Thursday, July 28, 2005

Remember my name...

FAME. I wanna live forEVer. I wanna learn how to fly. HIGH.

Ok now that I got that out of my system, I wanted to let you all know how giddy I am that the Washington, DC blogverse is gettin' its props, yo. First, dcblogs reaches national recognition in Forbes Magazine's Best of the Web. And then Washingtonian Onine, lists us, dcfoodies, and dcfud as their best of the web. It's truly an honor for us to be included in this company and to be linked by places like dcblogs and Dcist.

Speaking of fame, I was watching Weighing In on the Food Network and lo and behold did I see a classmate from college as the celebrity doctor. Totally weird to see that someone who I saw doing kegstands, is now giving medical advice on tv.

Monday, July 25, 2005

My grandmother's flan brings the boys to the yard

My Ba Ngoai (Vietnamese for maternal grandmother) was a huge fixture in my life. After immigrating to the United States from Vietnam she spent her years traveling around the country taking care of grandchildren. She would stay with each of her 7 children and their families for months at a time. When she had enough of taking care of grandchildren, she'd head off on an exotic vacation for a month or two. My family loved having her stay with us, me particularly. Food was a huge part of my relationship with her. During the months she stayed with us, she and I went to eat dim sum every Saturday and then go to the Vietnamese Bhuddist temple for prayer and do chay, Vietnamese vegetarian food.

Ba Ngoai was no slouch as a cook. A key part of my childhood was my afternoon snack of homemade flan steamed in soup cans. Before her visits, we would eat soup for lunch to have the empty cans to make weeks' worth of flan. Afternoons at my house were quite a scene as my siblings and their friends came over for a can of flan. Everyone called my grandmother Ba Ngoai and her flan had quite the following. I wish I had been more observant because I can't make the flan the way she did. For starters, every recipe I've found calls for baking the flan in a water bath as opposed to steaming. And somehow I can't get her consistency, halfway between the jiggly custardness of a flan made with purely milk and a dense creaminess of a flan made with condensed milk. I could be the ramekins I use instead of the soup cans. In any case, make flan my way. Hopefully I'll get it right but until then I use this recipe.

1 1/4 cups 1% milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup nonfat sweetened condensed milk
Special equipment: 4 (5- to 6-oz) deep custard cups or ramekins

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat 1% milk with vanilla bean halves in a small saucepan over moderate heat until hot. Remove from heat, cover, then steep 20 minutes.

Cook sugar in a 6-inch nonstick skillet over moderately low heat, swirling skillet to help sugar melt evenly, until melted and pale golden. Continue to cook, swirling skillet, until deep caramel, 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately pour into custard cups, tilting cups to coat bottom. Let caramel cool.

Whisk together whole egg, yolk, condensed milk, and a pinch of salt until smooth. Discard vanilla bean pod from steeped milk and gradually whisk milk into egg mixture.

Divide custard among cups and bake in a water bath, loosely covered with a sheet of foil, in middle of oven until custard is set but still trembles slightly, 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove cups from water bath and cool on a rack. Chill, uncovered, at least 2 hours. Unmold flans by running a knife around edges to loosen and inverting onto plates.

Cooks' note:
• Flans can be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled in custard cups, uncovered.

Each serving about 169 calories and 3 grams fat.
Serves 4.
January 2000

I remember the last meal I ever made with Ba Ngoai. I hadn't seen her in two years because I had studied abroad in England and she was getting the early stages of Alzheimer's and couldn't come out for a visit. The summer in between graduating from college and moving to Washington, my grandmother came to California so I could give my aunts a break and spend time with her. It was hard to see her diminished. Half the time she would be herself and half the time she was her disease. She had periods where she thought she was still in Vietnam and I was one of my uncles. She would go through all of her belongings, worried someone stole her jewelry. That whole summer I tried to engage the Ba Ngoai that I knew, not the person with Alzheimer's. I took her to dim sum and the Bhuddist temple. And I cooked with her. The last meal was a seared salmon that was fried in oil. After cooking all the way through, the salmon was left to rest and we added nuoc mam, a little sugar, sesame oil, garlic and tons of scallions to the remaining oil in the pan and let it simmer for a bit to combine the flavors. We poured the sauce on top of the salmon and served it with Chinese broccoli.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

King's Cottage

This is long overdue but we totally need to sing the praises of King’s Cottage Bed and Breakfast in Lancaster, PA. We went there in February over President’s Day weekend in a much delay anniversary trip (we were married in January of 2003). I’ll have to admit that we are psychologically well equipped to stay at bed and breakfasts. J is friendly and engaging and I have a prurient curiosity about other people’s lives. Anyway, we came off of a hellish January of work and work-related travel and needed a BREAK. We racked our brains to find bed and breakfast within a sane driving distance with a fun, cute town attached to it. Lancaster and the surrounding Amish communities was the winner. Also, our stay had to include a large, Jacuzzi-style tub and/or an in room fireplace. Our room at King’s Cottage had the requisite tub and a lovely electric fireplace.

What truly clinched the deal for us was that the King’s Cottage website had an extensive listing of restaurants, sights, and activities on their website. We had a sense (which was proven correct) that we would be taken care of during our stay. Given the descriptions of the restaurants on the website, Ann and Janis (the owners) knew their community and actually ate at the places they recommended. King’s Cottage being a Bed and Breakfast, the breakfasts were a delight. They were truly inventive twists on old favorites. For example, our first morning consisted of waffles made with crushed pineapples and coconut milk.

Lancaster country is truly a foodies delight. During the day we went into Intercourse (hee hee) and made a meal out of sampling the five gazillion jams at the jam factory. Along with the gazillion Pennsylvania Dutch restaurants serving hearty Amish fare, Lancaster also has some amazing restaurants. The one standout was Strawberry Hill, a wine bar and new American restaurant. In contrast to the romantic décor (like being in a wine cellar), inventive and well-prepared menu, the owners were refreshingly casual about attire, both for themselves and their patrons. Being a wine bar, the wine was crazy good. I had the merlot and it tasted like merlot when I first started drinking merlot, before merlot became the chardonnay of red wines. Get that? They have an extensieve wine list focusing on California wines. The food was stunningly prepared and presented. I had the pate (as usual) served with garlic stuffed olives, black mission fig marmalade, leek hay, crispy flatbreads. J had the French onion soup that was neither too salty or too oily. It’s nice that they don’t take a dish like French onion soup for granted and actually put some thought into the flavor. Our main courses consisted of seared scallops for J and the spaghetti for me. As in our appetizers, the “gourmet” dish was a standout and the down home dish was thoughtfully prepared. Of course we had dessert. It was our anniversary.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another post from yours truly

Check out the entry I wrote on DCFud on my friend's homemade Chinatown. Much hilarity indeed.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Even at 97 degrees with oppressive humidity, Eastern Market is pretty damn cool.

Market Day!

Eastern Market is in some ways the town center of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. During the week (not Monday), friends, coworkers and neighbors can often be seen dashing in on their lunch breaks or after work to grab some fresh produce, meat, seafood, cheese or prepared foods. I love dropping by for a big box of fluffy macaroons from the bakery to bring to a potluck or some fancy fresh pasta for the occasional treat. But I can never stay long – I have places to go and the hours are pretty tight.

On weekends though, we get to stroll the market and linger. Artists and crafts people sell their wares and many bargains can be found both at the tables outside the market and across the street at the flea market. Almost every weekend we go by at least once. There’s always a mix of neighbors and friends, area artists and folks in from other parts of town for some local flavor.

I love to see the Cake Lady, offering up pre-sliced pieces of layer cake, or the people from Uncle Brutha’s who sell kicky marinades and sauces. Towards the north end of the outside market, lined with flowers, produce, and garden vendors is a sprawling stand bursting with greens and pinks and purples. On a sunny day, the colors reflect with a fantastic intensity. Near this stand, is where you can find the magic lettuce.

One of several market shepards, the mother of a friend who has lived in the area for years, told me of the magic lettuce. It lives in a cooler by some of the flowers (usually) and I was told it lasted a long time. I kid you not, when I bought the magic lettuce, it was fresh for just under two weeks. And it tasted good to boot!

We started our visit today with lunch at Tortilla Café. In an area dotted with Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. But Tortilla Café’s well-seasoned meats and well-considered approach to standards like Tacos al Carbon, pupusas, and more, are memorable and worthy of return trips.

But on to the market! Here’s some of our booty from today’s visit. . .

Valencia Oranges for Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

You have your pick of several farmers and stands when looking for a particular fruit or vegetable. Today, we were on the hunt for oranges so we could take our new juicer on another spin. Lately it’s been used for a lot of mojitos, so doing a tried and true OJ test seemed like a good idea.

At the stand just inside the center doors, passed the ATM, a scruffy and eager guy helped me find oranges that made the best orange juice I’ve had in a long time. Valencia oranges make a rich goldish-orange juice with deep and super sweet taste. Ten oranges cost about $3.00. Each orange produced about 3 ounces of juice so keep that in mind when planning to have enough to serve brunch to your friends. One glass will not be enough!

Pre-peeled Garlic and HUGE Basil Bunches for Pesto

My guy loves the pre-peeled garlic. No, it’s not cut up and sitting in oil or spring water or whatever they do at the store. It’s just freshly peeled garlic ready to roast, chop, mince, press, slice, dice, or pop into the food processor.

We tend to be selective food purists—making our own crusts, tortillas, sauces, fillings, etc. but pre-peeled garlic tastes great and really does save kitchen mess and time. Hours, I tell you! Just kidding, but it does help.

The garlic is great, but the basil is just astounding. I love walking by the stands with large amounts of basil piled high. A relatively ginornmous bunch was just a buck fifty and we took home several.

I could smell it all the way home. It was so fresh and lush, especially compared to the withery pre-packaged basil containers I see at the store sometimes for twice the price. The scent encouraged me to have visions of capturing the essence of basil so I could have a house that smelled like basil on my herbal spray wielding whims.

Baba Ghanouj

I’ve made baba ghanouj and to be honest, mine is pretty damn good. But the baba ghanouj I pick up inside the market from the deli case (inside the south door and up about four cases on the left) is a very close second to mine which has a bit more kick to it. But for $3.00 for an amount that will feed two snackers for a sitting, I’m quite pleased. Baba Ghanouj, for me, is mostly about the texture being right. The taste of the eggplant, the temperature it is served, etc. are vital as well, but I think most can do this pretty well. But the texture matters. Too milky is just unappealing, and to thick is as bad. Somewhere in the middle there is a soft, light and deeply tasty texture that I love and this place gets it right. Kudos! They also have hummus, dolmades, fresh pasta, marinated peppers, red pepper dip, pestos of their own and more.


The same folks that run the Tortilla Café also offer up a sandwich and meat counter that seems very popular. Today I bought some two kinds of empanadas – chicken with raisins and spinach. Tonight’s bite of the chicken one was wonderful. Shredded chicken is densely stuffed into delicious buttery dough accompanied by plum raisins and some gentle spicing. I highly recommend them!

Eastern Market really provides folks in the area with a chance to feel like part of a community and I think there aren't too many places that feel that way. Even at 97 degrees with oppressive humidity, Eastern Market is pretty damn cool.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Trashiest meal we ever ate

The trashiest meal J and I ever ate

So one night we get a call from Blonde Amazon #2. Blonde Amazon #2 is amazing. She a SoCal refugee like me and she’s 6’2” tall and smart, loud, and brash. And, dude, she’s hot. Like crazy ass smoking hot. Like heads turn and we get free pitchers of margarita’s hot. Anyway, Blonde Amazon #2 calls us to see if we would want to hang at one of the Capitol Hill watering holes. It appears that DC men perplex her. A cute guy on the metro stares her up and down and somehow can’t close the deal and approach her. This seems to happen to Blonde Amazon #2 a lot. Of course we have to break it to her that there’s a perception that single women in DC outnumber single men in DC. This leads to many a single man to feel entitled to be an emotional fuckwit.

Of course, you cannot break said news to your recently arrive SoCal friend over sushi and a salad. Over the top trashy food needs to be ingested. Therefore we head to the Capitol Lounge for beers (or hard cider in my case) and bar food. Lucky for us it’s 25 cent taco nite. That’s cheaper than Taco Bell! We order 12. The Capitol Lounge is a little stingy with the meat in their tacos but for 25 cents, I ain’t complaining. Tacos alone cannot untangle the complexities of the DC dating scene. Cheese fries are called in as reinforcements. Cheddar cheese? Not on my watch. Processed cheese sludge on very crisp fries. Finally, as if our arteries weren’t hardening enough, we decided to get a plat of the wings. Can you believe this was out MEAL? With the exception of the celery sticks served alongside the wings, nary a hint of fiber to be found.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Expanding the Empire

I have a new gig. Don't worry, I'll still be posting on here but I decided to expand my horizons and agreed (read: begged and pleaded) to be a guest contributor to DCFud. That means my posts will have PICTURES! Whee! Anyway, go there for my first post on how to improve a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Watch out DCFoodies! I'm taking you over next! Not really. I don't have that kind of disposable income.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Recipe - Satay "meatballs"

Once again, even though I am a reborn meat eater, I still cannot give up my fake meat recipes. I don't tinker with what works. You have to use what I refer to as "log o'meat." I don't know the name if it but if you look in the tofu section of your grocery store, it'll be there in the same kind of log packaging as Jimmy Dean sausage. Try and get the beef kind.

Satay "Meatballs" with peanut sauce

1 log of beef flavored fake meat
1/2 a block of extra firm tofu, crumbled
1 egg
1/2 medium onion finely minced
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce or 1 tablespoon honey and 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce

Peanut sauce
1/4 cup Thai red curry paste (I use the kind with the happy Laotian lady's face on it because it is fairly mild and I can contro lthe heat). If you are using the Thai kitchen brand, be very careful about how much you use because that stuff is lethal. Tasty but lethal.
1 can of coconut milk
1/3 cup peaunut butter
1 tablespoon of nuoc mam (fish sauce)
1 tablespoon honey

Dump all of the meat ingredients into either in a food processor or standing mixer with a paddle attachment. If a pinch you can use a hand mixer. Mix until thoroughly blended. Shape into 1-inch balls. Pan fry in about 1/2 inch of oil until browned on all sides. For the sauce throw everything into a pot on medium heat. Stir for about 10 minutes until everything comes together. Heat until bubbles form. Add more nuoc mam, curry paste, or honey to taste.

You can make this ahead of time and heat the meatballs in the oven later. Another option would be to marinate strips of boneless chicken breast in the Thai curry paste, lime juice and nuoc mam for at least an hour (over night would work) and grill and serve with the peanut sauce.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The REAL Next Food Network Star

So as bitchy as I am about not being able to taste things as the Folklife Festival, I walked away utterly enchanted. I knew that as a whole I would probably get pissed at what has been described as a disjointed festival. So I decided to focus only on the Food Culture USA pavilion (kiss off U.S. Forest Service). What was hilarious was that every moderator at the cooking demonstrations was abjectly apologizing for the lack of samples. SCREW YOU FDA! Somehow the FDA thinks that the pristine demonstration kitchens of the Folklife Festival are less sanitary than the lo mein stands at Pride. Ha ha.

Anyway, after seeing how soy milk and tofu are made and then seeing a few celebrity chef demonstrations, I plunked down at the Home Cooking tent and saw the food rockstars Sally and Gilroy Chow and their lovely daughter Lisa. Sally and Gilroy are third generation Chinese, FROM MISSISSIPPI. If you want to know how thick their Southern accents are, think Dolly Parton from Steel Magnolias. Times ten. It was truly one of the most entertaining half hours of my life.

While Gilroy staffed the huge wok Sally regaled the audience with her stories of being Chinese in the DEEP south along with outlining the recipes. While we learned how to make Mississippi Delta fried rice (with ham and bacon), we also heard about the Chow family, their son's crawfish boil rehearsal dinner, and how Sally learned to embrace the term Smack Yo Mama. Sally teaches Home Ec at her local high school while Gilroy is an engineer. Their daughter Lisa is a CPA and their son does marketing for a hospital. Along with his mastery of the wok Gilroy regaled the audience with his own story of how the fields of cotton in Mississippi are so white they look like snow. In compensation for the lack of tasting, Gilroy gave a t-shirt saying "Ski Mississippi" to a lucky audience member.

I was dying to get my picture taken with them but they were mobbed by audience members. They are true rocks stars and if the Food Network knew what it was doing, it would snatch Sally and Gilroy up and turn them into the superstars they are.