Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Grilling Season Isn't Far Off

As must be obvious with that kind of headline, I am very eager for grilling season to arrive -- so much so that I've been looking online and in cookbooks for good recipes for grilling out.

I found this Martha Stewart recipe for grilled lamb with a feta dipping sauce (see recipe #4). It sounds really good.

The best lesson I've learned in recent years is to brine both chicken and pork (but not hot dogs) before you set them on the grill.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sarkozys Eat "Demi-Fumees"

That's the literal French translation of the term half-smoke. According to The Caucus blog, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, each ate two half-smokes this afternoon at Ben's Chili Bowl, a place described as "a venerable U Street eatery" in Washington. D.C.

"They were both real hungry, I think," said Ben's manager, who waited on the duo.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Recent History of the Sweet Stuff

Courtesy of Mother Jones magazine, we have access to this timeline of key events in the ongoing battle between sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. The latter ingredient is showing up in more and more foods, including those in which sweetness isn't called for.

Which do we Americans consume more of these days? Click here to find out.

A Hurdle for Locally Raised Meats

The "locavore" movement -- the move to encourage restaurant chefs and home cooks to find local sources for the foods they prepare -- has a big hurdle when it comes to meats.

According to the New York Times, a shortage of slaughterhouses in many areas of the country is making it difficult for those who raise pigs, cattle and other meat to get their products to market. The article quotes a federal statistic showing that the number of slaughterhouses within the U.S. has fallen 33 percent since 1992. The Times writes:

Fewer slaughterhouses to process local meat means less of it in butcher shops, grocery stores and restaurants.

... "There are a lot of people out there who raise great animals for us to use, and they don't have the opportunity to get them to us because the slaughterhouses are going away," said Bill Telepan, chef and owner of Telephan, a high-end restaurant in New York.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Call It "Pomegranate Fatigue"

Or call it something else if you prefer. But I found myself annoyed at the very sight of a recent article in the New York Times about an ingredient called pomegranate molasses.

This substance might taste great, but I have grown so tired of hearing stuffy, navel-gazing androids babble on about "pomegranate this" and "pomegranate that." Pomegranate martinis, pomegranate coulis, and on and on.
These trend-chasers bug me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What'll They Do Next With Bacon?

I'm beginning to wonder. Don't get me wrong. I am pretty fond of bacon, but I am nonetheless amused by the fact that there are some human beings who seem to devote a lot of their time to developing new recipes or dishes into which bacon can be added.

Here is an example, courtesy of the website Delish. This site offers examples of 12 quirky foods that have bacon as an ingredient. One of them is a bacon lollipop. Check out item #4: the owners of a bake shop in Boulder, Colo., so loved the taste of the Vosges bacon-chocolate bar that they developed the bacon-maple-chocolate cupcake.

I like each of those flavors, but I'm slightly skeptical as to whether they would make for a marvelous harmony or not. (I like mustard and butterscotch, but I'd never combine the two flavors.) But even I have to admit, it looks tasty.

By the way, Vosges has more than one chocolate treat containing bacon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

CIA Redeems Itself With Krispy Kremes

This interesting story from Sunday's Washington Post describes how the CIA under director Leon Panetta has managed to rebuild relationships with key members of Congress. According to the Post:
After weathering a number of storms on Capitol Hill, including a face-off with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the California Democrat accused the CIA of lying, Panetta has studiously cultivated his old colleagues, holding informal get-togethers with the Senate and House intelligence committees.

"It's Krispy Kremes and coffee," said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. "People are relaxed, the conversation is free-flow, and I think that is very useful."
And, as we all know, sugar and dough goes a long way toward smoothing over hurt feelings.

Friday, March 19, 2010

If You Want Art, Go Buy a Canvas

That's my reaction after reading this review of a New York City restaurant called WD-50. I've never eaten there, but, based on the review, I would probably hate it.

The review is headlined "Kandinsky in the Kitchen" for good reason. Everything that is presented to diners is supposed to have an edgy, artistic flourish. But does it taste good? I seriously doubt it based on the descriptions.

For example, the opening course "consisted of a single rock shrimp, charred lily bulbs (bitter, rather acrid), some crisped goat cheese, and what the menu called 'pineapple scramble': this was pineapple that had been roughly pureed and mixed with a bit of gelatin ... to attain the precise texture of scrambled eggs."

Um, no thank you.

I wish chef Wylie Dufresne the best of luck, but I will not be contributed to his financial bottom line. I much prefer food over frolic.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Leftovers: A Snapshot of Other Blogs

*You've got to appreciate a blogger like Bill Citara who writes a regular post entitled "Cheap Wine That Doesn't Suck." It's a quest that requires some persistence.

*The recession seems to have taken its toll on food too. Consumption of fruit juice dropped 13% in 2008. That's one of many factoids to be found in the USDA's newly released report on "food availability" and per-capita eating trends.

*Deep-fried hamburgers? At least one place you can find them is at Korzo's, a small and unpretentious restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y. The blog Serious Eats provides all of the details.

*You may call yourself a "foodie," but do you know what fraisage means? Well, I sure as hell didn't. But I do know, thanks to this post from the blog Whisk.

*Shouldn't the outer packaging of a food product inspire you a little, perhaps tease your imagination or just plain make you feel good? I think so. Think of that boring, yellow-and-white package in which Domino's sells its sugar. Now compare it to this -- a package of gelierzucker bought in an Austrian grocery store. Gelierzucker is a combo of sugar and pectin, and it's used to make jams and jellies.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Colicchio's Newest Eatery Shines

Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio hasn't been completely distracted by his prime role in the hit series "Top Chef." In fact, he has converted one of his former New York City restaurants (Craftsteak) into Colicchio & Sons. And this New York Times reviewer generally raves about it.

First, some of the raves:
  • "For the moment, anyway, Mr. Colicchio's (restaurant) is the must-try New York menu ... the food is terrifically good."

  • The restaurant's pastry chef is "fearsomely talented."

  • "... it's hard to go wrong with an appetizer of butter-poached oysters, off the menu."

  • A chicken pot-au-feu "maintains the Escoffier standard while stepping into the modern age ..."
Now, the reviewer's caveats:
About the only misses are a perfectly cooked and defiantly under-seasoned fist of sirloin that is no match for the salsify, bacon and black garlic that come with it, and, for the same reason, a braised loup de mer with pork trotter and shallots cooked sweet and sour.
I find this mild criticism of Colicchio's restaurant ironic because a standard gripe of Colicchio's on "Top Chef" episodes is that one of the contestants hasn't "properly seasoned" a dish. (When he says that, Colicchio seems to be talking about salt and pepper.) So reading that prompted this snarky thought: "Physician, heal thyself."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm Not the Only ABP Soup Mixer

On most work days, my lunch consists of a bowl of soup and a multi-grain roll at the Au Bon Pain (ABP) outlet across the street from my office. I love soup, especially during the cold-weather months.

But I have a confession to make: I'm a soup-mixer. From time to time, I will mix one type of soup with another. Usually, this means mixing a thicker, cream-based soup with something a little lower in fat (i.e., mixing chicken gumbo with chicken noodle). Obviously, there are some soups that are so different that they can't be mixed together -- or at least I'd never want to combine them because the resulting soup would be much too bizarre.

Anyway, I had assumed that I was just about the only person who occasionally mixed soups, but I recently found out that wasn't so. The manager at the ABP told me that it's not all that unusual for customers to fill their soup bowls halfway with one soup and then fill it the rest of the way with another.

Hearing that made me feel a little less weird. I suspect the manager occasionally does so himself because he suggested a few soups worth mixing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Smell of Bacon in a Skillet

There aren't many aromas that are any better than that. I don't know what it is about breakfast that makes it such a pleasant and civilized meal. And, no, I'm not referring to the coffee-in-a-plastic cup version of breakfast.

Sometimes one has to do breakfast on the run, but, every now and then (especially weekends), breakfast deserves some time and attention. So take a deep breath, put down your Blackberry or cell phone, have a seat and get ready to order -- presents this unranked list of the 57 best restaurants and diners to enjoy breakfast.

Why 57? Beats me, but just about every one of them looks tempting. I've been to a few of these eateries.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Java in the Big Apple

In most areas of the country, the coffee-drinking scene is punctuated by the chains -- Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Peet's and a few others. There are a few independent coffee shops here in Washington, D.C., but not many.

By contrast, New Yorkers can choose from a large number of independent coffeehouses or coffee-centered cafes. According to the New York Times:

Over the last two years, more than 40 new cafes and coffee bars have joined a small, dedicated group of establishments where coffee making is treated like an art, or at least a high form of craft.

At places like Bluebird Coffee Shop in the East Village, the espresso is so plush and bright that it tastes sweet on its own.

... Meanwhile, some established cafes around the city have made moves toward roasting their own beans. Cafe Grumpy is already doing it, and Abraco will by the summer.

Now, there's an appropriate name for a coffeehouse in NYC: Cafe Grumpy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Simpler Chicken Pot Pie

Doesn't that look yummy? I've been telling myself lately that I should add a chicken pot pie recipe to my kitchen repertoire. But I've been looking for one that simplifies the typical recipe that you find in a cookbook.

Fortunately, I just saw this recipe from the N.Y. Times.

It is a more streamlined version of chicken pot pie. Instead of the traditional pie-style pastry crust (at left), the Times recipe calls for using a biscuit topping. That might be worth a try. However, I have another challenge to solve.

When you live with someone who hates carrots, that throws a curve at a dish like this. Maybe I could substitute diced sweet potatoes. They will add a bit of color, but not offend my spouse's taste buds. Hmmmm.

Fewer Fajitas for Mexico City's Officers

Officials in Mexico City are putting the local police force on a diet. According to this newspaper:
Hungry members of the 70,000-member force will now get 2,495 calories per day, 500 fewer than [before]. The new menu also features a healthy portion of vegetables.
The three-meal-a-day menu announced on Sunday comes after a study found that at least 70 percent of officers are overweight.

However, authorities face a big challenge in slimming down the force. Mexico City cops are famous for soliciting small bribes from motorists, often with the phrase: "Give me something for a soft drink."
It sounds as though their soft drink of choice is not a Diet Coke.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Vineyard Fantasies

Every now and then, when work life and crowded Metro trains are getting to me, I fantasize about opening a wine bar or owning a vineyard. Not that I have enough money lying around to do either, but, hey, that's why I wrote "fantasize." Anyway, The New York Times published this article about the latter.

For a group of affluent wine lovers, buying a French vineyard is similar to indulging in a yacht or a villa in the south of France.

... "Today, about 90 percent of my vineyard sales in France are to neophytes, including many industrialists who have sold their companies when they are in their 50s and 60s," [said a real estate broker specializing in vineyards].

... [Stephane Paillard] also offers an after-sales service, called Club du Vin, which advises neo-vignerons on everything from designing the wine to creating a personal brand image for the estate.

Since I have a hard time keeping a poinsetta plant alive beyond a week, I'm probably not someone who would shine at grape cultivation. But I sure enjoy drinking the final product.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Keep Those Anchovies Off My Pizza"

Last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden, his wife and two daughters were in the mood for pizza. They picked a good destination for it: Two Amys. They make some of the best pizza you will find in the nation's capital.

Some people jokingly call it Two (Hour) Amys for a reason. Including your waiting time for a table, that's probably how long your meal will take. To their credit, the Biden clan didn't try to pull rank. The Washington Post's Reliable Source reports that the Bidens waited 25 minutes before they were seated.

But inquiring minds want to know: did the Bidens place an order of the wonderful polpettine as a starter? Reliable Source had no answer.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Easy, Tasty Weeknight Supper

Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks is one of a handful of food blogs that I read religiously. One of her recent posts both looks and sounds very appetizing.

It's pan-fried corona beans and kale. I've been trying to eat more navy, pinto and cannelini beans because: 1) I love 'em, and 2) they have high levels of protein without the fat of beef or pork. Anyway, here is the recipe. I'm sure you could replace the corona beans with other white beans.

This is the kind of recipe that's perfect for a weeknight supper, maybe with a side of cornbread. It won't take long to cook this, and it's a one-pan meal.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Art of Chocolate

The food scene across the river in Arlington, Va., keeps getting better and better. The latest proof is Artisan Confections.

My friends who live in Arlington brought us a box of chocolates by Artisan, and those chocolates were amazing. I was a little suspicious initially because I've been disappointed before by "pretty looking" chocolates.

But these Artisan chocolates were as dazzling to the taste buds as they were to the eyes. The bourbon-infused chocolates were excellent, as were the orange-cardamom. Yet our favorites were the salted butter caramel. Absolutely decadent.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Ponders Parmesan

Stopping by the Italian village of Rozzano in the spring of 1787, Thomas Jefferson happened upon a farmhouse where parmesan cheese was produced. America's future president was captivated by the process and described it in painstaking detail in his journal.

Jefferson wrote that the milk used to make parmesan was "scummed" and then placed in a large copper kettle. After four hours in the kettle, he wrote, "the whey begins to separate" and a small portion of saffron is used to "give colour" to the cheese. Then it is heated "by a quick fire," wrote Jefferson, until the curd hardens and separates.

Jefferson used nearly 500 words to record just about every detail of parmesan making -- from the amount of salt that was added to the precise number of days it took the cheese to "ripen."

(Note: Jefferson's culinary observations during his travels to Europe during the 1780s are contained in this book, edited by Anthony Brandt.)