for a nice night in with a good seafood dinner. (Don't worry-- I'll post whenever this occurs!)
Let's get to the tapas.
Cebolla asada con queso picón
: Roasted sweet onions, pine nuts and picón cheese. These onions were so sweet and delicious. The crazy thing is that they were ice cold! We expected them to be served warm. Oddly enough, after you get past the first cold bite, you find that they're just perfect! Cold, sweet onion paired with tart, creamy cheese. It was so different and a much needed change to everyday fare. Tortilla de patatas: traditional spanish omelette with potatoes and onions. Simple. Clean. Delicious. Traditional chicken croquetas. I fell in love with these when I was in Barcelona. I got them every night I was there! Gambas al ajillo. Shrimp sautéed with garlic and quindilla peppers. We soaked up the sauce with our bread but I assure you picking up and licking the bowl would NOT be inappropriate here. Citrusy, garlicky, amazing. Filete de buey a la parrilla con pimientos del piquillo confitados: Grilled beef sirloin with ‘piquillo’ pepper confit. Just look at that beef. I didn't taste the sirloin but my friend said it had a fantastic flavor, albeit a small entrée portion. Salmón con espinacas a la Catalana: Seared salmon with sauteéd spinach, pine nuts, raisins & apples. I didn't try this one either but my friend seemed to love it. Now for the pièce de résistance. Paella de pescado y marisco: Paella with Norwegian lobster, monkfish, fresh tuna, squid, shrimp, clams and mussels. I don't know how Andres did it but the seafood actually tasted like sea water. I almost expected to see the ocean outside of the window. You only get seafood like that at a seaside restaurant where your food and feet are inches from the sand. And the saffron! I could see beautiful red strands throughout the whole dish, beautifully intertwined with the rice. I must admit that I don't cook with saffron due to the prohibitive price, so it was quite the treat to be eating a dish so heavily flavored with the delicate and fragrant spice. It was served with a rich garlic aioli that added a creamy flavor to the rich paella. Can you tell I'm drooling again? I hope you can live vicariously through these pictures. And the paella mere moments later! The menu said it serves 2-4 but my boyfriend and I had no problem polishing it off ourselves! What can I say? I can't leave good food untouched. Pastel Vasco con helado de leche merengada: Basque cake with semolina cream, cinnamon-vanilla sauce & ice milk. Yum! I have two angles for your viewing pleasure!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bourdain checks out a local favorite

In this season of No Reservations Anthony Bourdain travels to Washington DC and visits José Andres restaurant Café Atlantico and a little-known place in my neck-of-the-woods in Arlington, VA: El Pollo Rico. I was anxiously awaiting a Washington DC episode to come since one of my friends was eating lunch with coworkers at El Pollo Rico and called me up to tell me that none other but Mr. Bourdain himself entered the place during her lunch! Okay, if I wasn't at work and didn't have a meeting within the next 10 minutes I would've driven there in an instant! It's about 3 minutes from my work and a tiny place in a nondescript parking lot. It's only of those hole in the wall type places that is actually a little piece of heaven.

Chicken, oh the chicken! I don't know how they get so much flavor into their rotisserie chicken. El Pollo Rico is cash-only and you'll go out of your way to pull out cash just to eat here. You order at the counter. Quarter chicken, half chicken, half white chicken. A guy then takes a whole chicken and hacks out your part with a butcher knife. There's no sugar-coating this. And frankly, you don't care! Fries that are so creamy inside and cole slaw complete the order. Those are the only two sides. You know a place is good when they offer only two sides, no other options, and you wouldn't want it any other way. It comes with two tiny dipping sauces: a green bitter jalepeno dip and a creamy tangy one. There's only one way to dip. Mix the green sauce with the creamy white one. Add more green depending on your affinity with heat. That's all there is to it.

I was so impressed that Bourdain got wind of this place. It truly is one of those places that only locals know about. It lends validity to the places Bourdain visits since I can testify to the local celebrity of this place.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Dinner

My parents came up for Sunday dinner at my place and the onus was on me to plan out a decent meal with one night's notice. Okay. To the freezer I went. Tons of chicken breasts. A bag of roasted pumpkin my mom and I had roasted around Halloween and I hadn't quite figured out how to use it. To the wine rack. A Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. So let's piece them all together.

Chicken in a Dijon White Wine Sauce


1/4 cup Dijon mustard

1 tbsp dried parsley (or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

  1. In a ziploc bag combine dijon mustard, garlic, white wine, chicken broth, onions, salt, pepper, thyme, and olive oil. Add chicken and toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight. (I didn't have time so I had a short 1 hour marinating time.)
  2. The original recipe calls for removing the excess marinade and browning the chicken in a skillet before adding the excess marinade. I diverged from the recipe here and just put it directly in the oven after removing it from the marinade. Next time I'll definitely brown it first to add a lot more flavor.
  3. After browning on both sides in a skillet, remove chicken and add marinade to the pan, scraping the bottom to remove brown bits.
  4. Add chicken back to the pan and cover. Simmer for 25 minutes or until done.
  5. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon, keeping remaining marinade in the pan. Cook on high to thicken sauce. If it thickens too much, add chicken broth to loosen.
  6. Pour marinade over cooked chicken.
Below: The simmering dijon white wine sauce.

Roasted Pumpkin Soup


4 cups peeled cubed pumpkin
1 large yellow onion, minced
6 ounces chicken broth
1/2 bottle dry white wine*
1/5 cup to 1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl toss pumpkin with olive oil and and salt and pepper. Cook for 45 minutes until soft, and set aside. (You can freeze the cubes like I did for later use. I just thawed them and removed the skin before adding to the soup. Keep in mind that frozen pumpkin holds water so it will add water to your soup. Adjust spices accordingly if it becomes watered down.)

2. In a large heavy-bottomed stock pot melt butter and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add garlic, onion, thyme, bay leaf and spices and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Add 4 cups of the chicken stock. Simmer over low heat.

3. Place cooled pumpkin in food processor with reserved chicken stock (2 cups) and puree until smooth. Set aside in a separate bowl.

4. Puree contents of simmering pot (onion, garlic, spices, etc) in food processor.

5. Combine all pureed ingredients back in the stock pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour.

6. 15 minutes before serving, add cream (or half and half).

Optional: Top with sour cream and chives when serving.
* The original recipe didn't call for white wine but I found the soup needed an acid to kick up the taste. The wine doesn't mask or cover up the earthy tones of the mace and thyme and just blends everything together beautifully.

Below: The pumpkin soup with the cream just added. My mom made a pretty pattern for the photo before stirring it in!

Above: The simmering pumpkin soup before the cream was added. Can you see the steam?!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sushi...for a beginner

And I really mean 'for a beginner'. AKA I've never made sushi before. So let's examine the steps!
The mise en place: avocado, julienned carrots, bamboo sushi roller covered in plastic wrap, seaweed, rice.
I was actually quite pleased with how the rice turned out. I didn't have the proper short-grain rice commonly used for sushi so I actually used long-grain rice and was prepared for disaster. I really didn't think it would stick together enough for rolling the sushi. I cooked one cup of rice (rinsed in cold water until clear) in 2 cups water. While that was cooking I dissolved 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 tablespoon salt in 1 tablespoon white vinegar. I also didn't have rice vinegar on hand and was scared how that would affect the rice's taste. Surprisingly, it tasted just fine! Once the rice is cooked completely you add it to the vinegar mixture and fold to mix. I don't know how it works, but somehow the vinegar, salt, and sugar work as a 'glue' and make the rice super sticky!
I moistened my fingers and pressed the rice onto the seaweed, leaving a border on the farthest edge from me. I laid the carrots and avocado in a row nearest to me and started rolling, holding the row of toppings with my fingers and rolling the mat with my thumbs.
The finished roll! Oops...looks like I didn't line it up correctly! At least you can cut off the ends and the middle looks it was done by a pro!
Aren't they pretty?
Smile for your close-up! I was so pleased with the finished product. For dipping I created a paste with wasabi powder and water and added that to Teriyaki sauce since I was also out of soy sauce. For not having so many key ingredients, I couldn't have been happier with the outcome. They tasted just like the freshly made ones from Wegmans or Whole Foods! Next up--mincing sushi grade tuna and making spicy tuna rolls. Don't worry, I'll post about it whether I succeed or not! Half the fun of cooking is trying...

Veritable Venison

Look at those grill marks! Since my wonderfully relaxing week and a half at my parents was coming to an end, my dad decided to grill up some venison that he got from a guy at work. He marinaded the meat for 12 hours in the same marinade used for the fried pork roast in this post. The marinade helped to remove any gaminess that may have existed. Onto the grill with onions and cooked to perfection! I must admit that venison isn't my favorite, but it definitely wasn't gamey like I thought it would be.