Tuesday, June 30, 2009
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
* – 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
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.
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
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
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."
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
"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
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.
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
Friday, June 19, 2009
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
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
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
Thursday, June 11, 2009
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
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
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.
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
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.
. . . 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.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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
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.
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.