Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Channeling Julia

I’ve just started reading My Life in France, by Julia Child. It’s my lunch time book – I have found that my most favorite lunches are those spent in small spaces, huddled over a bowl of soup with a book in my hand. I enjoy meeting up with friends and shopping, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t beat an hour of good food, good reading, peace and quiet.
Today’s small space was the Couscous Café, a Mediterranean café on M Street downtown. I’ve been to the Café before for takeout, but after five minutes walking in the wind and extreme cold, I figured I’d sit down, warm up and stay a while.
The menu offers many enticing items, but I settled on the chicken with couscous and vegetables. This was the most tender dish of food. Everything appears to have been cooking in a pot for the whole day- that’s the only way I can imagine food to be so flavorful, soft and perfect. Midway through my meal a sweet grandmother of a woman (was it the owner’s mother, Hadda?) offered up a warm cup of tea, complete with mint leaves. The cup was filled several times during my meal, almost like she knew it was the perfect accompaniment to my meal and to the experience. I happened to be reading a passage in My Life in France about Julia’s first French meal and how perfect the flavors were. She described the experience as eye opening and wonderful. To read about her innocence and the magic of that experience and how it shaped her life and career was a nice moment in the middle of a busy work day. I’m going to make an effort to take more lunch breaks, read more Julia Child, and eat more at the Couscous Café.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why do they have to go so young?

As many city dwellers will agree, the holidays mean travel - out to the suburbs of our youth, out past the beltway traffic and politicos, out into the "real world". For us this means a trek up to Delaware and New Jersey.

While we fill up on childhood favorites like ham, baked pasta and home made pies, I long to return to my mini kitchen to create my own meals and traditions.

We roasted our annual turkey this weekend. Our 12 pound bird took around 3 1/2 hours to cook to a golden brown in my mini oven. I made a simple sausage stuffing inside the bird, along with mashed potatoes and asparagus with a rosemary garlic sauce.

After we ate, I put up our mini tree in a window.

Our kitchen (and our condo, for that matter) may be small, but the flavors of the food and the spirit of the holidays is big!!!! I know someday, when we're in a house we'll look back at these days and smile. These were our pre-children, urban living days, when we walked to work, to bars, to museums. These are the days when I learned to cook a turkey in a mini oven.

Just your typical Saturday

I’m an early bird – there are certain responsibilities that go along with this. Ok, no one’s putting a gun to my head, telling me to make breakfast, clean up last night’s wine glasses or dust-bust hard wood floors. But at 6 am on a Saturday morning, what else is there? My routine usually goes:
· Lay in bed for half an hour, trying to go back to sleep
· Get up; I’m not falling back asleep until tonight
· Make coffee
· Flip through the miserable TV that’s on at this hour
· Clean the kitchen
· Flip through my cookbooks
· Jump on my husband, whose sound asleep…and eventually get him out of bed with the promise of a savory breakfast
This weekend I had leftover baguette…one of my favorite leftovers, because it doesn’t mold or “go bad” fast – it just gets hard.
But hard is no match for french toast! I used a basic recipe from the good ol’ Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. You can find the recipe here.
I used butter (yes, real butter) as my fat. The french toast came out fantastic. This recipe uses a lot of egg, and I like the way it soaks into the bread slightly, while keeping a nice coating that creates that soft on the inside, crispy on the outside texture that french toast is famous for. The hubs and I smothered it in gooey syrup and set together, on the couch, with smiles on our faces. I was happy that I had someone to hang out with, he was happy that he had breakfast.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Everyday Pasta

Giada De Laurentis isn’t just another pretty face. She makes pretty pasta, too!
I received her cookbook, “Everyday Pasta” as a gift several months ago and have enjoyed trying her recipes. My husband and I had fun making the fried ravioli for a recent dinner party and the fried zucchini makes regular appearances at our dinner table. She also shares a fun twist on a traditional Tuscan bread salad: Cornbread Panzanella.

Last night I tried my hand at Giada’s Spaghetti with Pinot Grigio and Seafood. Click here for a link to the recipe, found on the Food Network.

Variations I made from the recipe:
I used marinated clams…you know, you go to Whole Foods for the good stuff (often the expensive stuff!) and it’s pretty surprising when they don’t have it…they were, however, the only grocery store in the (walkable) area that had arugula, so kudos for that…I think the marinated clams affected the taste a little. They were marinated in oil and lemon juice, and I think the lemon added a bitter taste to the dish, which was bitter enough because of the arugula.
I also left my sun-dried tomatoes unchopped, because I think they’re more attractive whole, plus I like the idea of plopping them on top of a crusty baguette (which I did!)
I used linguini (semolina) instead of regular spaghetti. I thought this was a good choice…my theory was that the thicker noodles would pick up the sauce nicely (I was right!)
Except for the added bitterness (that I suspect was from the clams) this was an enjoyable, flavorful dish. I enjoy food that let the natural seafood flavors come through strong and stand mostly on their own, and this dish did that. The sauce was light and the taste of the shellfish really clung to the noodles. The arugula and tomatoes added a nice, acidic bite, and the sautéed shallots were the perfect addition and melted right into the big, crusty bread I served on the side. And who doesn’t love a recipe that uses a cup and a half of wine? You know what that means…you have to drink the rest of the bottle!

I’ll make this recipe again, but will go out of my way if need be (I will even drive my car and risk giving up my beloved city-street parking spot) to find fresh clams.