Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pops and the Restaurant Babes: A Burger Story

Sometimes the man just gets it right. He puts letters together to make words; words together to make sentences; sentences together in a way that makes laughter. That is the way of the Pops.

This time it was something to the effect of 'I just had dinner at Sotto Sopra. New menu. You should take the Restaurant Babes.'

The "Restaurant Babes" part is a quote.

The laughter was real.

I was still on 'cook for dad so he doesn't eat cheese, and only cheese' duty. There was a phone I knew how to use. The Quiet One is still after me about cooking more meals for her since she had to read about them for several years while I was in that other state.

Okay. It's a sunny Sunday. Y'all bring wine. I'll cook burgers.

And it's getting to be the season. The good early produce is from northern Mexico and in some cases the far southern Carolinas and Georgia these days. It's getting closer. Next month this time I'll be getting ready for my first CSA delivery.

But the WholePaycheck will suffice for now. They actually do a pretty decent local job. They make the effort. Especially with the meats.

Asparagus as soon as I walk in to the store? Check. Red and orange peppers? Check. Red onion and some nice looking 'maters? Check again. Cheese....hmmm, I like Muenster. Okay. Everyone else likes stinky...and I'm trying to learn...over to the counter...mild, "beginner's" blue? Check.

And I'm really trying. I mean, there are some stanky-ass cheeses I just won't ever like. Epoisses being a prime example. But the word goat doesn't scare me on its own any more. Salty, uber-tangy fetas are bueno (or more appropriately what the greek word for good is). Gorgonzola crumbled with nuts and dried fruit on a salad of endive? Yes please. Blue, veiny, crumbly, creamy cheese that melts in three seconds on med-high grill heat onto the burger with some Worcestershire sauce, thyme, salt, pepper, and an egg for binder? Yeah, I'm getting there too.

Leftover cheese?

"Ummm, Dad?"


"Do you have any apples?"


"Of course we have dessert ladies. I'm going to cut an apple (Fuji) and we're going to smear bleu cheese all over it."

Chorus of "Okaaay."

Digression back to the linear-like telling of the story......Half chuck and half sirloin? Yeah, that'll do.

* Note to WholePaycheck. Please keep some 80/20 or even 75/25 ground chuck in the case during the summer months. Your burger eating customers who know what they're doing will thank you.

Two pounds of beef. Eight patties. Pops will have lunch on Monday too. See, I AM a good son!

I grilled, they arrived. He met. We chatted and drank wine. Sauvignon Blanc to start, some more of that will be needed. Of course we have more downstairs. A nice 100% garnacha for the first red, Pocahantski's amazing Bogle Phantom to follow that. Thanks to The Quiet One for reminding me about that bottle of Sav Blanc in the freezer. Whew.

Burgers on the grill. Everyone wants cheese. Everyone wants blue. Guess I take Muenster home with me for omelets and grilled cheeses and other such yummy applications. In fact, as I type up this ode de' Burger, I am ready for a grilled muenster and yellow 'mater sammich. It shall be done!

When the night was over the Good Doctor had met the Restaurant Babes. And he was pleased. They are, in fact, pretty spectacular babes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Non-Jiggly Eggs

You've heard me write about properly cooking your eggs before. But today, I bring you a time when it is okay to cook eggs until they set.

Red potatoes, garlic, and yellow onion sputtered and crisped in cast iron while I whisked eggs together and pulled Parmesan out of the fridge.

The oven was brought up to temperature at 350-degrees in anticipation of helping eggs set just so and then moving to broil to brown cheese and egg alike.

The shitake were added to the pan and allowed to soften.

The egg was whisked again with some Parmesan and then poured over the potatoes and veg to set. More cheese was grated over the top.

The pan was added to the oven and the whole thing was cranked up to broil.

The crust was formed and became golden.

Scallions were sliced and put on top of a wedge of fritatta.

Just enough egg and cheese to hold potato and mushroom together on your plate.

The Bachelor Marinade: Pops and Pork Chops

Pops and I are famous for grilling (in our own minds). That whole post-grad school living in the mother-in-law's basement apartment at Pop's because, well, there was no mother-in-law and it was cheaper than getting my own place when I finally stopped the education gravy-train and got a real job.

We were the Bachelor-Kings of Whitehall Creek. The world was our oyster. Only I didn't like oysters then and dad only eats them cooked. you have come to expect here where we geek...I digress.

There were several variations on grilled themes. Pork chops were always in the fridge. They were marinated and grilled and served with sweet potatoes and sauted spinach with red onions. Or there was flank steak and sauted broccoli with capers and chopped black olives. The marinade was typically soy based. When I had it perfected it was soy, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and oil. Thin chops? 30 minutes of soak time would be fine. Chops from when I used to buy whole hogs from the Baltimore County 4-H kids? Give those 2-inch think monsters a solid 2 hours in the pool.

For those who are curious, go find your local 4-H club. See if they raise animals for summer projects. Find out when they sell them. In Bal'mer: The County, they have an auction in the summer and a deal with two local butchers. Buy your animal, raised with love by kids being taught how to do it right. Call up the butcher a few days later and walk down the check list. Do you want your hams fresh or cured? Bacon? Yeah, thick cut, okay. How thick do you want your chops? Really? 2 inches? That's huge, can I come visit when you grill those? Okay, sausage. you'll have about 30 pounds total. You want 1/3 hot Italian, 1/3 sweet Italian, and 1/3 salt and pepper breakfast sausage? Sure, we can do that.

Wait a few weeks, go pick it up. Cryo-packed and frozen when you pick it up.

And the best pork chops you will ever eat in your life.

One whole hog on the hoof, processed, and packaged for you will fit in a standard freezer if there is nothing else in the freezer. So yeah, you're better off buying a 1/2 a cow as well and splitting it with a few friends to justify the chest freezer you really wanted to buy all along.

However the chops came, Pops and I were happy. Sitting on the deck in the sun watching a blue heron join us across the canal for its dinner. Hot air and crickets chirping.

Last night we did a redux. Just Dad and I and the grill. Well, Dad on the couch or meandering the living room with a book in his hand. And me at the grill. But that's okay by me.

And I'm down with the tomato now. So they were the accoutrement...broiled. With salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence, and a healthy dose of grated Parmesan as soon as the tomatoes were half broiled.

The marinade was a twist as well. I'm more comfortable in the kitchen. I have a better sense of flavors and herbs, pairings and acids.

So here you go. A marinade for the grill this season. It would work well with chicken too, especially dark meat. Grilling thighs? Go here.

Add garlic and ginger if you like. I didn't have either at the house. They'd both be EXCELLENT with this and I'm including them in the recipe. Trust me, I've done this before.

Soy Marinade (for Four Chops or a Half Chicken)

2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of peeled garlic, minced
1/4 olive oil
3 T Marjoram
1 T Sage
1/2 t salt
1 t cracked black pepper

Mix it all together and pour it over the meat.

Marinate in a plastic bag. Push all the air out of the bag. Gets the meat coated so much better.

Find a deck with a nice view and put a table on it. Find chairs, plates, forks, knives, and wine (I went with a Spanish red from Jumilla that was uber-fruit).


Melissa, Mia, Chez, and everyone else on that Worst Date Meal e-mail chain: Does this beat Chicken Parmesan?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Top of the Pops

Since moving back to this quaint little water town I've headed up to Pop's house most Sundays for a family supper. You know me and family, so you're not surprised that I look forward to Sundays more than almost anything else.

And the chef Dad was lucky enough to get himself hitched to is literally a French pastry chef (3 months at the Escoffier at the Ritz in Paris will get that for you) and gourmet of long standing; someone who can have a conversation about Prime meat and marbling and not bat an eye. Pops meanders his way through the news or some random bit on the internet or aimlessly reorganizes his collection of 456,217 math and astronomy books while Mrs. BKT and I talk about food as she finishes up the meal. I have to admit a little secret...I sometimes get there early so I can talk about the food since we have to include Dad in the conversations at the table.

Well this weekend the chef was out of town and returning late in the afternoon on Sunday. So Dad cooked up the good idea of me coming up to his place and grilling steaks. Unfortunately, as shown here, Momma Nature was not down. Unless of course you mean down with rain and flooding...and then she was most definitely down.

So pops and I chatted at lunch on Thursday and decided that I'd cook at my place if the rain was too much since neither of us are technically proficient enough to use the space-age magneto-uber stove at his house...and because that way Mrs.'s kitchen would remain in the pristine state in which she left I cook a mean steak on a painful electric stove anyway!

Off I go to the store with no list, just ‘steak’ and ‘salad’ as my guides. Oh, and Pop’s not so subtle hint that mushrooms in a red wine sauce went well with steak.

So they do, pops. So they do.

Since it was a first, pops and kid doing the solo “Man Meal” at the new place, I decided to splurge (I know, you’re not really surprised. If I’d said “since it was a Wednesday with an odd numbered digit on the car’s license plate in front of me in my parking spot I decided to splurge” you wouldn’t have been surprised).

I started with the ubiquitous ‘how to make this salad good’ question and at first I thought spinach and red onion with a warm bacon vinaigrette. And no one would have blamed me. But then I saw the arugula; and I had passed by the red onions but went back to get one; and those yellow organic tomatoes on the vine would be a great color combo; and I can add some fresh-torn basil to the mix; and what about blueberries, yeah he can eat those on his diet; and ooooh he like cashews and that would add great crunch; and then I can get some balsamic and do a reduction; and head back to the cheese section for some goat cheese, no, that feta looks better, I’ll use that for a salty addition to the mix.

Whew! I’m getting tired just REMEMBERING the salad shopping creation process!

But I got it done. And I found some nice loose creminis, and I relieved them of their heavy stems before I paid for them by weight (and I didn’t apologize). I knew I had the wine I wanted at home (pinot noir for this one, a nice rich, velvety sauce out of that).

Local Maryland, grass-fed strips looked pretty good, too.

And I’ll skip ahead a bit now and tell you that it all turned out. Almost perfectly. My own harshest critic, of course; I left the steak in literally 1 minute too long in the oven. Great crust, simple salt and pepper, and deliciously juicy when I sliced it after a five minute rest. But it was medium not medium rare. Next time…perfection.

We sat at my still-new mango-wood table with a comfy light and an hour of conversation about my life before I remember it and my parents getting started in their careers. Looking back at what they were going through at the point in their lives that I now find myself.

Bites of steak and tender creminis. A sweet/tart forkful of yellow tomato with feta and the crunch of a cashew with a burst of mellow-sweet blueberry and peppery arugula.

Sweet and mellow, yeah, that was the ticket.

I even got to redux my old habit of feeding the bar because Dad and I stopped at one plate and splitting a 14oz. steak.

Losing Tupperware to the bar and having good friends tell me dinner was awesome is still one of my favorite activities in life.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

10 Countries of Food and Drink: ONE DAY

Or, "What happens with KarlJohn and I decide we haven't seen each other in too long and drag our friends along to multiple dive restaurants and cafes."

You get the first Kitchen Geeking/97-MealsPerHour crosspost here. I can't put this on one and not the other. Too many cuisines, too much fun. Can't just be a personal thing, and the MsAdventures were close in my thoughts all day long.

But yes folks, it was an EXPLOSION of food yesterday in the land of the Kitchengeek.

I started out at about 10:30 in the morning having driven in to DC to meet KarlJohn of WeLoveDC fame at his new cafe. Proud part-owner in an independent cafe at Constitution Square in DC called Pound Coffee. Find them on the Foosebook here. Being independent means they can do things like invent their own Nutella syrup for lattes and shop for fresh ingredients to have one lunch special every day and work through thirty different ethnicities in a month. Good on them!

But we weren't in it for the District today. We headed across the river to what used to be the District until Virginia asked for it back. Arlington. Home of every hole-in-the-wall place you need (not really, but you'll get my point soon).

We were headed to El Charrito Caminante for tacos. You know, because it's what Karl and I do.

We got distracted, got ourselves seated next door at Don Arturo's Restaurant, and split a steak sandwich with fried egg and sauted peppers and onions while we were waiting for Karl's business partner Khalil. He called. He joined. He sat. He got up, said he didn't want to just sit there and watch us eat, and headed over to El Charrito.

After our hefty but thankfully split sandwich, we joined him and proceeded to order tacos, plantains, papusas...and then yucca, which Karl can't seem to avoid in his life.

Keep track now...Swiss (Nutella), Bolivian, Mexican (Tacos), Salvadoran (Papusa), and Peruvian (Yucca). We're on a roll now.

And we're chatting with Son/Owner Jose as he takes carry-out orders, rings up the throngs of customers stopping in, and checks with the kitchen on orders in process. Karl's partner was interested in how they carmelized the plantains and how they prepared their meats for tacos. Small business to small business. Great chats. We wanted Jose to bring one of the griddles he still had from his days as a Taco Truck driver to Pound to make papusas for the masses. He demurred.

You can see here why we might have wanted him to show. DAMN THAT WAS GOOD! And the cabbage slaw that came with it was just tart enough from the vinegar and still crisp to provide PERFECT salty, crunchy, vinegary balance to the chew and cheese of the griddled papusa. I want more, and I kinda want them now.

But alas, we had plans...big plans. Falafel plans. So a two block walk down Pershing to make room for the next course ensued.

After stopping in the European Grocery at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Pershing then strolling into the parking lot of a small strip mall on Pershing to see what the Guatemalen place was all about (We didn't go in. We had to leave ONE rock unturned for the next trip.); we made it to Astor Mediterranean. A spotless, open, modern-looking seating area with an order at the counter style and a family from the eastern Med (Egypt actually) making the food. Mom was in the back getting ready to make some Koshari and then a whole lamb for a party later that night. We'll get there; because we immediately left without ordering.

Falafel was the goal. After more walking. We left to go check out Raja Bazaar. Recently moved to Pershing just off 50 from Quincy. Halal meats, Indian and Persian spices abound. Butcher in the back.

Okay, enough shopping for food, we were in it to eat.

Joined by a fourth, the amazing S-H To The. Missed that girl fierce since Orlando!

And we're off.

Falafel in belly we drop all but S-H's car and head across Pershing to Gleebe to hit Ravi Kebab so Karl could get chick peas. Which he did. But there were no seats. So we left and cross the street to...the OTHER Ravi Kebab. More modern and newly constructed. More seats. More food as Khalil and I each ordered the Special Samosa. Split open and doused with chick peas, yogurt, jalapenos and tomatoes. We ATE. And Khalil wrote down the ingredients in the chick peas so he can do his version. Which I will try.

Back in the car.

Back to Astor. Koshari's ready now. Mom comes out and finds out we've gotten a plate but she didn't put it together. So she wants to put it together the way she would have. So we get another plate. Rice, lentils, chick peas, pasta. All thrown together. Tomato-based sauce to add brightness and tart, but not heat. Ubiquitous Egyptian breakfast of champions.

At this point it's about 3pm. And we're getting slightly full.

Slightly. Remember, we're professionals here!

So I have the brilliant idea to go get coffee. And it turns out the marketing guy Karl and Khalil are working with has suggested they go check out Buzz Bakery, Coffee, and Dessert Lounge to look at their design and also try their baked goods.


As we're walking out to the car to head over to Alexandria I just have to turn to Karl, smile, laugh and say "This is EPIC!" as we gave each other a Frat-Tastic pound with the goofball 'explosion.'

Then we get to the cupcakes. Mini cupcakes to be specific. Delicious little morsels of sweet cake with an amazing crisp top and melty-tangy butter-cream or cream cheese icing. The Buzz with the coffee icing. The Red Velvet with the cream cheese.

And then Karl goes and gets a sausage, egg, and cheese brioche. A lovely, puffy, French pastry filled with breakfast. Market research. We're calling it market research.

After Swiss, Bolivian, Mexican, El Savadoran, Lebanese (Falafel), Pakistani (Ravi), Egyptian (Koshari), and French (Brioche), Khalil had to go. He may still be in a food coma.

Karl, S-H and I were not done. Not at all. On to the Great Wall Asian UBERSUPERMEGA Mart. Size of a Super Wal-Mart. Flavor of real food. Turtles, eels, frogs. In the SEAFOOD section. Funny moment when you realize there are "Asian Foods" and and "American Foods" aisles in the store. Small restaurant/bakery too.

More funny when the lady walked up and asked me if I wanted to get new glasses in their just-opened optical shop..."These are Bulgari. I JUST BOUGHT these." So much for my high fashion moment. Came crashing down in the fresh mushrooms, bamboo, and pork buns aisle of the Great Wall.

S-H bolted up to Rockville. Karl and I continued on. To Present. Which was packed. And made us wait 20 minutes before they said they probably wouldn't be able to seat us. But Karl says the crowd is just catching up with the amazing food and I saw whole steamed fish and larb that looked rockin' and tender bits o' meat in sauces that were shimmering. So we'll try again some other day.

What to do? What to do? After standing around naming countries and cuisines for a few minutes, we stumbled upon an Afghan place that Karl actually had on his US Wishlist. Which was convenient for both of us, because it made thinking a moot point. Down VA-7 we go. South on 395. Off at Duke Street/Little River Parkway. Into the Total Wine center. Over to Maizbon. Real meal. Appetizers, salads, entres, and the severe need for gastric bypass or a restraint epidural. Neither of which is going to happen. Really. It won't.

My Aushak (steamed leek dumplings with yogurt and meat sauce over it) was good but lacked a bit. The dumplings (think ravioli) were totally limp and over cooked. Meat sauce tastied things up quite nicely. Karl's Kadu (pumpkin) was delicious, and his Keccheri Quroot (think rice porridge with yogurt, spicy red sauce and meatballs) was the hit of the night. New texture, brilliant flavors mixing around. Lamb chops on my plate were well seasoned and well grilled but cut a thin and as a result cooked well (not dried out, mind you, just not pink enough for me).

But after all that, I was DONE. After walking around the Total Wine for a bit, I hit my food wall. Karl will be back to that same shopping center soon (he was plotting routes from his place on the drive after dinner) because he noticed after dinner that three doors down from the Afghan place is an Egyptian place. And Karl loves him some Egyp.

Home Jeeves. Karl, to the car. Still parked at Astor, from SEVEN HOURS BEFORE.

Route 50 again. Stupid 395 one lane down traffic.

Last call hasn't happened yet?


I can get a pint and add Irish to the day?

Well...okay. I guess I can call it a digestif and crack double-digits on the country of origin charts today.

G'nite y'all. I'm sleeping off this food coma for at least...until Brunch on Sunday.

And for those keeping track of calories, there was a total of $120 spent today. At all locations, among all the foodsters. Mostly shared stuff all day. $50 of the total was KarlJohn and I at the Afghan place at the end of the day.

Don Arturo Restaurante on Urbanspoon

El Charrito Caminante on Urbanspoon

Astor Mediterranean on Urbanspoon

Buzz Bakery, Coffee, and Dessert Lounge on Urbanspoon

Maizbon Afghan Grill on Urbanspoon

Crossposted at 97-MealsPerHour.