Friday, February 27, 2009

Gross Granola

Oh, my God. I just had a bowl (actually, I only made it through 3 spoonfuls) of Kellogg's Low-Fat Granola. I couldn't eat anymore. It was sweeter than cotton candy.

No wonder. I just checked out the nutritional info for this cereal, and I discovered that there are 18 grams of sugar in each serving. Yow!

There's nothing healthy about that.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Greener Way to Cook Pasta?

Apparently, there is such a way, as the N.Y. Times' Harold McGee explains in this article:

Why boil so much more water than pasta actually absorbs, only to pour it down the drain? Couldn’t we cook pasta just as well with much less water and energy?

After some experiments, I’ve found that we can indeed make pasta in just a few cups of water and save a good deal of energy. Not that much in your kitchen or mine — just the amount needed to keep a burner on high for a few more minutes. But Americans cook something like a billion pounds of pasta a year, so those minutes could add up.

So what kind of savings are we talking about?

My rough figuring indicates an energy savings at the stove top of several trillion B.T.U.s. At the power plant, that would mean saving 250,000 to 500,000 barrels of oil, or $10 million to $20 million at current prices.
I was skeptical about McGee's contention that a significantly less water doesn't affect the quality of the cooked pasta. The main reason is that I've always heard that you want plenty of water so that the pasta noodles or threads won't stick to one another (although adding a little oil helps to prevent this too).

Yet McGee says he "had to push the noodles around occasionally to keep them from sticking," but, other than that, he didn't seem to encounter any trouble with the final product.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vanilla Bean or French Vanilla?

When it comes to vanilla ice cream, that choice may seem inconsequential to many people. But to me, there's a very big difference between the two.

Most of what is sold in the stores as "vanilla bean" ice cream seems rather bland to me. I much prefer French vanilla. In fact, the preference is strong enough that I won't buy vanilla bean anymore -- even if it's simply to serve a la mode with pie or something else.

I love the custard-like flavor of French vanilla.

Now I have found a reason why people who use an ice-cream maker at home should prefer French vanilla. At SimplyRecipes, Elise writes:

French vanilla is a bit more complicated than regular vanilla or most of the ice cream recipes that come with the machine, as you need to prepare a custard mix by cooking the eggs and cream first.

But unlike many homemade ice creams which can be a little on the ice-y side, because of the added richness of the egg yolks, French vanilla stays creamier -- at least for the first day or two in the freezer.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Lady Appreciates a "Mean Batch" of Fries

According to the N.Y. Times, Michelle Obama is "putting her stamp" on dining and entertaining in the White House:

On Sunday afternoon, just before the Obamas’ first official dinner, in honor of the nation’s governors, Mrs. Obama invited not only a few reporters but also the top six students from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md., into the tiny White House kitchen for a look at what goes on before such an event. The invitation to the students was part of her outreach to the local community.

. . . eight members of the kitchen staff, including Sam Kass, the chef she brought with her from Chicago, were working on samples of the dinner. Mrs. Obama credits Mr. Kass, who fed the Obamas when they lived in Chicago, with keeping her family healthy, even during the grueling campaign for president.

Mr. Kass prepared a citrus salad with local many-hued watermelon radishes and tiny ice greens, so-called because they grow in the snow. Others prepared samples of Chesapeake crab agnolotti.

. . . Mrs. Obama praised the kitchen staff, emphasizing their creativity and flexibility. They can put out a “mean batch of French fries,” she said, as well as creamed spinach made without cream.

I'm not sure how one makes creamed spinach without cream. Perhaps with sour cream? Please tell me they aren't using yogurt.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Denver's Fruition

Late last week, I capped a busy week on the road with a dinner at Denver's Fruition, located on East 6th Avenue — on the edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

In 2007, Gourmet magazine hailed Fruition for creating "pristine comfort food." I'd seen that issue of the magazine so I was looking to check out this restaurant while I was in the Mile High city.

I started with a poached pear with pancetta-wrapped dates and feta. It was tasty. My main course was a pork tenderloin on a bed of bacon-braised brussel sprouts and a pommery mustard sauce. It was excellent.

The wine list was large enough to provide ample options, but small enough not to overwhelm customers. My server was unusually knowledgeable about wine. He guided me to a Cabernet Sauvignon that I enjoyed. The producer was Magness — medium-bodied and light on the tannins. It drank more like a Pinot Noir, but I mean that in a good way. Sometimes Cabs take far took long to "open up" in the glass; Magness didn't have that problem.

If I had any complaint at all, it would be to ask the kitchen staff to add salt with a lighter hand. One can always add more, but one cannot subtract it.

Service was excellent, and servers there seem to know the menu well. It's not a large menu, but all the bases are covered — seafood, beef, pork and poultry.

If my work takes me back to Denver, I would gladly make a return trip to Fruition.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tonight, "O" Is for Oscars and Olives

The olive is underappreciated. At least that's what I think.

So I was pleased to see this brief article in the N.Y. Times, along with a recipe for a salad of sliced orange and olive paste.

Well, I plan on settling in tonight at my apartment, watching the Oscars and having a light dinner that includes sliced baguette and a wonderful olive-fig tapenade.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Latest Craving

It happens to be rice pudding. Why? Good question. It isn't my favorite dessert by a long shot, but I had a good rice pudding a few months ago, and I am determined to try to replicate it at home.

I've been searching for recipes online, and they basically look like the same recipe -- not much variation between them. The only really funky recipe is found is this one from Alton Brown for what he's calling "Indian Rice Pudding." The recipe uses basmati rice, cardamom and coconut milk.

I love the adage that precedes the recipe at Simply Recipes:

Rice pudding is how God intended us to eat rice.

That works for me.

My business travel has been so crazy lately that I honestly can't say when I'm gonna have much time to do any cooking at my kitchen back home.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Trend in Wine Drinking

Wine consumption is on the rise in America -- in 2007, an estimated 304 million cases of wine were sold. That's the largest number in U.S. history. But, these days, the wines we are drinking are more economically priced. According to a Miami Herald article:

As the South Beach Wine & Food Festival opens its four-day run Thursday, those who make, distribute and sell wine are scrambling to keep us sipping in a bad economy, and we who imbibe are benefiting from their trouble.

. . . Supermarkets are running specials, cutting $15 wines to $10 and $10 wines to $5. Wine shops are bringing in less expensive labels from new areas. Smart sommeliers are offering cheaper choices in the face of declining restaurant wine sales.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nothing to Eat With Your Latte

Among the major coffeehouse chains, it appears to be a race to the bottom — at least as far as food is concerned. Caribou Coffee seems determined to follow Starbucks to the lowest common denominator of pastries and other food items.

I hadn't been to a Caribou outlet in a while, but the one I visited at the airport Tuesday had a selection of muffins and pastries that looked every bit as unappetizing as Starbucks' options.

These muffins and pastries looked like those plastic props you used to see years ago inside the refrigerators on sale at Sears Roebuck. (Okay, so I'm dating myself.)

At least Starbucks serves oatmeal, and I like the combo of dried fruit, nuts and brown sugar that they provide for it. It's not a memorable breakfast, but it's far tastier (and healthier) than anything else in a Starbucks outlet.

I have always liked Caribou because it actually uses logical names for the different sizes of coffee/espresso drinks -- large, medium and small. I've been going to Starbucks for probably 16-plus years, and it still annoys me slightly that they insist on calling a large latte a "venti."

Just a bit pretentious.

Parker Knew Pastrami

If you've spent anytime as a visitor in New York City, one of the must-eat destinations you hear about is the Carnegie Deli, located in the west 50's of Manhattan.

I've eaten lunch there a few times, and I loved both of those meals. Anyway, the memory of those pastrami sandwich lunches was awakened when a friend sent me this recent article from the N.Y. Times:

Milton Parker, who brought long lines and renown to the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan with towering pastrami sandwiches and a voluble partner who kibitzed with common folk and celebrities alike, died in Queens on Friday. He was 90 and lived in Manhattan.

. . . Mr. Parker was primarily the back-room planner who brought taam — a Yiddish word suggesting great flavor and quality — to the pastrami, corned beef, brisket and tongue; the cheesecake and matzo balls; the soups and the pickles that placed the Carnegie, at 55th Street and Seventh Avenue, at or near the top of deli maven lists.

. . . According to, a Web site that celebrates delicatessens nationwide, Mr. Parker’s business card read “Milton Parker, CPM (corned beef and pastrami maven).”
Sure, the patrons at Carnegie Deli are primarily tourists, but that could be said of most any eatery in midtown Manhattan. Besides, their pastrami sandwiches are absolutely huge -- and wonderful.

New Yorkers still debate which deli in midtown is better -- the Carnegie Deli or the Stage Delicatessen, which is located nearby on Seventh Avenue. The two delis have been rivals for years, and the rivalry intensified after a 1979 N.Y. Times article judged Carnegie to be the superior deli. That touched off what newspaper articles referred to as "the Pastrami War."

If only every war were fought with pastrami, this world would be a much happier place.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

At Odds When Eating

What happens when you and your significant other are at odds on what makes a satisfying meal?

This question is explored by the Washington Post's Jane Black in this article. Excerpts:

Disagreements about food probably wouldn't make a counselor's top-10 list of couples issues. But in today's food-conscious culture, what and how a significant other eats is becoming one more proxy for couples' deeper conflicts about control and respect.

. . . when an avid food lover falls for one of the others, it can get complicated. Unlike fly-fishing or knitting, what to eat is a question that comes up three times a day.

. . . "Food is actually a lot like sex," says Judith Coché, a psychologist in Philadelphia who specializes in couples therapy. "It's very hard to be a couple and go to very different restaurants, just like it's hard to have sex with a partner with entirely different desires. There has to be a natural compatibility or a good sense of how to negotiate and compromise."
I agree.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The "Delight" of Tortoni

I am quite familiar with tiramisu, but this article by the N.Y. Times' Amanda Hesser introduced me to another Italian dessert that begins with the letter "T." It's tortoni.

I have never eaten tortoni. But Hesser's article has made me eager to try it.

If you’ve never had tortoni, you’re in for a delight. It’s ice cream’s fantasy of ice cream: scented with almonds and sometimes rum, it’s uninhibited by gravity yet also a tiny bit chewy.

The differences between ice cream and tortoni lie in the techniques of their making. Ice cream is made by blending rich materials — cream and sugar and sometimes eggs — and then churning air into the heavy mixture with an ice-cream maker. With tortoni, the technique is deconstructed.

In the recipe that appeared in The Times in 1898, air is whipped into egg whites and yolks, and bolstered by the addition of hot sugar syrup. More air is whipped into cream, and the two mousses are folded together, then poured into a mold lined with crushed macaroons.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nixon's Cheeseburger Conversation

Did you read the post I wrote earlier this month about the "cheeseburger" conversation depicted in the motion picture Frost/Nixon? In the post, I wrote this:

The night before his final interview with former President Richard Nixon, journalist David Frost is in his hotel room. The phone rings and he answers it, expecting that his girlfriend is calling to ask him what kind of food Frost wants her to bring back. But the caller is Nixon — not his girlfriend.

Before the ex-president can utter a word, Frost makes this declaration: "I'll have a cheeseburger."

Nixon, who has been drinking, tells Frost that he too likes cheeseburgers, but that his physician has discouraged him from eating them for health reasons. His physician, says Nixon, "switched me to cottage cheese and pineapple instead. He calls them my Hawaiian Burgers."
Well, I just learned from an article I found at The Daily Mail of Britain that this conversation never happened. Nixon did eat a lot of cottage cheese so at least the details of the conversation are a loose reflection of his dietary habits.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Al Tiramisu

Al Tiramisu restaurant, located in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood, has been around for a number of years. It's a place that I sort of forget about and seem to re-discover every couple of years.

Last night, I had an excellent meal there. I ordered a starter of homemade ravioli with butternut squash in a butter-and-sage sauce. Simply amazing. Anyone who doesn't understand how pasta can be part of an elegant dish should try it.

My entree was the lamb shank special. It was not cheap ($35), but the size of this thing made the price understandable.

The menu isn't huge, but offers a nice diversity of items -- seafood, red meat, poultry and at least one risotto. This is one of those places where a diner should give extra attention to the evening "specials."

The all-Italian wine list could use a little more work. There are about a dozen options below $70, but there need to be more options at or below $40. The Gravello we had at $65 a bottle was enjoyable, but a bit overpriced at that level.

But overall the antipasta and entrees are reasonably priced for the portion and quality of the food.

The space is not pretty and polished. Al Tiramisu's "look" is more cozy, which fits a restaurant that was converted from a Victorian townhouse interior. The fireplace in the room to the rear is charming on a cold winter evening.

Service is fine and welcoming.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Do You Have a Reservation?"

Have you made your restaurant reservations yet? If you have someone worth romancing on Valentine's Day evening, it's a good idea to do so if you intend to find an available table.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Valentine's Day is typically the 2nd busiest day of the year.

Actually, I'm more for eating in on that night. Why? Because most of the desirable restaurants are so mobbed, and because many high-end restaurants adopt a structure of "seatings" and (sometimes) even squeeze extra tables in to maximize the evening's revenue.

Monday, February 9, 2009

An Easy Chocolate Souffle

Apparently so, and just in time for Valentine's Day. (Disclaimer: I haven't tried making this yet, but the N.Y. Times' Mark Bittman insists it's a breeze — and quite delicious.)

For most dessert soufflés, you have to begin by making a roux — i.e., combining flour and fat. The NYT recipe finds a simpler way to create a base for the soufflé without the time-consuming (and slightly tricky) process of roux-making.

Anyway, here is the recipe.

More TV Time for Eric Ripert

If you watch the Bravo network show Top Chef, then you're pretty familiar with celebrity chef Eric Ripert. (He's the chef of NYC's highly acclaimed Le Bernardin restaurant.)

Well, it turns out that foodies will be seeing a lot more of Ripert on TV. Last week, it was announced that Avec Eric, a new HD television series, will feature Ripert's culinary adventures in Italy, northern California and New York.

The show is scheduled to debut nationally on PBS stations this fall. (He does looks slightly menacing with that butcher knife, eh?)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

With a name like that, whose recipe would you guess this is?

If you guessed Paula Deen, you would be correct. She is one woman who knows all there is to know about cooking with butter.

The cookie recipe looks pretty simple; I may give it a try. Anyway, here it is.

Review: Sesto Senso

Last night, I met a friend for dinner at Sesto Senso, a moderately expensive Italian restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C.

My food was excellent, although all I had (other than a few slices of focaccia bread) was the shrimp and asparagus risotto. Quite yummy. They had two other risotto dishes on their menu. My friend really enjoyed her ravioli with veal.

I have had chicken paillard before at Sesto Senso, and it is very good.

Sesto Senso had a guy playing "cover songs" on guitar. It was pleasant. We could enjoy the music, but still hear each other without either one of us having to raise our voice.

There were only two minor negatives. Service was a little slow. And they were out of the first two bottles of red wine I ordered. If their list offered dozens and dozens of red wines, that would have been no big deal, but they only had 15-20 reds by the bottle. No restaurant should be "out" of 10 to 15% of their list.

I would give you Sesto Senso's web URL, but their site is one of those over-the-top, clunky flash-infected websites that takes far too long to fully upload. So here's the restaurant's link on OpenTable.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pet Peeve #1

It's what I call "the wine bottle bait-and-switch." Here's the scenario.

You're in a restaurant, have looked through the wine list, and you've told your server which bottle of wine you want.

Your server returns a few minutes later, doesn't say a word, and nonchalantly prepares to uncork your bottle of wine. Except it isn't your bottle of wine — your bottle was a completely different vintage.

The difference of a year can be extremely significant, especially for red wines. (A 2006 Grgich Hills Cab-Sav is not going to drink like a '04 or '05 will.) Yet even when it's not a huge issue, the server or wine steward is still obligated to display the bottle and inform you that the restaurant is out of the vintage that was listed on its wine list.

Then you, the diner, have a decision to make: accept the variation in vintage, or select another bottle from the wine list.

Most restaurants do this, but I still encounter many places whose staff are either too lazy or too ignorant to understand that this is the appropriate thing to do.

Economic Woes = More Empty Tables

I found this article at, which shared survey data on restaurants and dining. The survey found that the "(U.S. restaurant) business is down across the board, but only by a bit – between 10-20% was the most common response." In the survey, seven out of 10 diners said they were dining out less, but only half of them were spending less.

That's the good news.

The bad news? That survey I just quoted is now 9 months old. So you can be sure that restaurants are feeling the pain much more these days than they were in the spring of last year.

Here are some signs of how restaurants are takin' it on the chin from the worsening economy:

* Within the space of a year, unemployment in the restaurant sector has jumped from 7.8% to 9.8%.

* Here in Washington, D.C., the restaurant Citronelle (perhaps the grande dame of D.C. dining venues) has announced it will be cutting its hours and staff. As the Wash Post reports, Michel Richard and his crew will no longer serve dinner on Sunday or Monday. Sacre bleu!

* The high-end dining destinations aren't the only ones hurting. OSI Restaurant Partners, which operates Outback Steakhouse and several other restaurant chains, lost more than $46 million in the 3rd quarter of last year.

* Even fast-food giants are getting slammed. Burger King, the world's second-largest hamburger chain, reported today that its net income dropped more than 10% -- worse than most industry analysts had predicted.

* The dining-out malaise is strong enough to have created this long thread of comments on the website Chowhound.
This is totally anecdotal, but I was at the wine bar-restaurant Proof on Monday evening, and I'd say that at least 3/4 of their tables were full -- and the bar area was relatively busy too. Of course, Proof is an excellent place (one of my faves). But maybe that's a sign of hope (at least for the Washington dining market).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cabernets Sans Sticker Shock

California Cabs have always provided a certain "sticker shock," but these price levels seem even more out of bounds during America's ongoing economic malaise.

Silverado, Heitz, Conn Valley and Caymus produce wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons, but unless I discover oil in my backyard, I won't be able to drink them more than once in a while. So if you're looking for a more everyday-Cab, then there are some other options out there that won't destroy your household budget.

I have enjoyed drinking the fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon that is produced by Aquinas of Napa Valley. It won't knock your socks off or anything, but for the price, it's very hard to beat. FYI, here is what the writer at CheapWineRatings had to say about Aquinas. It's available online at Marketview Liquor.

Another excellent cheap Cabernet Sauvignon from California is Cellar No. 8. It has a fruit-forward style that is quite similar to Aquinas. You can buy the 2005 vintage of Cellar No. 8 for around $10. It may be available at the Whole Foods in your area; the one near me carries it.

One of my favorite Cabs at any price is Twenty Bench, which is also a Napa producer. The 2006 Twenty Bench retails for between $17 and $20 — maybe that doesn't qualify as "cheap," but it's a hell of a lot less expensive that many Cabs that don't offer as much depth. The 2005 Twenty Bench is selling for the low to mid-$20's.
So, there you have it. A pleasant Cab doesn't have to break your wallet.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Prosciutto in Iowa?

Yes. I enjoyed reading this article from the Sunday N.Y. Times magazine. Here's an excerpt:

Nine years ago, Herb Eckhouse, then a 50-year-old Des Moines seed-company executive who’d been based in Parma, got a glimmer of what he’d like to do with his early retirement.

He was eating prosciutto in Parma with a friend who said, “You know, if you make something this good, you’re going to make a lot of people happy.” A ham-shaped light bulb went off, Eckhouse recalled.

For years, he imagined making good food in Iowa. “It was clear that we had this incredible bounty around us, but we weren’t known for creating great stuff to eat,” he told me, stretching his rangy frame at his dining room table.

(Clearly things have changed: his wife, Kathy, was serving us apple pie whose heartbreaking crust was made with lard rendered from acorn-fed organic Berkshire pigs, their latest project.)

“At the beginning of the 20th century, Iowa fed people. And here we are in the 21st century, and we’re feeding machines. It’s just a priori wrong.” He continued: “People were saying, ‘Iowa’s dying, and there’s no value added here.’ At that point I was thinking, Gosh, I wonder if we can make prosciutto in Iowa.”

In 2001, La Quercia (“oak” in Italian) was born. Eckhouse, a Harvard social-studies major in the ’60s, spent four years studying prosciutto-making. The couple would move their Volvo wagon out of the garage to weigh and salt legs, then age them in their guest bedroom. The first official prosciutto was shipped from their state-of-the-art plant near Des Moines in September 2005.

. . . The Eckhouses are determined to not make an Italian facsimile. They might be advised by a consultant in Parma, but they call their product prosciutto Americano.
In case you're wondering about the quality of the Eckhouses' prosciutto, you should know that food writer Jeffrey Steingarten declared it the best prosciutto (foreign or domestic) he had ever tasted.

Super Bowl, But Not Super Food

I was lucky enough to have been there — in person — at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. The weather was great, and so was the football game.

But the food? It was very, very ordinary. Maybe even below the quality of what you'd normally find in a major sports stadium.

The soft pretzels at Raymond James Stadium were the usual bland variety that you find at pro sports events. The hot dogs were below par, and there was no brown or spicy mustard as an option — just the usual bright-yellow French's mustard. There was no tray or container with diced onion available. The only option was to squeeze minced onions out of one of those plastic, rectangular-shaped packets.

Oh well. I didn't go there to eat. I went there to watch football, and it was a fantastic game.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nixon's Cheeseburger Conversation

I saw the movie Frost/Nixon last week, and I was quite impressed with it. But I also left the theater wondering, as a foodie, whether the phone conversation depicted in the movie really happened.

For those who haven't seen the film, here's what happens. The night before his final interview with former President Richard Nixon, journalist David Frost is in his hotel room. The phone rings and he answers it, expecting that his girlfriend is calling to ask him what kind of food Frost wants her to bring back. But the caller is Nixon — not his girlfriend. Before the ex-president can utter a word, Frost makes this declaration:
"I'll have a cheeseburger."

Nixon, who has been drinking, tells Frost that he too likes cheeseburgers, but that his physician has discouraged him from eating them for health reasons. His physician, says Nixon, "switched me to cottage cheese and pineapple instead. He calls them my Hawaiian Burgers."

The two men proceed to have an intense phone conversation, although it is Nixon who basically does all the talking. The ex-prez tells Frost that the two of them have something in common: neither one of them grew up in a social class that virtually pre-ordained his success.

I have searched the web, but I can't seem to find any evidence that this "cheeseburger" conversation actually occurred. Does anyone out there know if it did? I'd love to find out and scratch this itch that is my curiosity.