Friday, May 28, 2010

The Unappreciated Boysenberry

There used to be a place in my hometown of North Little Rock, Ark., called Sue's Pie Shop, and one of the pies I loved to order there was a piece of boysenberry pie. I remembered how wonderful that pie was when I read this article from the Los Angeles Times.

The Times' David Karp writes:
To the uninitiated, the boysenberry may look like a big, blowzy, underripe fruit, but it is in fact a noble fruit, as distinct from a common blackberry as a thoroughbred is from a mule.

Large, dark purple, juicy and intense, it derives its unique flavor from its complex ancestry: sweetness and floral aroma from its raspberry grandmother cousin, and a winy, feral tang from three native blackberry species.

It's a California classic . . . [a]nd it's all the more precious despite its near extinction in this state, because it evokes why people moved here in the first place.

. . . they are so delicate that as a fresh fruit they can be enjoyed at their best only from farmers markets, farm stands, and home gardens.
I wish boysenberries grew abundantly here in the mid-Atlantic. The delicate nature of this fruit is what must make the mass-fruit producers hate them -- they don't ship well. But I'll take a pint of fresh boysenberries over those tastless, oversized, not-yet-ripe strawberries that get shipped to the East Coast this time of year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Pentagon's Brownie Recipe

According to this article at Huffington Post's food page, the recipe is 26 pages long. This is the U.S. military so, of course, there are lots of rules and regs that govern such things as baking temperature and final size -- each brownie "shall not exceed 3-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches by 5/8 inch."
The brownies, if baked in accordance to the "specification . . . approved for use by all Departments and Agencies of the Department of Defense," are made to last years, if necessary. But how tasty are the hardy treats?

Penny Karas, owner of the bakery Hello Cupcake in Washington D.C., made the brownies for NPR's "All Things Considered" and concluded: "It's not so great." (NPR host) Guy Razz concurred: "Yeah. They're awful."
Sounds like an industrial-sized box of Duncan Hines brownie mix would be a better choice for a military base.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Very Loyal Customer

There are plenty of "regulars" -- people who dine at the same restaurant on a regular basis. But this story from the New York Times takes the notion of regular to a whole new level. Referring to Sardi's, a restaurant in the city's Theater District, the Times' Manny Fernandez writes:
Eating lunch at Sardi's last Tuesday, William Herz did not have to order coffee. It was brought to him, right when he wanted it (in the middle of his meal, not after) by a waiter who served it in a white mug that no one but Mr. Herz drinks from.

Mr. Herz is the only patron of one of the best-known restaurants in the world who gets his own cup: He is 93 years old, and he prefers using a mug with an easy-to-hold handle. After lunch on Tuesday, the mug was washed and returned to its usual place, on the shelf of a cabinet in the coat room because the management and staff at Sardi's know Mr. Herz will be back.

He always comes back.

For 77 of his 93 years, Mr. Herz has eaten at Sardi's.
Herz, who has a show-biz past, apparently started dining there in 1933. The whole article is worth reading.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Perfecting Ketchup? Puh-lease

An article in Sunday's New York Times magazine offered two recipes -- one for "house-made" hamburger buns and the other for ketchup. When I saw these recipes, I immediately thought "what a waste."

How many people do you know who are looking for a "better ketchup"? Ketchup is ketchup. Anyone who has enough time on his or her hands to spend it making homemade ketchup clearly has a warped sense of priorities.

I'm sure the house-made buns would taste better than store-bought hamburger buns, but I find it hard to believe that they'd be worth all of the trouble presented by this recipe. I just don't get the point. What sane human being is going to spend more than 2 hours making homemade hamburger buns? If I had that much extra time on my hands, I'd spend it doing something else -- maybe preparing a homemade potato salad or making a rub for pork spare ribs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meatless Mondays

In this article, the Washington Post's Jane Black contends that this is a movement that "has legs." She writes:
It's probably no surprise that Sir Paul McCartney, a longtime vegetarian, banned all meat from staff meals on his current world tour. But when Mario Batali starts to push people to eat their vegetables, you know something is happening.

The famously rotund and infamously gluttonous chef-restaurateur is to pig what the Beatles are to rock-and-roll. ... yet this month, Batali announced that he would join the Meatless Monday campaign, a movement backed by a broad array of public-health advocates, animal welfare activists and environmentalists that asks carnivores to give up meat one day a week.
I'm a carnivore, but passing on meat one day a week would be no problem for me. There are lots of tasty options: pizza and curried Indian-style veggies, for example.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Great Marinade for Flank Steak

If you've read this food blog for a while, you know that I'm a fan of grilled flank steak. I've tested several different marinades to use for flank steak, and I think the one I used on Sunday was the best yet. Here's the recipe:

One 2-lb. flank steak, scored slightly with a knife

1/2 cup of soy sauce
1/2 cup of dry red wine (not "cooking wine")
3 T. of tomato paste
2 T. of brown sugar
1 T. and 1 teaspoon of minced or chopped garlic
1 T. of freshly cracked pepper
Juice of half a lime


1. Whisk all marinade ingredients into a medium bowl until smooth.

2. Unroll the flank steak and slide it into a large ziplock storage bag. Carefully pour the marinade into the bag and then seal the bag closed.

3. Place the bag in the refrigerator on its side, resting on a large plate. After an hour, turn the bag over and let it marinate for another full hour.

4. Light the grill and remove the steak from the marinade/bag. Place the steak on a hot grill and cook for about 8 minutes on each side for medium-rare, 6 minutes per side for rare.

5. Remove the steak and let it rest on a platter or cutting board for 5 minutes. Then slice the flank steak against the grain. Serve with a salad or grilled veggies.

The soy sauce adds enough saltiness that you probably won't need or want to add more salt. Taste it first -- then decide.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fantastic Ice Cream

I had another good meal at Arlington, Va.'s Liberty Tavern. The main-course pork dish was good, and the glass of Sangiovese I ordered as fine, but the course worth raving about was dessert.

My dessert was a yellow peach-and-blackberry tart with caramel sauce and blueberry ice cream. I like caramel, although I wouldn't normally pair it with a berry dessert. The blueberry ice cream was absolutely amazing -- creamy texture, intense berry flavor.

It got me wondering why more restaurants don't make ice creams in-house. The gap between homemade, small-batch ice cream and the commercially made equivalent is huge. The only thing that would have been more sublime was another scoop of that ice cream.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When the Pasta's Waiting for You

The Washington Post reported yesterday that actor Henry Winkler was seen in the city's Georgetown neighborhood, talking on his cell and chatting with a fan. But Winkler, having stepped outside a restaurant called Papa Razzi for his phone call, cut the conversation short. He kissed the fan on the cheek and told her:
"My pasta's getting cold."
And, as any actor knows, eating cold pasta is a bummer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Free" Iced Coffee = Costly Fallout

I've written before about restaurant promotions gone awry. Well, it seems that an Internet-based promotion has created a lot of disappointed iced-coffee fans. The Christian Science Monitor is based in New England so perhaps that explains why they felt that any controversy involving Dunkin' Donuts demanded a news story.

The newspaper reports:

. . . when word leaked out over the Internet that some locations but not others were offering the free [iced coffee], some people got angry at the Massachusetts-based chain. Customers from Maine to North Carolina were posting messages Tuesday on Dunkin's Facebook page complaining about the lack of free coffee in their town.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grilled Flank Steak: Lots of Options

Flank steak is one of my favorites on the grill. Marinated beforehand, the meat comes off the grill tender, and it makes for very good eating.

This recipe from Delish looks tasty: it's a sandwich of grilled flank steak and grilled onion, plus tomato and arugula. The marinade they suggest is similar to the one I use, except mine includes red wine and does not include balsamic vinegar.

Here is another good-looking recipe for grilled flank steak. Want a more exotic recipe for grilled flank steak? Try this one with Moroccan spices.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Asparagus What?

I really like asparagus, and I really like pesto sauce too. But would I like a pesto sauce made with asparagus?

The New York Times' Mark Bittman seems to think it's terrific. He writes that asparagus pesto
. . . tastes like asparagus with additional punch. ... Making asparagus pesto lets you use the peel, which contains a ton of flavor even though it's sometimes too tough and stringy to eat. Pureeing lets you sidestep this issue: you keep the peel, and the flavor, but your food processor pulverizes the fibers, even if you use thick spears.
Maybe I'll try it. Maybe.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Yelp, But Do So Constructively

I saved an old issue of Wired (November 2009) because it has several good articles, including a column by Brendan I. Koerner, who ponders whether the same rule about work-related emails -- when you're angry, observe a cooling-off period before sending an email -- applies to online restaurant reviews.

Koerner offers an amusing example. He writes:

Are you trying to alert the restaurant to a legitimate flaw -- or do you just want to rant about some gustatory affront? . . . As entertaining as those thermonuclear reviews on Yelp can be, you're morally obligated to be constructive.

Stating that a joint's baked halibut "tasted like rancid crud stewed in toilet water" is just a slam; stating that it "tasted like rancid crud due to severe oversalting," on the other hand, lets the chefs know they need to lay off the sel gris.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Unnecessary, Superfluous Powdered Sugar

As far as I'm concerned, powdered sugar -- sometimes called "confectioner's sugar" -- is at the very bottom of the sugar hierarchy. It adds sweetness, but nothing else. And some of it always seems to dust you and your clothing while you're eating.

I've always wondered why cooks are so determined to sprinkle it on just about everything they get their hands on. I recently bought a loaf of raisin bread from Panera, figuring that I'd toast slices of it. When I got home with my loaf of bread, I discovered that it had a thick dusting of powdered sugar on the top. What did that add? Absolutely nothing. A little bit of cinnamon sugar -- that I could have understood, but powdered sugar?

If you order French toast at a restaurant, invariably it will arrive at your table with powdered sugar sprinkled over it. Since French toast is meant to be eaten with syrup, the sweetness of powdered sugar is superfluous. Besides, maple syrup has so much more depth of flavor than powdered sugar.

I think the real reason they do it is because they think it makes the dish look more appetizing, but I wish they'd stop. Given the rates of obesity in our country, Americans don't need any more sugar in their diet than they now have.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Will the New "Social Safeway" Impress Us?

Anyone who has lived in Washington, D.C., for at least five years probably understands what one is talking about when someone refers to buying groceries at the "Social Safeway." It's the Safeway that's located on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park, just above Georgetown.

The term Social Safeway was coined to refer to the fact that so many single people frequented that grocery store (but this has been less true in recent years because new groceries have opened in the Adams Morgan and Logan Circle neighborhoods).

Well, I picked up this morning's Washington Post to learn that the Social Safeway is going to reopen on Thursday. The article suggests that the new Social Safeway will be a grocery store worth shopping at, but I'll believe when I see it.

My memories of the Social Safeway (before it closed for this renovation) are pretty unpleasant ones. The produce that I usually found there years ago looked like it had just been through a hailstorm. The apples were waxed to death, and it was hard to find varieties beyond the mass-produced Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and McIntosh varieties. Also the floors in the Social Safeway were usually filthy.

The article refers to a sushi bar and gelato stand being part of the new store. Sounds appealing, but it's hard to imagine. I think my attitudes are so poisoned against the Social Safeway that it's hard for me to believe that the "new" version will really offer foodies a quality, overall shopping experience. I'm skeptical, but I will probably give it a chance.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Restaurants in the Big Easy

I spent enough time in New Orleans in the years that followed Hurricane Katrina to have told the New York Times what they discovered on their own. In this article, the Times' Sam Sifton concludes that the Crescent City's restaurant scene is incredibly robust these days:

. . . there are roughly 1,000 restaurants in New Orleans now, up a cool couple of hundred from before the storm . . .

And for a critic on the prowl for an authentic taste of the city in full springtime bloom, surprises abounded. One of the most purely joyful and purely New Orleans restaurants of the moment is Emeril's, a place run by a television chef who was born in Fall River, Mass., and lives mostly in New York City. Another, Cochon, is devoted not to the Creole cosmopolitanism of the city center, but to the Cajun traditions of the bayou and backwaters outside of town, in the tidal soup of southern Louisiana.

The article has several recommended restaurants at the very end.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Veggies on the Grill

This past weekend, a friend fired up the grill, which basically kicks off (in my mind) the summer-grill season. Asparagus may be the most popular vegetable for grilling, mostly because it hits groceries and markets in summer. But I also enjoy throwing other veggies on the grill.

When someone first suggested grilling sweet potatoes, it sounded strange. But I'm glad I gave it a try. Just slice the sweet potatoes relatively thin or microwave them a little (after piercing them) and then put them on a medium-hot grill. Grill them for about 8 minutes on each side. Do be worried if they get slightly charred -- that's flavor, my friend. Then brush or drizzle the marinade below over them and serve.

Zucchini is also a good veggie to grill. Cut them lengthwise so they aren't as prone to slide through the grill slits when you flip them. Zucchini will cook faster than sweet potatoes, probably taking only 4 minutes per side. Then remove them from the grill and immediately drizzle or spread the marinade over them. The recipes below are for 3 zucchinis and 3 sweet potatoes. Just combine all ingredients in a small ball and whisk until relatively smooth.

Marinade for Sweet Potatoes:
  • 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons of molasses

  • Salt to taste

Marinade for Zucchini:
  • 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons of fresh, minced basil leaves (or 1-1/2 tsp. of dried basil)

  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed or minced

  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice

  • Salt to taste