Sunday, December 27, 2009

Garlic/Tarragon White Bean Spread

When you have a family dinner on Christmas Eve, and you're invite your friends over during the afternoon to have wine, cheese, charcuterie, and dips. And if you're not me and don't do that now...start. It's a blast.

Me mate Carl, Tina who doesn't have a burger named after her, and Smiling Wendy-Doll came over right when Seester and Broder-in-Law arrived with nephew Gus (the 95-pound Velcroberman Lap Dog). We chatted and ate and drank for a couple hours and had a grand time.

There was Jahrlsberg; a mild, soft cow's milk, and a semi-soft sheep's mild with crushed red pepper. There was a picante wet salami and a peppered dry salami. There was curried pea dip, which is the bee's knees.

And then there was the white bean spread. I just wanted to make sure there were options. And I didn't have veggies.

Have no fears. I had a pantry, tarragon for the main course, and some of the world's strongest pre-peeled garlic.

And I had a food processor.

For a LARGE party...

Garlic/Tarragon White Bean Spread

2 small cans Great Northern Beans
1 small can Garbanzo Beans
1 small can large butter beans
6-8 large cloves garlic, minced
3 T fresh tarragon, chopped
2 t kosher salt
1 t fresh cracked black pepper
4 T olive oil

Simple is the theme this holiday. Put it all in a food processor and blend until smooth. You ca garnish with a bit of shredded fresh tarragon too. I went sea salt pita crisps for dipping. Vegetable, especially peppers, carrots, and celery, would be good options too.

Lemongrass, Cilantro & Orange Vinaigrette

I have made a Radiccio/Endive salad in the past and paired it with an orange vinaigrette. It's tasty. Bitter and sweet salad. Sweet and tangy dressing.

Couldn't do it this time. Why you ask? Let's take a trip in the not-so-wayback machine.

Fast forward to the recent past. WholePaycheck, December 23. 4:30pm. That's right, I braved it. And found everything I needed except -- parsley and whole cloves of garlic (REALLY???) and endive. Fortunately for me, cilantro was next to where parsley, baby bok choy was next to where endive should have been and right next to the radiccio, and lemongrass was near the tarragon I needed for the main course of Christmas Eve dinner (more on the meal in toto in a separate post).

I'd never used lemongrass before. But I knew I liked it, and that it would pair well with my planned dressing, and that there should be at least one 'new' recipe on a menu heavy with traditional dishes. I was right, and you'll have a hit salad dressing because of it. Of course, since you know me, you know that I didn't actually measure any of this as I was making it...but we'll get past that.

The dressing was a blast, and the salad is one of those rare creations that, even after dressing, holds up through the fridge for the next day as well.

Lemongrass, Cilantro & Orange Vinaigrette

2 T mined lemongrass
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T minced shallot
4 T fresh squeezed orange juice
6 T balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Simple. Mix it all together until some of that emulsion action happens. This ought to make enough for a medium head of radiccio and two good-sized bunches of bok choy.

There you have it folks (and peeps who blew up the Facebook asking for a recipe), fresh and tasty for the winter months and then some.

One addition could be some crushed peanuts over the salad. Seester and B suggested some chili-garlic grilled shrimp on top to make it a meal to itself. I support this kind of thinking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


This post is brought to you by the letter "*W*T" in WORK travel.

And the letter "P" in pre-holiday.

And the letter "F-T" in FRIGGIN'-TIRED.

But mostly...dear is brought to you by the letter "PJ"...which is SADLY for Papa John's...which is the dinner to which I have succumbed tonight.

Better soon...and even recently, when I ate a bacon-wrapped tenderloin, and discovered that this year's Brussels Sprouts is, in fact, leeks. Especially when layered with taters. And cream. And butter. And cheese. And oven-heat. didn't suck. Even the iPhone got good photos of it...

...and now...back to the five topping that is just DELICIOUS with extra cheese...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Orlando Lunches

Not Tres Leches – Tres Lunches, Orlando Style

You’re not going to be surprised by this one at all. There are a few new twists, as there always are when I travel and rent a car; but essentially the song remains the same. It’s a three-review combo, because I can, and because these three joints were related very closely and worlds apart.

Nutshell: Fly in to city. Rent car. Find friends at conference. Talk about food. Find not-so-safe part of town where people are mostly hard-working folks who can’t afford to spend a lot on food. Spot a joint that’s got business. Eat there. Tell the rest of the conference-goers as their eyes open…”You went WHERE?” (See: Harold’s Chicken Shack – South Side of Chicago, July 2009. Plexiglass between you and the employee and a dude selling bootlegs DVDs in from one of the three tables in the joint)

This time is was the OBT for the first two lunches. That’s Orange Blossom Trail. Local talk for Route 441 and US 17 as it winds from Noertheast to Southwest in Orlando Florida. If you get off I-4 and head north on 17 you end up in a predominantly African-American neighborhood. That’s where we found Mama’s Cheesesteak. Head south back toward Universal and you hit a string of taquerias. We were heading for Taqueria Ameca Jalisco. But we stopped at El Mexicano because it happened to be the first thing we saw…and we liked what we saw.

Then there was Sunday after the conference wrapped. I was staying an extra night along with several other friends. Several folks also had late flights. There was time for lunch. There was a local who had a hankering to show off her favorite BBQ spot.

At all three spots, we ate. And we ate enough that signs like this one (actually taken from outside Friday night’s dinner spot, an AMAZING Indian restaurant) were disappointing to say the least. Swinging would have been the perfect low-impact exercise to reduce the belly-bulge-inducing feasting that occurred during…Tres Lunches!

Mama’s Cheesesteak and The Airport of Doom

Mama’s was Friday lunch. I had just picked up Karl, CassiBob, and JWilli at the airport.

And we need a tangent. I’ll preface by saying the Orlando airport was clean and the check-in to gate on the way out was perfect. But let’s talk about cell-phone waiting areas at airports. I would prefer, MCO, that yours…was actually AT THE AIRPORT. CassiBob commented that we were well on our way to Cuba by the time we got to your lot. And Parking ENFORCERS…when I tell you that I am not ‘stopping’ but am in fact picking up a person who is at that moment walking out the door from baggage claim after having called me while I waited in your cell-phone lot…put the ticket book away. I am not a threat, I am not breaking the law, I am doing exactly what your airport and TSA policies told me to do (Go to lot, wait for call, drive to arrivals, pick up traveler, move along). Thank you.

So now there’s a car full of conference goers who have 2pm meetings, got up to catch early flights to get to Orlando, and are presently quite starving. There is much hilarity in that car. And there is the rapid fire decision that ‘Yeah, this exit looks good.’

Lemme tell ya, if the recession had an epicenter, it was the OBT in Orlando. The number of boarded up restaurants and stores along this stretch of four-lane direct access was staggering. Turned the wheel a half tick at least four times into what we thought were open dive sandwich shops.

Finally, there was Mama’s. Bright orange and clearly open. Cheesesteaks. In Orlando…okay, we could see how they riffed on the Philly classic.

Curveball. Mama is clearly Chinese. And she, her husband on the register, and their daughter in the kitchen, also rock out the fried rice and chicken wings. Natch. We’re hungry.

Teriyaki Cheesesteak for me. Karl went regular cheesesteak. JWilli was bold with the Italian sausage sub. Cassi, not heeding the name of the place and instead going with the owners’ heritage, rocked the chicken fried rice with chicken wings and salad. Point of pride, I also did it right with the ‘cheese sauce’ on my fries. I know it has a list of chemicals longer than the current healthcare bill’s index, but it just seemed to be the right thing to do at the moment.

I’ll leave it to the others to talk about their food in the comments section and leave you with just a few impressions about Mama’s. The teriyaki cheesesteak was damn tasty. Since it wasn’t in Philly, it wasn’t blasphemy. The meat was chopped to a texture somewhere between Pat’s and Geno’s. Soy in a bottle for extra salty goodness was a nice touch too. Good bread but definitely not the real deal. Again, this was Orlando, cooked by a Chinese family, in the ‘hood. I’m not expecting Philly.

JWilli’s hoagie looked solid, and he destroyed it quickly enough that I believe it tasted good. CassiBob does not think dill pickle slices belong on top of a salad. I concur. There was also a small loss in the translation on the wings. While most Chinese take out joints have added fried chicken wings to their menu (though truth be told the Chinese proprietors are more likely to eat chicken feet than deep fried wings), Mama’s added an attempt at a Buffalo-style sauce that didn’t hit the right notes for our intrepid crew. Nothing wrong per se, just too sweet to be hot sauce and too Chinese-hot to be Buffalo.

Karl ate a sandwich. There was little comment. This is a good sign if you own the place that made said sandwich.

I don’t know that we’d go back to Mama’s if we came back to Orlando, but only because it’s a bit out of the way for the conference-gong set, and we like to hit different spots. If you live near the laundry next door or somewhere off the OBT in that part of town, you have a tasty neighborhood sandwich shop run by an extremely pleasant family. Be thankful and go give them some business.

El Mexicano – The Taqueria that Google Forgot

Flash forward past meetings, cocktail hour(s) at the conference, more meetings, budgets, late nights, breakfasts of Starbuck’s dubious quality, yet more meetings, and a quick round up of usual suspects and you get me dropping the word ‘taqueria’ into the Urbanspoon app on the trusty iPhone. I hit on Taqueria Ameca Jalisco. I recognized the directions. Head back to the OBT and head south instead of north. Just a few short blocks from the interchange. Perfect. Let’s roll.

“Where are we going?”

“A taqueria.”


“A taqueria.”

“What’s that?”

“A place that sells tacos.”

“Spell it?”


“Oh, I’ve been there.”

Welcome Scott to the Foodie Caucus. He will be welcome to join us at all future meetings. Where Scott goes, hilarity soon follows.

We didn’t make it to Taqueria Ameco Jalisco. Mostly because we saw a lovely painted shack before we got to our intended destination. There were cars in the lot (it was open), there was a 6-foot tall anthropomorphized jalapeno painted on the wall (inferred tacos and deliciousness), there were people of Hispanic decent entering and exiting with bags of food (people who know better want to eat here).

$1.25 Tacos. The friggin’ rice pudding popsicle was more expensive than the taco, which could be filled with carnitas, al pastor, carne asada, pollo, cabeza, tripa, lengua, and mixed. Gulp…did get in car wreck? Is this taco heaven? There are $3 tamales too? With pork?

A small salad bar set up in the dining room with multiple salsas, cilantro, and onions. We can go get a small cup of the brown beans and pork while we wait for our food to arrive? Ok, that sounds good.

Ceviche? Not sure about that here…oh that was it that just went by that looked really good. AS will have two.

Quick conference with the kitchen staff…we’re out…drat…two pollo tostadas then? Ok. One carnitas, one cabeza, and two al pastor for me. And a tamale. Scotty-Boy went two carne asada and one carnitas. Karl was a carne asada, pollo, cabeza guy. Jwilli went carne asada and pollo. No lengua or tripa this time. S’okay. I didn’t want to press my luck after the PERFECT lengua at La Fundita. And tripa is just…well guts that I’m not down with.

I was mighty disappointed that while they served Menudo Saturday and Sunday, they only had Pozole on Sundays…and I wouldn’t be back. Food was good enough that I was MORE disappointed at the end of the meal, because I knew it would have been stunning.

The tamale was simple corn masa studded with chucks of carnitas served still wrapped in the husk in which it was recently steamed to a tender perfection. Sweet masa and piquant slow-roast pork is never going to be a bad combination.

Steady stream of dudes on lunch break wandering in for a togo lunch. A family of 6 was at the large table across the dining room from us. One girl worked the room well. One other helped her out with deliveries but only to the tables where Spanish was a clear language choice. Which meant every table but ours. Like I said, authentic.

Head up to the bar for salsa and toppings. Which did not include lettuce, cheese, or tomatoes.

Refresher course. Real Tacos? Corn tortilla, small. 3-4 Tablespoons of ‘stuff’ you ordered (carne asada, pollo, carnitas, etc.). Add a pinch of cilantro, a small bit of diced onion, and a quick splash of fresh salsa (tomatillo with HEAT for the carnitas, some of the smoky red chipotle for the cabeza). That’s it.

Of course because there was the ‘go get it yourself bar’ we felt empowered to explore the rest of the dining room. Which led to dessert in the form of several Mexican-inspired popsicle flavors. There was mango, coconut, lime, and strawberry. And then there was Rice. Yes…Rice Popsicles. I did what any sensible me would do. I had Karl grab one for me. JWilli stopped the train at Mango-Chile. Uh-Huh, I knew I liked him. Mango popsicle studded with real fruit and containing the heat of chiles throughout. Read those ingredients. Milk, rice, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, salt. NOTHING ELSE. #WINNERWINNERCHICKENDINNER.

These were handmade in Florida. I know this because there was a Florida address on the label and because the sticks were not all uniform in the center, nor were they completely perpendicular to the popsicle. There are real people mixing these recipes and setting sticks in molds by hand somewhere in central Florida so people can have food they remember from home. You know me, this place got 3 stars just for that fact.

The post-script to this is a sad one. We made sure CassiBob, who had a meeting at 12 and couldn’t leave the hotel, got a carne asada burrito and an order of rice and beans. Hand delivered to her meeting at the hotel. There was a flurry of activity going on around the conference during that part of the schedule. CassiBob left her unopened togo container and her conference schedule on her chair to check on something at the conclusion of her meeting (one of the best sessions of the conference and I was only able to see about 30 minutes of it) and the very friendly (but very fast) hotel staff had snatched the box so the room would be clean for the next session. Sadly, it kept CassiBob’s belly clean for the next session too…

Yellow Dog and the Gentrification of the Foodie Caucus

After several more hours of meetings and dinners and late night shenanigans, we wrapped up the conference and headed out for one last big meal as a group before the late night folks took their flights and the Monday flight folks got in one more night of hangin’ with people from across the country you see for three days three times a year. No pictures here as the iPhone was the only camera in sight.

Ms. Natalie is a local, and was sorely disappointed we weren’t able to hit her favorite BBQ joint the night before. Too much going on. This time, we were going to get there. Promise. Off we go. To Windemere, Florida. You may have heard of it recently.

Yellow Dog BBQ is best described as what happens when there’s just enough hippy, hard wood, and proximity to north Florida for a handsomely decorated and homey ‘house-style’ restaurant to serve sweet, tangy sauced pork with tongue in cheek menu names like the ‘White Trash’ (on white bread with cole slaw, gouda, and applewood smoked bacon).

The display case up front showed off homemade pasta salad, cherry tomatoes with boccocini, and a mound of potato salad that almost tempted me…almost.

The joint was charming. The staff was super-friendly. The food was delicious. And there was a back patio with picnic table that let the cold-weather state peeps enjoy one last bit of Florida sun before heading home.

The only negative I could find is that gouda, while good, does not have enough to get past tangy sauce on pulled pork with slaw and crumbled bacon. Waste of cheese.

But sitting on that patio with $1 Bud Lite and Coors Lite cans on a sunny Sunday afternoon was a brilliant call. Yellow Dog has an easy charm and a ready comfort that would quickly make it one of my favorites for a lazy weekend afternoon all year round.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Country vs. City

Juxtaposition. Contra. Obverse.

That was what I came up with when I started thinking about my Thanksgiving post this year. Last year was such an exhalation for me. Such a nostalgic panorama. Winterberry and Milkweed. Creekbeds and hollows. Turkey and stuffing.

This year was the city house. An urban Thanksgiving where you travel, and then eat, and then relax, and then travel again. Same crew. Delicious food. Instead of walks by the creek, I did the "sleep in the chair" with football lulling me to sleep.

Mom and I still chatted food and politics, mostly food. Ms. S still sorted through all the china and service and made sure the proper pieces were on the table for our meal.

It was clearly the Thanksgiving of the iPhone, with John, Bec and I all tweeting and Facebooking our Thanksgiving cheer all over the world.

And the meal, oh the meal. It was brilliant.

We started with the appetizer-coffee-table-of-doom. Walk with me.

Top left is the olives, pequio peppers, and gurkens. clockwise we go to the avacado-cumin dip (200 calories total in that bowl, chow down), the cottage cheese with garlic and chives, then on to the vehicle du jour in the form of WholePaycheck's sea salt pita chips. Moving along to my curried-pea dip (real Indian garam masala in there. Thanks Momma D. Shame you had to fly all the way to India to be able to afford the medical care you needed. Glad it was a roaring success and that I got the added benefit of real garam masala). Veggies for more flavor delivery vehicles. Celery and curried pea dip was popular in my world. Sausicon and Gruyere with water crackers rounds it out. We snacked right folks.

Soup course was the kickoff for the 'sitting at the table' portion of the meal. Butternut squash soup. Served with warm bacon-scallion cornbread in the cast iron (I am nothing if not predictable). There was, shockingly, NO cream in this soup. And it wasn't missed. Thick and luxurious. Sweet as it should have been. Bright parsley for accent.

This was part of a Cooking Light menu that Mom ended up making most of because there was one dish that hooked her. And it wasn't the main course that did it. It was the roast side. It will remain a secret for a few more paragraphs.

The non-turkey this year that got plucked from the pages was Brined Pork Loin w/ Brown-Sugar Bourbon Glaze. Yeah, I licked glaze off my fingers when we were going over the menu in the kitchen when I first got to the house. No, I'm not ashamed to admit it.

If you can look at that brined hunk of porky goodness gettin' the business from that brush with sticky bourbon brown-sugar reduction and tell me there isn't a place in this world for 51% corn-mash whiskey aged at least 18 months in charred oak barrels; I'll tell you a whole list of other blogs you can go read to either ignore this one or read up on why you're just missing out. Trust tastes good.

Mom went deboned instead of the bone in pictured with the recipe because...well, because the local guys who provided the store with the local pork loin had boned theirs. The store had not boned the stuff they get from wherever. Since the farm had done it for the store, and it didn't cost them any labor, the boned pork loin was cheaper per pound than the bone pay less per pound at this store for local pork that did not have bones...and MORE for pork whose origin was 'wherever' and for which you were paying for the weight of the bones...that gets a hash tag fail in my book. But we came out on the tasty side of it, so I'm not going to complain too loudly.

It was set up next to the BEST dish on the table. The BEST dish of the day. The WINNER (Unlike the Doberman in the National Dog Show hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia who looks just like my nephew Gus and who was ROBBED by the Scottish Terrier) was the roast Gala apples with Cippolini onions and Applewood smoked bacon. It was so sweet and tangy. There was just the perfect chew and smoke from the bacon. It paired will with everything from the pork and glaze to the potatoes and horseradish butter.

Compound butter, the brine, a glaze, a salad dressing (that never did get on the table because we never did get around to eating the salad course). As we sat around the living room after dinner waiting for enough time to pass to at least pretend we had room for pumpkin pie, Mom got a wry smile as she talked through the meal and said there were just so many 'sauces' in the menu...

Put it all on a plate and sit around a table with family and friends. Chat about what's happened since the last time you all sat together. It will likely have been too long. There will probably be stories you lean into and for which you prop your elbows on the table. I got to tell Mom about the letter from her Aunt Ida to he mother in the spring of 1946 telling of finding a new apartment and the furnishings in it in Washington, DC after she and my great-uncle Milt moved there after the war. It was a tattered letter that was behind the roll-top on grandpa's roll top desk and I found it when I had to take the roll-top off to get the desk into my new place. Some things are just...well, they just are.

It's over now, and there's still the weekend. Bec and John headed home this morning by way of outlets in Leesburg. The leftovers will be gone by the end of the day. It's strange to me today that this holiday that means so much to me, that I take every year as a chance to stop and reflect before I give thanks, has passed me by again. There was good food and good cheer. My house was a home where family come to visit for the first time. And we all slowed down and smiled a little more easily. In the end, that's what I get out of it all.

G'day y'all, and enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.

Chick n' Ruth's Delly

Not a typo. Really. "Delly." Annapolis institution. Tight spaces, narrow aisles, small tables. GOOD FOOD. It's the Main Street Deli that a town south of Mason-Dixon isn't supposed to have. Grits and good corned beef on the same menu. And we love it.

There's Web 2.0, and then there's Chick n' Ruth's. With their locals page full of photos of people at the shop, at a charity tournament the delly runs, or just photos of friends of the restaurant out on the town. A photo album. On a restaurant website. And it's not about the shaved-truffle-parmesan-crusted-pistachio-dusted-foam atop your bacon-wrapped-marscapone-infused-lavendar-pear-turducken-wing with mint-julep-chayote-tomatillo-reduction-shooters.

It's just a deli run by a family who loves to run a deli, know their customers, and recite the pledge of allegiance every weekday morning at 8:30 (weekends at 9:30) because that's the tradition they were passed. Even if it's not your style, appreciate for a minute in this world of Black Fridays and Big Box stores that have their own electric substation attached to the back of the store that there is a mom, and a pop, and they'll still walk by your table and see if you need a reheat.

Here's what they say about themselves:
Chick and Ruth Levitt moved from Baltimore to Annapolis with their three children in August of 1965. In taking over a sandwich shop on Main Street, Chick was to institute something that had diminished through the years. Most people had forgotten and young people have never known the "Ma & Pa" establishments.

Ruth passed away June 20, 1986 from cancer. In 1988, the Scotlaur Inn was opened above the Delly. Chick passed away January 22, 1995. Chick is now back with his wife & girlfriend, Ruth. The memories and traditions of Chick and Ruth live on with Ted & Beth. They wish to thank their friends for their patronage in the past. They hope to continue to serve their usual fare of wholesome food, friendship, and lodging in the future.
I need to expand on the menu sometime. For 10 years of eating there, I've had a surprisingly small percentage of the menu. But for me, it is at heart a breakfast place. Creamed chipped beef over toast with Delly potatoes. Corned beef hash and eggs. Basted because neither Chick nor Ruth poach an egg. I've been meaning to tell you Chick. And you Ruth...poach eggs please? I'd love you even more.

Can anyone say pastrami and cheese omelet? You. You in the back. You can say it? Okay, good.

Pancakes the size of houses (big, fluffy, round houses). Real butter. Aunt Jemima on the tables so you really do feel like you're eating at home and it's one of those rare Saturday's when you don't have a game, a practice, or a scrimmage. And Mom feels like making pancakes. And you can thumb your nose at that 'real' syrup stuff. That's for chumps. Your Auntie knows syrup. And your Auntie is Jemima!

Sandwiches and breakfasts are named after local and state politicians. The current Mayor is cream cheese and olive on toast. Ummm, can the new Mayor's swearing in ceremony in early December include a proclamation of menu change? Just sayin'...not my style.

Senators, Delegates, Mayors, Governors, Council Members, and Golda Meier all have their signature dishes at the Delly. You get elected, you get a sandwich. And there are plenty of menu items from which to choose. Kosher dogs, corned beef or pastrami, Clubs, eggs sandwiches, Salisbury steak. All there.

Servers in white shirts with black vests? Check. Fill yer coffee 'hon? Check.

Massive sandwich and milkshake challenge? Check.

Chick & Ruth's Delly on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Soon, My Lovelies

You'll have write-ups of this, this, and a taqueria I can't even find using the Google (but it was just North of this on the OBT, before you get to I-4).

You'll also have the 2009 version of this, which will be located in the city house of the Mom. It will be attended by the same crew as last year. We will cook, and eat, and reminisce. I am making curried pea dip and a corn bread. Mom is making A LOT MORE. There will be photos. And perhaps interviews. And definitely elastic waistbands.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baltimore Greek Festival

I think pictures only will do to give you a fair sense of my time at last weekend's Greek Festival in Baltimore with Suzu and AS. Let me start by telling you that yes, one of those signs in the background does offer chicken fingers. And there were people ordering them. I say shame on you...shame, shame on you. At least their poor choices meant the folks cooking up the food would definitely have what I wanted.

And I wanted Pork Souvlaki on warm pita with amazingly thick tzadziki. Also had a lamb gyro and a sausage sandwich studded with fennel and orange zest.

The sausage was spectacular, and the pork was...well...let's just say you know how I feel about pork. But the sausage was the winner for me this round. It was thick-cased and had a great chew. The orange bits could be clearly seen and tasted in every bite. And that sauce was...well, it was finger-lickin' good people.

Next up was dessert #1, fried honey balls. Sweet little numbers with the perfect amount of sticky honey coating each treat.

That, my friends, is how baklava should happen. It was nutty and chewy and had just the right hit of honey to make sure you knew it was a dessert. And we ate it quickly.

Then a walk over to the main church building and downstairs (all 17 of them) to get our appetites going again. Pastitsio! Oh, how I lurve thee. Thick bechamel holding ground beef and lamb together with penne rigate. Baked gold brown on top. Yeah, I need to make a pan of this right quick.

Sampler apps. Lamb meatballs, Dolmades with rice and ground beef/lamb, spanikopita and cheese pies, and more of that thick, sweet tzadziki. The meatballs were so meltingly tender. The dolmades had the tang of the leaves and the slow simmered goodness of the rice filling. The spanikopita was classic but I think we all believed the cheese pies were the phyllo wrapped winner of this course.

And there was wine. And it was good. There's something just plain right about sipping Greek red table wine out of small plastic cups in the gymnasium/meeting hall of a church while toasting your sick friend who couldn't be there and then tearing through a sampler plate of mezze.

I dub thee - Galapagos Burrito. In fact it is galaktoboureko, a custard-filled phyllo dessert, and Suzu can pronounce it. I could not, and we were having fun, so Galapagos Burrito it was and Galapagos Burrito it will remain in my mind. There were dozens and dozens of trays of all types of this custard-filled phyllo treat, more baklava, sweet shredded wheat tasties, chocolate cookie pastries, and so much more. The pastry room was a popular place. One father even showed the evil genius of bringing his 3-5 year old son and daughter in BEFORE they had lunch so he could bribe there behavior with a promise to return ONLY if they ate a good meal. Kudos to you sir!

Thanks much to all the staff and volunteers at the festival. It was a great cacophony of food and history, pastry and culture, wine and traditions; and I'm glad I got to share just a taste of it with you all!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wine Market - Fall & New Menus

I can tell you all about the Bacon-Wrapped Medjool Dates and the Veal Cheek Agnolotti. I can do this because, well, you're not surprised I ordered them as we sat on a Saturday night just sipping wine and grazing, are you?

We were still full (sorta...just sorta) from Greek Fest (and when you see that post, dear lord Fetz doesn't even begin to describe it).

But Suzu and AS decided since we had turned in to Wine Market, and I put the turn signal on and waited at least a second and a half to see if there were objections, we should have a bottle of Black Ankle's 2006 Crumbling Rock. Maryland wine peeps. Cab Franc/Merlot/Cab/Pettit Verdot blend. And really tasty. These folks got it more than right. Check the bottle price (mid-50s) and you'll probably say there's no way you'd pay that much for a Maryland wine, right? Do it. Thank me later.It's not "Maryland wine you'd pay a bit more for than usual." It's a damn fine bottle of wine at the right price point, AND it's from Maryland. We sipped for a good long while amazed at the viscosity (it took a good minute for legs to break down from the line of wine left from glass tilt). And then it was gone, and we were sad, and Kelly brought us the wine menu back, and all was right in the universe one more time.

Next bottle was the Atteca, a 100% Garnacha from Calatayud (say it fast Kelli, say it 10 times fast!). Yeah, I don't know where that is either, but it was a large Spanish red that turns out will be sipped this evening when I make it over to Pops for Sunday Family Supper. Gumbo tonight, Mmmmm. In any event, and almost in any "case," the Atteca led to the first order of food, because why wouldn't it.

Needed something. Ordered dates. There you have it. For the low-low price of $7 you're enjoying applewood smoked bacon wrapped medjool dates with toasted walnut fonduta, arugula, walnut vinaigrette, and shaved gala apple. AS put it very well. There is not a flavor or texture on that that plate that isn't there for a reason. If you can stop yourself short enough to take just a minute (and it'll be hard) to make sure you get one bite with a little bit of everything; you'll be a happy date-eatin' fool. Sweet and salty, creamy and crisp, bright and deep. It was all there.

Pause for the tangent that ends up being the theme. It's fall, though you wouldn't know it today. The air is cooler and crisp, the nights bring muted cries of "oh I wish I'd brought my scarf/gloves/sweater/other warm thing." The new items we tried last night were fall. They were dates and veal cheek, bacon and red kuri squash, they were braised and they were warpped and grilled, and they were swimming with luscious, heavy red wine that made your heart warm right along with your belly.

That was certainly the case with the agnolotti, which was paired through whim, chance, and good fortune with 2003 Brunello di Montalcino. You will want the $9 braised veal cheek agnolotti with golden raisins, red kuri squash, blood orange suprémes, and smoked oil. If you don't, call me, I'll fly with you and take them off your hands.

Funny that AS had been complaining earlier in the day about the pasta on Al Italia. And really, it's your national airline. Your national food should probably NOT SUCK on your national airline.

Little pillows of meat said Kelli, and god bless her for it, they were. perfectly cooked, toothy pasta pockets with braised veal cheeks that had melted. The flavors were smoky and rich and warm. You would want this in front of your fireplace. You would consider breaking in to my place to sit in front of the fireplace there. If you shared your agnolotti, I may agree to not press charges.

I saw the new scallop and snapper menu items...and we almost went for overdrive on the Saturday food-excursion. But just catching a glimpse was enough this time. Scallops, speck risotto, cranberry mostarda, sauted red kuri squash. Indeed, you are powerful as the emperor has foreseen. And there was talk of pork shanks (mostly because there was talk of lamb shanks earlier, but they were sold out of that special) and the pork shanks are served with curry noodles, and pulled brussel's sprouts (which is probably damn good and will likely need to get in my belly).

Instead, AS needed dessert, in the form of cheeses. And I will tell you it was a banner night. A banner night that had this guy try (no, I really wasn't a stinky cheese guy AT ALL), and not be offended by, and then try again, and then grab a piece of the toast points and smear more, a Spanish sheep's milk blue cheese.

(My sister has currently dropped her keyboard and may have to fight with the dog to get the mouse back, that is the level of psychic shock reverberating across the interwebs at this very moment.)

But it was goooooood. It was creamy, then salty, and there was a tang at the finish but the tang was a part of the cheese and not some billy club beating you over the head for daring to believe there was anything else to taste here.

And we talked about food, and politics, and restaurants, and watched other folks come to the bar and wait for their table and move on; or we watched them sit at the bar and order and eat and wonder if we should have ordered what they ordered; and a procession of men with elbow patches on sport coats and glasses that are clunky, and retro, and hip chatted amiably with smiling young women who were glad to be done with a week and able to order just one more 3 oz. pour of that Pinot they like so much (it's probably the St. Innocent).

There wasn't a distinct end to the night, we just couldn't order anymore. We had chatted, and sipped, and dined for a day, and with one final 3 oz. our ourselves, Suzu the Chianti, AS the Zinfandel, and I the Petit Syrah, it was all over but for the picking up two bottles on the way out the door.

Wine Market on Urbanspoon

An Omnivore's Defense of Defense

I will speak in hyperbole. It will be both witty and poingnant in its ability to convey my thoughts to you. Unless you're this guy, or this guy, in which case you will believe I am some cheese-eating, French-wine loving, surrender-monkey. And I am all of those things...except a surrender-monkey. And in any case its actually BECAUSE I am a cheese-eating, French-wine drinking dork that I put these thoughts out there for the little blogospehere-y types to read and consider.

Here's the hyperbole: People are starting to get as wound up as the Romans about books expressing the opinion that factory farms have serious and increasingly negative impacts on our food system and our health and that food created without laboratories is inherently more nutritious than its lab-coat, nutrient-injected, genetically-altered cousins.

Parse with me, because I wrote that last graph fairly carefully. There are some folks engaged in industrial agriculture and involved in farming today who are reacting very negatively to Michael Pollan's writing. They are proponents of industrial agriculture methods that have increased yields and reduced the price tag of a host of agricultural products for the 'Merican consumer. And they are reacting as if Pollan a) puts himself out as the be-all, end-all expert on agriculture; b) tells his readers that his science is irrefutable; c) proposes that every industrial farmer STOP what they are doing right now; and d) has convinced every American consumer to wage war on the American farmer.

I'll take his books in reverse order for the purpose of this exercise because the end result is primary, but the attacks are aimed squarely at the earlier book. Pollan's aim and authority as he sees it are spelled out fairly clearly before he even gets out of the introduction of "In Defense of Food."
My aim in this book is to help us reclaim our health and happiness as eaters. To do this requires an exercise that might at first blush seem unnecessary, if not absurd: to offer a defense of food and the eating thereof. That food and eating stand in need of a defense might seem counter-intuitive at a time when "over-nutrition" is emerging as a more serious threat to public health than under-nutrition. But I contend that most of what we're consuming today is no longer, strictly speaking, food at all, and how we're consuming it - in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone - is not really eating, at least not in the sense that civilization has long understood the term.
As for authority:
You may well, and rightly, wonder who am I to tell you how to eat? Here I am advising you to reject the advice of science and industry - and then blithely go on to offer my own advice. So on whose authority do I purport to speak? I speak mainly on the authority of tradition and common sense. Most of what we need to know about how to eat we already know, or once did until we allowed the nutrition experts and the advertisers to shake our confidence in common sense, tradition, the testimony of our senses, and the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers.
There's the what and the why of "In Defense of Food." And Pollan admits that the ability to eat in the manner he suggests in "In Defense of Food" was not possible until very recently because of the power of the industrial food economy spelled out in "Omnivore's Dilemma."
I doubt the last third of this book could have been written forty years ago, if only because there would have been no way to eat the way i propose without going back to the land and growing all your own food. It would have been the manifesto of a crackpot. There was really only one kind of food on the national menu, and that was whatever industry and nutritionism happened to be serving. Not anymore. Eaters have real choices now, and those choices have real consequences,  for our health and the health of the land and the health of our food culture - all of which, as we will see, are inextricably linked. That anyone should need to write a book advising people to "eat food" could be taken as a measure of our alienation and confusion. Or we could choose to see it in a more positive light and count ourselves fortunate indeed that there is once again real food for us to eat."
That real food is in direct response to the past 50 years of food production methods and markets. Let's be clear, "Omnivore's Dilemma" takes a fairly unforgiving look at the factory farm, the feedlots, the history of "Grain-Fed Beef" from the policy and marketing views. "In Defense of Food" takes the same glaring look at the pseudo- and incomplete science that grew up around our margarine and our high-fiber, and our hubris that we could do it better than nature.

Most importantly for my response to the attacks on the books, on Pollan, and on anyone who would be foolish enough to agree with him, I happen to have made the economic and personal decision that Pollan is more right than they are. Please don't get all paranoid-delusional on me for promoting an idea that I believe makes both more economic sense for consumers in the long run and provides food that tastes better to me.

Now on to the stories that sparked this defense of Pollan's "Defense." The first, an article written by farmer Blake Hurst, is a substantive and thoughtful counterpoint to Pollan. He is that farmer selling that product to those consumers. And his perspective from the eye of the market is both clear and factual. He sells what consumers want to buy.
I’m so tired of people who wouldn’t visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food. Farming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is.

But now we have to listen to self-appointed experts on airplanes frightening their seatmates about the profession I have practiced for more than 30 years. I’d had enough. I turned around and politely told the lecturer that he ought not believe everything he reads. He quieted and asked me what kind of farming I do. I told him, and when he asked if I used organic farming, I said no, and left it at that. I didn’t answer with the first thought that came to mind, which is simply this: I deal in the real world, not superstitions, and unless the consumer absolutely forces my hand, I am about as likely to adopt organic methods as the Wall Street Journal is to publish their next edition by setting the type by hand.
Blake, what I am telling you right now is not that you're doing it wrong, or that I need you to change your farming. I am telling you that this consumer has thought more about the impact his choices have on himself and the larger community and prefers to know his farmer, to know his food, and to buy more and more of it raised and harvested in a manner more consistent with a small farm model of Polyface than the CAFOs and corn-science-based farming that has come to dominate the market place.

And I have to take a bit of issue with your quick-hitting: "Pollan thinks farmers use commercial fertilizer because it is easier, and because it is cheap. Pollan is right. But those are perfectly defensible reasons." Yes, they're defensible reasons for a farmer focusing on being successful in the industrial-agricultural economy. I think part of what Pollan does with Omnivore's Dilemma is to show that there are, in fact, other agricultural economies that exist.

You have an economic bottom line and meet it as you see fit with methods and through markets that make the most sense to you. But it is disingenuous at best to complain because Pollan wrote a book that made a lot of folks realize they had an economic choice too. I am making my economic choices; and they will include food produced by your methods less and less. That's not a personal attack on you, and it's not an attack on any farmer, it's an economic choice that by your logic I should be just as free to make as you are.

While almost all of my rebuttal to Hurst is based on our interpretations and opinions of the implication of Pollan on both the farmer and the consumer, there was one factual assertion Hurst made that I think bears a quick review.
Finally, consumers benefit from cheap food. If you think they don’t, just remember the headlines after food prices began increasing in 2007 and 2008, including the study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations announcing that 50 million additional people are now hungry because of increasing food prices. Only “industrial farming” can possibly meet the demands of an increasing population and increased demand for food as a result of growing incomes.
A few things. It would be more accurate to say that politicians and policy-makers benefit from consumers who have cheap food. It would also be more accurate to say that consumers who have not thought about the economic or health implications of their food purchases prefer food that costs less.

Finally, and most importantly, read here, here, and here. Claims that increasing yield-per-acre will solve world hunger are just too far from the truth to be useful to your argument against people acting in accordance with Pollan's prescriptions.

The second story in a budding series of "Please don't let this man talk to people who might not want to eat food that's been fed more anti-biotics than a Marne platoon deploying in sub-Saharan Africa" told the tale of David Wood, the Chairman of Harris Ranch Beef. Mr. Wood is contemplating withdrawing his pledge of $150,000 and his company's pledge of $500,000 for a new agricultural lab at his alma mater because they invited Michael Pollan to speak, by himself, at the school. Quel horreur? He gets to talk without a muzzle or a factory-farm-owning-alumnus-paid-for-and-approved-other-side-of-the-argument-presenting partner?
Pollan, who teaches at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, is an advocate for healthy, environmentally conscious methods of farming and production — including feeding cattle with grass, reducing the use of petroleum on farms and decreasing pollution.

Wood, a Cal Poly alumnus who described himself as a “significant donor,” sent a letter to Cal Poly President Warren Baker in late September expressing his displeasure with Pollan’s scheduled talk.
Your protestations, Mr. Wood, sound hollow from here. Of course you'll hit back with "That description of Pollan leaves out the economic impact of his pie-in-the-sky ideas about farming on the hard-working men and women who struggle every day to put food on your table." Yeah, I hear you, and there is an economic impact on anyone who agrees with what Pollan's writing. But you also ought to consider that Beef being 'what's for dinner' for the past 50 years has contributed, at least in part, to this:
Obesity causes more than 100,000 cases of cancer in the United States each year — and the number will likely rise as Americans get fatter, researchers said on Thursday.

Having too much body fat causes nearly half the cases of endometrial cancer — a type of cancer of the uterus — and a third of esophageal cancer cases, the American Institute for Cancer Research said.
For me, it's the economic reality that I have family history of heart disease and diabetes and that I can spend more now on food that hasn't been altered in ways that make my life more likely to include cholesterol-lowering pills and shots of insulin...or I can spend more on health insurance and medical bills for the later third of my life.

I have to say, for the most part, I will be paying more now because it just makes sense to me.

Academic integrity does not mean that there is a zero-sum game in 'opinions on stage at one time.' It means the academic institution is a place in which learning is cherished, and in which all ideas are permitted to be expressed. That does not mean that it is a place in which you should feel good about throwing your weight to insure students can't hear one perspective without immediately having the opposing viewpoint in the moment. If you respect your alma matter, you'd respect their ability to have an open discussion rather than threatening the future students who will now not have the lab they need to learn.

Credit where it is due and a quick call to have your own discussion about this somewhere. The good folks at Serious Eats pointed me to the articles I've been parsing and rebutting here, though I'll also say I recently finished both "Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food," so it's been on my mind.
What This All Means

Instead of debating the issues of academic freedom at Cal Poly and Washington State University and whether Pollan will ever be buddy-buddy with industrial corn and soy farmers, let's focus on the dialogue here.

It means that what started as a small movement of people, often characterized as "impractical elitists," has become important enough to garner widespread attention. Before, the state of our food system was considered the norm and those who wanted to change it were buttonholed as ideological or out-of-touch. Now that ag-corporations are sitting up, taking notice, and feeling the need to put pressure on universities, we should all take that as a sign that this movement is going somewhere.
I hope that conversation does happen. And based solely on my authority as a consumer, I hope more and more people reach the same conclusion I reached.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Green Bean & Potato Curry

Green Bean/Potato Curry
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking

So two meals cooked by me. One day. Shocker of a the month for sure. Sorry for the photo, I left the camera in the office (which, yes, I KNOW is technically only two blocks away).

That 'stuff' on top of that rice was the product of my grocery trip earlier this week when I picked up the potato and said "I will cook you;" the green bean and said "You will grace my plate;" and then got home and realized the garam masala Momma D brought back from India would be the gluey, masala-y good ness that, along with some onion, garlic, ginger, chicken stock, milk, butter, salt, pepper, oil, and rice...would bind the two together like a geek and a "duct tape is the force" joke.

And for you folks that are a'feared of "curry," know two things...1) E texted when she saw the picture of dinner and said it would go great with Bud Light Clamato; and 2) watch this typing happen.

That's rice. And green beans. And potatoes. And garlic. And... And... GRAVY. (Sorry Chez, making the point for the greater good).

It's not some bizarre concoction. You really only have to get your head around two things. Garam Masala, which is kinda like the spice mix your grandma put together for the mulled cider, only savory instead of sweet. And ginger, which I BET you're not that scared of since you've had ginger/peach something in your life.

But most folks from the part of the world I call home get that combination of sauce and starch with some sort of veg from garden or market. Honestly, throwin' a pan-fried pork chop on top of this and calling it Indian Chops n' Gravy on Rice would not offend me in the slightest. And there's pork chops with rice and gravy on truck stop menus all up and down I-81 in the Shenandoah...

You readers? You see the theme forming here? Yeah, from the Super Pollo and Ravi Kabob posts?

Here at Ravi I was struck by being able to same the same thing about the black-eyed pea. I've slow-cooked mine for years with a ham hock and garlic/onion. These guys were slow-cooking theirs with cardamom and coriander and the same garlic/onion mix. So much more that we have in common; because I have to believe that some Southern dude in fatigues and some Afghan dude away from home are both remembering long-simmered greens and stewed black-eyed peas. Not getting too far out there, just sayin' I bet it happens a lot.

And now here in my own kitchen?

So many similar comforts, textures, starch/sauce combinations. All over the world.

Fritata Riff in the Morning

Bacon & Crispy Shallot w/ Plum Tomatoes and Fontinella/Gruyere.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Long

16 days? No posts? Well, folks, I have excuses and reasons. But none of them explain away the lack of typing. I was sick but I cooked then and still know how to make a mean macaroni n' cheese. I traveled but great food happens on the road and I loved the Diwali celebration at Mother India last weekend. I bought new books to read but they're all about food, farming, and history (of food). Really I've just been lazy about writing. So we have esoterica tonight...

Esoterica in Print Form

I will miss reading this from time to time but it got me thinking about both cooking magazines and about traditional media in general. When I started this cooking madness I subscribed to and read four cooking magazines. I still have the subscriptions, and I still love them, but I don't know that I'd miss them as much as I would have if they had stopped publishing several years ago. I haven't had cable at home for four months now and I still have a modicum of knowledge about pop culture. Even though we don't have Gourmet anymore (and I think it's crap that Gourmet and it's million subscribers are screwed and Conde-friggin-Nast goes on), but we'll still talk about fine food and cooking.

Esoterica in Restaurants

I hit up B. Bistro in Bolton Hill last week for Ms. S's birthday shindig and was not disappointed in the least. Great wines, great people, great charcuterie. A frisee salad with lardons, a perfectly poached egg, crumbled tangy blue cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette. That dish, more than any other we had that night, was a classic bistro dish. Paris-style. Perfect. Add to that to pork belly entrée surrounded by Cassoulet-style white beans and covered in wet whole-grain mustard; and you’d have a happy food blogger. There were some misses, like the beet salad that was over-oiled and the fried-green tomatoes that sogged a bit because they were the bed for a whole fish. Our server was a nice’un, but it took him a while to get sorted out on the pacing of ‘please sir, bring us more wine.’ Then again, perhaps that says more about us than him. He did have to put up with a table of serious food whores on a random Wednesday night shift.

Esoterica in Signing-Off Form

So I leave you with this thought for a rainy night on the water. If you saute two shallots and three cloves of garlic in olive oil, add about 3 cups of sliced cremini mushrooms, start about a half pound of pasta to boil, add some spinach to the saute, throw the almost done noodles into the saute pan with a few ladles of the pasta water, put it on a plate and put parmesan cheese on'd have had dinner tonight too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Weekends - Soups and Eggs

A double-treat for you here, since I've already done the Lentil Soup recipe way back in my FIRST post ever two years ago this weekend. Not only two meals in one post, but a theme. That's right, we're goin' Meta on Sunday mornin'. I went there. You have that crap song stuck in your head. We'll all survive. Follow...

I have a collection of wonderful food memories that I didn't realize would be so important to me when I lived them. Isn't that always the case with time and memory. But looking back, these were always the memories of family I have had, and I didn't until recently put together that the meal was the focus.

I know now that there are four or five events or periods in my life that are the foundation of the cooking bug.

Sifting the flour and salt and baking powder for Date Nut bread when I was six or seven and chopping the potatoes, celery, carrots, and onion for the lentil soup when I was a little older.

The year I spent living with Mike and Craig my junior year when we had a real kitchen and cooked real meals (including the most inebriated bratwurst/sauerkraut dinner ever prepared by a German Studies Senior Housefellow in Conn history).

The first time I ever cooked a holiday meal for anyone (Hot Roomie #1 and I cookin' for her rents and broder Thanksgiving 2003).

The first time I ate foie and cabeza at the taquerias of Anaheim.

The best of times in places that hold magic. Remembering Uncle Paul giving the grace and Aunt Juanita passing me the lemonade. Playing in grandpa's roll-top desk while watermelons were sliced and sun-tea brewed on the back porch.

You get the picture. I think about family and friends and connections and places. And I remember them with great detail. And I remember the food. Not in a trite way that is simply a catalog of meals. That happens in the modern twitter-world, and I'm a part of that. But so long and I know there's more to it than that, I don't mind living in both places simultaneously.

So I remember peeling and slicing carrots. And potatoes. I probably asked what bay leaf was a time or two. There was always that one grocery trip when Mom would say the words that unlocked Fall. Real fall. "I need to get some lentils." Because there was only one reason we ever had lentils in our house growing up. There are more now, but this was the only time I recall as a kid. It was time to get to making a pot of lentil soup. Dad loved it, it was one of those recipes that Mom could do in her sleep and was flexible enough in its preparation that the intervening son, daughter, cat, or other house crisis would not impede its progress.

It was better the next day for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, or all three. And there was almost never enough sausage bites in it. Like trying to make enough mashed potatoes for dinner on Saturday night so we could have potato pancakes for breakfast on Sunday. You just always had that last bowl of soup left that was essentially gravy and lentils with perhaps a stray chunk of carrot. I relish that bowl now, I was supremely disappointed in it as a surly 9-year-old.

I make it every year, usually twice a Fall/Winter. But it always seems to taste better the first time I make it in a new kitchen. Helps that I get to cook it in the Dutch Oven Mom bought for me for my birthday last year. Keeps the connection there.

And then there was Saturday breakfast. The first real glimpse of the weekend for the family. Friday night now, but then there were too many activities and tired-people at the end of the week and Friday was a 'out-to-eat night.' So we'd wake up on Saturday morning and, barring morning sports requirements and my parents 'I hated it then and realize its wisdom and benefit now' Play-a-Sport-a-Season rule, we'd have soft-boiled eggs on toast. Then this week the genius peeps over at Serious Eats wrote this marvel on eggs.

I've moved to poached as a favorite egg prep since those days, but there was a moment this morning when I was sitting at the old pine oblong table in the kitchen at the house on Citadel and there was a sauce pan of water still steaming and two eggs some rye toast on my plate. Mom and/or Dad sitting cracking there eggs with the back of a knife letting the yolk run over the bread and then scooping the white and adding a bit of pepper.

Recreated, I think because we both just remembered it so clearly, by Dad and I when I lived with him post-grad school. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Two bachelor roommates. Two eggs and some toast. Easy on the brain while you got your coffee on.

This time I baked the bread too. Joy of Cooking's quick white bread one-loaf recipe subbing the last cup of flour for whole wheat flour. I'm not sure I count myself a baker yet, but I'm getting the rhythm of the mix, knead, rise, knead, proof, roll, rise, bake.

I'll get that second-day bowl of soup with bread here in a minute before I head out to watch some football with a pal on his birthday. Might bake some mac n' cheese tonight to have options for the week at lunch.

I'm still facing a daunting list of chores to get through today after the trip to the b-day shindig, but at least I'm well fed in food and memory.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ravi Kabob House

This post combines some of the best bits of always having food on the brain. A new restaurant that serves a strange and distant land's food and some of your favorite foodie peeps. First and foremost, we all wanted to go because CassiBob and I had never been and we've kinda gotten used to KarlJohn gettin' the lowdown on the righteous ethnic cuisine in the DC/NoVA tip. I've got the MD burbs and Bal'mer covered. Secondly, I have to admit to a not-surprising fascination with food grilled on sticks. And I wanted to see what was similar and what was different between Pakistani (which I've never had) and Indian and Afghan (lucky enough to have checked off those boxes on the foodie scorecard).

Ravi's just what it sounds like, a joint with all types of kabobs. From that part of the world where the Indians and Persians got their food on and the Europeans, Arabs, and Asians eventually traveled around. God bless spice trading in the Middle Ages for bringing all this food together.

Since we'd never been CassiBob and I each got an app. She went Samosa, I went Special Samosa. And DAMN was it special. The special was an open-face Samosa (potato, pea, standard fare) SMOTHERED with stewed chick peas, onion, a sweet/hot sauce, and cilantro...lots of cilantro. And blessedly it was large enough to share without hesitation. CassiBob thought the Samosa was okay, and I'm guessin' she might have had a higher individual opinion of it had my special not been right beside it.

For the entrees, we get into serious Meatopia. There are chicken marinated in yogurt (CassiBob), ground beef with spices (CassiBob), whole lamb chops grilled to perfection (ThisGuy), cubed beef and lamb on the spit, and daily specials cafeteria-style including a lamb and lentil dish (KarlJohn). Each dinner comes with two sides and the staff automatically recommends rice and chick peas and a hefty piece of bread (In the Indian joint, it'd be Naan. Not sure if there's a Pakistani food word that's different). CassiBob and KarlJohn went there. For a little more variety on the table, I tried the rice and some black-eyed peas. Each plate also accompanied by a small salad.

Take note. This was the best lamb chop I have ever eaten. It was perfectly charred on the outside and medium on the inside. You KNEW it was cooked with fire. And you loved every blessed, bone-knawing minute of it. Yes people, if you get meat served on a bone; pick it up. Don't you dare waste that food.

Tangent. Karl and I had that great conversation about the chick pea at Super Pollo. So versatile in so many different cuisines from Italian to Peruvian to Indian and Lebanese. What a great food. Here at Ravi I was struck by being able to same the same thing about the black-eyed pea. I've slow-cooked mine for years with a ham hock and garlic/onion. These guys were slow-cooking theirs with cardamom and coriander and the same garlic/onion mix. So much more that we have in common; because I have to believe that some Southern dude in fatigues and some Afghan dude away from home are both remembering long-simmered greens and stewed black-eyed peas. Not getting too far out there, just sayin' I bet it happens a lot.

Staff/Crowd. Look, I'll be honest here. I'm pretty 'merican in appearance. And I love it when I'm in a food joint from a galaxy far, far away and can tell. It tells me one thing: People who grew up eating this food out of there mother's kitchen think this is food on which it is worth spending money. And I have to say I feel lucky to walk into places like Ravi. The crowd was all happy, the food was flying out at a good clip into the waiting arms of a husband and wife, co-workers, and native friends catching up at their local joint that serves family-style bowls of several meals.

Staff could tell as soon as we walked in that we were new and helped out immensely. Dude sitting at the four-top waiting for his togo? Yeah, polite move-ask from the staff so we could grab the table. Behind the counter? Here, look over some menus. Yes, you order up here then we'll let you know when the food is ready. In this tray? That's the daily chicken special. Here's the lamb. Ready to order? Sure. Yes, the Ravi Speical? Of course. It's rare when I notice a rapid-fire ordering interaction that much, but this one worked very well. Perfectly timed 'everything okay' during the meal. Eye contact as we were heading out and a pleasant 'how was it?' because I think he really wanted to make sure it was good. Amen to that.

Ravi Kabob House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Super Pollo

"Oh my god, I can smell it." That's what I said a full block away from Super Pollo before I even knew exactly where it was. It SMELLED that good...OUTSIDE...A BLOCK AWAY. I'm serious folks, it smelled so good. Like the barbecue you drive by on your way somewhere else when you knew you'd be happier in life if you were friends with the people making whatever smelled like that?

If I lived here, I'd eat at Super Pollo once a week too, Karl.

There's a rack full of chickens slathered in Peruvian rub churning and turning non-stop as you order at the cafeteria-style line. I didn't eat slowly enough to differentiate spices and herbs in the rub. This looks about right. Just go get one yourself...First up, how much chicken? 1/4 white or dark plus 2 sides for $5.05 (!!!!NOT a typo!!!!); 1/2 plus 2 for $7 and change, whole chicken for not much more. At 6pm on a Friday there's a steady stream of folks just getting off the metro and running through Super Pollo to get dinner on their way home. Can't blame 'em.

I was a half-chicken kinda guy last night. In part because, as you already are aware, I have no real concept of or desire to learn portion control. But also here because I really, in that split second between Karl finishing his order and me starting mine, I could not decide between white meat and dark meat. So I ordered the smallest portion that got me BOTH. That's smart, peeps. Just plain smart. And worth it. The meat was ridiculously moist and tender, the skin was equally crispy and slathered in the Peruvian rub. Two dippers with. One was chimichurri like. Hot with herbs and peppers. Second was mayo-based and slightly sweet. Close to what every honey mustard should ever be.

Sides ranged from chick peas with a cumin/coriander spice, fried yucca that looked like battered/fired bread when you bit in, fried plantains, and a mountain of rice and beans. The chick pea, as Karl rightly pointed out, is an amazing creation. And so good in so many forms. From a spicy channa masala over basmati in India to a cool, smooth, garlicky hummus in Lebanon to a cumin-scented side-dish in Peru. Plantains were sticky with carmelized goodness and it was a measure of my friendship with Karl that I permitted him a sample. Well, he introduced me to the place, so I felt slightly obligated too.

I would highly recommend getting up right now, going to the metro, getting the orange line, and getting off at Ballston. If you don't I will beat you to your rightful spot in line. While Monday night is already spoken for with dinner joints, I'll have to drive back through the area on my way home on Tuesday...Karl, you up for more Super Pollo???

Super Pollo Charcoal Broiled Chicken on Urbanspoon

The Pepperoni Roll

Came across this fine piece of New York Times reporting this week. It's about time that rag did some real journalism! [/snark]
“My mother packed these for my father,” Mr. Willis said, as he bit into a yeast-risen stub of white bread, seams bursting with coins of Hormel pepperoni, bottom tinged russet by the meat’s aromatic grease. “He worked a coal mine. This was his lunch. I eat the same thing. Breakfast and lunch both, it’s what I want.”

In the northern reaches of West Virginia, along a corridor of Appalachia stretching from Buckhannon, through Clarksburg, up to Morgantown, an appetite for pepperoni rolls cuts across class strata.

Great look into a bit of completely regional food. I remember my time as an Energy Express mentor at Mason-Dixon Elementary when the kids would leave after lunch and the mentors would stick around with the lead teachers runnin' the show to go over lesson plans. We'd head in to town to the D-Mart and get a sandwich or a snack and a pop of some sort to decompress after the kids left (we were all still in college, a pepperoni roll and a Dr. Pepper were still enough to unwind some days!).

The D-Mart staff were of the 'split it down the middle and slather it with chili' variety. That was new to me though. In Morgantown-proper, a pepperoni roll was merely warmed and eaten as is. I even got strange looks for eating pepperoni rolls that included cheese, though my glutton-for-punishment preference was the sliced pepperoni with the hot pepper-jack cheese inside.

And that brings up the biggest chasm in the pepperoni roll world. The article noted the two types, slice or stick pepperoni, but not the good-natured cultural divide between camps of bakers who adhere to one cut or the other. It can be fierce. There are families that have multiple trays of rolls at holidays so each camp can be satisfied.

I believe my Aunt M's recipe is stick pepperoni, but strangely I don't even have it. I'll have to get in touch and make a batch, 'cause Lord and the Gods of Pepperoni knows these low-landers down here haven't felt the awesome fury of the pepperoni roll...

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Simple Meal for a New Kitchen

Dinner plans were made and broken in this here fast-movin' town. By that I mean that I was going to have the new gang of what I hope will become Lazy Man's Supper here in the low lands and it got interrupted by some folks working late and other having to get to work early and etcetera, and etcetera. I'm not upset, because I have this suspicion that MB, Sqirrel, Ms. K, JRowr, Meester Haaaaaaaaaahn, and 'lil miss C will come over soon and often for food.

But I needed to cook. You...reader who hasn't been here long and thinks this is about restaurants...scroll back...further...further...there. Yeah, I may spend the rest of my life trying to recreate that dinner. I think Chez, E, Slim, Tim, Mia, and whoever else was there will likely agree...if they can see back through the haze of wine to remember it...that's why we blog, for posterity!

Tangent(well, that one anyway) behind us, I'll move to the food. Which was chicken, and spinach, and mushrooms, and potatoes, and butternut squash, and baguette (which ended up forlorn and unused), and garlic (which did not), and some stuff from West Virginia (Yay unpacking) and some stuff from Maryland (Yay local grocery store). But the plan for the party was multi-course, and my tired tookus was not doing multi-course.

Now I started out blustering (internally, so you're the first to know about it) that I would complete the planned meal, people not actually showing up to eat it be damned.

Then I got 1/3 of the way through the prep and saute for the app. And realized I could put the spinach from the side dish in with it...and do what I was already going to do with the chicken, which involved the potatoes and the squash and some cumin...and then I'd only need one other pot and could get busy with the wine uncorking...

...Seriously? Some of you thought the wine wouldn't happen? Whatever. Moving on.

Do this. Take some red potatoes and some cubed butternut squash, add in some shallots if you're not a moron who forgot to peel and chop them. Toss with some olive oil, cumin, salt, and pepper. Throw in the bottom of a dutch oven (or roasting pan). Set your split chicken breasts on top, dash more oil, pinch more salt, crack more pepper. Lid off, into the oven. 400 degrees. How long? Really? Until it's done.

Sidebar tangent #2. People think there are two types of people...1) those who cook enough to merit purchase of an electric thermometer and 2) those who don't cook enough so there's no need.

Really, there are two types of people... 1) those who cook at all and realize that having ALL of that guesswork taken out whenever you do cook is worth $15 and making sure you keep AAA batteries in the hall closet and 2) those who think that they should just be given a time because that is more convenient. I am one of the former. If you are one of the latter, pray for more federal bailout money for the culinarily challenged.

Altitude affects how long something will take to cook in the same model oven. The same cut of meat can take two different times even if cooked in the same oven at the same temperature one month apart. Even the same brand of oven at the same altitude can fudge your dinner. Ask hardcore bakers, every oven on the planet is different. But a thermometer? That's forever on temp.

Back to the show...well actually, after that tangent there's not much to tell. The mushrooms, onions and garlic were sliced, diced, and minced respectively and then sauted until most of the liquid was released and cooked off. Then some tomato paste was added to the pan and cooked a bit. Then some chicken stock deglazing happened. Then I added in the spinach and cooked it down until there was a little rust colored sauce with my mushrooms and spinach and poured it over the crispy chicken skin on my lovely plate.

I'm sipping on some Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin because it is a grape I love with qualities that invoke a fall in, it's a big glass of fruity jam that was the $8 manager's special. I love fine dining, and even recreating it in my kitchen from time to time. But a Monday night when it's me and the new blinds I have to install? No, no fine dining. Just good food.

G'nite y'all. More (HappyHappyJoyJoy) soon.