Friday, July 30, 2010

A Few of My Fave Food Blogs

Even if I didn't enjoy reading it, the blog 101 Cookbooks would be worth checking out if only for the photos, which are just gorgeous. Plus, I really like the fact that 101 Cookbooks allows you to search posts by ingredient -- see the left side of the screen. Now that's cool.

For any resident of the Washington, D.C. area who wants to keep on top of the ever-changing dining scene, the blog Capital Cooking is a "must read." Its author, Lauren DeSantis, provides savvy and helpful reviews of what's cookin' around the city. Lauren is a very busy woman. She has written a cookbook, and she hosts a TV show that appears regularly on public-access television. Lauren and I happen to share a love for deviled eggs.

Blue Kitchen, a blog based in Chicago, is another of my faves. This blog posts interesting -- but not overly complex -- recipes that will appeal to those who like to good, hassle-free meals. This recipe (balsamic vinegar chicken) is a good example. If you like wine, you'll appreciate the helpful "Wine and Drink" links that are positioned in a lefthand sidebar on Blue Kitchen.

The final favorite food blog that I'll cite here is Smitten Kitten. The photos are fabulous, and the recipes are (like those at Blue Kitchen) ones that can be prepared by ordinary people who keep cheesecloth in their kitchen at all times. Consider this recently posted recipe for Peach-Creme Fraiche Pie. If looking at those photos doesn't make you want to grab a pie pan and some Freestone peaches, I don't know what will.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Peach Repertoire

I bought more than a half-dozen peaches at a farmers market last weekend, and I've been enjoying them ever since. I rarely buy peaches at the grocery store any more -- just too risky. I just noticed this web page at the N.Y. Times' food pages that lists a number of recipes featuring peaches.

The recipes range from fried peach pies with bourbon and cinnamon to peach puree vinaigrette. There's even a recipe for peach ice cream, which looks mighty good.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Starting Your Day in Chicago?

My last post was about one of my food stops during a recent visit to Chicago. Here's another food recommendation, courtesy of radio station WBEZ. It's a list of the top 5 breakfasts in the Windy City.

Meli Cafe heads the list, a Greek diner with "organic produce, eggs, fresh-squeezed juices and homemade jams." Sounds good to me.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Manny's, the Marvelous Deli in Chicago

I want to send a very warm thank-you to the owners of Manny's Cafeteria and Deli in Chicago for hosting my brother Mark and me last weekend for an event to promote our new book, What the Great Ate.

Once our interview was concluded, we both had an early lunch. I chose the pastrami sandwich. God, was that a good sandwich. I also had a cup of matzo ball soup. It had been several years since my first visit to Manny's, but it was as authentic, wonderful and unpretentious as I had remembered it. If you find yourself in Chicago, it's a worthwhile pit stop for breakfast or lunch.

Soon after he won the presidential election in 2008, president-elect Barack Obama had lunch at Manny's with Mayor Richard Daley as he planned his transition to the White House. That photo above shows Obama and the mayor enjoying their meals.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What We'll Pay for a Magnificent Meal

Wednesday night, I decided to celebrate the publication of What the Great Ate, a book I co-authored with my brother Mark, by dining at Citronelle -- one of Washington, D.C.'s culinary cathedrals. The fixed price menu was $105 so, yes, this was one decadent dinner. The very next day, at the "Talk" blog on the food portal Serious Eats, BaguettenBrie raised the question of how pricey a meal should be:
I firmly believe in giving oneself the opportunity to experience great chefs' work. But I have been starting to question a bit how much certain tasting menus are costing.

On the one hand, with a truly great restaurant, somewhere you probably won't return to often, money shouldn't be considered a limiting agent. However, on the other (hand), should I feel guilty about questioning the cost of just one meal?
"No" is my answer. By all means, question the cost of any menu. The issue is value for your dollar. A more expensive meal can sometimes often more value and, at other times, less value.

As for that three-course Citronelle dinner, it was absolutely wonderful. But would I have considered it less wonderful if it has cost $120 instead of $105? Probably. By the way, the crowning glory of that meal was the cherry vacherin that I chose for dessert. God, that was good.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Strange Recipe for Lobster Rolls

I have always drooled over lobster rolls. One of the marvelous things about visiting New England in the summer is trying a lobster roll at multiple restaurants.

I've thought about trying to make lobster rolls at home, but I assumed it would be a whole lot of work. However, I just stumbled on this recipe from Maria Rodale's website. It doesn't look all that complicated, partly because she uses frozen lobster meat and also because she doesn't make a mayonnaise-based sauce.

Both strike me as a little odd. So long as the frozen lobster meat is tasty, this could work. But I cannot begin to imagine a lobster roll without having some of that mayonnaise-based sauce with diced celery and some herbs. (Instead of the sauce, Maria recommends melted butter.)

The frozen lobster meat saves a lot of time and hassle, but I don't see eliminating the mayonnaise-based sauce as much of a time saver. Besides, the mayo, tarragon and other ingredients in lobster-roll sauce add nice flavors. So, I intend to try making lobster rolls at home using frozen lobster meat, but I will not skip the sauce. This Food Network recipe should be a good source for preparing the sauce.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Was Bugging Angelina Jolie?

Fellow bloggers and foodies: I am excited to inform you that I am the co-author of a new book that will arrive in major bookstores any day now. The book is called What the Great Ate, and it provides a variety of fascinating and funny tales of what and how the "greats" of history ate. For example, my brother Mark and I share anecdotes like these:
*Paul Newman interrupted a dinner date with Joanne Woodward during the 1950s, took his salad into the men's room, washed it clean of dressing and returned to the table determined to dress it himself with the right vinaigrette.

*Angelina Jolie ate Cambodian cockroaches and referred to them as a "high-protein snack food."

*Ronald Reagan reportedly went 70 years without eating a tomato.

*Basketball star Charles Barkley had such a prodigious appetite that he was nicknamed "The Leaning Tower of Pizza."

*At a New Jersey cafeteria, Jackie Gleason sometimes requested the pot roast -- with a scoop of ice cream.

*Catherine de Medici, the Italian-born wife of France's King Henri II, almost died of a gluttonous binge, and one of her favorite dishes (called "cibreo") was made from the gizzards, liver and testicles of a young

*William Faulkner turned down a White House dinner invitation and had a simple explanation for doing so: "That's a long way to go just to eat."
To buy or learn more about What the Great Ate, visit our website.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Premium Burgers Are All the Rage

When President Obama showed up at Ray's Hell Burger -- not once, but twice -- it did two things. First, it put Ray's, an eatery in Arlington, Va., on the map to a whole lot of burger lovers. Second, it helped to demonstrate a major trend in America's restaurant-dining scene.

Welcome to the age of the premium burger. As the Washington Post explained:

"Better burger" joints are among the fastest-growing parts of the restaurant industry. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay launched Bobby's Burger Palace in the Northeast. Elevation burger is expanding to Kuwait. Mooyah Burgers & Fries, Meatheads and the Shake Shack are looking to expand.

Higher-grade beef, fresher or more creative toppings, and better buns are bringing customers in the door.

. . . It's a market that has room to grow. Such chains represent only about 2 percent of the $65 billion burger market . . .
The rise of the premium burger is a good development. As for chains, I like Five Guys burgers a whole lot, but I think their fries are vastly overrated.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So That Must Be Why They Call It a Ham-Burger

Believe it or not, at least one human being has tried to make a burger out of bacon. Yesterday, in this post at Wired's "Geek Dad" blog, Matt Blum explained how he turned 19 slices of bacon into a hamburger:

. . . I decided to add one large egg to the food processor along with the 19 slices of bacon. I ground the bacon and the egg together, then, using my hands, using my hands, pulled the mixture out and used a hamburger press to make a burger.

It is possible that my hands have been greasier at some point in my life, but if so I have (fortunately) forgotten it.
I must admit that the photo of this burger doesn't look very appetizing.

Monday, July 12, 2010

She Prefers a City That Delivers

The newest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court seems to enjoy her job, writes the Washington Post. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a transplanted New Yorker, has a complaint about the city where she now works:
[Sotomayor] told friends she was looking forward to returning to Manhattan as soon as the (court's) term ended, and she has not bought a place in Washington. She has expressed a common New York complaint about Washington: Not enough restaurants deliver.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Guess Who's Nuts About U.S. Nuts

Globalization has some interesting consequences in unexpected areas. If you're a foodie (like me) who enjoys eating almonds, pecans and other nuts, one of those consequences is paying higher prices at a time when most food prices have remained fairly stable.

What gives? It seems the Chinese are discovering nuts produced in the U.S. As this recent N.Y. Times article notes, Chinese purchases of American tree nuts have risen more than 700 percent, driving up prices for those nuts for U.S. consumers.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review: Arlington's Lyon Hall

Ever since I read this review at the Capital Spice blog, I wanted to arrange a dinner at Lyon Hall. It's a restaurant in Arlington, Va.'s Lyon Park neighborhood that can best be described as a Franco-German gastro-pub. Well, I dined there with friends a few days ago, and I had a mixed experience. First, here's the good news.

The wine and beer list offer a variety of choices, and the prices (especially for wine) are reasonable. My schnitzel was good -- slightly oversalted, but very tender meat and the breading was perfect. My two friends who ordered the roast chicken agreed that the white meat tasted better than the dark meat portions.

The mussels we got as an appetizer were good, and the white-wine broth was so amazing that we dipped a few slices of bread in that -- didn't want it to go to waste. Lyon Hall's cheese selection also gets a thumbs-up, both for variety and quality. On the ambience side of things, the restaurant has large windows that bring in a lot of light so there's not a cavernous feel about Lyon Hall.

The shortcomings at Lyon Hall? First and foremost, the noise. During the dinner hours, you may find yourself shouting at your fellow diner(s). We sure did. The restaurant placed hard-surfaced tiles on the ceiling, and those tiles (along with the floor and the glass) apparently cause soundwaves to bounce around everywhere. Lyon Hall should consider ways to lessen the cacophony. Frankly, the noise issue should have been on Lyon Hall's radar screen a long time before now.

Fries at a Franco-German eatery should be superb; the ones served at Lyon Hall are not. Unless something funky was happening the night we were there, Lyon Hall needs to give their fries an immediate overhaul. The basic frites they served with the mussels were droopy and lacked the crispness we'd expected. Just another 40 to 60 seconds in a fry-cooker might make the difference.

Unfortunately, the restaurant's duck-fat fries cannot be salvaged. We were excited to order these, but what arrived at our table was nothing like we'd imagined. The "fries" were essentially potato cakes -- roughly 2 inches thick and 4-5 inches long. Perhaps it was the thickness of the potato, but for whatever reason, they were not at all crisp. The inner potato had a bland taste, and the coating was also nothing to get excited about. Shouldn't everything cooked in duck fat taste incredibly good? That's what we thought, but this experience proved us wrong.

I will consider going back to Lyon Hall, but probably for a weekend lunch when the noise is likely to dip below the level we experienced the other night. I'd like to try some of their beers. If I go back, I will probably focus on appetizers, which sounded and looked like the smartest options.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Nice Slice of Detective Work

How did police detectives in Los Angeles build a sufficient case to recently arrest a man whom they believe is the Grim Sleeper serial killer? The key piece of evidence was a piece of pizza.

According to this L.A. Times' blog, detectives conducted DNA tests on a discarded piece of pizza, and the test results prompted them to make their arrest.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blame It on the Brain

Did one glance at this photo send you scheming for a side trip to your neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts? According to this article posted at, there's a very logical reason why something like a doughnut creates such tremendous cravings among many of us.
Your brain, not your stomach, is what makes you desire sugary, fatty splurges such as brownies and french fries.

... The main cravings culprit is a system of interconnected neurons called the reward pathway that evolved over millions of years to encourage prehistoric you to do things that kept you alive, like eating. High-calorie food was scarce and crucial for survival, so your brain learned to flood itself with feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in response to tastes, smells and even people or places it linked with rich grub.

... The system worked well until modern times when high-fat, high-calorie eats became available 24/7.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rhubarb: What Was "Out" Is Now "In"

There are certain foods that seem to have lost their zing. Cream soda, for example. Do you know anyone under the age of 40 who drinks the stuff? Do you know anyone period who drinks it? Probably not.

There are some other foods that are quintessentially dated. I used to think of rhubarb that way, but I have become very fond of it. And the Seattle Times' Rebekah Denn contends that rhubarb may be enjoying retro-popularity.

Last month, Denn described a chef who is "rendering pancetta with rhubarb to sauce his duck pansotti." And she pointed to an other who is cooking rhubarb and placing it atop foie gras terrine.

Those dishes sound tasty, but maybe I'm just old-fashioned -- a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler or a rhubarb pie is more what I crave.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Palau's Version of Comfort Food

Still wondering what was in that casserole that Aunt Martha made last year? Well, even if you've eaten some unsavory things, you probably can't compete with Thomas Jane, star of HBO's "Hung" series.

In the current issue of People magazine, Jane says he ate a dish called "fruit bat potpie" on the island of Palau. I wonder what wine he paired with that.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Straight-Shootin' Julia

I stumbled on this YouTube clip of Julia Child from a 1995 interview in which she briefly talks about McDonald's french fries and how much she used to like them. That is, until the fast-food chain stopped frying them in animal fat -- "they've been kind of limp ever since," she opined.

I agree. I remember McDonald's french fries from the early 1970s, and they were crisper and tastier back then.

While I'm taking you on a nostalgic journey with Julia, I should mention that if you want to watch old episodes of "The French Chef" (the PBS series that introduced her to millions of Americans), you can access such episodes via this link at Philadelphia radio station WHYY.
If you happen to be visiting the nation's capitol, you can visit the kitchen that Julia Child cooked in for over 40 years. It's housed within the Smithsonian Museum of American History.