Thursday, May 29, 2008

back to the books

I recently read an entry from a fellow blogger who was shocked to find she had 30 cookbooks. It got me thinking about how many cook books I had. It couldn’t be that many!

So this weekend, after a trip to the U and 14th Market, I was looking online for a recipe that included swiss chard (I got beautiful bunches of it at the market, along with bacon, strawberries) and it occurred to me that there was probably a great recipe in one of my books. I started thumbing through a few and suddenly stopped. I counted – one, two, three, fifteen, twenty seven…I stood in awe. I have exactly 30 cook books!

Is this excessive? It’s a question worth considering. Collecting cookbooks isn’t necessarily an expensive hobby, but in the 600 square feet of our DC condo, it’s sometime’s an untidy one. I started this blog as a way to journal my experiences with recipes cooked from the books I own and love. It’s morphed into many things for me, but this fact resounds- I love to read and I love to feed. So on Saturday, my hunt for online recipes was over - it was a day to pull those dusty books off the top of my cabinets and get cooking.

I started off with a simple pecan pie, created from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens. This is an easy recipe for a personal favorite, reminiscent of my college days on North Carolina. And what better accompaniment to one southern classic than another? Fried chicken was calling my name.

A bridesmaid’s dress was calling simultaneously. So in an attempt to squeeze into it this weekend, I opted for a healthier version- BHG’s oven fried chicken. It came out just as juicy and flavorful as its deep-fried counterpart.

After a visit with BHG, I noticed The Joy of Cooking was looking a little lonely. Its pages are worn and its novelty is well past, but its relevancy and beauty will never dull in my mind.

Originally published in 1931, The Joy of Cooking stands out on my shelf as one of the most complete, thorough, lovely cook books of our time. Any question I’ve ever had about ingredients, procedures or substitutions has been answered by a flip of its pages. It didn’t take long for me to settle on their classic risotto recipe, to which I added spinach and some of that fresh bacon I purchased from the market. Gregg said it was just as good as the risotto at Floriana, which we recently devoured and adored. He’s a good husband.

All of this reading and cooking done, and there was still swiss chard. I found a lot of options, but had my heart set on a simple soup, so I created a variation of a soup found in The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, by Mark Bittman. Using the swiss chard (finally) the leftover bacon, some white beans and shallots, I created a simple soup with a sweet and savory broth. It was tinted pink, to boot.

So here’s my challenge to you- dust off your cookbooks. Open them up. Create. It’s easy to rely on sites like allrecipes, epicurious, and chow, but it’s uniquely satisfying to turn to an old favorite for a new recipe. You’ll be surprised just how many you haven’t tried.

Risotto, adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Heat 3 tablespoons of clarified butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 shallots, minced; cook until soft and clear. You could also add some minced garlic and/or onion.

In a separate pot, simmer 8 to 10 cups of chicken stock over medium heat. (I ended up using only 8 cups of the stock, but it’s better to have extra prepared.)

In the pot with the butter and shallots, stir in 2 cups of Arborio rice. Stir until the rice is coated completely in the butter.

Add the chicken stock, 1 cup at a time, and simmer and stir continuously until absorbed. The rice should become creamy and not stiff.

Stir in 1 cup of parmesan cheese, several cups of raw spinach and chopped, cooked bacon…or any other add-ins you’d like.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thank you, neighbor

We have this great neighbor. He’s the guy we call when we’re going out of town and need our car to be moved from the “Monday” side of the street to the “Tuesday” side (even though I’m convinced the streets never get cleaned, I don’t like to risk a ticket.) He’s the guy who feeds our fish and takes in our mail. When he goes away, we do the same. His name is Peter and he is a lawyer. I don’t know too much about him.

Last night I found out he is one hell of a cook.

“Ah, two of my favorite people,” he said, as we entered the building last night. It was a nice way to come home. It was even nicer when he offered up red beans and rice, a “Monday night tradition in New Orleans,” he said. Yes, his home was swept away in the massive tragedy several years ago, “but I’m so past that,” he recently told Gregg.

He delivered red beans cooked with sausage, turkey necks and sauce “that isn’t as hot as I normally make it.” He brought two containers of warm rice.

I took the lid off the beans and breathed in that firey mix. The smell said, “I’ve been cooking for a long time, simmering in turkey juices, heating up under hot sauce. Go ahead and pour me over that rice so it can soak up my goodness.”

All day I’ve been thinking about those beans. About what a nice, simple gesture it is to share a home made dish with neighbors. About how good it tasted and how nice it was to just come home and heat up a meal someone else had prepared for us.

About whether this Monday tradition is one that Peter practices every week…and if so, how I can finagle more beans next Monday…

Monday, May 19, 2008

a lil' self promotion

If you're a fan of food writing and live in the DC area, you've probably heard of

Today I'm very excited to have a piece on the site!

Do you ever question the ingredients you buy at the grocery store or market? Do you wonder if you could make things like cheese, butter, bread and pasta by yourself? So do I.

My column will be part science experiment, part money-saving scheme, part recipe, and will feature my attempt to create items I'd normally buy. This week, read about my attempt at making my own ricotta cheese.

Is there something you've thought about creating instead of buying?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New York

Pardon the absence, but we’ve been in a New York state of mind – and belly – over the past several days. I can still smell the nuts on the street (not the homeless variety), the hot dogs at Shea stadium and the best freakin’ steak my husband has ever tasted (his edited words) at Perilla. Ah, New York City.

The trip to the Big Apple was of course, about food. Okay, it was also about a romantic get away to Gregg’s favorite town, a trip to Shea before they tear it down and a quick catch-up with old friends…but the food was the centerpiece; what we did between (and during) visits and photographs. The thing that will stay in my memory (but I’m just obsessed like that.)

John’s Pizzeria was crowded, noisy, delicious. Flat pizza, covered in cheese the way it’s meant to be. Crunchy, buttery crust, still coated in light flour, fresh from the oven. My sister-in-law recommended the place, I read mixed reviews, but I loved every minute. The waiters’ shirts read, “No Slices” and I was glad that rule forced us to order a whole pie…if fresh-from-the-oven
pizza wasn’t good enough, the cold leftovers at 3 a.m. were a bonus.

Les Halles was everything a French bistro is supposed to be on a Saturday night – boisterous, delicious, and seemingly okay with their slow service. It took us a while to get a waiter, a glass of wine, a dessert menu, and a check, but fortunately the food was worth the wait. I paired the coq au vin with the cote de rhone…and French fries! Because in my world, there is no such thing as a trip to a bistro without French fries. I got one tasty rooster, covered in wine and sweet, tender pearl onions. For dessert we split the chocolate soufflĂ©, which I really enjoyed. It could have been overwhelmingly sweet, but instead was subtly bitter. The waiter was the same…

‘Wich Craft was a great choice for Tuesday afternoon, after the rain had stopped, the clouds had parted and our train was about ready to leave…A stop in Bryant Park for a beautiful outdoor lunch was the perfect way to end our trip. Ironically, I was served the wrong sandwich, but decided I was too hungry to care. I’m glad I stuck with the surprise! Marinated eggplant, chickpea puree, roasted peppers and watercress smothered on a ciabatta roll turned out to be just what I wanted!

Perilla was the place we (read: I) chose for Monday night’s meal- our last night in the city to be shared with one of Gregg’s oldest and dearest friends. I was intrigued by the menu, but let’s be honest about something here- I mainly chose it because I knew there was a chance that I’d get to steal a glimpse of Harold Dieterle, winner of Top Chef Season 1.

Is this a (slightly) lame reason to pick a restaurant? Maybe. Am I the first person to do this? Probably not. So I held my head high upon entering, tried not to act too geeked up when Harold came out of the kitchen for the first time, and giggled only slightly with glee when someone else at my table actually ordered the spicy duck meatballs as our appetizer without me even mentioning, “You know, Harold was best known for his spicy duck meatballs on the show…”

Ahem. The food was delicious. The spicy duck meatballs were served with tiny gnocchi cooked a little more than al dente, but nowhere close to mushy. I had duck for my main course, as well, served with mustard greens, barley, pistachios and white mulberry-ginger sauce. The sauce was sweet and crunchy, and perfect for the duck. Duck has never been so happy to be covered in sauce. We ordered risotto for the table, a small bit of which I had to snag before the boys ate every last drop. And, as stated above, my husband really enjoyed the steak. Really.

As a general rule, I stay away from donuts. In fact, over the past 15 years, I’ve had approximately two. My aversion began shortly after my mom told me they were bad for my ovaries due to the high content of saturated fat.

However, on Monday night, I exposed my ovaries to the best damn donuts I’ve ever had (and it’s been a while, so I haven’t had that many…but even if I had, I’m pretty sure these were the best.) I neglected the chocolate ganache they were served with, favoring the rich, Meyer lemon curd instead.

The server was friendly, the wine recommendations were a perfect pairing and we left feeling every bit satisfied.

For the record, I saw Harold three times.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I’ve made a discovery and there’s no turning back. So ok, maybe it’s not an original discovery, since I’ve been reading about variations here and here, but it was the first time I personally tried roasting my garlic before blending it into my hummus, and boy am I glad I did!
Roasted garlic carries that buttery smell, taste and consistency, so it only makes sense that it would only add to the creaminess of hummus. I love good, stinky garlic as much as the next girl, but I’ve always been a fan of a blander hummus…and know I know how to make it!

2 cups chick-peas, drained and rinsed
1 head of garlic, roasted in olive oil
1/3 cup tahini
juice squeezed from half a lemon
¾ cup veggie stock
1/2 tsp salt1 head of roasted garlic

Puree all ingredients together in a food processor. Serve with olive oil, pine nuts or paprika.

Monday, May 5, 2008


1789 is not the kind of place you just stop by after a long day of shopping in Georgetown. It is the kind of place, however, that courtesy calls you to advise men wear sports coats, and, oh yeah, no one is permitted in jeans or sneakers.

I giggled during said phone call, but agreed to their terms.

So what I got on Saturday night was hearty but refined food with a gorgeous man in a suit. And really, what else is there?

I ordered a not-so-cohesive but delicious selection – three courses from varying regions. I started with Hamachi- that glorious filet of fish that was served with a smooth avocado paste and crunchy sea salt. Probably worth mentioning that my husband ordered the salt cod fritters, which were definitely worth stealing off his plate, which was then worthy of having bread slathered against it to pick up rogue sauce. Yum. I followed that up with a cavatelli (I told you I hopped all over that menu) served with mushrooms and asparagus. The pasta tasted homemade, doughy, fresh. The mushrooms and asparagus added an earthy flavor. My main course was a filet of local rockfish, accompanied by leeks, (more) mushrooms and escargot. Being leek season and all, I thought this was an appropriate choice.

I love it when I’m right.

I don’t know a lot about rockfish, but I do know that the slight fattiness of the fish, combined with the creamy mushrooms and leeks created a nice consistency, almost like a thick stew over the fish. And if that wasn’t good enough, sporadic bites of escargot made it seem luxurious and special.

And just when we thought we were full, the desert menu came. We split a praline-filled, chocolate mousse cake of sorts…and it sort of made me wish I had ordered my own.
We’ll be back, 1789. We may have to save our pennies for a few months, but we’ll be back.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fish Sauce...who knew?

I haven’t written lately…it doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading or cooking, it just means I haven’t taken the time to write about what I’m reading or cooking. It also means that when I’m cooking, I’m not taking pictures of what I’m cooking.

I’m bad.

But I’d like to re-enter the blog-o-sphere with an entry about Martha Stewart’s Lemon Grass Beef Skewers. I was a little intimidated because this was my first venture into cooking with fish sauce. The smell is a bit off-putting. Not to mention its pungent taste when sampled on it’s own. But the combination of fish sauce with brown sugar, lemon grass and garlic creates that familiar Thai seasoning that blends perfectly with peanuts, crisp lettuce and juicy beef.

I’ve made the beef three times now, and served it along side Martha’s rice noodles with scallions and herbs. For lack of a grill pan, I’ve cooked the beef on my Foreman Grill (with detachable plates, mind you!) and been extremely happy with the texture.

You remember Aladdin? The part where Jasmine is flying through the air on a magic carpet, singing “A Whole New World?” Well this dish opened a whole new world for me. I’m happy to report that fish sauce is now my friend!

Serves 4
3 lemongrass stalks, bottom 4 inches only, minced
3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon packed light-brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless sirloin, trimmed of excess fat
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts (about 1 ounce), crushed
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced on the diagonal (optional)
Fresh mint and basil sprigs, for serving
Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves, for serving
Lime wedges, for squeezing
Soak 8 bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes.
Whisk together lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and oil. Slice beef very thinly against the grain. Add to marinade, and toss. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Thread beef onto skewers. Grill until browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a platter, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with the remaining ingredients on the side, bundling the meat, cucumber, and herbs inside the lettuce leaves if desired.