Thursday, December 31, 2009

Adios to Tavern on the Green

Or should I say good riddance? New York City's Tavern on the Green is hosting diners tonight for its final evening of operation. But I'm not going to shed any tears. My one and only experience there confirmed what I'd always suspected: TG was an overpriced tourist trap.

At its peak, TG plated more than 700,000 meals per year. A new restaurateur is expected to operate in the existing space, but legal issues appear to preclude the new owner from reopening under the TG name.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Worst Cooks in America

Do you still shudder to recall those awful holiday dinners cooked by your aunt? Or are you trying to forget about your mother's semiregular meal of dried-out meatloaf and boiled-to-death veggies? Then there's a new reality show that you can relate to.

The show, airing on the Food Network, is called "Worst Cooks in America." According to Food Network:

Twelve of the most hopeless cooks in the country will compete in a high-stakes elimination series in Worst Cooks in America. At stake for the last two standing is the chance to cook for a panel of esteemed culinary critics and win the grand prize of $25,000. This six-episode series will put the "recruits" through a culinary boot camp ...
Something tells me this show will make the rest of us feel very good about our culinary skills.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Salute to Pretzel Salad

I have some pretty blue-blood tastes: foie gras, for example. But I also enjoy some no-nonsense, shake-and-bake kind of foods. And pretzel salad happens to be one of them.

Last year, a relative made pretzel salad as a sweet side dish for Christmas dinner. It was the first time I had tasted it. She made it again this year for Christmas dinner. Maybe it's the saltiness of the pretzels contrasting with the sweetness of the cream-cheese mixture. Whatever it is, I'm going to be tempted to make it myself in 2010.

Why wait until next Christmas to enjoy something that is this easy to make?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Getting Some Ham Help

Turkey has always been the entree that adorns my family's Christmas dinner table. But for many families, the choice is a ham. If you're one of the latter, check out this web page at for "12 Classic Christmas Hams."

Te Apple-Ginger Glazed Ham, one of those 12 options, looks darn good to me.

Be sure to look for the link to 9 "must-have recipes" for side dishes and appetizers.

Foodphoria will take a holiday nap for the rest of this week. Happy cooking and happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Books About Food and Wine

There was a time when books about wine were generally categorized as "food books." But the genre has steadily grown to satisfy the public's thirst for info and insights on wine-drinking, earning its own distinct category.

A reflection of that fact is this Los Angeles Times article reviewing the best wine books to give this year as gifts.

As usual, consumers have a wide variety of food books to choose from this holiday season. This post at offers a quick sample of enticing books, ranging from "The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook" to "50 Great Appetizers."

Those Brussels Sprouts Killers

When I saw this article in Monday's New York Times, I was very tempted to send it to a few of my vegan friends. But I didn't.

Still, I am curious what they would say in response to an article headlined: Sorry Vegans, Brussels Sprouts Like to Live Too.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Making Great Hash Browns

I love hash brown potatoes. But what restaurants commonly refer to as "home fries"? I generally find them extraordinarily blah. The potatoes they seem to use for home fries are typically second-rate, and they never cook or season them very well.

I agree with this post at, which declares:

Hash browns have the ability to make or break a breakfast. ... the taste of great hash browns can travel right from the mouth to the soul.

The nice thing about hash browns is that you get the outside nice and crispy. The thin shreds of potato make it much easier to get that crispiness.

I made some hash browns on this snowy weekend, and they turned out pretty well. According to this post at Simply Recipes, one of the keys is to get all the moisture you can out of the potatoes before throwing them into a skillet.

One thing I didn't do this weekend that also seems helpful (to make them nice and crispy) is to spread a think layer of potatoes in the skillet. If you drop a thick pile of hash browns in the pan, some of them will not make steady contact with the heating surface of the skillet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Does anyone eat fruitcake anymore?

Just when I was beginning to think not, I noticed this newspaper headline during my web-surfing yesterday: Fruitcake makes a comeback. Huh? Where is fruitcake making a comeback?

It always looks nasty to me, especially the candied fruit. I like candy; I like fruit. So what's with candied fruit? Cake is supposed to be moist, but fruitcake is not moist. It could double as a paper-weight.

Christmas is one of those seasons when fruitcakes suddenly pop out of nowhere. Everyone seems to have an aunt who decides it's her obligation to keep the rest of the clan well stocked with fruitcake. There's even an Oregon congressman who takes it upon himself to bake hundreds of fruitcakes, giving them to colleagues and staffers. Yuck.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Political Animal, Culinary Animal

Yesterday's issue of Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based publication, profiled Senator Herb Kohl's chief of staff -- a man with a love for cooking.

Phil Karsting has the credentials that show his love is matched by his technique. The newspaper writes:

Karsting’s background is equal parts food and politics. After growing up in rural Nebraska, among a family of home cooks, he obtained a degree from the University of Nebraska in agricultural economics. That led, via a circuitous route, to a grand diplôme from the French Culinary Institute in New York City.

... Today, he is a serious hobbyist cook, one with the skills of a professional. Among his talents: He makes his own Worcestershire sauce, which he planned to use on New York strip steaks, along with some sautéed sliced red cabbage, for a recent dinner.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Theatrical Show of Calories

During the holiday break, a lot of us will be taking in a movie or two. What will we eat in those movie theaters?

First and foremost, popcorn. With a big tub of soda, of course.

Well, according to an analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest:

It's hard to picture someone mindlessly ingesting three McDonald's Quarter Pounders with 12 pats of butter while watching a movie. But according to new laboratory analyses commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, that food is nutritionally comparable to what you’d find in a medium popcorn and soda combo at Regal, the country’s biggest movie theater chain: 1,610 calories and three days’ worth — 60 grams — of saturated fat.

That's a hefty caloric price to pay for what most people think of as a snack.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Here's to the Menu Negotiators

Anyone who has ever watched the movie "When Harry Met Sally" remembers the scene when actress Meg Ryan simulates having an orgasm. But it's the other restaurant scene that I'm calling attention to in this post.

Y'know, the one where the actress asks for substitutions and deletions from her menu item. It reminded me of a few friends and family members who view a menu as a starting point for negotiation, not a list of take-em-or-leave-em choices.

Many of these people have food allergies or dislikes that drive their requests for substitutions or changes. So I generally feel for these people. Besides, restaurants sometimes are guilty of throwing one too many ingredients on a sandwich or dish.

So here's a toast to those menu negotiators. You know who you are.

Monday, December 14, 2009

High-Priced Delicacies

This recent article and slideshow from the Huffington Post examines the "priciest foods ever." No. 1 on this list of priciest foods is the white truffle. According to HuffPost's Eve Solomon:

More expensive than any other food, let alone any other fungus, the white truffle stands at the top of the expensive food chain. These gems are so expensive because of their rarity and because truffle hunters rely on luck and pigs to find them. White truffles can cost up to $2,700 per pound.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Highly Overrated Dish

Yorkshire pudding. There, I said it. What a waste of flour and pan drippings. I've had Yorkshire pudding two or three times, and I just don't get it. It looks like it's going to taste good, but it ends up tasting like a starchy, bland biscuit.

Why not just make a gravy? What do people see in Yorkshire pudding? Yeah, it's "traditional." It's also bland.

Hell, I'd take a Parkerhouse roll anyday with my roast beef instead of Yorkshire pudding.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Food for the Festivities

The December holidays are hard to separate from the foods and confections they've inspired through the years. And so I offer you the following:

* The Los Angeles Times insists that it just wouldn't be a Hanukkah party without fried foods.

* This article from the Washington Post provides a host of Christmas cookie recipes, from German chocolate cookies to blue cheese-walnut cookies.

* If you really want to go traditional, check out these recipes for plum pudding.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where the Meat Is Safer

From a food safety standpoint, this is pretty depressing news. From an article in today's USA Today:

In the past three years, the government has provided the nation's schools with millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't meet the quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants, from Jack in the Box and other burger places to chicken chains such as KFC, a USA TODAY investigation found.

. . . McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Man And His Marmalade

In the November issue of Esquire magazine, Guy Ritchie, the ex-husband of Madonna, waxed on about one of his favorite foods. Actually, "condiment" is a more accurate term.

So what is it about marmalade that has won Ritchie's intense devotion?

It's bitter and sweet, right? What you got here is contraction and expansion. Absolute and relative. Don't get me jam! No f**king jam. See, I don't like raspberry jam because it's too tart. I do like strawberry jam, but it's a bit too sweet . . .

What I like is a nice thin-cut marmalade. With a bit of rinds, 'cause I like a bit of bitter. I've had every f**king marmalade known to man and I like a thin-cut marmalade.

. . . Now, the marmalade at Richoux, that's an accessible marmalade.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Think You're Dining "Green"?

Think again. In many cases, you may not be eating the "sustainable" food from small suppliers that you think you are. This article from today's Washington Post offers an example: a restaurant in the city's downtown called Founding Farmers:

The restaurant serves farmed Atlantic salmon, a no-no according to seafood watch groups that condemn the pollution and other environmental impacts of salmon farming.

Its supplier, Cooke Aquaculture, is one of the largest salmon farms in North America. And three of the small farms named on that November menu had not sold to [Founding Farmers] in nearly six months.

So what's up? Well, I think this may explain why restaurants are better at advertising their "green" qualities than they are at living up to them:

In an eco-conscious era, "sustainable" and "green" food are buzzwords that sell. ... The 2010 Zagat survey of U.S. restaurants reports that 61 percent of diners are willing to pay more for green products and menu items . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Apples: Beyond the Ordinary

We've all been to one of those grocery stores where you can only find Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and MacIntosh apples.

If you're lucky, maybe you'll find a stack of Jonagolds and maybe one of Empires.

If those are the only apple varieties you're buying and eating, you're missing out. There are hundreds of varieties of apples, many that you've never heard of -- like Laxton's Superb, Senshu, Tallow Pippin, Blacktwig, Wellington, Northern Spy, Oliver and Gilbert Gold.

This website ( has a comprehensive list of these apples. And most of the varieties have hyperlinks that provide you with details on how they taste and when they're typically harvested.

Fall is a great time to visit an apple orchard in your state or region. Once you're there, try some of these more obscure varieties. Many of them make for great eating or excellent pie-baking. The website I referred to above also has a link with listing of orchards.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dreamin' of a Plate of Mussels

I'm dreaming of dinner tomorrow night with friends at Belga Cafe, where I expect to order mussels, cooked in a pot of butter, white wine and garlic.

Yum. It's the kind of dish that sort of takes the chill out of the air. And I suspect I will order one of their Belgian ales to go with my mussels.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Variations on Pumpkin Pie

Where was this recipe when I searched the web last week? Well, it looks good and maybe I'll give it a try in the next few weeks -- it's Eggnog Pumpkin Pie.

I have heard great things about this recipe for Apple Butter-Pumpkin Pie by Paul Deen, but I intend to give it a try because it combines two of my favorite flavors.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cooking the "Risotto" Way

I am a big fan of pasta, especially risotto. That's why this recent article from the N.Y. Times caught my eye. Mark Bittman writes:

Cooking pasta the way you would make risotto may sound new and hip. But it's at least old enough to have been demonstrated to me in Rome in 1976, and I imagine as old as pasta itself.

. . . The pasta retains its starch, making it creamy and rich; it also gains the flavor of the stock.

It would be interesting to give this a try.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Condiment That's Hard to Stomach

In today's Washington Post, columnist John Kelly writes:

I arrived late to the book party launching Maggie Hall's new paperback about Marmite, an English condiment that is perhaps the foulest compound legally sold for human consumption. Late, but not late enough: There was still plenty of Marmite left.

... I arrived late to the book party launching Maggie Hall's new paperback about Marmite, an English condiment that is perhaps the foulest compound legally sold for human consumption. Late, but not late enough: There was still plenty of Marmite left.

That's how it tastes, anyway. What it is is yeast extract. You might wonder why someone first thought to extract something edible from yeast. I know I did. Apparently when you brew beer, there's all this sludge left over.
Believe me, marmite is as gross as Kelly describes.

Uninvited Dinner Guests

It has been all the buzz here in Washington, D.C., but many Americans "outside the beltway" may not be appear that President Obama's official state dinner at the White House on Tuesday was crashed by a Virginia couple.

White House security officials are still stammering to explain how the uninvited socialites, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, were able to enter the executive mansion and shake hands with the president.

The Washington Post writes that "it appears to be the first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House dinner." I can't seem to find what was on the menu.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Final Tips & Ideas for Thanksgiving

Take a deep breath and relax. Linda Larsen offers these tips on making a gravy for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Cranberry sauce shouldn't come out of a can. Especially when there's an easy recipe like this one. Stir in a little orange zest if you wish.

Mashed potatoes are a predictable side dish. Want to try something different? How about sweet potatoes? No, they don't have to be candied. Try this recipe, but substitute a can of mandarin oranges for the orange, and replace the corn syrup with 1/2 cup of molasses. You'll love it.

What about pies? Pumpkin pie is traditional, but Simply Recipes offers several other options on this web page.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

It's a safe bet that a large bowl of mashed potatoes will grace most dinner tables on this upcoming Thanksgiving. But how they are prepared is likely to vary, if only a little. Today's Washington Post includes this article about making the perfect mashed potatoes:

Mashed potatoes or potato puree is a dish everyone can make. It demands so little: Boil some potatoes and crush them with whatever you have at hand: a potato ricer, a fork or the backside of a wooden spatula.

The transformation from plain boiled potatoes to a dish with its own merit needn't take more than a minute. If the potatoes are good, and if you add a little milk, a lump of butter or some cream, few people would not appreciate or even love the result.

... However the process of making good mashed potatoes does have its demands. ... Cooks who are overeager or inattentive risk ending up with a sticky mass of something more resembling wallpaper glue than gastronomy.

The article talks about the importance of letting the potatoes drain (once they've been boiled). The writer recommends using a hand-held electric mixer rather than a food processor. There are other suggestions and caveats so it's an article worth reading.

Some people swear by using Russet potatoes, while others insist that Yukon Golds are the best. I think the latter make the best mashed potatoes.

There's also the issue of whether to add garlic or an herb like sage. I like these kinds of twists, but my significant other is a purist when it comes to mashed potatoes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

No More Nathans

Strolling through D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood this weekend, something just didn't look right to me. I finally realized what it was. Even though I'd heard that Nathans had closed this July, this was the first time I saw the tavern-restaurant with the light brown butcher paper covering up all of the windows.

I only ate a meal once at Nathans, and it was not a memorable one. Still, the restaurant at the corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue was situated right at the heart of Georgetown. It was a landmark that every longtime Washington, D.C. resident knew of.

It seems that Nathans was always operating in the red. This shaky economy probably didn't make things any easier.

Starbucks: Do You Love It or Hate It?

In this post at MSN, Justin Rohrlich explores the intense emotions that many people express -- positive or negative -- about Starbucks:

Hate Starbucks? Have you asked yourself why?

Maybe it's because you find the coffee stores bland and generic. Perhaps you don't like that they seem to be everywhere you look.

Or it could be that you simply prefer your local, independent mom-and-pop coffee shop, and show your loyalty by hating Starbucks.

But guess what. Mom-and-pop coffee shops don't hate Starbucks at all. In fact, most of them love it when a Starbucks opens a location nearby.

... It may sound like something you've read in The Onion, but it's absolutely true.
I'm somewhere in the middle. I like independent coffeehouses, but I also appreciate that when I order a latte at a Starbucks, I know exactly what I'm going to get.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Martha Cops Some Attitude

Looks like Martha Stewart's picking a fight with another femme de la cuisine. According to the Epi-Log blog at Epicurious:

In a "Nightline" interview to air tonight [Nov. 19], Martha Stewart talks less than flatteringly of Rachael Ray's skills in the kitchen, pretty much dismissing her as a "bubbly" "entertainer" who isn't worthy of the title of TV chef.

. . . "She's a totally different kind of cook than I am. I don't know if she has a garden; I don't think so."
Um, Martha, in case you didn't know it, there are these things called "farmers markets." In most metro areas, you can go to one and buy a wide variety of fresh produce there. So don't get too uppity about having a garden.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pumpkins, While Supplies Last

Apparently so. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Recent heavy rains in the Midwest are putting pumpkin pie in short supply this holiday season. On Tuesday, food giant Nestle, which controls about 85% of the pumpkin crop for canning, issued a rare apology and said that rain appeared to have destroyed what remained of a small harvest this year and it expected to stop shipping the holiday staple by Thanksgiving.
So if you love pumpkin pie, enjoy a slice or two over Thanksgiving because it may be the last taste you have for a while.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Make-Ahead Thanksgiving

The N.Y. Times' Mark Bittman opens this article by writing:

For cooks, most Thanksgiving problems are brought about by the sheer number of dishes competing for the stove: It's not easy to roast a turkey and sweet potatoes for 20 at the same time.

The best solution is to make food in advance . . .

What follows are dozens of recipes for side dishes, relishes and soups that can be made ahead of time. Some sound much better than others, but any Thanksgiving cook should be able to find several good ideas here.

Speaking for myself, I don't get serving "soup" for the Thanksgiving meal.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brining a Turkey

I've eaten a turkey both ways, brined and not brined. And I can tell you that brining makes a big difference in producing a tastier, juicier turkey.

Slash Food offers these do's and don'ts for brining. Over at the weblog Serious Eats, this post walks people through the ABC's of brining. As the blog notes, brining is not a new concept:

The Scandinavians and Chinese have been extolling the virtues of brining for milennia, and Cook's Illustrated has for at least a decade. But the thing that is odd to me is that people can't seem to agree on how it works -- even the experts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Taste, Not Appearance, Matters Most

Everywhere you look these days, it seems that cake decorating is all the rage -- from the Food Network's Ace of Cakes show to the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show. Hell, there's even a magazine devoted to cake decorating.

The cakes in these competitions look quite lavish and glittery. But I've always been skeptical of cakes in which appearance is the focal point. Maybe it's because I've tasted my share of "pretty" cakes from weddings and other events that simply couldn't stand up to a basic Duncan Hines box cake.

The frosting on these decorator cakes tends to be made (at least it tastes like it) with Crisco instead of butter. And I prefer the taste of frosting that's made with real butter.

To be fair, there are at least some cake decorators who understand what matters most: taste. Phyllis Lester, who owns a cake-decorating business, puts it this way:
A cake isn’t memorable unless it tastes fabulous.
Here, here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cranberry Cravings

“It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is inedible without it.” -- Allistair Cooke

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that turkey is "inedible" without it, but it sure tastes a lot better with it. Everyone I know seems to have a favorite version of cranberry sauce. For some, it's the no-nonsense gelatinized version that comes right out of a can. For others, it's more of a relish that may have orange or lemon zest in it.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this article on MSN's "Delish" offers several different recipes for cranberry sauce. The version with apples and port looks most appealing to me. The Ginger-Orange version is also enticing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Food-Exploring in the Lower East Side

The Lower East Side of NYC is not a typical destination for foodies who are visiting New York. But it should be because there are some fun eateries and shops down there.

First, the Doughnut Plant (see my previous post) is located there.

Second, you can buy some of those donuts and enjoy them with a good cup of coffee by strolling a few blocks over to 81 Orchard Street, where the Roasting Plant coffee bar is located. (Its beans are fresh-roasted only 15 minutes away in a building in Greenwich Village.) I really liked the sign they posted outside -- see above.

Next door, at 79 Orchard Street, a fun and cozy restaurant called Cafe Katya serves Austrian food. Prices are reasonable, especially for NYC.
An interesting sidebar: by 1905, this block of Orchard Street was the most highly populated block in the world -- a stretch of tenement buildings that were overflowing with newly arrived immigrants. The Tenement Museum is located further north on this block.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Sweet Tooth in NYC

Ever since I saw the Doughnut Plant featured on the Food Network, I wanted to go there and sample it for myself.

So when I was recently in NYC, I had to head down to the Lower East Side, where the Doughnut Plant is located. It's a simple, inconspicuous storefront. The front counter is tended only when a customer happens to enter the building.

The range of flavored doughnuts that they make is extraordinary. From Valrhona chocolate to coconut cream to creme brûlée. I ordered a couple of pumpkin cake donuts that were topped off with a maple-spice glaze. They were incredible.

The morning I was there, they also had apple-cinnamon yeast donuts with bits of minced apple worked into the glaze. They were yummy.

Back in midtown Manhattan, I had a very decadent hot chocolate at Lily O'Brien's Chocolate Café, located on 40th Street on the south side of Bryant Park. Lily O'Brien's sells "chocolate shots" in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

Visiting an Old Haunt

I recently spent a few days in New York City and thought I'd share some food experiences with you.

First, in the category of "visiting an old haunt," I booked a table for me and my significant-other at Il Cantinori, an Italian restaurant in the Village. The restaurant caught some free publicity years ago from an episode of "Sex and the City" when Carrie celebrates her 35th birthday by dining there.

It had been 12 years since I'd eaten there. I had fond memories of taking a friend out to dinner there. It's noteworthy when any restaurant in NYC has the staying power to last 10-plus years, and I was curious about whether Il Cantinori was still preparing solid meals.

The food was still good. Not great, but definitely good. The wine list was very reasonably priced, and I give them big points for that.

If anything had changed in those 12 years, it was the whole vibe of the place. Instead of the Il Cantinori that was fairly quiet and slightly formal in the mid-1990s, the present-day restaurant is loud and hip (at least during dinner). Recorded rock and hip-hop music cascaded throughout the restaurant.

Il Cantinori is also rather dark at night with lighting so soft that you have a hard time reading the menu.

It's always interesting to see how owners try to redefine a restaurant to appeal to new crowds or to reintroduce the place to the dining public.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is Galileo Soon to Reopen?

I hope so. Rumor has it that there's a sign in the window of what used to be the restaurant Butterfield 9 stating that Galileo will soon reopen in that space. Butterfield 9 has been closed for over a year.

Most foodies in the Washington, D.C.-metro area have fond memories of at least one meal they ate in Galileo, a restaurant on 21st Street that was overseen by chef Roberto Donna (above right).

I haven't strolled past the window of Butterfield 9 lately so I can only hope that the rumor I've heard is true.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tips for Restaurant Staff

Consider this an appropriate addendum to my last post. It's a list from the N.Y. Times' You're the Boss blog.

Here are a few samples from Part 2 of the list of "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do":

  • Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested.
  • Specials, spoken and printed, should always have prices.
  • Do not ask if someone is finished when others are still eating that course.
  • Do not ask, "Are you still working on that?" Dining is not work -- until questions like this are asked.
  • Do not ask if a guest needs change. Just bring the change.

Take Me to Your Server

Have you been to one these restaurants lately? One person takes your order, a different person fills and refills water glasses, and yet a different person brings food to your table.

I was eating at the Arlington, Va., location of Jaleo yesterday, and although I had a nice meal, it was annoying that whenever I wanted to order an additional food item, I seemed to hear: "You need to tell your server" or "I'll go find your server and send him over."

Every restaurant should train all of its staff to take or handle basic requests -- a glass of wine, coffee, etc. It's silly that one should have to wait for one's server to make those requests. Don't present customers with hurdles for ordering food or drinks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A French Element in Spanish Tapas

Even when a chef prepares ethnic foods, the origin of those foods frequently crosses at least border. Here's a quick example.

Earlier today, I watched Food Network chef Tyler Florence preparing tapas -- classic Spanish hors d'oeuvres. One of them was a dish called Gallina de Madre (pronounced: guy-ee-nuh day mad-ray). In Spanish, the name means "mother hen." Here's the recipe, which looks very tasty.

Interestingly, Gallina de Madre is prepared with a béchamel sauce, a white cream sauce that was conceived by Louis de Béchamel, a steward to France's King Louis XIV. Béchamel (pictured above) is the base used for the cheesy Mornay Sauce, and it is also used in some recipe versions of a Croque Monsieur.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rethinking Key Limes (and the Pie)

I'm a big fan of Key Lime Pie. This Los Angeles Times article offers some other ideas for making good use of key limes.

But I have no intention of taking heeding the article's suggestion of incorporating meringue into Key Lime Pie. Why tinker with such a marvelous dessert?

BTW, I found this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine for Key Lime Cupcakes. The recipe doesn't specify key lime juice so I suspect you could use either type of lime juice. I may have to try making them this weekend.

The most interesting thing I learned from the L.A. Times article is that although key limes are a novelty among U.S. consumers, these limes are the most popular choice by consumers outside of the U.S. The reason why key limes aren't as widely bought and sold in the U.S. can be traced back to a 1926 hurricane.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Urban Vineyards

It surprised me to learn from this N.Y. Times article that there are 1,700 acres of vineyards planted within the city limits of Vienna, Austria.

I drank some good wines when I was in Vienna about a year ago, but I don't know if any of them were cultivated within the city limits.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lunch at Kellari

I blogged a few days ago about a new, upscale Greek restaurant that has opened in downtown Washington, D.C. It's called Kellari. There are three Kellari locations in New York City, and I ate lunch at the new D.C. outpost yesterday.

The menu at Kellari is seafood-centered menu, and several fresh fish are available (grilled) each day. The grilled Dover sole was excellent, very flaky. Yet, at the price that I paid ($40) for it, there should have been some roasted potatoes or frites served alongside it.

I started my meal with a bowl of the classic Greek soup called Avgolemono, and it was fine but not impressive. I'd give it a grade of a B.

I was told that Kellari's baklava was exceptional, but it was one of more bland baklavas that I've ever eaten -- not as flaky as baklava typically is, and the sweetness seemed to smack more of sugar, not honey. The flavor lacked sophistication.

I really liked the dish of diced radish, hummus and olives that was served gratis as a kind of antipasta-appetizer. The hummus tasted great on the grilled bread that was served with it. There is a good, diverse selection of wines by the glass, including a few Greek wines.

Although Kellari is a very nice space, the price point is going to be a stretch for anyone who isn't on an expense-account lunch. Those kinds of lunches are still had in the K Street corridor, but it's a limited market. And the food I ate didn't "wow" me enough to make the price point seem reasonable.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rudnick's Halloween Diet

In a newly released book, playwright-screenwriter Paul Rudnick reveals his unconventional diet. According to the N.Y. Times:

... (Rudnick's new book) reveals a horrible truth no parent wants published: It is possible, it seems, to live on candy.

Mr. Rudnick is the living proof. At 51, 5-foot-10 and an enviably lean 150 pounds, Mr. Rudnick does not square with the inevitable mental image of a man who has barely touched a vegetable other than candy corn in nearly a half-century.

“People always assume I’m lying,” said Mr. Rudnick earlier this month in his West Village apartment packed from ceiling to floor with Gothic ornamentation. “They always say: ‘That can’t be true. You’d be dead. Or huge.’"

... He doesn’t like gelato; he likes ice cream. He doesn’t like Maison du Chocolat or Godiva. He likes Kit Kats.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tinkering With a French Classic

Cassoulet is one of my favorite dishes, especially this time of the year. It's the quintessential French "peasant entree." Leftovers from larger meals -- usually pork shoulder and duck legs -- are combined with white beans, chopped tomato and garlic in a large crock, which is covered with bread crumbs and baked.

Cassoulet originates from the southwest region of France, where three cities claim to be the sites where the dish was first prepared. Does it contain lamb sausage or not? Should it contain mutton or even partridge? It seems that every restauranteur or family in this part of France has a strong opinion on such questions.

As much as I like the food at La Chaumiere in D.C.'s Georgetown, I was disappointed by the cassoulet that I ate there a month or so ago. The beans were overcooked and they got skimpy on the meat. On the other hand, the cassoulet that I had last week at Bistrot d'Oc in downtown was superb.

Cassoulet is a labor-intensive meal to prepare. There's a lot of cooking, cutting, dicing and assembling. This recipe for cassoulet from Food & Wine magazine looks good, but I doubt that I will ever go to the trouble of trying to cook this at home.

If you'd like to make cassoulet at home, you're better off relying on this recipe that Adam Roberts adapted and posted on his blog, The Amateur Gourmet.

If you really want to simplify the recipe, then try this one from the N.Y. Times' Mark Bittman, although even he calls it a "heresy" compared to the original restaurant version of cassoulet.

I even found this recipe for chicken cassoulet. Knowledge of its existence would probably cause convulsions at a Cordon Bleu cooking school. Using an Italian cheese in a French entree? Incroyable!

Monday, October 26, 2009

This Cookie Crumbles

In the past few years, a few diet gurus have gained traction by pushing a new weight-loss concept based around eating cookies.

One of those diets, Dr. Siegal's Cookie Diet, has been around since the 1970s. His website touts a "secret amino acid protein blend" as the vehicle for weight loss.

This recent N.Y. Times article examined these diets and their claims. The theory behind these diets is that high-protein foods curb hunger. Yet, according to the Times, none of these cookie diets is supported by a clinical study. No surprise there.

More Than Mussels

Mention "Prince Edward Island" to anyone who loves shellfish, and the first thing they'll think about is mussels. And for good reason. PEI mussels are the most tender and tasty.

Yet, the blogger at Traveler's Lunch Box has identified a few other culinary treats if you ever happen to visit PEI.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dreaming of Avgolemono

Just yesterday, I passed a newly opened Greek restaurant at 17th and K Streets in Washington, D.C. It's called Kellari Taverna, and here's a Zagat interview of Kellari's owner. It's an upscale restaurant with a virtually all-seafood menu (which, combined with the recession, may pose a challenge to its success).

Anyway, I stopped to peek inside. Very handsome decor. Then I read the restaurant's menu, which was posted outside.

My eyes immediately stopped at the word Avgolemono, a pale yellow soup made with lemon and chicken stock that sure warms you up on a chilly evening. I've always enjoyed eating that soup, but it is not an item that every Greek restaurant prepares. As far as I'm concerned, Avgolemono is Greek for "comfort food." I still have fond memories of the first time I ordered Avgolemono. It was at a Greek restaurant in Chicago.

Once I got home, I went online and started looking for Avgolemono recipes. They aren't easy to find.

I found this article on the website Serious Eats, which is accompanied by a recipe. The egg yolk addition looks a bit tricky. I've made Bearnaise sauce before so I know I'm capable of doing it, but there's simply no margin for error when it comes to incorporating egg yolks into a hot dish.

Maybe I'll try it sometime. Better yet, maybe I'll just let the chef at Kellari make it for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Enticing Donut Recipe

Check out the cover of the latest edition of the magazine Edible Chesapeake. (No, not the cover pictured to the right.) Yes, that wonderful photo on the cover is of apple cider donuts.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I adore apple cider donuts. A friend who has the October issue informs me that the donut recipe is inside.

Hmmm . . . considering that the forecast calls for a rainy Saturday, this could be an ideal weekend to park myself in the kitchen and give that recipe a try.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

That Ain't No Starbucks

Mention the country of Rwanda, and most anyone who hears it will immediately think of the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed.

As the Rwandan people have restored peace and civility in their land, they are banking on coffee to bring in much-needed revenue and a stable prosperity. Most coffee in the East African nation is grown and harvested by families or small cooperatives.

Today's Washington Post reports on Bourbon, a newly opened coffee shop in downtown D.C. -- the first U.S. outlet of a Rwandan coffee chain.
"If done right, it could be the platform to re-brand the country," says (Bourbon owner Arthur) Karuletwa, former chief executive and now a shareholder in the company. Coffee can "create awareness that there's recovery, there's trade, there's investment opportunities, there's tourism. There's life after death."

After opening three stores in Kigali, Rwanda, over the past three years, Bourbon expanded operations to Washington in July, taking over a converted Starbucks at 21st and L streets NW. The cafe is furnished with dark wood tables and red-leather-upholstered chairs; the walls are painted gold, moss green and burnt orange; woven baskets and traditional African motifs decorate the shelves and walls.

... Plans call for Bourbon to open a cafe in Boston at the end of the year, and later a New York location. Unlike the D.C. shop, those stores will offer on-site roasting and daily cuppings.

... "Rwanda is a very wanted origin," says Susie Spindler, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which runs the Cup of Excellence competition. She says coffee traders and roasters visiting Rwanda are discovering unusual flavor profiles they never knew existed.

"It mixes a lot of regular characteristics that you usually only find in one area," agrees Stacey Manley, Bourbon's barista. "Latin American coffees tend to be lighter-bodied and kind of nutty with cocoa. But you almost never find an earthy, really heavy-bodied Latin American coffee. Those are typically Indonesian characteristics. And in Indonesia, coffee is very rarely bright. So the weird thing about Rwandan coffee is it'll have all these different characteristics in one coffee."