Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Pesto Time

Basil plants are growing rapidly in many gardens. And that makes summer the perfect time to enjoy a pesto sauce.

Although it is not a standard ingredient in a pesto sauce, I add a little tomato sauce to mine because I like the acidity and body that tomato sauce adds. But it's up to you -- there are many interesting ways to add an interesting twist to pesto. Anyway, here is the recipe I use:

Tomato-Basil Pesto Sauce (serves 5 to 6)
2 cups of fresh basil leaves, reasonably packed
2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of premium tomato sauce, such as Classico
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of pine nuts*
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Black pepper

* – You can substitute walnuts for this.

DIRECTIONS: Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor. Turn on device to medium power in order to thoroughly grind the nuts and combine all ingredients. This will take 10 to 15 seconds. Turn off the motor and taste -- then add freshly ground pepper and salt as needed. Turn the blender back on for several seconds, and then taste the pesto again. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Toss the pesto with linguini or fettucine – then serve. A salad of mixed greens goes well with this.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Save and Eat Well

So many of the tips that Heloise-types offer you for saving money on your grocery or restaurant bill mean sacrificing quality. Well, here's a tip that saves money without sacrificing good eating.

Try the 365 brand organic pasta sauce. Even though it's found at Whole Foods, it does not cost you a lot of money. In fact, it will save you money on some of the premium brands.

Best of all, the flavors are fresh and intense. Add some sauteed mushrooms and toss with pasta -- excellent.

A Different Kind of Lunch

In France, a lunch used to be the main meal of the day. It was a leisurely paced affair that generally included three courses. But times are changing.

According to the Washington Post:
. . . French people increasingly are resorting to a humble sandwich for the noon meal. Some even gulp it down with a soft drink while sitting at their desks. So much so that the consumption of sandwiches in France has grown by more than a quarter over the past six years, to 1.8 billion annually, and climbed by 10 percent last year, according to market researchers.

Moreover, the change has often come at the expense of neighborhood cafes, where lunch still means a hot dish like grandma used to make and sitting around the table for an hour of conversation with friends or colleagues. The number of bars and cafes in France has fallen from 200,000 half a century ago to 38,600 . . .

McDonald's has enjoyed rising business in France for the past five years, taking full advantage of the evolution. Income at its more than 1,100 French outlets rose by 11 percent in 2008 despite the economic crisis, the company reported.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ode to Sloppy Joes

This may be my favorite comfort food of all. I loved 'em from the very first time my mother placed a platter of them on our kitchen table one evening many, many years ago.

Back then, the recipe was pretty simple. My mom started with ground beef, cooked it in a skillet, and then added diced onion, ketchup and (of course) some flour to give it that body that makes it easier to rest on a hamburger bun.

Like my mother's recipe, I drain the hamburger meat to remove most of the rendered fat. But leave a little in the skillet. Over the years, I've come to the point where I add a few more ingredients: a tablespoon of molasses, a 1/4 cup of diced green or red bell pepper, a teaspoon of Tabasco (just to give it a slight kick) and although I use about 1/3 cup of ketchup, I also add a 1/4 cup of a premium tomato sauce like Classico. (Instead of molasses, Rachel Ray's recipe includes a similar ingredient: brown sugar.)

I love bacon as much as the next person, but I consider it overkill to add (as this foodie site endorses) a slice of bacon atop the sloppy joe meat. And what the hell is an ingredient like corn doing in a recipe for sloppy joes? Ugh. I just think these ingredients complicate a dish that is wonderfully simple and tasty.

Enough diversionary comments. Back to my recipe -- the second-to-last ingredient is three tablespoons of beer. Does that sound a little crazy? Try it. It really does add a unique flavor.

Then I just add enough flour to help the meat coalesce. The meat never sticks together perfectly, but that's something to celebrate. After all, they are called sloppy joes. Which is why you should serve 'em with a fork.

I see some sloppy joe recipes with other ingredients, like this one with yellow mustard and garlic powder. Mustard? I'm not sure I see the value of adding it. I generally love garlic, but my feeling is that it just doesn't work for sloppy joes.

Whatever you do, avoid the temptation of using one of those Manwich-style pre-prepared sloppy joe sauces. They just aren't as good as doing it yourself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Anti-Michelin Rant

Slate has excerpted part of columnist Mike Steinberger's new book, Au Revoir to All That. It's tough to judge an entire book on only a single excerpt. However, based on what I read, Steinberger is struggling to make his case that Michelin's star-rating system has uniquely undermined France's culinary scene.

Michelin ratings aren't a big deal in the U.S., but let's not pretend that there isn't a strong, follow-the-leader mentality among chefs and cooking shows in America.

Is there a high-end restaurant chef anywhere in America who hasn't decided to place a dish on their menu containing pomegranate? Some food writers label that as "innovative cuisine." But, in reality, it was only innovative for the first dozen chefs who tried it.

It's a good thing for chefs to periodically explore new directions in cooking, but many of the chefs who are most prone to do so tend to be better at creativity than they are at precision. And in my view, precision has always been what sets French cuisine slightly above all others.

Yes, the French restaurant scene has always been more conservative than our scene in the U.S., but the restaurant menus in Italy are hardly characterized by cutting-edge cuisine. From one restaurant to the next in Rome, the menus look quite similar too. It just seems like a stretch to blame Michelin for that characteristic.

The vast majority of restaurants in Paris and the rest of France don't have a Michelin star and don't seriously expect to earn one -- ever. Their chefs prepare the foods they do (duck confit, cassoulet, etc.) because they love these dishes, and they know these dishes have a following in their towns and neighborhoods.

Steinberger's article refers to how Michelin stars "became a 'millstone' around the necks of the nation's chefs." Is that so? Well, I am willing to bet that there are hundreds of chefs in France and other countries who would gladly wear that "millstone."

Two Sites for Healthy Eaters

Calorie-counters and other health-conscious consumers have a variety of websites that provide data, rankings and other info on the calories and nutritional content of fast-food restaurant chains.

Here are two sites that I've recently stumbled on:

DietRiot.com has this page offering links to nutritional info for foods served at Applebee's, Subway, McDonald's, KFC, and others.

Health.com has ranked the "top 10 healthiest" fast food restaurants. Here is their list, starting with Panera (which happens to be one of my favorites).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Much Blander, But Not Much Cheaper

I've always cringed at the thought that many Americans get their introduction to "Italian food" by dining at a place like the Olive Garden or Buca di Beppo.

"But, hey," I used to tell myself, "that's a more affordable way for middle-class people to eat what they think is Italian food." Yet, having seen the menu prices for Buca di Beppo's Washington location, that explanation no longer makes sense.

Entrees basically start at $17 (to be more precise: $16.99), and that's for the small portion. And side dishes are a lot more pricey than I would have expected.

So what gives? Why eat second-rate, bland Italian food at prices that aren't much below those of a bona fide, high-quality restaurant? You'd eat far better at Sorriso (in Cleveland Park) than at a place like Buca di Beppo -- and without spending much more money.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perfect for a Summer Side Dish

We dined last night al fresco in the rear courtyard of a friend's house. All of the food was wonderful, but I especially enjoyed the Mediterranean tomato-cucumber salad that our host served. It was ideal for a summer side dish.

The salad's flavors were simple, but I think the simplicity was what made it so refreshing. It included both red and yellow tomatoes, as well as cucumbers, capers and onions. It was dressed lightly with (probably) olive oil and some kind of wine vinegar.

I should have asked for the recipe. It can't be that difficult to replicate. Maybe this recipe is a good start. Or perhaps this one. And maybe I can steal the idea of using shallots from this recipe. Here's a slightly creamy version that includes mayo, sour cream and dill.

One change I would make from the version we ate last night is to replace the white onions that our friend used with red onions, which add color and a little different flavor.

Hidden Honey in NYC

Even though beekeeping is illegal in New York City, the N.Y. Times reports that there are some New Yorkers who are defying the law.

This Times article includes a photo of beekeepers maintaining a hive on the rooftop of their apartment/condo building in one section of Brooklyn. There's even an association for beekeepers in NYC. Pretty daring.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: Founding Farmers

I had dinner with friends Saturday evening at Founding Farmers, which is located in downtown Washington. Here is my overview.

Overall, the food was excellent. The highlight of our meal was the appetizers that we shared -- skillet cornbread, brown-sugared bacon on a mini-skewer, and (believe it or not) deviled eggs. Each was superb. If you haven't already figured it out, "comfort food" is what Founding Farmers is about.

Sandwiches are sizable, and they are a good option for those with a medium appetite.

The wine list is economical. Twenty Bench, one of my favorite CabSavs, is on their list for $40. That's fairly reasonable for a restaurant wine list.

The other thing that stood out for this restaurant was the space. Very pleasant, nice decor and plenty of ambient light. And you can feel good about the fact that the design and architecture has been certified "green."

Now, let me share a few less-than-glittering elements. It took them almost 15 minutes to bring our cocktails to the table. My salmon on a plank was just so-so and probably should have been removed from the grill a minute or two earlier. Don't bother with the "fresh cut" French fries; how they are cut doesn't matter nearly as much as what oil they are fried in and what temp the oil is.

All in all, some things flopped, but most of our meal was quite enjoyable. I will be back to Founding Farmers. If I have a worry about this restaurant, it's the menu -- much too large, I fear, for a chef de cuisine to maintain oversight and quality control.
The owners of FF also need to ditch the freestanding sign that's out front -- it looks almost identical to signs that are outside of Cosi coffee-sandwich bars. And that probably makes pedestrians assume that FF is a takeaway sandwich shop-bar.

Friday, June 19, 2009

McCutcheon's: This Is Good Stuff

There is a small, family-owned business whose horn I need to toot. It's a company called McCutcheon's and they make some wonderful jams, preserves, apple butter, relishes and other products.

What I especially like about McCutcheon's is that they make a lot of unusual jams that other companies don't make.

For example, McCutcheon's produces black raspberry preserves, which are great. And they make a raspberry-lemon marmalade that is out of this world. It made sound strange, but oh my God, is that good stuff. Just the right mix between tart and sweet. Wipe that on some toast or a biscuit, and you're in heaven.

Because McCutcheon's is based in Frederick, Md., I'm not sure if their products find their way to stores beyond the mid-Atlantic. But you can order them off the web through their website.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dinner at Dino

I had a nice dinner at Dino last night in D.C.'s Cleveland Park neighborhood. It seems as though it had been ages since I'd eaten there.

My friend and I shared several small plates. One of them was a dish of marinated artichokes -- and they were excellent. Cooking or marinating artichokes can be tricky, but Dino managed to do this well.

The prosciutto-wrapped asparagus was pretty good. The asparagus was cooked perfectly. The dish would have been truly perfect if someone in the kitchen had stayed away from the salt shaker. Prosciutto is already salty so there was no need to add the amount of salt that was added to the asparagus.

The calamari fritti was mediocre. The marinara dipping sauce was fine, but the calamari tasted as though the batch I was served had been sitting around the kitchen for 15 minutes.

Wines by the glass are good here, priced fairly and offering as much diversity as you'll ever see for an all-Italian list.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Man Behind Pitango Gelato

I've written a few posts about Pitango, the all-organic gelateria chain -- one location is on P Street, N.W., just east of 15th Street. Their gelati are wonderful, and they also serve excellent sorbets.

In today's Washington Post, there is an article profiling Noah Dan, the founder of Pitango:

The 54-year-old founder of Pitango Gelato is something of a milk connoisseur. In 2006, the Potomac resident spent nearly three weeks on a tour that took him from southern Virginia to New Jersey in search of the freshest, liveliest-tasting milk, which he says is the essential foundation of good gelato. He found it in Lancaster County at the farm of Mennonites Roman and Lucy Stoltzfoos.

Dan takes the same earnest approach to every ingredient that goes into his dozens of flavors. The organic milk and cream come from grass-fed cows. The fruits for sorbets are local and organic when possible. And Dan shuns stabilizers or preservatives, which are common even in some premium ice creams.

"It's a dirty little secret that if something is cold enough and sweet enough, people will eat it," Dan said. "The idea was to make a gelato that was good enough for me."

An Unexpected Home Base

For some time, Counter Culture Coffee has been supplying coffee to a variety of Washington, D.C. coffee bars. While reading this article about a soon-to-open coffee bar, I was surprised to learn that Counter Culture Coffee — which buys and roasts its own coffee — happens to be based not in Seattle or Boston, but . . . . North Carolina.

I guess that shouldn't be all that shocking. After all, coffee goes well with a slice of sweet potato pie.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pittsburgh's Dor-Stop Diner

I travel two or three times a year up to Pittsburgh, and during my most recent visit I was pleased to check out the Dor-Stop Diner, located in the city's Dormont neighborhood. The Dor-Stop Diner was featured on one of Food Network's

Although the diner gets a steady traffic of customers, we didn't have to wait long on Sunday for a table. The food was hearty and quite good. I had the pumpkin hotcakes, which had a cake-like texture. Really delicious. The potato pancakes were also very good.

Neither of us had the Dor-Stop's Stuffed Raspberry French Toast, but it looked as good on a nearby table as it had on TV. The service was good too.

I didn't taste the Eggs Benedict, but these food bloggers insist that dish was the best they'd ever tasted.

There was a time when these kinds of diners could easily be found in every neighborhood of a city. It's sad that they are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Well, if life takes you to the Pittsburgh area, stop in. It's worth a detour.

Recessionary Veggie Gardens

From today's Washington Post:

After years in the doldrums, the consumer demand for vegetable seeds has abruptly climbed at a rate even industry veterans have never seen.

. . . Industry observers attribute the boost in sales to a concern for food safety following outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisonings and a desire by consumers to be a part of the local food movement. Michelle Obama's new vegetable garden at the White House may also be inspiring people, they said.

But the primary reasons, they speculate, are the recession, income loss and the need for people to lower their grocery bills by growing their own.

. . . At four community gardens in Reston [Virginia], coordinator Deana Demichelis said the wait list for 250 plots has climbed to 140 names, a backlog of about three years. "New gardeners are begging to get in because of the recession and the fact they can save money growing their own food," she said.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Case of the Chocolate Bunny

Those six words sound like the title of an episode of The People's Court. But this is a high-profile case, as reported in today's Wall Street Journal:

This morning in Luxembourg, five crimson-robed and white-scarved judges of the European Union's highest court will issue a ruling on this most gnawing question: Can you trademark a chocolate bunny? Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG of Switzerland certainly hopes so.

Lindt got a European trademark in 2001 on its marquee Easter treat, a gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bunny, squatting stolidly on its haunches, ears alert, a jingly little bell affixed to its neck with a bow-tied red ribbon. The bunny has been a big nuisance since.

Lindt has hunted knockoff rabbits in Britain, Austria, Germany and Poland. To shore up its franchise, it has sought -- unsuccessfully -- an additional trademark for the "naked" bunny shape without foil. For good measure, it tried to trademark a chocolate reindeer that looks an awful lot like a bunny.

. . . Like Americans, Europeans allow logos, graphics and words to be trademarked. In theory, both also permit shapes. But courts have been hesitant to hop into that minefield.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Adour: Still an Underachiever

Although I had a good dinner with friends at Adour this past weekend in Washington, I still can't say that I was blown away. And at this price point, a diner should feel blown away.

This was my second dinner at Adour. The first one was also good, but nothing really dazzled me or my fellow diner. Given that Adour's non-soup appetizers average a price of nearly $20, I think the restaurant should be held to a higher standard than a restaurant like Bistro du Coin (near Dupont Circle).

Here were the highlights from my most recent meal at Adour. The lobster medallions with diced advocado on a bed of Israeli couscous were marvelous. The simplicity of this appetizer allowed the wonderful flavors of the lobster to shine through. The poussin that Adour recently added to its entree menu is sublime -- moist and tender.

The macaroons, provided gratis at meal's end, are as yummy as I remembered them the first time I dined there. On that first visit, they were raspberry and chocolate macaroons; this time, they were coffee- and cassis-flavored.

On the other hand, the duck breast was simply okay. One part of the breast was much too rare and, even so, a bit tough to slice. The '06 red wine from Burgundy that our server recommended was very lackluster. Still, it was cheaper than the initial red wine we'd discussed with him so he clearly wasn't trying to torque up our cost. It gave off a musty odor and probably needed more time in the bottle.

I won't be hurrying back to Adour because there are too many other restaurants in D.C. that offer better value. But I still hope for the day when the kitchen lives up to the man (Alain Ducasse) who opened this restaurant.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Restaurants' Unwieldy Websites

Restaurant websites are my latest gripe. Too many of them are so Flash-heavy that it takes much too long for them to load. In addition, one usually needs to click past the landing page because it only provides a pretty "concept" image, instead of helpful links.

I sympathize with Jennifer Maiser who wrote this post at Bay Area Bites about restaurant websites that were far too theatrical:

A couple of days ago, a friend was asking me for a restaurant recommendation. Easy task, I thought. I had some restaurants in mind and just needed to check and see if they were open and send her the websites. What should have been a 5-minute email turned into a half-hour nightmare as I slogged through websites that are more intent on impressing me with movies, music, and other annoyances than on giving me direct information.

But my biggest beef with restaurant websites is that so many of them aren't updated regularly. Several of the wines shown on their online wine list are gone. They display menu items that have been replaced. Just a few weeks ago (late May), I was stunned to find a menu with what were obviously autumn dishes on it (hearty entrees, root vegetables, etc.).

Are these outdated websites the result of cutbacks in restaurant staff? Maybe. But it shouldn't be that tough for a restaurant to periodically update its website. The wine list isn't such a big deal, but menu items shown on a website should all be current.

Pity the People of India

Or at least one-half of them. Why? According to this article in Monday's Wall Street Journal:

The British candy maker [Cadbury] has been in India for more than 60 years and dominates the chocolate market. Still, it says, less than half of India's 1.1 billion people have ever tasted chocolate. Traditional milk-based sweets, or "mithai," still dominate the industry here, where they are given and eaten at festivals.

Instead of crunching and comparing GDP figures, perhaps comparing the density of chocolate consumption is just as valid a means of determining whether a country deserves First, Second or Third World status.

People of India: storm the barricades and secure your right to chocolate!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monitoring Your Condiments

How long should you keep a jar of pickles in your refrigerator before discarding it? That's a good question, and it's one that someone (with a sense of humor) is trying to help us answer.

That "someone" has created a Table of Condiments that closely resembles the Periodic Table of Elements that most of us remember from high school science or physics class. It's supposed to help us know when a condiment has exceeded its shelf life.

Rhubarb the Veggie

In the N.Y. Times, Melissa Clark notes that rhubarb is more versatile than most cooks realize. She writes:

. . . I wanted to break the always-add-lots-of-sugar mold. Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, so why not treat it as such? I had been planning to make a duck curry, based on a Madhur Jaffrey recipe that called for vinegar. With its naturally acidic flavor, rhubarb might stand in for most of the vinegar.

. . . Just as I had hoped, the rhubarb melted into the sauce, thickening it and lending a deep and delightfully piquant flavor. Made again, with chicken in place of duck, the curry was nearly as good, though the sauce was slightly less rich.

Yet, acknowledging how wonderful rhubarb is in crumbles, cobblers and the like, Clark's article is accompanied by a recipe for a raspberry-rhubarb cobbler with cornmeal biscuit topping.

Cardiac Cuisine

Introducing a restaurant where the customers are called "patients" -- and for good reason. CBS's Bill Geist takes you on a walk through Heart Attack Grill.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

D.C. Is Becoming Gelato-Town

And that's very good news. First, there was the opening of Dolcezza in Georgetown a few years ago. Dolcezza offers Argentine-style gelati. Sound strange? It shouldn't -- the Argentines positively love their ice cream. They also make chocolate/hazenut-filled churros that are yummy.

Now, as of several weeks ago, there is a new place called Pitango. It's located on P Street, N.W., between 14th and 15th Streets. I tried a few flavors there a few days ago, and the experience was pretty amazing.

I will (of course) be back to try other flavors, but I thought that both the Cinnamon and Bourbon Vanilla were excellent. They also offer several flavors of sorbet.

I Cook, Therefore I Am

What can foodies or other people learn from a Harvard-based biological anthropologist? Plenty, it turns out. According to Slate's Christine Kenneally:

In Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, [Richard Wrangham] proposes that the big breakthrough of almost 2 million years ago that generated another 1,000 ideas and changed who we are forever was this: Drop food in fire, eat it. We are because we cook.

. . . The assumption is that once we became modern, we worked out how to cook. Wrangham, by contrast, thinks we were cooking 1.8 million years ago—and that the activity was not an outcome of being human but that being human was an outcome of cooking. Cooking physically transformed a creature that was more ape into the earliest version of us, Homo erectus (perhaps more Conan the Barbarian than Jamie Oliver but still fundamentally human).

. . . Apparently, the idea that cooking was the crucial difference between their diet and ours came to Wrangham as he stared into the fire at home. Though there's no archeological evidence of controlled fire before 800,000 years ago, he realized that a cluster of changes in the human face, brain, and gut 1.8 million years ago could be explained by only one thing—regular cooked meals.

His argument begins with the odd spend-money-to-make-money aspect of digestion: You must burn calories in order to release calories from food (a fact deeply cherished by celery-chewing teenage girls). Because raw food is harder to digest, it takes more calories to get the calories out of it, and you get fewer calories from it anyway.

So I guess human beings looked pretty gaunt way back when.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chased by High-Fructose Corn Syrup

That's how I feel sometimes as I'm shopping in the grocery store. It seems as though more and more products are made with high-fructose corn syrup. I have had such a hard time finding a single Kellogg's cereal without HFCS that I have stopped buying the company's cereals altogether.

What's the rub about HFCS? One of my complaints is simply a gut-level reaction -- don't screw around with my food by adding something whose real purpose is to artificially extend the life of the product (even beyond the chemical preservatives that are already in there).

Pepperidge Farm makes a good white bread with some whole wheat in it, but I was annoyed the other day to see that HFCS was one of the ingredients. What the hell is HFCS doing in a loaf of bread?

Another complaint I have is that using HFCS may allow processed food/beverage producers a back-door means of hiking the sweetness without indicating it on the nutritional label. I can't seem to confirm whether the presence of HFCS is included in the total grams of "sugar" listed on the nutritional panel. I strongly suspect it is not included. Dr. ChristopherMohr calls HFCS "one of the more popular aliases for sugar today."

My final complaint is focused squarely on health. Does HFCS contribute to health problems? I don't have the answer for that question. But this blog post on Consumer Reports' website reported that traces of mercury (which is unhealthy at any level) had been found in HFCS. The number of HFCS samples studied in this mercury analysis was small, which makes it hard to know how much of a problem this may or may not be.

There is also concern about a potential link between HFCS and obesity. The Mayo Clinic's website featured this post from a registered dietician:

. . . research has yielded conflicting results about the effects of high-fructose corn syrup. For example, various early studies showed an association between increased consumption of sweetened beverages (many of which contained high-fructose corn syrup) and obesity. But recent research — some of which is supported by the beverage industry — suggests that high-fructose corn syrup isn't intrinsically less healthy than other sweeteners . . .

Please note the phrase "some of which is supported by the beverage industry." CBS News has found strong links between pro-HFCS research and the industries that stand to gain financially from HFCS. I'm deeply suspicious of any research that is funded by the major food and beverage producers.

Even the Mayo Clinic dietician recommends "moderation" in consuming products with HFCS. And Carol Porter, who is director of nutrition at UC-San Francisco, says this:

One of the issues is the ease with which you can consume this stuff. It's not that fructose itself is so bad, but they put it in so much food that you consume so much of it without knowing it.

If our government didn't artificially hike the cost of sugar through price supports, HFCS probably wouldn't be used as much as it is in our foods and beverages. (Here is a good article from the San Francisco Chronicle -- definitely worth reading.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Worst of the Mega-Calorie Meals

Fast-food restaurants are usually the main eating establishments that dieters try to avoid. Unfortunately, as the N.Y. Daily News reports, the worst of the mega-calorie meals are found at the "family restaurant" level:

A new report finds you'll really pack on the pounds if you're a regular at popular chains like T.G.I. Friday's, Chili's, Applebee's and The Cheesecake Factory. Heaping portions, deep-fried dishes and appetizers the size of entrées are the culprits, say the folks in Washington who put out the Nutrition Action Healthletter. You're essentially looking at 2,000-calorie meals, which is what most people should have in an entire day," said registered dietitian Jayne Hurley, who wrote the belt-loosening report.

The Cheesecake Factory's fried macaroni and cheese is a particularly hefty example. At 1,570 calories and 69 grams of saturated fat, "you'd be better off eating an entire stick of butter," she said.

And that's hardly the worst. Consider this dessert at the pizza-centered chain known as Uno Chicago Grill -- Mega-Sized Deep Dish Sundae: 2,800 calories. That's more calories than the average adult is supposed to consume in an entire day.

Depression-Era Foodies

Slate's Laura Shapiro has reviewed a new book by Mark Kurlansky called The Food of a Younger Land. I learned something new from her review:

Among the fortunate Americans who managed to find employment during the Great Depression was a Florida woman named Rose Shepherd — or, as she often signed her work, "Rose Shepherd, Writer."

We don't know much else about Rose Shepherd, Writer, but we do know how she paid the rent in those years: She applied to the Federal Writers Project, an economic-recovery program that actually included writing under the rubric of useful work and paid people to do it . . .

. . . late in the 1930s, she started to get a different sort of assignment. Suddenly they wanted her to write about food. The project was called America Eats, and it was going to be a collection of essays on community food events from coast to coast — the first book of American food writing, in other words, though nobody used that term, because there was no such genre.

It sounds like Kurlansky has written an interesting book.

Review: Enology Wine Bar

I had dinner this weekend at Enology, a wine bar at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Macomb in Washington, D.C. And, all in all, I was quite impressed.

The decor is sleek and post-modern. The wood floors add to the noise level, but it's not too excessive. There is outdoor seating in good weather (on a first come, first served basis).

The food we had was excellent. The flatbread with mache and proscuitto was amazing. And, if you go, do try the crab deviled eggs. Their French fries are also quite good. Service was fine, not great, but the wines were reasonably priced, and they offer some interesting flights.

I wish they had a few wines from Italy, France, Argentina and other non-U.S. countries. I think it's great that they try to get their food from local or regional sources, but there isn't much difference (in terms of a "carbon footprint") between shipping wine across the country from California and shipping it across the ocean from France, Spain or Italy.

Anyway, the food and wine was excellent. I'm definitely going to return.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Knife? Nyet!

In the year 1717, during Peter the Great's reign, an etiquette manual was published in Russia with the following instructions:

Do not eat like pigs and do not blow into the bowl so it splashes everywhere.

. . . drink and eat only as much as you need; be the last one to finish eating . . . Do not lick your fingers and do not gnaw bones but rather take the meat off with a knife. Do not pick your teeth with a knife but use a toothpick . . .

Do not pick your teeth with a knife!? I'm willing to bet that a lot of people cut their gums up trying to do that.