Friday, December 01, 2006

A Taste of the Southwest

My handsome hubby and I plan to eventually move to New Mexico. Six years ago, we spent our honeymoon in Santa Fe, and fell in love with the scenery and the spirit of the land. While there, we ate a good deal of tasty local cuisine at places like Maria's, Tortilla Flats, the Corn Dance Cafe at the Hotel Santa Fe, La Cantina at Coyote Cafe, and The Anasazi Restaurant.

Every once in a while, I get a hankering for green or red chile (or both - Christmas style!) with pork, and I have to make it myself. There doesn't seem to be anything like Southwest food in my area, although I think when Taste first opened, there was mention of Southwest cuisine in their PR info. And Blue Agave has authentic Mexican cuisine, which may come slightly close. There are green chiles (albeit not Hatch) on the menu, at the very least.

So when I'm in another city, and I see a restaurant that bills itself as serving cuisine from the Southwest, I'm all over it. In New York, there's Agave, on 7th Avenue in the West Village. Alas, the menu has what seems an awful lot like Tex-Mex food to me: tacos, quesadillas, but they also have Hatch green chiles in a chowder with corn and chicken. And squash blossoms are featured in one of the tacos. I figure I should take what I can get and allow myself to believe that I will find a taste of my future homeland somewhere beyond those front doors.

That said, I've been to Agave twice. The food is actually quite good, and even better, it's cheap. By NY standards. On my first trip, expecting miniscule portions for the reasonable prices, I ordered both the Hatch Green Chile, Corn & Chicken Chowder and the Autumn Leaves salad (caramelized apples, cabrales blue cheese, and spiced Texas pecans, with cider vinaigrette over baby greens) as appetizers. I was also naive enough to request that both the soup and salad arrive at the same time. Well, both plates barely fit on the table, especially with my DH's appetizer (that I've since forgotten) taking up a fair portion of real estate on the opposite side of the table. The soup was thick and rich and served in a large wide bowl. The salad was practically of Cheesecake Factory-proportions, with a huge mound of greens, slices of apple, and a good handful of nuts. At least they didn't go completely over the top with the application of cheese.

I couldn't tell you what I had for my entree; I was already in a food coma by the time it arrived. Neal had the "Santa Fe Shepard's Pie." (Why is it that people can't seem to spell shepherd correctly? It's just like "sheep herd" but with one less "e.") It was a rich and tasty mixture of chile and macaroni and shredded Jack cheese. I'm not sure it got finished. We were, after all, saving some room for dessert - gelato from a shop across the street.

I was in NY with my Dad recently and we stopped into Agave for an early dinner. Having recently had a slice of pizza from Pizza Box and some miscellaneous cream-filled things from Rocco's Bakery, we weren't exactly starving, but part of this trip to NY was a birthday dinner for me. We planned to hit the Turnpike soon, so this was to be the last chance for that celebratory meal.

At least I knew not to order both a soup and salad, so just had the Autumn Leaves salad. It was again enormous, and I made Dad eat some of it to help me out. I opted for what seemed like a lighter entree, the Skirt Steak Carne Asada Tacos. Dad, after inquiring if I liked chorizo, opted for Pan Roast Pork Tenderloin filled with a chorizo & caramelized apple stuffing lacquered with a maple cider treacle.

Again, we were not disappointed by the portion size. I had three tacos, each filled with a tangle of strips of skirt steak, cooked medium, with blobs of salsa, sour cream, and guacamole to one side, and the standard "Mexican" rice on the other. The meat had a satisfying chew and a pleasant piquant flavor. Dad got the equivalent of half a tenderloin, sliced and slightly fanned out next to a large assortment of roasted vegetables including butternut squash, summer squash, and what may have been parsnips. All seemed to be glazed with the maple cider "treacle." It was all very flavorful, and the pork was tender and juicy.

The best part of the meal, however, was the number of times my water glass was refilled - 10. Two cups of coffee and no other liquid consumed over the course of the day had left me dehydrated, so I appreciated the attention to my need.

So...Agave is pretty darn good, regardless of what it calls the cuisine it serves. Does anyone else out there have recommendations for restaurants serving good Southwestern food outside of the actual Southwest part of this country?

An aside: Because it sounds so horribly fusion, I was drawn to the "Tesque Seared Ahi Tuna Tataki Tostaditas" A Google search for the word "tesque" brought up a recipe for that exact menu item, as featured on Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels. Ack! Anyway, I think that "tesque" is just an innocent misspelling of Tesuque, a pueblo just north of Santa Fe. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Ahi tuna is indiginous to New Mexico. But if Rachael pronounced it "yum-o!" then it has to be good, right?

Agave on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm Just Wild About Harry!

Last week, I was hanging out in Delaware with my dear friend Kate when she suggested that she treat me to a birthday lunch since we probably wouldn't have opportunity to get together before that hallowed day (November 17). She suggested Harry's Seafood Grill and sent me to check out the sample menu on their Web site. Now, as a graphic designer, I am well aware of the importance that needs to be placed on such things as image and marketing, and was pleased to see that Harry's site was good-looking and well-designed. That means good things, in my mind, so I jumped at the chance to dine there.

The restaurant was as tastefully decorated as the site was well-designed, with interesting sea-themed artworks (including the wire starfish sculpture that took up most of the ceiling of the main dining room) and a large window overlooking the river. There are also tables outside under a broad awning for dining in more clement weather.

Kate was acquainted with one of the chefs at Harry's, and we had an opportunity to meet with her and chat a bit before ordering our food. She made some suggestions as to the best items on the rather large lunchtime menu (that included an impressive selection of raw items like sashimi and several varieties of ceviche). I had to agree with her that yes, the Cajun Short Ribs with Fried Shrimp and Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce was not to be missed. Kate went for the Soft Crab Sandwich with Remoulade and Yukon Gold Potato Chips because she was in the mood for crab, and because I had never eaten a soft crab before - mainly because of the legs that dangle from the sandwich. I have no issues with hard crabs, but put one between two slices of bread and suddenly it becomes a fried spider. The chef had also recommended the Oktoberfest Moules Frites, so we ordered that as a shared appetizer.

The next thing we know, an order of New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp and Toasted Focaccia with Fresh Smoked Tomato Salad was coming to our table, compliments of the chef. Four large, plump shrimp bathed in a tangy sauce were nestled together next to a generous pile of greens topped with smoky tomatoes. Now, don't think N'awlins style barbeque sauce has anything to do with what one normally thinks of as 'cue (any region's style)'s basically lots of butter, Worcestershire sauce, lemon, garlic, and spices, along with a dose of hot sauce. It was fan-tastic, much tastier than my preparation of one of Emeril's recipes some years ago (that was too heavy on the Worcestershire).

As soon as we were done with the shrimps, our lovely and perky waitress brought Kate's pre-appetizer of 3 different PEI oysters. I'll have to take her word for it that they were tasty, as I don't like raw oysters. :) Then came the mussels. A platter was placed before us containing a lidded serving vessel with 10 or 12 huge, beer-steamed specimens, a fancy wire swirly thing holding a cone of thinly cut frites, and a ramekin of black pepper mayo. Although the mussels were the usual black-shelled variety, some of the critters were so large I needed to cut them in half before popping them in my mouth. They were soft and succulent and even-textured, and didn't have the somewhat sickening "gack, is that a mussel spleen, or maybe a mussel colon I'm biting into now?" lumpy quality that I find in some larger mussels, particularly the green-lipped variety. The enormous serving of frites was crisp and delicious, and the mayo was a nice dip for both starch and shellfish.

I could have stopped right there with the eating, as I was already quite full, but we still had entrees coming. Whew! Mine was a dinner-sized portion - three meaty short ribs, three large shrimp that had been dipped in a savory batter and deep fried, and a good half-cup sized timbale of grits, all atop a lake of creamy sauce studded with bits of tasso ham. The meat was so tender, it fell off the bone at the mere threat of being struck with a knife, and the shrimp had that lovely iodine flavor that I like so much (I know some people probably don't like it, but to me, that's what makes a shrimp taste like a shrimp). But it was too much; I ate the shrimp and the grits and took the ribs home for a future lunchtime treat.

Kate's soft crab sandwich was also quite yummy. She shared a portion of the body so I wouldn't have to deal with the legs, and the crisp carapace was accented beautifully by the savory remoulade sauce. I didn't try her chips, but they were definitely of the home-made variety.

To add insult to injury, or rather, to avoid additional risk of stomach explosion, we opted to share a dessert. There were several interesting options on the menu, but I've always wanted to try a Sticky Toffee Pudding. Harry's was a hefty cylinder, served warm, with a large curved tuile acting as a dish for a scoop of house-made vanilla gelato, the plate further garnished with splotches of tart raspberry coulis and squiggles of homemade caramel on a pool of creme anglaise. Yowsa. It was delicious, and far too much to finish.

Two hours later, we waddled out of Harry's, very full and happy. This was one of the most consistantly delicious meals I've had in a long time (apart from the two dinners at Pazo this past summer), and I would be delighted to go back at any time. I highly recommend it.

Harry's Seafood Grill
101 S. Market St
Wilmington, DE 19801
P: 302-777-1500
F: 302-777-2406

Harry's Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 14, 2006


One of my favorite seasonings is Mexican chorizo, Supremo brand, to be exact. I saw it at Han Ah Reum in the dairy/fresh noodle/Latino products section and thought I'd give it a try. Unlike Spanish chorizo, the Mexican version is not cured and needs to be cooked before eating. The Supremo brand of chorizo is a dark orange color and strongly flavored with what I believe is achiote/annatto. Both the flavor and aroma are unusual and quite delicious. These days, I always try to have a pack in my freezer. When I need some tangy flavoring to add to a quick pasta dish, for example, I just cut off a link or two and chop it up while still frozen and saute it with onions as the flavor base for my sauce.

Saturday, I thought I'd make up some macaroni and cheese for dinner, as it was cold and it would give me a good reason to turn on the oven. As I dug through the pantry for some flavoring ideas, my eye hit upon a can of Campbell's Condensed Southwest Style Pepper Jack Soup. Now, I'm not a big fan of canned, condensed soups, since homemade is so much more flavorful, so I'm not quite sure how this can made it into the house. But I thought, hell, it's creamy and cheesy, so I'll use it as a substitute for the white sauce. Suddenly we were heading Southwest. Then I remembered the chorizo.

I chopped up half an onion and tossed it in a dry skillet with two chorizo links that had been diced (there's plenty of fat in the chorizo, so no need to add more), put a lid on it, and cooked it down at low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion was soft and the chorizo took on a dark, dry, crumbly appearance. I tossed in a handful of fresh chopped cilantro, stirred well, then took the meat off the heat.

Then I cooked a pound of small shell-shaped pasta to barely al dente. After draining, I put the pasta back on low heat and added the can of soup, about half a can of milk, plus about 6 oz of coarsely chopped sharp white cheddar (we always have a stick of Cracker Barrel on hand). After the cheese melted, I put in the chorizo mixture and stirred it all well, adding 3 chopped green onions, both light and dark parts.

This got poured into a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking dish and topped with some unseasoned breadcrumbs and shredded parmesan cheese. I baked it at 325F for about 45 minutes, long enough for the macaroni to absorb pretty much all of the sauce.

It came out tender and creamy-textured, although there was no sauce, with a crisp crust on both the top and the part touching the baking pan. The soup actually didn't have that familiar Campbell's taste, and was pretty much undetectable as such. But spicy! And the chorizo lent the dish a deep savoriness. Coupled with a salad of baby greens with a salsa vinaigrette, this experimental version of macaroni and cheese hit the spot.

And it allowed me to warm up the house for a bit, too.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


Yesterday was our sixth wedding anniversary. My husband and I had originally planned to go to Ixia, but encountered yet another issue with their reservationists. I had tried to make a reservation for New Year's Eve last year, and they insisted that they needed not only my credit card number but also my signature. And they wanted me to fax it. I refused, stating all the hundreds of transactions I had made over the years via the phone and Internet did not require a signature, so why should it be necessary now? Anyway, we did not eat there on New Year's Eve. This time around, I did manage to make a successful reservation, only to be called back by a second person and told that the restaurant was closed for a private party and my reservation could not be honored.

That's two strikes.

So we went to Saffron instead. We had been there a few years back, in its first incarnation as an Indian fusion restaurant. The meal was completely forgettable, and the service was poor. Although the place has not changed hands, it has changed chefs, in the form of one Edward Kim, he of the now-closed but well-reviewed Soigné. Ironically, Kim was also the original chef at Ixia.

Saffron now bills itself as "Modern American," but it is strongly Asian fusion, with such elements as yellow curry, sriracha chile, wasabi, wakame, tobiko, miso, and udon noodles on its menu. Reviews have been excellent, so Neal and I decided to give the place another try.

The decor has changed little, but wow, what a menu! I was immediately attracted to the seared foie gras with scallop and duck confit and caramelized pear rum butter reduction. Neal chose the grilled stuffed squid with crab and shrimp mix and orange coconut curry for his appetizer.

The portion of foie was more than ample. Atop an unruly pile of tender duck confit and pieces of scallop sat a crescent of foie about 3/4" of an inch thick and about 3" long. As I tried a bite, I noticed another chunk of foie almost as large as the first, hidden in the tangle of duck meat. The foie was seared so it was crisp on the outside and meltingly rare in the center. The confit was stellar - moist and chunky full of flavor. The scallops were completely unnecessary, and added nothing to the dish, but were tasty nonetheless. And the sauce was just rich brownness. I detected some bits of dried fruit here and there, but not an actual fruitiness, and unfortunately, no rum.

Neal was unsure about his dish. It was a lightly grilled whole squid, stuffed with a mixture of pureed shrimp and crab, and topped with a sweet curry sauce that didn't taste much of curry at all. Perhaps is was more a Thai style curry than Indian? Anyway, I think the squid was slightly undercooked, as it had that somewhat squeaky, unyielding texture that is also present in raw squid sushi. The crab flavor was very strong, but I thought the dish had a nice balance of flavors, overall.

I just wish both appetizers had been served hot, rather than room temperature.

For our entrees, I stayed with the duck and scallop theme, choosing the sauteed diver sea scallops, truffle, porcini and duck confit risotto, with porcini reduction balsamic syrup. Neal was lured by the grilled new zealand rack of lamb, sauteed butternut squash gnocchi, with pan braised savoy cabbage, and onion confit pomegranate demiglace.

Several large and browned scallops surrounded a mound of brown risotto. There was a dark brown sauce drizzled around the edges of the plate. Despite the unrelenting brownness (hello? how about a token vegetable, just for color?), the scallops were perfectly cooked, and the risotto was amazing. The rice was cooked al dente, yet the concoction was unctuously creamy. There was a generous amount of confit mixed into the rice, and the whole thing was flavored with truffle. The balsamic drizzle also seemed to have finely minced bits of truffle in it. I would say that the dish was somewhat decadent. Again, the scallops were unnecessary. I would have been happy with a big bowl of the risotto alone.

Neal's entree contained three cumin-crusted double chops arranged over the braised cabbage and the ethereally light gnocchi. I didn't get to taste the cabbage, confit, or demiglace, but the way he polished his serving off, I'd say it was probably very tasty. Despite the cabbage, Neal's dinner was also overwhelmingly brown. In fact, the only color on the table had been the orange curry sauce on his squid. Perhaps the kitchen needs to work on making their dishes more visually appealing.

We washed down our meal with a bottle of 2005 Fleur Pinot Noir, a very light and smooth red that went very well with all of the food.

We had to try Saffron's desserts, despite having two boxes of Jacques Torres chocolates at home. The menu was limited to the ubiquitous creme brulée, flourless chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, a banana spring roll, and a mascarpone "pot de creme" cheesecake. We went with the latter two.

The banana spring roll was a long cylinder of brownness, cut on a diagonal. The crisp fried wrapper simply contained banana, and the whole thing was drizzled with homemade caramel sauce. I thought I detected a slight taste of curry powder, which was interesting. A small scoop of vanilla ice cream would have been a welcome touch.

The cheesecake was entirely too sweet. A cup-sized ramekin was packed with the cheese mixture and topped with more of that caramel sauce - definitely sweetness overkill. A portion half that size with a side of fresh berries drizzled in a balsamic syrup would have made for a more balanced flavor profile.

While Saffron did not have the perfection that I expected from Edward Kim, the flavors were fine and the quality of the food was high. They just need a little work on temperature, color, and dessert.

Oh, and an open kitchen in a restaurant that small isn't the best idea. The restaurant was hazy with cooking oil, and our clothes reeked when we left the place. The lighting is also a bit harsh, and I did not appreciate the fluorescent track spotlight hitting me in the face for the entire meal.

Saffron on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Another Reason to Hate Rachael Ray

...and the Food Network doesn't score too well in this one either.

On a recent episode of RR's Tasty Travels, perky Ms Ray extolled the virtues of Faidley's crab cakes. The images shown on the screen at this time were of a fried hockey puck with a pale golden color and somewhat sandy texture, and of Nancy Devine strenuously beating a smooth mixture in a large bowl. Ms Ray's voiceover then continued on to the Baltimore tradition of coddies, while the video displayed large, lumpy, dark golden brown blobs studded with white lumps.

Can't tell the difference between a crab cake and a coddie, eh, Rachey? Let me help you a bit then.

These are actual samples of a crabcake and a coddie from Faidley's. On the left, we see a lovely specimen of Crabcake, lumpy with snowy white hunks of backfin, lovingly and gently (so as not to break up the crab lumps) formed into a large mound, and fried until a deep golden brown. On the right, we see a Coddie, fairly smooth-textured because it's made from cod flakes and mashed potato, and flattened so it fits nicely between two saltines.

I realize that Ms. Ray probably never ran the gauntlet of drug dealers outside Lexington Market to set foot into Faidley's, so she never got to see the crabcakes and coddies in person. But the idiots from Food Network sure did. Do they think the viewing public is so naive to believe when she speaks of food as if she is familiar with it, she actually is? Unfortunately, most of her viewers are that naive. And now millions of them, taken in by her cutesy proclamations of "yum-o!" are just as confused as she is.

Now, maybe she did the voice over bit blindly, without seeing the footage, and had no idea that the editing would make her sound stupid to food-savvy Marylanders. But if my name were on the masthead of the show, I'd damn well want to view a final cut before the pulic got to see it. And shouldn't the Food Network employ some sort of fact checkers, to confirm the veracity of statements being made on their programs?

Or am I just expecting too much from a network whose idea of entertainment is sending various individuals around the country to taste restaurant food?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Macaroni and Cheese

Why oh why would anyone voluntarily eat macaroni coated in reconstituted cheese powder when they can make tastier macaroni and cheese from scratch, with the same amount of effort? (Ok, who, besides my husband?) Even if you use that boxed stuff, you still have to boil noodles, add butter, milk, and cheese, and stir. Why not buy a box of elbow macaroni and a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese? Or if you're too lazy harried to bother with chopping up the cheese, buy a bag of pre-shredded stuff. Real cheese - what a concept!

Basic mac & cheese is pretty tasty, but in my house, we like to fancy it up a bit. Our favorite easy peasy recipe is from Alton Brown. Here it is, courtesy of the Food Network:

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
10 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.

Feel free to go crazy and modify this recipe. Omit the mustard and hot sauce. Use a mixture of cheeses (the other night, I made an eight cheese version, using odds and ends of hard goat cheese, manchego, some triple creme, and leftover Mexican blend shredded cheese along with the usual cheddar and Monterey jack). If you don't have evaporated milk in the pantry, by all means use regular milk. 2% is fine. Mmmmmmm!

Now, you may be in the mood for something crustier than stovetop M&C. Turn on the oven, pour your cheesed-up macaroni into a casserole, and slide it in for a half hour or so. I did this the other night, adding a topping of crushed cracker crumbs and thinly sliced tomatoes. The heat of the oven dries out the tomato somewhat, concentrating the flavor. I borrowed that technique from my Mom, who used Italian bread crumbs as the topping, and added sauteed onions to the macaroni mixture. God, that was some good stuff! Between my brother and I, we could polish off a whole recipe of it.

Here's Alton Brown's version of Baked Mac & Cheese, for those of you who like to follow a recipe (also from the Food Network site).

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
3 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. Make sure it's free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.

Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Childhood Food Memories - Part Deux

I was exposed to a lot of snack cakes in my childhood, and they were a big contributor to my tubbiness. (What's my excuse now? you ask....) Mostly TastyKakes, which are still my favs - butterscotch Krimpets! chocolate Juniors! Tasty-Klair pies! We'd also have the odd box of Drake's cakes, or, very rarely, Hostess somethingsorother. But never Twinkies. Blech! First of all, they weren't chocolate, and secondly, they had a nasty chemical taste. In fact, all of the Hostess cake-type products tasted too sweet and artificial for the tastebuds in my picky (ok, not very) family. The Hostess cupcakes were nicely decorated, with their swirls of white icing, and the Snoballs were festive, but they didn't taste good, so no thanks. About the only thing that was palatable were the Hostess pies (Neal still likes them) but they also suffered from X-treme Sweetness.

But Drake's cakes - mmmmm! They were primarily chocolate--Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, Yodels--but there were also yummy Coffee Cakes topped with cinnamon streuselly goodness. Honestly, Devil Dogs were my least favorite, because I thought the cake was too dry without the addition of the waxy chocolate coating shared by Ring Dings and Yodels. But I ate them, grateful that they were not a Hostess Suzy-Q, one of those cakes that had so much sugar in them, it came out of solution and made them unpleasantly crunchy.

Then there was the Holy Grail of snack cakes. During the Peanuts specials, there were always ads for Dolly Madison products, and I was desperate to try them. If they were good enough for Charlie Brown and Linus, they had to be delicious! They didn't seem to be sold in the Baltimore area, but I once snagged a Zinger on an out of town trip. It was vile, and I was sorely disappointed that I had fallen for the cruel joke played on me by commercial television.

It is interesting that now Drakes, Dolly Madison, and Hostess are all owned by the same parent company, Interstate Bakeries Corporation. I haven't had any of the above for well over a decade, and I wonder if they've all started to taste alike.

And don't let me forget Little Debbie! Ok, so I'd love to forget Little Debbie! Especially the Oatmeal Pies. (gag) My mother adored those nasty patties of unnaturally squashy cookies filled with white ooze and always kept a box or two on hand. I always thought that Little Debbie looked like a Little Hick and am surprised that the company hasn't gone the way of Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima and modernized their fictional icon. Even if they do, in the future, it will not improve the flavor or texture of their products.

I haven't had a TastyKake in a number of years, and hope they haven't changed their formulas to better resemble their lesser companions on the grocery store shelves. Perhaps I'll keep an eye out for a seasonal favorite of mine, pumpkin pie. Or maybe I'll just grab a package of peanut butter KandyKakes and remember how I never had to share them with my peanut-allergic little brother.

What was your favorite snack cake as a kid? Leave a comment and let me know.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Childhood Food Memories - Part One

The other night, during our usual post-dinner conversation time, my husband and I discussed our favorite foods from childhood. Oh, how I'd love to taste Mom's pot roast again! And Grandma's kotlety (pork burgers), sour cream potato salad, and spaghetti and meatballs!

In addition to home-cooking, we talked about the commercially prepared products we grew up eating. Take canned pasta, for example. I would only eat Franco American Spaghettios with mini meatballs, and Raviolos. They were one of my favorite lunches, and I was only allowed to have them once every week or two. Neal liked Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, but he wasn't as picky as me about canned pasta. I tried a can of Spaghettios (now Campbell's) a few years back, out of nostalgia, and was revolted. The sauce was thicker and had an unpleasant unctuousness. One spoonful was enough; the remainder went into the trash. I am afraid to try Raviolos. Forget the rest of that stuff!

In the snack food category, we both loved original and Nacho Cheese Doritos when they first came out in the 70s. Then came more flavors and suddenly, there was too much seasoning on them for our palates. Perhaps we can chalk that up to old age maturity. (Our favorite seasoned tortilla chip is now Garden of Eatin's Red Hot Blues.)

I also had an unnatural fondness for Frito-Lay Funyuns. When I was very young, my mother made sandwiches of imported ham, iceberg lettuce, and Kraft Thousand Island dressing on rye (We ate everything on rye bread. White bread was for toasting only and was referred to, derogatorily, as wata [cotton balls].) for me and my grandmother, who was recovering from a stroke. She served Funyuns on the side. They are now inextricably linked to memories of sitting on the side of Grandma's bed and wondering when she would be able to get up and play with me again.

Bugles were another favorite, and I do still eat them on occasion. I don't think they've changed at all, but they are perhaps a little saltier than memory.

Our favorite childhood potato chips were Utz plain. Mom and I liked to eat them with vanilla ice cream, which Neal finds odd. (Maybe you do too.) He liked Utz Barbecue flavor, but I preferred the less-sweet, spicier, Wise BBQ chips. I haven't had the Wise chips since grade school, and I doubt they would be the same, but Utz chips are still crispy, golden, and delicious, and probably our current favorite plain chips. (Neal prefers the ridged type these days.) What about Pringles, you ask? I never did enjoy those fake, oversalted things (despite my love of Funyuns), but Neal will cop to liking them.

Today's kids have even more choices for salty snacking, most of which are over-seasoned for my tastes. And what's with the pre-made, multi-flavored Chex Mix? It's a far cry tastier when made at home; just omit the modern, egregious addtion of bagel chips, and use pretzel sticks instead of nuggets for an authentic taste of my childhood.

Original Chex Mix
1/4 cup Butter
1 1/4 teaspoons Seasoned salt
4 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 2/3 cups Corn Chex
2 2/3 cups Rice Chex
2 2/3 Wheat Chex
1 cup Salted mixed nuts
1 cup Pretzel sticks

Heat oven to 250°F. In ungreased large roasting pan, melt butter in oven. Stir in seasonings. Gradually stir in remaining ingredients until evenly coated.

Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Restaurant Week - Sotto Sopra

It's amazing how few restaurants on the Charles Street corridor, a place largely deserted after the businesspeople and lawyers call it a day, have chosen to participate in Restaurant Week. Last night, Neal and I tried out one of the few that did, Sotto Sopra.

I had been in the space during its former incarnation of...gee, what was it? A hip coffee bar? (I think that was over 10 years ago.) but had never visited the lively Italian restaurant that is there today. Sotto Sopra is in a long, narrow space with high ceilings, the walls painted with festive murals. There's a hip bar at the back, and we were seated at a corner booth table nearby. Monday, fortuitously, happened to be half-price wine night, and I sure needed a drink. Our waiter recommended a Dr. Loosen Riesling that was both sweet and tangy and proved a perfect accompaniment for our meals.

The night's special menu selections were:

Dinner Appetizer (choice of one)
Carrot Soup with wild mushroom & balsamic glaze

Proscuitto di Parma
Imported Prosciutto from Parma with fresh Mozzarella in a Parmesan Basket

Carpaccio di Manzo
Thinly sliced lemon-cured beef served with celery, shaved Parmesan cheese and Lemon-truffle oil dressing

Insalata di Rucola
Baby arugula served with crispy apple-wood smoked bacon, crumbled goat cheese and dried cherries with stone ground mustard-sherry vinaigrette

Dinner Entrée (choice of one)
Risotto di Funghi
Risotto with wild mushrooms served with duck confit and veal demi glaze

Porcini Ravioli
Homemade ravioli stuffed with porcini & mascarpone served with Veal reduction sauce and sautéed frisse'

Petto di Pollo Farcito
Roasted free-range chicken breast stuffed with sage, fig, proscuitto and foccacia served with grilled Peppers Agro dolce and mashed potatoes with an herb reduction sauce

Dinner Dessert (choice of one)

Fresh Mixed Fruit with Vanilla Bean Gelato

Neal went for the carpaccio, chicken breast, and fruit. I had the salad, risotto, and tiramisu. Everything was scrumptious. The carpaccio was "wafer-thin" and had the subtle flavors of truffle oil and lemon. My salad was very tangy and refreshing - important elements for an appetizer eaten after walking several blocks in the humidity.

The chicken breast was tender and juicy, nicely browned on the outside, with a delicious stuffing. The potatoes were fairly ordinary, and the peppers added a nice sweet and sour touch. My risotto was perfectly cooked, rich and flavorful with wild mushrooms, and the leg of duck confit melted in my mouth. True comfort food.

My tiramisu was perfect - light, fluffy, full of coffee and booze flavors. Neal said his fruit and gelato dish was "refreshing," but I thought it was nothing special. So I shared my tiramisu. :)

Would we visit Sotto Sopra again? Most definitely! The service was fantastic, the food delicious, the space interesting and inviting.

Yay for Restaurant Week. May it be a regular tradition in Baltimore.

Sotto Sopra

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Baltimore Restaurant Week

After reading about Restaurant Week in places like NY and DC for several years now, I think it's high time that Baltimore followed suit.

Taking a look at the participants offering three course dinners for $30, I see that some notable restaurants are on the list: Saffron, Sotto Sopra, Abacrombie Fine Food, Pazo. Pricey ones too: Oceanaire Seafood Room, the Black Olive, and the Prime Rib. But then you have Ding How. A neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Personally, I like their food very much, but come on! Outside of overpriced places like Mr. Chow's, who pays $30 for three courses in a Chinese restaurant? At our favorite local joint - and not only because it delivers - we can get three entrees, a quart of soup, and spring rolls for around $36. Even the deliciously authentic food at Jesse Wong's Hong Kong will cost less than $30 for three courses.

There'd better be shark's fin and abalone at Ding How.

And what about Mondo Bondo, a pizza joint that has "Pasta Night" on Thursdays - a choice of 4 pasta dishes, salad, and garlic bread for $7! Huh? What are they going to have that's worth $30 per person? Babbo it ain't, you know?

The point of restaurant week is to offer a bargain (relative, I know) rate for a meal in restaurants that the common man might ordinarily not visit because of the prices. Get them hooked with that one meal, and they may return to pay real money for their food.

A handful of hotel restaurants are also participating. I don't think any of them are known for their food and imagine that only hungry tourists who are afraid to explore the area would eat in any of them. Wonder how many people Restaurant Week will draw in? This is a case where lower-priced food might get locals to stop in and check a place out.

As for me, I hope to snag a table at Sotto Sopra, although Oceanaire sounds good too. I'll make a full report when the week is over.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Kacher in July

Last night, Neal and I attended a very nice wine dinner at Roy's at Harbor East, an outpost of Roy Yamaguchi's eponymous Hawaiian-fusion restaurants.

Robert Kacher, an importer of French wines, worked with chef Ray (I didn't catch his last name) to put together a lovely selection of dishes and wines.

The dinner was held in the back room, with guests seated at communal tables for 12. We had an odd assortment of people at our table, including a couple with extensive tattoos and odd piercings, their friends who arrived half an hour late and still expected to sit at our table despite it being full (one couple left and joined another table), and a couple in which the female partner obviously had issues with certain types of food and should have been left home with a hamburger and Coke.

We started the dinner with an aperitif glass of Sauvignon Blanc and Roy's warm sourdough rolls. I was famished, and the wine went straight to my head.

The first course soon came. It consisted of:
Citrus Butter Poached Maine Lobster
Green Papaya Salad & Summer Truffles
and was served with
Chateau Puy-Servain, Huat-Montravel, Cuvee Marjolaine, 2003

I was looking forward to trying butter-poached lobster, and this was surprisingly more citrusy than buttery. The green papaya salad could have used more aggressive seasoning, as the tiny slivers of red onion pretty much overpowered the flavor. The "summer truffles" were infused into a quenelle of a creamy substance (was it creme fraiche? farmer's cheese? mascarpone? all of the above?) and perfumed the entire room. The wine was light and refreshing and made an appropriate accompaniment.

The second course:
Pan Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast
Thai Chili Spiced Pomegranate Jam & Foie Gras
served with
Andre Brunel Chateauneuf du Pape 2003

The foie gras was crusted with panko crumbs and served crusty on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. It was topped with slices of extremely rare duck breast and a large dollop of very spicy pomegranate jam flavored with star anise. I could have eaten more of the foie - yummy! But instead, I had two glasses of the Chateauneuf du Pape. It was a rather light red, somewhat like a pinot noir.

The woman across the table from me too a bite or two then proclaimed that she could not eat the dish because it reminded her of the ducks near her home, "and of Donald." She complained so vociferously, I couldn't help myself. I leaned forward and said in a stage whisper to her husband, "if she can't bear to eat Donald, she's really going to hate eating Bambi!" She heard, as was intended, and looked distraught.

"Shhhh!" the husband admonished, "I had her convinced that 'venison' was another word for 'baby.' She'll eat lamb."

Personally, I'd be worried if using a euphemism for "baby" would entice my spouse into eating something.

The third course:
Tomato Molasses Barbequed Sika Venison Lamb Chops
Porcini Mushroom Polenta Frittes & Baby Pepper Confit
served with
Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas 2003

And there you see the confusion with venison and "lamb chops." The venison chop indeed resembled a lamb chop, replete with large frenched bone attached. It was sliced and served on a pool of sauce that tasted not of tomato nor molasses but was reminiscent of a cherry- or plum-based fruit sauce. The "frittes" were astonishingly delicious. They resembled cubes of brownies, dark brown and crusty, but they were actually porcini-flavored cornmeal, fried to a crispy finish.

Ms. Baby-Eater took two bites and then complained, "it tastes like dirt!" It most certainly did not - the venison was extremely lean and not at all gamey. Pork and beef have far stronger flavors than this delicate meat. Ms. B-E was looking forward to dessert, however, as it was cheesecake. I couldn't wait until she found out it was goat cheesecake.

Chevre Cheese Cake in a Cocoa-Nib Florentine Cup
Port Poached Pears & Black Pepper Sabayon
served with
Domaine Beaumalaric Muscat Beaumes-des-Venise, 2004

I love florentine cookies, but was afraid the bitter cocoa nibs would be too harsh a flavor. I was wrong - the cookies were buttery and flecked with chocolatey bits and slivered almonds. The cheesecake was a small thimble-shaped timbale of the dry and crumbly cheesecake variety, and nicely goaty. The poached pear slices topped with a spoonful of sabayon was a sweeter addition to the variety of flavors on the dish. And I loved the Muscat - it was extremely fruity and had a crisp quality, not at all like the honeyed muscats I've had in the past, and very sweet. It was not unlike a Brachetto d'Acqui in flavor, but, of course, without the effervescence and pink tint.

We were handed a price list for the wines, should we want to purchase any from the one local retail outlet that carried them. Honestly, apart from the Muscat, I wasn't entirely impressed with the wines. They were not mind-blowing, although they did pair well with the food. In this case, however, I think "pairing well" mostly means that they did not interfere with the dishes; they certainly did not *add* anything.

The price for this adventure was a very reasonable $75 per person. I think it would be great fun to do this sort of thing with a group of friends - provide they arrive on time.

Gee, do I even know anyone who has any sense of time? :::pondering::::


Friday, July 07, 2006

U.S. Sears Foie Gras

Neal Patterson
Special Correspondent

The efforts to ban foie gras in Chicago and California most likely signal the beginning of the end for this delicacy in the U.S. For most, this will mean nothing, since only those who frequent finer dining establishments even consume the fatty duck liver. In fact, many might rejoice that such elitist fools will be denied one of their treasured indulgences. It’s one of our quirky American traits to worship wealth while simultaneously sneering at anything that smacks of aristocratic pretentiousness. No wonder Donald Trump and Paris Hilton are so popular.

For the politicians who enact legislation against the production and sale of foie gras, it’s an easy call. They can afford to offend a few duck farmers and gourmands in their effort to finally do something that will placate the vegans and PETA zealots. It’s rare when an elected official can take a stand that will win praise from this faction without pissing off just about everyone else.

Of course, the primary reason behind the ban is that force feeding ducks to create those extra fatty livers is considered unusually cruel. Attempting to make ethical decisions in the area of animal farming is like trying to discern what should be considered a war crime. At least the ducks raised to create foie gras are free range. Can’t say the same for the agribusiness calves chickens who are trapped in cramped pens, wallowing in their own feces while being fed hormonally enhanced food that create plumper breasts. Of course, don’t expect to see the politicians going after the likes of Tyson anytime soon. No up side there, since the animal farming giants are too big and, dammit, too many people like fried chicken and hamburgers. I believe that the enjoyment of chicken tetrazzini and a medium rare steak will be a god-given right for some time to come. I even believe the immobilized calves will be ignored so that we may continue to enjoy veal parmesan. Foie gras, on the other hand, has been sacrificed to the evil sin column.

Banning foie gras is the culinary example of our constant effort to nibble around the edges of our moral dilemmas. We attack what is easy to attack so that we may preserve the larger transgressions. We feign outrage over viewing Janet Jackson’s breasts at the Super Bowl, but true pornography will thrive. We like it too much. Illegal flag burning has a good chance of becoming a Constitutional amendment simply because most people have no interest in burning flags. A ban on radio talk show hosts who spout opinions other than those of the reigning administration may have a tougher time getting through.

I suppose I should take some comfort in this: the fact that we seldom give up the core of our rights since such things are important to the majority of us. But I can’t help wondering whether the 18th amendment, which created Prohibition, would have ever been repealed from our Constitution had it only covered champagne rather than all alcoholic beverages. I suspect people would be drinking just as much alcohol today as they currently do; they just wouldn’t have the special delight of enjoying one of its finest examples.

If foie gras disappears from every menu in the U.S., I’m sure the country and its citizenry will survive. However, I don’t believe we should feel any better about ourselves for it. As in so many aspects of our lives, there are some hard realities that we don’t like to face. We eat animals, and the raising and slaughter of those animals is not a pretty process. We can’t gain higher moral ground simply because we have stopped one form of animal farming. We simply lose one of the more exquisite offerings a meat eater can experience.

As for the vegans who declare that their lifestyle is the only ethical choice, it’s important to bear in mind that such a lifestyle is a privilege only allowed in a developed country and could not be feasibly imposed on all humans around the globe. Instead of feeling superior, they should celebrate living in a country of such freedom and abundance that allows them the opportunity to consume only quality fruits, grains, and vegetables (along with the nutritional supplements they must take to make up for the meat they aren’t eating). And while the vegans are celebrating their good fortune for living in the United States, maybe they can exercise a little tolerance, which is essential to any free and civilized society.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Jesse Wong's Kitchen

Local restauranteur Jesse Wong has recently opened a third dining establishment in the new Hunt Valley shopping complex. We visit Jesse Wong's Hong Kong on a regular basis for dim sum on the weekends and for authentic Chinese dishes at dinnertime and haven't had a bad dish yet. A solitary trip to Asean Bistro revealed excellent and well-priced Chinese and Malaysian dishes. Based on those trips, we expected Jesse Wong's Kitchen to offer a similar experience.

The restaurant is an elaborate multi-tiered, extremely purple room with an open kitchen and loud smooth jazz piped in over the audio system on the day we visited for lunch. We were given both the regular and lunch menus to peruse. The dinner menu offers multi-course prix fixe meals for around $33. (Frankly, you can't beat the "prix fixe" dinner at New Han Dynasty in White Marsh - won ton soup, eggroll, fried shrimp, a choice of entree, and fortune cookies - for less than $10. It's all piping hot, freshly cooked, and very tasty for a neighborhood joint.) The lunch menu has a selection of sushi combinations for $10.95, and other lunch combos for $8.95, the latter served incongruously in Japanese-style bento boxes. Ok, so they serve sushi, but the lunch choices were mostly Chinese.

Neal went with his usual, kung pao chicken with shrimp. I went adventurous and tried the Malay red curry beef. Each meal was served with white or brown rice, two pieces of cucumber maki, a green salad with French dressing, and some fresh fruit. A "vegetable buffet" was also part of the meal, consisting of one roll-top steam tray that was off to the side of the sushi bar. We didn't bother with it.

The salad dressing was a bit off, and watered-down. After I ate that, I tried the sushi. Ehh, ok, but the rice was a bit cold. Then I sampled the Malay beef. Oh, it was AWFUL. The beef was tough and the sauce had an odd grainy texture. There appeared to be pieces of tomato and onion as well, but there was no flavor to speak of. I expected something complex, spicy, interesting, TASTY. What I got was more like badly executed beef stew. It was one of the worst things I have ever eaten in a restaurant (or outside of one, for that matter). I flagged the waiter and told him just that. He apologized and offered to bring me something else, but I refused so he just took my meal off the bill. To tell the truth, I was afraid to try anything else.

I didn't count Neal's kung pao as successful, either. It ok, with a taste like hoisin sauce straight from the bottle. The small shrimp were fishy-smelling and mushy, so he ate the chicken and left the crustaceans behind. I would have said something to the waiter about this one too.

It doesn't take much to break me. I'll never set foot in this place again.

What I ended up having for lunch was much better: a pumpernickel bagel from Wegman's, spread with Cashel bleu cheese and topped with sliced fresh purple figs. Now, that's tasty!

Jesse Wong's Kitchen
118 Shawan Rd
Cockeysville, MD 21030
(410) 329-1088

Jesse Wong's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 19, 2006

Father's Day Feasting

Usually on Father's Day, we take Dad out someplace nice for dinner. This year, I decided we were going to stay at his house and grill some yummies. When my family grills, it's always festival of meat, so in keeping with that theme, I decided on flank steak, baby back ribs, and bratwursts.

The flank steak was simply marinated in a savory bath consisting of a couple of glugs each of Worcestershire and soy sauces, ketchup, and 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed. I didn't get a photo of it before we tucked in, and as you can see from the photo, there was very little left over. The dog ended up with those few morsels.

I like to use Alton Brown's recipe for oven braised ribs. In a nutshell, this entails wrapping each rack of baby backs in heavy duty aluminum foil after coating them generously with a dry rub. After marinating overnight, each foil packet gets 1/2 cup of some sort of flavorful liquid; I've used iced tea in the past, but this time I used orange juice. I did three racks each with a Chinese-style rub (brown sugar, powdered onion, garlic, and ginger, paprika, cayenne, Chinese five spice, salt, and black pepper, in roughly equal portions but triple the sugar), and three racks with a more standard bbq rub (minus the ginger and five spice and adding chili powder and cumin). These braise for 1 hour at 350, then 2 more hours at 250; this produces fall-off-the-bone tender meat. As I was grilling these babies, I cooked them for 1 hour and 1 hour 15 minutes so they wouldn't fall apart on me.

On the grill, the Chinese ribs got a basting of a hoisin concoction, and the others got good old KC Masterpiece. They were AMAZING. I had never used that much cayenne in a rib rub before, and the kick it gave was really a nice touch.

Another spicy dish was our side of Spicy Pesto Soba, adapted from Nina Simonds Asian Noodles.
Spicy Pesto
Blend to a paste in a food processor or blender:
1 1/2 teaspoons Korean hot pepper flakes
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Rice wine dressing
Whisk together:
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mirin

3/4 lb soba noodles, cooked until just tender, rinsed under cold water, and drained.

Mix the pesto with the noodles. Add the dressing a bit at a time, until noodles are coated but not sopping wet. You probably will only need half the dressing.

I also made a standard cole slaw with a dressing of mayo, rice vinegar, celery seeds, and sugar. Dad provided egg potato salad and corn on the cob. Needless to say, with all of the other food, we never got to the bratwurst! And there are a ton of leftovers. I kept two racks of ribs for Neal and I. I am going to pick the Chinese-style meat off the bones and give it a quick stir fry with some pea shoots. We went to the Han Ah Reum the other day and bought a ton of vegetables, so we're also having some Asian eggplants and string beans tonight, along with the leftover soba. Later in the week, we'll make pulled pork with the other ribs and serve it on the potato rolls we bought for the uneaten bratwurst. Dad ended up with two full racks of leftover grilled ribs and the slaw, so he doesn't have to worry about dinner for a couple of nights.

It was a lot more work than taking Dad out for dinner, but in the long run, it was worth it!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Crabcake that Ate Baltimore

But it was an enormous crabcake! Seriously!

We took my Mother-in-Law out for her birthday yesterday (and despite celebrating on 6-6-06, she's a lovely person and the sweetest MIL anyone could ask for). She chose a new-ish restaurant called By the Docks, way out on Eastern Boulevard in Essex, past the waste water treatment plant, past Martin's airport, and almost to Bengie's drive-in. Pretty much the edge of the universe, and just about as far East as I am willing to travel. Mom told me that when she made our 6 p.m. reservation, she was informed that it would be held for fifteen minutes only and would be given away after that point; I laughed. Why would a hole-in-the-wall in Essex have a crowd at 6 o'clock on a Tuesday? But when we got there, the parking lot was packed. Luckily, we arrived a mere 10 minutes late and were ushered by a bored teenager to our window table in the cramped and noisy dining room.

My friend Jill, who had eaten at By the Docks on her birthday just two days prior, said the restaurant wasn't very relaxing. She didn't elaborate, so I assumed that the decor was spartan or ugly and the chairs were hard. It was rather drab - a large square room painted a pale blue, with little ornamentation but for a large sailfish and a couple of small prints. Not exactly cozy, but it was actually the noise factor that made the place un-relaxing. Customers, packed cheek-to-jowl at tables both in the main dining room and upstairs, chattered quite loudly, laughing and having a good time. It was irritating, but the most annoying sound was the clatter of ceramic dishes and flatware being tossed into plastic bins by the busy busboys. I cringed every time a table was cleared. The din was so bad, I had to strain to hear my brother-in-law speaking, and he was mere inches away. Across the table, the conversation between my husband and his mother sounded like faraway whispers.

But let's get to the food here, shall we? By the Docks is your typical Baltimore seafood restaurant: crabcakes, a broiled seafood platter, and stuffed shrimp, a couple of steaks, and some token pasta dishes. Entrees came with a salad and a choice of "vegetable." I put the word in quotes because I don't consider baked potatoes, french fries, or applesauce to be veggies. Cole slaw barely passes. And the veg du jour - corn, most likely canned and served in a bowl of it's own juices - is an insult. Would making some steamed broccoli or asparagus really hurt that much? Don't Baltimorons *like* green vegetables?

Anyway.... Jill recommended the crabcakes, saying they were very large and full of meat, but rather light on the seasonings. Three of us opted for that, and my BIL Craig decided on scallops.

The crabcakes were absolutely huge. A normal entrée had two golden-brown softball-sized mounds of meat, garnished with an unattractive pile of shredded carrot and two lemon wedges. My crabcakes were stuck together, and they had ragged square edges, as did those of Neal and Flo. I imagine that huge ice-cream scoops of crabcake mixture were placed side-by-side on a baking sheet and broiled en masse. Whatever the method, the cakes were obscenely large. And...they were good. There was very little filler and the meat actually seemed to be backfin. There was even a little crab mustard here and there. It was almost as if they picked the crabs themselves, the lumps were so large and intact. They were very mildly seasoned, but the restaurant thoughtfully provided shakers of Old Bay along with the usual salt and pepper on every table.

The cole slaw, which came in a separate bowl, diner-style, was minced so finely it was practically a puree. It was fairly dry and mostly flavorless.

Craig's scallops also arrived as a large portion, a bowl heaped high with half-dollar sized shellfish dusted with an afterthought of paprika, garnished with more shredded carrots. They were perfectly cooked, but a tad on the bland side. Our waitress, who had never eaten much seafood in her youth, wanted to know how we'd describe scallops to someone who had never eaten them before. She said the best she could come up with was "Old Bay-flavored Jell-O," a description I found extremely unappetizing.

I was able to eat one of my crabcakes and Flo could only finish half of her single. Neal did a more admirable job and got partway through cake #2. The rest was packed into foam take-out containers. And I will feast on my leftovers for lunch today.

So after reading about our orgy of crab, you probably want to know the bottom line. Well, the crabcake platter, with a salad and "vegetable" cost a whopping $21.95. The whole bill, for four dinners, two iced teas, a Scotch and water, and a glass of wine was just under $92. No wonder the place is crowded on a Tuesday - bountiful seafood at ridiculously reasonable prices.

Maybe next time we'll try the $18.95 24-ounce Porterhouse....

By the Docks
3321 Eastern Blvd
Middle River, MD 21220
(410) 686-1188

By the Docks Restaurant and Lounge on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 12, 2006

Favorite Foods

Sometimes I get asked about my favorite food. I think hard, then decide I have no one favorite. I'm an extremely fickle type, and a flavor I might love on Monday I can hate by Friday if I've had it more than once or twice in the interim. But I saw this at Hardtack at Sea and thought I'd play. It's not difficult to come up with multiple foods that I like to have around at all times.

The rules:

You are stranded on a boat beached on a island. You can get whatever fish you want and hand-harvest your own damn sea salt (think of the money you'll save). There is a natural fresh water stream on the island (snow-melt from the very, very, tall mountain-of course, due to global warming, this is a limited resource, so enjoy it!) There is nothing left on the boat and as far as you know nothing on the island save your own unfortunate soul. You get 10 items to select. Huge categories don't count. You can't say "Herbs and spices" or "Meat". Try to be specific, it's more interesting. These food items will be delivered to you in your sorry state by UPS, because it is simply endless what brown can do for you. No, you cannot ask for more items from the UPS person. I know they're cute in their little brown shorts, but you can't have them either.

To get you going, here is my list (in no particular order):

1. Basmati rice
2. Onions
3. Garlic
4. Quality chocolate.
5. Cheese
6. Mangoes
7. Limes (gotta keep the scurvy away)
8. Olive oil
9. Salad greens
10. Walnuts

Now, you play.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More Food Television

I just read this at eGullet, posted by a man who manages to be both eloquent and hysterically snarky at the same time: Tony Bourdain's views on "Celebrity Cooking Showdown."

I sat and watched an entire episode, absolutely riveted by its mesmerizing awfulness. A loud, toxic, ineptly conceived pastiche of half-baked concepts and contrived melodrama. One bad idea after another, layered like some surreal Hawaiian Lasagna recipe:

The never-watchable Alan Thicke. Two words that absolutely guarantee nothing good to come.

A bunch of D-List celebrity fucktards. Who ARE these people?

A confused looking Wolfgang Puck? You don't have enough money to have SOMEBODY on staff with brains enough to tell you not to do this?!

Screen Actor's Guild member and "celebrity chef," Cat Cora. Who I increasingly am coming to believe would cheerfully hump a fire hydrant in order to get on TV. Her performance brought to mind an earlier NBC masterwork--the vastly underrated Lancelot Link, Chimp Detective.

An addled Gael Greene--still under the mistaken impression that somebody somewhere still gives a fuck WHAT she thinks--and that we want to imagine her crushed under late-era Elvis' bloated abdomen. Ending a once glorious career in grotesque fashion.

Some douche bag with some kinda speech impediment. WHO is he?

A ritalin-jacked audience, no doubt dragooned off a mall and lubricated with Red Bull and Jolt Cola. (They were TOLD Clay Aiken might appear).

Horrifying. Can't wait to watch it again.

Posted by Bourdain on: Apr 20 2006, 10:00 AM

Dontcha love it? I never watched the show, and now I'm glad.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Beefy Goodness

When my hubby and I go to our favorite Korean restaurant for their buffet, it seems that I am never offered any kalbi. Neal can bring back platesful, but nobody asks me if I would like some. So I decided to make some of my own. Or a variation thereof.

David Chang, of Momofuku Noodle Bar, in Manhattan, has been featured in the Times on a regular basis these past few weeks. Earlier in the month, I found his recipe for what seemed like a cross between kalbi, and nikujaga--a Japanese potato and beef stew. We've been having blissfully cool Spring weather, so I decided to have one more hearty food feast before it starts getting unbearably hot here in Baltimore.

I don't think I've ever used so many pots, pans, utensils, and plates in cooking a single meal before. I needed the Dutch oven (1) to brown the meat; because I did so in two batches, I also needed a large bowl (2). The meat then went into a large glass casserole (3) that was placed on a cookie sheet (4), for stability. The cooking liquid was prepared in a non-stick saucepan (5). After four hours in the oven, the meat went into another large bowl (6), and the cooking liquid went back into the already washed non-stick saucepan (7) to be reduced. The meat and reduced liquid met again in a large saute pan (8) with lid (9). The potatoes and carrots went into a square baking dish (10), and into the oven, since it was already heated and I wasn't in the mood to saute them. The green onion garnish went into a small bowl (11) but the cilantro was left on a paper towel. Tongs (12), various spoons (13-15), and a bowl to collect the oodles of grease floating on top of the sauce (16), were also employed, not to mention the salad plates, dinner bowls, and wine glasses for the rest of the meal. Whew! A lot of washing up!

But it was worth it. The sauce was rich and sweet and garlicky, and the meat was spoon-tender. Definitely restaurant-quality flavor. I especially enjoyed the contrast between the carrots that were cooked with the meat and sauce, and the ones I oven roasted with the sliced potatoes.

Braised Short Ribs
Adapted from David Chang
Originally Published in the New York Times, April 5, 2006

1½ cups pear or apple juice
1 cup sake
1 cup mirin
½ cup sugar
1 cup soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cloves crushed garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
4 to 5 pounds short ribs
2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons butter
8 to 12 small potatoes, preferably fingerlings, trimmed
½ cup chopped scallions
4 cups cooked white rice.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, combine juice, sake, mirin, sugar, soy sauce, about 20 grinds of pepper, both forms of garlic, sesame oil and 1½ cups water. Bring to a boil, then simmer.

2. Put corn or grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add ribs, seasoning them liberally with salt and pepper. Brown well on one side, moving them around to promote even browning. Turn, add onions and half the carrots, and brown other side, stirring vegetables occasionally.

3. Carefully pour braising liquid over meat and bake, bone-side up and submerged in liquid (add water or juice if necessary), for 3 to 4 hours, until meat falls from bones. Cool ribs in liquid for 1 hour, then remove; strain liquid. At this point, ribs and liquid can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

4. Remove bones from ribs. In a pot, combine meat with braising liquid; heat to a boil then simmer, reducing liquid until syrupy. If it seems too thick, thin with a bit of water.

5. About ½ hour before you are ready to serve, put butter in a skillet and add potatoes and remaining carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally and seasoning with salt and pepper, until browned and nearly tender, about 20 minutes. Add to meat. Taste mixture and adjust seasonings if necessary, then garnish with scallions and serve on rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Food Television

Television shows about chefs and food seem to be all the rage these days, and not only on the Food Network. There's Top Chef, on Bravo, a copy of last year's Fox show, Hell's Kitchen, and NBC's Celebrity Cooking Showdown, the Iron Chef wannabe with a twist. And let's not forget the two seasons of Rocco DiSpirito's trainwreck NBC/Bravo show, The Restaurant, that we were treated to in 2003-04. And in the one show that doesn't seem to be a contest, lovely chef Tony Bourdain eats and imbibes his way around the globe on No Reservations on the Travel Channel.

In addition to all their regular semi-food-related programming, the Food Network is also full of competitions. Every Sunday night there is a new batch of competitors vying for cash prizes with their towering sugar sculptures and fancy cakes. And Iron Chef America. And for the last two years, Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star?. Now I say - who cares?

I don't watch food programming for the personalities...I watch it to learn about food. I'm sorry, but my favorite punching bag and yours, Rachael Ray, ain't gonna teach me anything about cooking. She knows little or nothing herself. And Sandra Lee, with her craptastic not-even-semi-homemade garbage? (Never trust a skinny cook.) So why do we need another non-chef showing us how they gussy up a can of baked beans but don't they look damn perky while doing it? These "Food Network Star" people all have assloads of personality, but are they going to show me something I don't know? Something that will make me want to run to the kitchen and concoct a fabulous meal? Granted, the dude who won this year, Guy Fieri, does have a restaurant, and he seems to have some cooking skills, but his show is going to be all about him and his ridiculous bleached 'do and oddly-shaped van Dyck (rhymes with "bike," and I'm referring to his beard.) Yeah, it'll be some x-treme cooking. Uh-huh. :::eyeroll::: At least he'll be in the kitchen, rather than the new style food shows that has a chef (or Rachael Ray) traveling the world and tasting other folks' cooking or eating restaurant food. Apparently Alton Brown is even getting into the act with a new show this summer. Enough! Get your asses into the kitchen and cook for me, dammit!

But I digress.

So why are shows about food so popular these days that they show up on so many networks in prime time? Is it the whole hunger for "reality" television? Or is cooking becoming a sport for a country that is growing increasingly more obese (I ask, as I take a bite of my donut)?

If you figure it out, do let me know.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Creamy Desserts

I love custard in all its forms - creme brulee, creme anglaise, flan, quiche. Custards are liquids that have been set or thickened by the coagulation of egg proteins. But there are other desserts that are quite creamy and rich and very custard-like...but that contain no eggs. Blancmange is one, and Panna Cotta is another.

Panna Cotta is originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, and the term literally means "cooked cream." I ate it for the first time at Della Notte, and thought it was one of the finest things one could do with gelatin. It was creamy and sweet, but not too too, and the cool slippery texture was a real treat after a heavy meal. I decided this would be a fine thing to concoct for Easter dinner.

Unfortunately, the recipe I used, from the Joy of Cooking, turned out a pudding that was far too rich and sweet for my taste. It called for 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, 1 cup of whole milk, and 1/2 cup of sugar. When garnished with fresh berries and a drizzle of lemongrass honey, it was delicious, but did not have the lightness I was looking for. With that much heavy cream, how could it?

So I've done a little investigating on the Web, and have so far only found super-rich versions of panna cotta with oodles of cream. I sent an e-mail to Della Notte, requesting the recipe, but I'm afraid what they'll send back will feed an army.'s time to experiment. First, I'll cut the amount of cream and sugar by half. I'll keep you posted as to my progress.

The rest of Easter dinner was a big success - roast leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary, potato pierogies with butter and onions (a nod to my Polish upbringing), braised radishes, and a medley of peas--sugar snap, snow, and English. What to do with all the leftover lamb now?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dietary Laws

I found this article from last week's New York Times fascinating: It's Passover, Lighten Up. I've long pooh-poohed dietary laws as archaic, as health rules that may have been necessary to prevent disease in the past, as quirky misinterpretations of holy texts written in ancient languages, what have you. Raised Catholic, for many years I made sure to avoid meat on Fridays during Lent. I think Neal made Swedish meatballs last Friday, which I devoured AND enjoyed, without guilt. I can't imagine a life spent without tasting pork, or shellfish - no bacon? No shrimp?'s too horrible to contemplate!

It's interesting to see how the word "chometz," which means sharp, or sour--as in fermented, like sourdough bread--has been taken lo these many years to mean leavening in general.

I sorta understand the want/need to emulate a group of people to celebrate a holiday of religious significance, as those who celebrate Passover do. Jesus may well have not eaten meat on Fridays too, but I have a feeling that he didn't eat on most days.

I'm not even going to get into the whole dry religion/Welch's grape juice at communion when Jesus turned water into wine thing, although that gives me a good chuckle.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm Stuffed!

When you hears the word "stuffing," you usually thinks of Thanksgiving turkey, right? But as long as you have a starch, a fat, and seasonings, you can make stuffing.

I decided that I was going to make pork tenderloins for dinner tonight. Ordinarily, I would rub them with some spices, Patak's biryani paste, for example, and bake them. But today I decided I wanted to stuff them. I had never butterflied a pork tenderloin before and wasn't even sure it could be done successfully, but once I get an idea in my head, it's hard to change my mind.

So now that I had decided to stuff my pork, the question became - what with? I opened my magic pantry and discovered some sundried tomatoes. What else did I have? Hmmm...there's a can of abalone mushrooms purchased from the Asian food store a couple weeks ago...and some walnut halves...and there are two slightly stale hot dog rolls...and some chopped frozen onions! That sounds like stuffing to me!

Pork Tenderloins with Kitchen Sink Stuffing

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, not in oil, rehydrated in 1 cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup frozen chopped onions
drizzle of olive oil
handful of walnut pieces
two Martin's potato rolls, crumbled
2 abalone mushrooms, chopped, from a 15 oz can
salt and pepper
1 garlic clove, chopped fine or pressed
1/4 water
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
splash balsamic vinegar

Add frozen onions to a skillet and salt generously. When they have thawed, add a splash of olive oil, the sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms. Sautee for 10 minutes, until browned and fragrant and all moisture has evaporated. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. I found the mixture to be a bit bland, so added approximately 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a generous drizzle of honey. This made for a nice flavor balance. Toss in parsley, crumbled bread and water, stirring until bread is most. Remove stuffing to a bowl; cover and chill until cool.

I cut my pork tenderloins in half widthwise because I wasn't sure if I had a knife long enough to butterfly them whole, then cut each piece into a wide strip. When the stuffing was cool, I mixed in the walnut pieces. I then mounded the mixture onto the pork and topped the stuffing with slices of hard goat cheese. After rolling up the meat into fat logs, I secured them with wooden skewers, placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet, and drizzled them with olive oil and salt and pepper.

They cooked at 375 for about 30 minutes.

In the meantime, since I was doing something vaguely Italianate with the pork, I decided to make a side dish of polenta. I had some medium-ground cornmeal, and some grits.

3 cups water
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup grits
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Bring water to a boil. Slowly stir in the cornmeal and grits. Stir continuously, on medium heat, until the mixture thickens and starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Stir in the butter, salt and pepper, and grated cheese.

For a green veg, I nuked some frozen peas in salted water for 4 minutes, drained them, then added a knob of butter. Easy peasy. :)

The stuffing was rich and mellow, and went well with the somewhat bland pork. I think it would also work well for chicken breasts, or perhaps some turkey tenderloins as well. Heck - beef too! The stuffing was also quite moist (but not at all wet) and precluded the need for any sauce or gravy. The "polenta" was flavorful, but not too dense, and the peas were a nice touch of green. Although a simply dressed arugula or other green salad would be quite appropriate as well.

The stuffing could have been made with any number of ingredients - perhaps chopped dried apricots and prunes instead of the tomatoes, or even dried cherries or cranberries. Pecans could have substituted for the walnuts; no nuts at all would have also been fine. Fresh basil would have been a welcome touch, but that will have to wait a few months until I can get my container garden started. And I could easily have substituted pre-cooked rice for the stale rolls, or maybe that last piece of cornbread hanging out in the fridge.

Stuffing doesn't have to be just for Thanksgiving, and doesn't have to come out of a box, either. If you have the the right ingredients on hand - and "right" is pretty limitless - you can stuff just about anything.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chocolate Pasta?

Ever have chocolate pasta before? We bought a bag of Chocoholics chocolate radiatore pasta a while back, on a whim. It sat in the cupboard for a long time; we weren't quite sure what to do with it. Then, as I was trying to decide on what to make for dinner tonight, that pasta caught my eye. I was feeling somewhat Tex-Mex today, and as we still have some of that yummy Trader Joe's mole sauce in the fridge, I thought I could make something interesting with the pasta.

I added a few tablespoons of the mole to 2 cups of chicken stock and brought it to a boil. Turning the heat down, I added a handful of chopped cilantro and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, I sauteed 1/2 onion, chopped, in some olive oil until transluscent, then tossed in about 6 oz each of bay scallops and raw shrimp. And cooked the pasta. I took the thickened sauce off the heat and whisked in 3 oz of sour cream, then added the onion mixture.

The sauce went over the pasta and was garnished with shredded cheddar and monterey jack cheeses, chopped cilantro, and chopped fresh tomato. It was tasty; the pasta had a definite cocoa flavor. And suprisingly, the whole dish was deceptively light yet extremely flavorful. The sauce on its own would have made an excellent soup, and I may just try that again sometime, sans pasta.

Yeah, it was interesting, but really just a novelty. The world really doesn't need chocolate pasta. Brownies, on the other hand, are a necessity!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Thai at Home

I adore Thai food - the aromas, the complex flavors, the colors. We have a favorite Thai restaurant in the area, Bangkok Place. It's not much to look at, with it's 70s former-bar yellow leaded glass windows and cracked burgundy pleather booths, 80s pastel floral wallpaper and shocking pink wood trim. But the food is consistently delicious, and they prepare the best red curry I've eaten anywhere. (Lots of places tend to make their red curry a bit too sweet for my tastes.) Our favorite dishes are found on the Special Appetizer Platter A: fishcakes, or Tod Mun Pla, served with a tart and sweet cucumber salad; chicken sate, with peanut sauce; and a crisp, noodle-filled spring roll with a sweet dipping sauce less cloying than some others.

I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it. Good then that I have leftover Thai-inspired soup for lunch.

Our local Giant supermarket has expanded its International foods section to include Indian and Thai groceries. Neal picked up a can of Tom Yum soup and a jar of sate sauce, plus some fresh cilantro. With this, plus some pantry staples, fresh cucumber and carrots, and leftover linguine, he prepared a Thai feast.

To the soup, he added a Knorr fish bouillion cube and two cups of water. He also added some chopped onion, fresh mushrooms, and three tablespoons of powdered coconut milk.

The linguine got coated with the satay sauce and were garnished with chopped cilantro and a handful of crushed peanuts.

Sliced cucumber and julienned carrot, with a little honey, sesame oil, chopped red onion, and rice wine vinegar became a refreshing salad.

Together, everything was wonderful. Cooking ethnic food at home doesn't have to be complicated!

Friday, March 31, 2006


Remember my rant about Chef Idiot and the money he owes me? Apparently, I'm not the only person pissed off at him. I got this (pdf format file) in the mail yesterday and just had to share. It's hysterically funny, mostly because of the ranting nature and the poor grammmar and spelling.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Duck Ravioli

We had a package of egg roll wrappers in the fridge, and leftover duck from yesterday, so I put them together to make duck ravioli.

I found about a third of a bag of frozen Asian mushrooms from Trader Joe's in the freezer and decided they would work well with the duck as a filling for the pasta. I don't like shiitake mushrooms any way except fresh, so I picked the offending bits from the mushroom collection and sauteed the rest in olive oil with some chopped onion and lashings of salt and pepper. After letting this mixture cool, I chopped half of it finely, and did the same to some pieces of duck and a little duck skin, for richness.

Large dollops of this mixture were sandwiched between two egg roll wrappers to make eight large ravioli that I then cooked in two batches in a saute pan of simmering water for about 4 minutes. I can now understand why most ravioli recipes call for "scant teaspoons" of filling. When the pasta is cooked and the noodles soften, the filling becomes too heavy and wants to escape through newly formed tears in the pasta. Oh well. Live and learn!

Next, I added half a stick of butter to a pan and, after the foaming stopped, tossed in a handful of frozen corn and the other half of the sauteed mushrooms and onions. After a few minutes of cooking, I put the pre-boiled ravioli in, in two batches, and watched them fall apart. Ugh. But garnished with some scallion and fresh parsley, they were passable. More importantly, they tasted awesome!

With the ravioli, we had a salad with roasted beets and goat cheese. I love the version they serve at Louisiana, and did what I could to replicate it with what I had on hand: bagged butter lettuce salad; Melissa's Baby Red Beets; and a log of soft goat cheese. If we had them, I would have put some toasted or candied walnuts on top, but alas, we only had peanuts...and some Thai seasoned cashews from Trader Joe's. They taste an awful lot like Kaffir lime leaf, but what's wrong with that? so I used them. Finally, a vinaigrette made with balsamic vinegar, honey mustard, and extra virgin olive oil was drizzled on top. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself! Even Neal admitted that the non-pickled beets were tasty (he's not a fan of this particular vegetable).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Quack, Quack

I don't know why, but I got it in my head to make duck this weekend. To all of you out there who say, "ewww, duck is greasy!" I say, "Shaddup." Duck is *not* greasy; it is fatty. If you remove the fat, then the duck is succulent and flavorful.

I've had duck breast that I could have sworn was filet mignon. In fact, I almost sent some back to the kitchen because I was sure the waitress had gotten my order wrong.

You say, "I like Peking duck in Chinese restaurants, but roasting a duck at home seems like so much trouble!"

Nonsense. It's not any more difficult than roasting a chicken. In fact, it's easier, since you don't have to worry as much about drying out the breast meat. Ok, so maybe it's a tad more time-consuming....

I like Sally Schneider's recipe from A New Way to Cook:
Roast Duck

1 duck
3 garlic cloves
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300F.

Rinse duck inside and out with cold water and pat dry. Cut off any extra fat and skin flaps, and remove the wing tips. Using a sharp pointy knife, prick many holes through the skin of the duck, being careful not to pierce the flesh underneath. Crush garlic cloves and rub inside; salt and pepper inside as well. Place bird, breast side up, in a foil-lined baking pan, and roast, uncovered, at 300F for one hour. At the end of the hour, remove pan from oven and, carefully holding duck down with a fork, pour the fat out into a glass bowl or measuring cup. Turn duck over, prick skin a few more times, and put back into the oven for another hour. Repeat every hour for the next three hours (four hours total).

After the fourth hour, turn oven temperature up to 350F and roast the bird breast side up. Remove from oven after one hour and let rest for 20 minutes. The skin will be crisp and fat-free, and the meat will be extremely soft.

Remove skin and set aside. Cut off legs and wings and place on a plate. Slice remaining meat off carcass (it's so soft, you can use a spoon to do this!) and place alongside legs. Put skin on top of all.

I like to make mock Peking duck with this recipe. This time, I decided on Peking Duck a l'Orange, just for the hell of it. To the usual Hoisin sauce, I added a few teaspoons of sweet orange marmalade and a glug of Grand Marnier. Low-carb flour tortillas (they are much more pliable than normal supermarket tortillas), "raspberry" orange segments, and julienned scallion completed the dish.

So what to do with the giblets and stuff that came in the duck?
I tossed the bag of "orange sauce" into the trash. You may choose to heat it up and use it, but, meh. The liver and heart I tossed into a saucepan with the neck and a bit of water, removing the liver after about 6 minutes and cooking the other goodies a little longer. After letting them cool a bit, I chopped everything up into tiny pieces for use in...Fusion Dirty Rice.

1 small onion, diced
2-3 ribs of celery heart, including the tender leaves (the yellow part of the celery), diced
1 scallion, including part of the dark green area, finely chopped
Pre-cooked giblets from one duck (usually the liver and heart), finely chopped
1/2 lop chang (Chinese sweet sausage), sliced
1 tablespoon duck fat
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
3 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons coconut milk powder

Heat the duck fat in a saute pan and add the sausage, celery, and onion. Cook on high heat until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the rice and the stock, bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, or until stock is absorbed. Add the giblets and warm through. Stir in the coconut powder and the scallions.

Serves 4-6

For our vegetable, I made Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce:

Wash broccoli thoroughly to remove any pesky sand, removing leaves from stems. Heat a pot of water to boiling, then blanch the broccoli, first the stems for about 4 minutes, then the leaves for about 1 minute. Remove all veg to bowls of ice water to stop the cooking process and retain the bright green color.

Heat a saute pan on high heat and add a dribble of oil. When hot, add the broccoli and toss in the oil. Squirt on some Chinese oyster sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee brand) and heat through. That's it!

I'm pleased to say that everything turned out fabulously. The "raspberry" oranges (like blood oranges, but not quite as red. We got 'em at Wegman's) and the addition of marmalade to the sauce worked quite well. The rice dish was familiar and unusual at the same time, and would have been better with even more giblets (I like my dirty rice extremely dirty). With sticky short-grain rice rather than long (I used basmati), it would be a close cousin to the dim sum dish sticky rice in lotus leaf.

There's still plenty of duck left over. Tomorrow - duck raviolo. Later in the week - duck gumbo. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Three Little Words

This past weekend, I cooked up some delicious short ribs using Mario Batali's recipe. God, they were good. The pumpkin orzo - ehhh. A little weird. But then, I didn't follow the recipe exactly because I wasn't in the mood to wrestle with winter squash, so I used canned puree. Neal seemed to like it, but heck, orzo is pasta and that's all he needs.

After the meaty feast, I thought we should have something more veg-ful on Sunday. So I dragged out the box of tofu that was dangerously close to its sell-by date, marinated it in some Makoto Ginger Dressing (man, that stuff is gooooood), and rolled it in breadcrumbs for a nice pan fry. To appease the non-tofu-lover in my house, I made some peanut noodles with leftover bowtie pasta.

I had also picked up some baby bok choy at Wegman's the other day and decided to braise it. I found several recipes for braised bok choy on the Web, with cooking times ranging from 8 to 30 minutes. I decided to wing it. I had leftover beef stock from the short ribs, so used that as my braising liquid and added a pinch of soy. The result - ugly brownish bok choy. But it tasted yummy, and was nice and tender. I'd do it again, but use good old-fashioned Kosher salt in place of the soy, to prevent excess discoloration.

To round off the meal, I sliced up and simply salted a yellow tomato. When I plated my mess meal, I squeezed a squiggle of Sriracha under the tofu, and added a small dollop of Hoisin to the side, just in case Neal felt the need to mask the taste.

He polished everything off and then said those three words I never thought I'd hear from him.

"More tofu, please."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

So Disappointing

I hoped to come back from my trip to Pasadena and Los Angeles with tales of the fabulous meals we enjoyed there, but alas, I cannot. Neal and I both came down with food poisoning and had to cancel our reservations for Spago and Via Veneto. We couldn't make dinners at Arroyo Chop House or New Delhi Palace. We did, however, manage to make it to Smitty's Grill, a nice, reasonably-priced steakhouse in Pasadena, for a nice dinner with friends. Not that I could eat much of my roast chicken, baked potato, and asparagus - but I really *wanted* to. Sigh.

Maybe next trip, eh?

Saturday, March 04, 2006


After reading the Amateur Gourmet's post on short ribs with pumpkin orzo, I was inspired to make some for myself. I have a copy of Mario Batali's Babbo Cookbook in my collection, and forwarded a link to the post to Neal, suggesting that he pick up some short ribs on his next trip to the grocery store.

Unfortunately, he came home with pork country ribs. Not to worry! I decided to work with them. My standard recipe for country ribs involves homemade barbecue sauce, but I wasn't in the mood for that today. I looked through several cookbooks and was inspired by a recipe for country ribs with mango, lime, and coconut milk from Molly Stevens' The Art of Braising . Only I decided to use blackberries instead of mango, wine instead of coconut milk, and balsamic vinegar in place of the lime juice. Otherwise it was exactly the same. I served the meat with an orzo risotto, or orzotto and edamame tossed with salt and lemon juice (I adore edamame.)

Country Ribs with Blackberry Sauce
1.5 lbs bone-in country style pork ribs, approximately three ribs
olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cup Oregon canned blackberries in syrup
1 cup red wine (I used valpolicella)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 square semisweet baking chocolate
Salt and pepper

Pat the ribs dry and generously salt and pepper on both sides. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven; sear ribs on high heat until nicely browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Remove ribs from pot and add onions and carrots. Turn down heat to medium and sauté vegetables until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic. After about 2 minutes, add the wine and the vinegar. Bring to a boil and cook down until reduced to about half, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits from the meat. Add the berries and their juice and cook an additional 2 minutes. Place the meat back into the pot and turn the heat down to a bare simmer.

Cook for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes until pork is very tender. Remove pork from pot and raise the heat. Reduce the sauce, smashing the berries with a spoon. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the honey and the chocolate, stirring to combine. Add the meat back to the pot and cook an additional 15 minutes.

Serves 2 - 3

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
8 oz orzo pasta
2 cups chicken stock or bouillion
Pinch saffron
2 oz of cheese (I used leftover truffled cheese, but any medium- to soft-textured cheese would probably do nicely)

Melt butter in a sauté pan; add onion and orzo, stirring until the orzo browns, about 5 minutes. Add stock and saffron and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cooked, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid is evaporated. Add cheese and stir until melted.

Serves 4-6