Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Barefoot Contessa Recap – Frozen Treats

We open with Ina walking through her orchard talking about her hectic schedule and how she will need to make things in advance. I have to call bullshit on this because the woman lives alone and has a housekeeper come every week. Why don’t you use all that time you don’t spend with Jeffrey to make dinner? Also, Ina has two hair styles: the curly and artfully mussed and the straightened with the bangs combed forward and curled under. Today it’s the less appealing straightened version which makes her face look chunky. Lose the blunt cut bangs Ina, it does nothing for you.

Cut to Ina sautéing Italian sausage in a pan with onions. I am so coveting her Viking stove. She describes her menu of lasagna, mango daiquiris, pesto pea salad, frozen berries with white chocolate sauce and palmiers to go with coffee. Her first hint is to combine half spicy sausage and half sweet sausage to get the right spicy sweetness in your meat. I refrain from any meat jokes because this is a family blog. She pours in a cup of canned pureed tomatoes and a six ounce can of tomato paste. In a pure food porn moment, the camera gives us a close-up of Ina chopping some exquisite summer basil along with some flat leaf parsley. I am not a fan of parsley myself, as I find it tastes like a plant and not an herb.

OH MY GOD. She puts a tablespoon and a half of salt into her dish. Lady, why not start with a sprinkle and taste. Of course I was raised in a household where we never put salt in anything because we used such massive quantities of nuoc mam. She then measures the standard ricotta cheese into a bowl which is followed by a quantity of goat cheese. I do have to vouch for this move because goat cheese adds a wonderful tanginess and saltiness to any cheese dish. J makes the most incredible mac and cheese casserole and goat cheese is a key ingredient.

In a standard Ina move, she cracks her egg into a separate bowl before adding it to the cheeses because she says “you never know when you get a bad egg.” This is mystifying to me since Ina and her husband are rich beyond belief and have access to the best eggs in the world. I on the other hand buy eggs from Safeway or, if I’m lucky, Trader Joe’s and I have never in my life gotten a bad egg. She throws in a handful of parsley and parmesan cheese to round out the cheese mixture.

Ina gives another incredibly useful tip, soak the lasagna noodles in hot tap water to soften them as opposed to boiling them ahead of time. Again, I vouch for this tip as it makes the noodles soft enough to layer but firm enough to absorb the liquid of the sauce. This being a lasagna, she layers the meat sauce, cheese and pasta and puts it in the freezer.

She then moves into making palmiers (to go with KAWFEE). This is the epitome of my love/hate relationship with Ina. This recipe is crazy simple but crazy expensive. Basically palmiers are puff pastry rolled in sugar and then rolled together so they look like elephant ears. I don’t know how much Pepperidge Farms puff pastry is in the Hamptons but it’s like $4.99 at the Capitol Hill Safeway. She rolls the puff pastry out flat and then sprinkles sugar onto it and rolls two sides of the puff pastry towards each other. While the recipe makes a lot of palmiers, they are easily frozen unbaked and quickly baked off.

Coming back from commercials, Ina grates parmesan cheese onto her lasagna and puts it in the oven. Ina moves on to showing us her unnaturally clean refrigerator where she stores coffee, vodka, ice cream, cookies and poundcake. Her frozen treat for the show are frozen berries that she bought at the peak of ripeness at some fabulous Hamptons farmer’s market. In a flashback, there are food porn shots of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries that I have to call bullshit once again because none of those berries are ripe at the same time. Although I give Ina props for the frozen berry technique as I have three ziplocs full of frozen berries in my freezer thanks to Ina.

She then shoves a baggie full of frozen mango daquiri in our faces says they are perfect for parties, dinner and personal emergencies. And what personal emergencies could she be talking about? She throws mango, simple syrup, rum and lime juice in a blender and then pours it out into individual baggies for future use (particularly personal emergencies).

Making me wonder how much take out she gets, Ina then pulls out a take-out container that is filled with frozen pesto. She constantly uses these plastic containers that usually hold hot and sour soup for chicken stock and pesto. I’ve been inspired to save them myself because they are so handy for storing stock. In yet another flashback, we hear her narrate how to make and freeze pesto.

She uses the pesto in pesto pea salad, boiling and shocking frozen peas and tossing them with the pesto, baby spinach and toasted pine nuts (she calls them pignolis). I don’t like this recipe because using pesto as the dressing means there won’t be an acid like lemon juice or vinegar to balance the salty oiliness of the pesto.

Continuing to pull frozen treats out of the freezer, Ina grabs the frozen daquiris and the palmiers. Her trick with the daquiris is to put them in a blender and add a little more rum to make the mixture like a slushy. It appears her solution to everything is adding more rum. That’s a frightening thought.

After she puts the palmiers in the oven, she makes a daquiri toast with some incredibly swish Hamptons lady whose is actually wearing a pink chanel suit and PEARLS and her fey, gay friend Stephen Drucker (an editor at Martha Stewart living). Stephen dresses in the asexual gay man outfit of a crisp button-down shirt and khakis (as opposed to Ina’s friend TR Pescod who usually appears in pec-hugging ribbed turtlenecks). Leaving her guest behind, Ina makes her white chocolate sauce, melting the white chocolate with cream and vanilla which she’ll pour on the frozen berries.

One of the more unintentially hilarious parts of the show is the incredibly stilted dialogue Ina has with her guests as she forces them to ooh and aah over her food. Stephen asks her, “Ina, how DO you make THIS fabulous meal.” Ina givers her patented nervous laugh AH HEH HEH HEH and says she made it ahead of time and froze it. More oohing and aahing over the berries and sauce as we leave the beautiful and immaculate Hamptons house. Stephen makes a silly off color joke saying “WHO or WHAT wouldn’t taste good with white chocolate.” Oh Stephen, you work for Martha Stewart Living. Like you would EVER get that messy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Superfine Sugar on DCFud

Doesn't Superfine Sugar sound like a great name for a funk band? I'd spend all day saying things like "I love the smooth Superfine Sugar" or "Gimme some sweet sweet superfine sugar." Read all about it on DCFud. One thing i forgot to mention in my DCfud entry is that if you dip your finger in lemon juice and dip it again it sugar, you will have one of the most delicious tastes in your mouth at your fingertip.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sorisso: Mine was OK

Sorisso: Mine was OK

A recent call from Ms. Stitch resulted in a semi-impromptu gathering in Cleveland Park for three. T was out in Nebraska checking out the cuisine and doing some important work. Ms. Stitch, Theater Friend and I chose Sorriso on Connecticut Ave. right by the west exit/entry to the Cleveland Park Metro Stop.

I love to write rave reviews about places that are wonderful and exciting. This is not one of those reviews. While Sorriso certainly has a plus or two, on the whole, I would describe the food as “OK” and the experience as “nice” and I mean those with all sincerity.

The bread they brought to the table was good. Just rough enough on the outside and as soft on the inside to please all of us. We dipped it in the accompanying olive oil and enjoyed.

I had my basic standby, the linguini with red clam sauce. I almost always try this at Italian places and have had my share of fabulous versions and absolutely terrible ones. This was average, lacking either the imagination or excellent balance of flavors of the better versions I have had. There was a nice heat from the red pepper and the sauce had a good amount of garlic (a plus), but it was much too thin for my tastes. The clams were in shell and well-cooked. The pasta itself was as it should be. On the whole, mine was a decent meal. I can’t help but think that they could do a little better though. More tomato in the sauce? Some basil?

Theater Friend ordered the special, a sweet potato gnocchi in a butter sauce. I was surprised when his arrived. It was an attractive dish with a handful of steaming gnocchi lumps resting in a lacy parmesan basket and covered with a butter sauce. But where was the rest of it? Now being from Texas I have seen my share of ridiculous portions, but usually these are ridiculously large. This one was very small and left my friend hungry.

Ms Stitch had a pasta dish that I can honestly barely remember. Again, hers was pretty good. I couldn’t help but think that the food was just good enough that maybe there are some wonderful dishes we just hadn’t ordered.

The highlights for us were a very nice bottle of Proseco and a delicious lemon sorbet. The service from the daughter of the owner was measured and well-paced. She was friendly and engaging to the level that we were. The folks bringing water, clearing, and checking in were on-point and kind.

None of us were entirely disappointed, just a bit underwhelmed. Have you been? We’d love to hear about what we might have missed.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Report from the Road Addendum

This has nothing to do with food but all the rest stops in Iowa and wireless. This is only notable because all of the biker folks regard be with unabashed curiousity while I am emailing all and sundry form my computer at said Iowa rest stop. It gets even more bizaare when I take a conference call from a rest stop. The Iowa Amish started staring and then things got weird.

Report from the Road

For those of you wondering about my lack of posting this week. I am on the road for work visiting state legislators and grassroots activists in the exotic locales of Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska and the even more exotic Des Moines Iowa. I'm happy to report there are some damn good eats in the Midwest. Why am I posting now? Because I had a killer migraine this morning and took my beloved Excedrin that is essentially caffeine in a pill. While my migriane is gone, I am hopped up on caffeine and am stuck not sleeping.

While the first part of my trip (in Lincoln and Des Moines) was firmly rooted in the Dennys/Perkins ouevre of cuisine, we were able to get the inside scoop on good eats in Omamha. I lose a massive amount of edginess here, but I will have to tell you dear readers that I am falling in love with Omaha. The downtown Old Market area is filled with great restaurants and gift shops (and a comic book store!) and there are many places to get a great meal for under $15 and nary a chain store or restaurant to be seen. I am quickly realizing that DC is one of the most square cities in the United States. Whereas Des Moines, Omaha, and Lincoln all have readily available hippie coffeehouses that cater that have message boards advertising anti-war teach-ins and vegan group house openings, DC's are few and far between - I can only come up with SoHo on P street and Tryst that are actually IN the city.

I will start off my travelogue by saying that my first real meal in Omaha was a bust. On Tuesday, We went to Spaghetti Works in the Old Market and the quality was a notch lower than Olive Garden. It has a salad bar reminiscent of Shakey's and the pasta and sauce taste like the frozen tubs they came from.

However, a delicious Greek meal on Wednesday made up for the Tuesday pasta disaster. Meeting iwth some local activists, they chose Katie's Greek Restaurant as our meeting place. Well done local Omaha activists! The meal was CHEAP as can be (dinner for four came out to be $41.00). The two activists ordered a huge Greek salad with gyro meat and my co-worker and I orders an even huger appetizer platter. I was impressed by the fact the hummus didn't just taste of tahini and olive oil but had the appropriate hints of garlic and cumin. They use this great feta that has all the right notes of feta but a mellowness that makes it easy to eat.

Thursday, we went to this French deli called Bouvet where we split a salad and cheese platter and each ordered the roast chicken with mashed potatoes. The salad tasted like someone went to the farmers' market that morning and picked out the best greens and tomatoes and it was topped with a vinaigrette that tasted strong of a good, fruity olive oil. While the cheese platter was tame (tellgio, camembert and meunster), the bread that came with it is some of the best I've tasted. Finally the chicken was out of this world. They served a thigh-leg portion that was awkward to cut but delicious to eat. The chicken juices seeped into the Yukon gold potatoes, making them more of an extension of the chicken than a side dish. And we came away from that meal with a $36 bill.

I am concluding this week that Omaha might just be more of a food city than DC.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Another DCFud post

For those of you lucky enough to be at J's work party or O's birthday, you know the joys of my satay chicken. If you weren't there, I posted the recipe on DCFud. I am happy to say both events were successful. But we ended up doing the Sony Playstation karaoke at J's work party and there is nothing more enjoyable than getting the high score on singing "You're the One that I Want."

Friday, August 19, 2005


G-d d--m it! We are so cursed. This happened all last summer. We tried to throw parties in our backyard and seven times out of eight, it RAINED! We have a tiny apartment with tiny rooms so people will be cramped. WHYYYYYY are you raining? Why won'y you let us have fun with our friends in our backyard. I bought tiki torches and everything.

Anyway, regardless of the rain, the food will be kicking. If I didn't mess up my dcfud entry, there would be a link to a brilliant recipe but because Mercury is in retrograde, craziness ensues. Anyway, there will be an Asian theme to the evening's food. The menu goes as follows:

Ginger mojitos
Blackberry lemonade
Blackberry lemonade with vodka

Satay chicken skewers
Satay vegetarian meatballs
Shrimp won tons
Vietnamese spring rolls (vegetarian and non)
Chocolate white chocolate chunk cookies (Barefoot Contessa)
Butterscotch pudding cake

Thursday, August 18, 2005


So Whole Foods has this wonderful almond tiramisu that is simply out of this world. The almond gives the mixture a lightness that the coffee base tiramisu can't reach. I'm making it for a party this weekend and I am telling you it's out of this world. As I am all about adding an element of trashy to my elegant dishes, I am including a block of cream cheese to the mix because marscapone cheese is like crazy expensive. $4.99 for an 8 ounce carton????? You know what's cheap? Ladyfingers. On a night where we took J's mother to Pasta Plus (MMMMMMMMMM), we stopped by their little deli and picked up a ginormous bag of savoyardi for 3.99 along with an equally ginormous bag of amaretti cookies. That will be make about four or five of my ginormous pans of tiramisu.

Here's my Almondmisu recipe

6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese (1 scant cup)
1 8 oz block of cream cheese
1 cup chilled heavy cream
4 cups almond syrup (the kind that Starbucks uses to flavor their coffee)
4 tablespoons amaretto
36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers, 6 oz)
1/4 cup finely smooshed amaretti cookies
1/4 cup of sliced almonds, toasted

Over a double boiler, whisk together yolks and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Add amaretto and beat until smooth and uniform. Take off the heat and beat in mascarpone and cream cheese until just combined.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

Pour almond syrup in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in syrup, soaking it about 4 seconds on each side, and transfer to an 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Repeat withmore ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Sprinkle crushed amaretti and almonds on top. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. Chill tiramisu, covered, at least 6 hours.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I Wanna Be like the Cool Kids

Waaaaah. We don't get to do anything fun here in our nation's capitol. Case in point. I am having severe blogger envy when I read about the Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic on the Becks and Posh food blog. I just ate breakfast and I am hungry after seeing that garden of eating delights. And I am a very social person with tons of curiosity and would love to meet the other DC Area food bloggers in person. Contrary to what a certain Washington Post food critic says, the DC Food blog world seems to be a fairly friendly place. We read each other's sites and link to each other and make nice comments. I like the DC food bloggers so much I tried to get All I Think About is Food guy to move into the apartment above me. Sorry it didn't work out! Anyway, we could probably throw an awesome picnic but then I realize how crazy busy life in DC is. DC Foodies' wife is about to have a baby. Kanishka is going into the foreign service. J is crazy busy at work. And I'm...working on a quilt. A really big quilt. And I realize I have yet to join the DC area blogger meetup either.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Obligatory Restaurant Week Review Part 2

Setting afire to the hearts of the DCfoodies guy, Chowhounders and Don Rockwellians alike, Corduroy has become the hottest kept secret in DC. Being on the second floor of the Sheraton Four Points makes for an inauspicious location for ones of the best restaurants in the city. It is a weird dining experience to see someone soppy wet come out of the workout room as you dine. However, that minor quibble is erased by some of the best food and best service I've ever had. Being the last Sunday of retaurant week, we took J's mother who was visiting from Texas.

Let's start with service. With a 6:00pm reservation we were seated promptly. The friendly but not obsequious waitress (my favorite kind) was great about describing the food and recommending wine. I've said before that my standard of good services is how well they can keep my water glass full. That shows that they are paying attention. So not only does Corduroy pass that test with flying colors but I go into orgasms of delight by how well they are keeping our BREAD plate full. Usually we get a finite amount of bread or have to ask once the bread is depleted. This is particularly important when needing bread to sop up the delicious sauces that Tom Power's kitchen comes up with.

Onto the food. Dear god is that good. J had the mozarella porcupine which was interesting but mozarella is inherently bland. I thought it was a great summer dish because it was served cold but somehow the porcupine part was nice and crispy. I on the other hand, had the onion soup which was incredible. It hit all of the notes i love about a French onion soup, sweet, salty, savory, but was greasy. The puree had enough structural integrity not to taste like baby food. J's mother hd the salad which looked excellent. For entree, J had the much lauded scallops, I had the lamb with ravoli, and J's mother had the roast chicken. Both of our entrees deserved every single accolade they were given. Complex flavors that didn't get in the way of the basic goodness of the main ingredients. Roast chicken is something I would never order at a restaurant. I make an excellent roast chicken. However, I was wrong not to order it here. J's mother insisted we have tastes of her chicken and I was this close to reenacting the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally. I'll have what she's having indeed. The chicken is out of this world good. When we asked our server, she said that the chicken was poached first and then roasted. I am still tasting that chicken.

For dessert J had the hazelnut bars, his mother had the chocolate tart, and I had the creme brulee. The quality of the desserts can be summed up in one sentence - If it were socially appropriate, I would bring this ramekin to my lips and lick off all of the creme brulee.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Reivew - Amasia Bistro

On Monday, my friend Writergirl asked if I could come with her to Falls Church to pick up her wedding dress. The plan was to actually go to dinner first. Since Amasia was blocks away from the dress store and Writergirl's fiance had been raving about it, we went to Amasia. The compliments fiance was heaping on Amasia were well deserved. While positive reviews of Amasia are popping up all over the Chowhound boards, amasia hasn't gotten much press. That's a shame. I am usually wary of Asian fusion cuisine because I find that it's essentially watered down Asian food, but Amasia's fusion was truly inventive. I started with the small order of potstickers, which were competently made that came with a dipping sauce that was out of this world. It was a dark soy with chili sauce and a hint of sesame oil. It was so good I started dipping my bread in it. Writergirl and fiance had the bowl of edamame. They insisted I try one, knowing my dislike for edamame. I hate lima beans and edamame taste like lima beans. Anyway, if I could have just sucked on the edamame pod without eating the soy nut, I would have been happy. The ginger olive oil it was tossed in was divine.

Writergirl and I had the much praised sweet potato wrapped rockfish. I think it was misnamed because potato was mor like a ribbon of sweet potato around the fish as opposed to completely wrapping the fish. But the dish as a whole was memorable. I love the contrasts of flavors between the sour sauce, the nutty asparagus, and the sweet sweet potato hash. It was like those different elements were dancing around the rockfish without overwhelming it. Needless to say the rockfish was expertly prepared. The true kicker comes with fiance's dish. Fiance is a vegetarian and the menu states - **Please ask our chef about vegetarian dishes exclusively made to order.** Considering restaureurs are loath to do substitutions, having chef Leticia Gonzalez and her kitchen make an entree to order is a unique and rare pleasure. And that's a lot of pleasure because what came out was a teriyaki tofu with grilled asparagus and bok choy. The tofu had it's own unique texture and the teriyaki sauce was out of this world. This was not the usual vegetarian option of stemaed vegetables or pasta primavera.

For dessert we had the cheesecake with the mango coulis, the hazelnut chocolate cake and the blackberries with creme anglaise. All excellent.

As an interesting postscript to our evening, we asked chef Gonzalez if they were willing to cater the engaged couple's wedding. She said they did that stuff all the time and would prepare a proposal. I can't wait for the wedding now.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Obligatory Restaurant Week Review Part 1

This being sommertime in our fair city, we have interns. Thursday was one of our intern's last day which coincides with restaurant week so we decided to take her out to DC Coast. It being Restaurant Week, DC Coast was crazy crowded, and our reservation was for 1:45pm! Luckily we were seated promptly and given the "chef's" table next ot the kitchen. Our drink orders were quickly taken and we all indicated we wanted to get the Restaurant Week options. It took a while for the server to come back to explain Restaurant Week and tell us what was available. Their restaurant week menu gave us choices of mixed green salad, Ceasar salad, mushroom soup or gazspacho for a starter and the full list of entrees (with the exception of their lobster roll that you had to pay $3 more for) and a choice of their panna cotta, chocolate icebox cake, or creme brulee for dessert. A wonderful deal for $20. I had the mushroom soup, tuna on top of a soba noodle cake with an Asian slaw, and the panna cotta. Other members of my party had the penne, pecan crusted trout and steak bruschetta.

I'm only going to talk about what I ate since, I don't want to put words into the mouths of my co-workers. The mushroom soup was a dark broth with shitake, cremini, and other fancy mushrooms. It seemed to be served a little warmer than room temperature, but I thought it might be deliberate given the extreme heat of last week. I appreciated not having a piping hot soup that day. I liked the woodsy flavor of both the mushrooms and broth but somehow there was a spiciness that just seemed to linger in my mouth. I don't think it enhanced the flavor of the broth.

The entree came and the tuna that I ordered rare came about medium rare. I was hoping for that seared on the outside, quiveringly raw on the inside texture I so love aobut good tuna. But then I tasted it and it was wonderfully moist, more like a mahi mahi and the flavor was wonderful. The whole plate had the wonderful flavor of salty, sweet and spicy. My only complaint was the the udon noodles seemed hard to pry apart and eat since it came as a cake.

For dessert I had the panna cotta. I usually try and order things from a restaurant I can't make at home. And other than jello, I do not try and mess with gelatin. So panna cotta it was. The panna cotta was lovely, there was a sharp sourness that cut through the sweet creaminess to make this a memorable dessert.

Here's the kicker for the meal. Both the manager and waitress noticed (without me pointing it out) that my tuna was definitely not rare and apologized profusely. For me, it was no problem, but they were kind enough to comp my meal nevertheless. and for those restaurants out there (Belga Cafe I am looking at you), a sincere apology goes a long way. My enjoyment of the meal wasn't compromised by the mistake but I was gratified that the management of DC Coast and waitstaff cared. Running a restaurant is a crazy business. I would never want to do it. And for me, the only unforgivable thing in dining is snottiness on both the restaurant's side and the diner's side.

Mountain of Blackberries Part 2

As a testament to my Barefoot Contessa envy, the first thing I made with the mountain of blackberries was blackberry lemonade. Inspired by Ina, I went out and bought a citrus juicer. I had been squeezing limes by hand for things like guacamole and margaritas and it took F*$%&%ing forever. After seeing the ease at which Ina used her juicer we decided to buy one of our own when we were shopping at Wegmans. Well over 100 lemons, limes, and oranges gave their juice for our happiness and health since we bought it a month ago. So the blackberry lemonade was summer in a glass folks. Sweet, tart, refreshing. The only down side is that pureeing blackberries makes a mess. Be prepared for purple hands.

Blackberry Lemonade
2 cups of lemon juice (about 10 lemons)
4 cups water
½ cup sugar
1 cup picked-over fresh blackberries

With a vegetable peeler remove zest from 4 lemons and squeeze enough juice from these and remaining 6 lemons to measure 2 cups.

In a saucepan boil 1 cup water with sugar, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Add zest, lemon juice, and remaining 3 cups water and cool.

In a food processor or blender puree blackberries and stir into lemonade. Pour blackberry lemonade through a sieve into a pitcher or other container and chill. I actually don’t have a sieve or Chinois and poured the mixture into a big bowl and skimmed the lemonade with a slotted spoon. Chill the lemonade, covered, at least until cold and up to 2 days or keep it in the freezer until the end of time.

Serve lemonade over ice in tall glass, garnished with lemon slices.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Mountains of Blackberries

In what is becoming a summer tradition among my group of friends, S, O, E, and I went to Homestead Farm to pick blackberries. Blackberries are the perfect fruit to pick yourself because the cost differential between blackberries in the store ($3.00 per pint) vs. pick-your-own ($1.99 per POUND) is incredible. Plus you get to taste blackberries at the peak of ripeness. And the differential between a ripe blackberry and an unripe one is the differential between a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of lemon.

Last year, we were overambitious and picked 35 pounds of blackberries. This ended up making 18 huge jars of blackberry jam, two pitchers of blackberry lemonade, a blackberry cobbler, blackberry barbecue sauce, and a blackberry pie, along with a healthy amount of eating blackberries and frozen blackberries. WHEW. This year we were smarter and ended up picking about 5 pounds of blackberries each. I don’t know why, but all of these Chinese families kept coming up to me to see our incredible haul of blackberries. I ending up letting several eat a few because they were so curious. I always find it embarrassing to have Chinese folk come up to me and start speaking some Chinese dialect. I am a quarter Chinese but the rest of me is Vietnamese and I know absolutely no Chinese.

The gang went to my place to sort through the bounty and make our various blackberry yummies. We sorted our blackberries into edible/freezable (ones that were at their peak of perfection) and cookable (ones that were either underripe and sour or mashed from the ride over). Freezing is a great way to preserve berries. The fresh flavor gets sealed in. Speaking of freezing, I abhor the whole idea of sterilizing jars so all of the jam I make is destine for the freezer. While some folks might have the constitution for standing over boil water sterilizing jars and hoping that a sliver of air didn’t get trapped in said jar and turning the jam into a mold and bacteria festival, I certainly do not. Any jar of jam that does not get used in the next three weeks is destined for the freezer.

We simply used the low sugar recipe on the Pomona pectin box. My head does threaten to explode when I see tradition jam recipe that call for more sugar than actual fruit. By that point, it’s fruit flavored sugar. To our eight cups of mashed fruit (THANKS E), we added 2, count them – 2, cups of sugar. And it tastes wonderfully sweet.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


To the wonderful folks at DCFud, sorry I double posted my cobbler entry. I tried to save it as draft to be edited and I thought save meant save as draft and not post. SORRY! But the cobbler post is funny and informative.

Easy Spicy Omelet Love


So I've been doing a lot of hobbling about with some knee problems and relying on T for more of the ccoking, but this weekend I was on my own for breakfast so I hobbled to the kitchen to throw an omelet together.

I grew up with my grandmother coming over to make brekfast most mornings before school and omelets were her specialty. Usually just cheese or cheese and tomato for her, but they were always fantastic.

Ever wake up and just not have the energy to put a lot of thought or time into your cooking? Well, there I was. The pan was heated, a pat of butter was melting towards brown, and my eggs were nicely fork-beaten and ready to go.

"SSSSSSSSZZSSSSSSSZZZZZZZZZ" went the eggs as I poured them into the pan and they began their journey to Fluffyville. I started scooting them around a bit and realized I really just wanted some more flavor. Short on time (it was already cooking), I went for the Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.

Now I have often popped a little honey on an omelet with some pepper sauce or Tony Chachere's, but this was a novel idea. The sweet and spicy in one place! Yum!

Once I had gotten my omelet nice and fluffy, I poured about 1 1/2 tablespoons on top and flipped it several times so the sauce could coat both sides and warm up. I let it sit for about 10 seconds on each side and flip-folded it over onto my plate.

Sure enough, that first bite was zingy and slightly sweet. I love taking chances like that and having them pay off. Has that happened to you recently? Please share!

SHORT VERSION: I put some thai sweet chili sauce on an omelet and cooked it a bit. Risky cooking adventures? Comments? -J

Monday, August 01, 2005

Barefoot Contessa Love/Not-So-Much Love

Despite the trend in the Food Network towards the empty calories of Rachael Ray (4 shows!), I am still addicted to Food Network shows. My biggest addiction is to Barefoot Contessa. That show is my kryptonite. I should hate it, being all Martha Stewarty about how great Ina Garten’s life is, but I love that lady unabashedly. After all, her whole show is about her immaculate house, her fabulous (read gay men and their hags) friends, and her successful husband. She has this habit of making dishes using crazy expensive ingredients – i.e. loins of pork, filets of beef and “effortlessly” throws together bouquets of fresh flowers from her manicured garden.

Nevertheless I LOVE her.
Barefoot Contessa is like seeing a Williams Sonoma catalog as a TV show. And as pretentious as she is, I must admit, I WANT HER LIFE. I want her house. I want her kitchen. She can keep her husband. Her show is pure food porn and her recipes are spot on with great tips for home cooks. I’ve been learning these as I work through the stack of her books my partner (also from DC Food Blog) gave me for my birthday. Now I’ve made over ten of her recipes and they’ve all turned out beautifully.

Here’s one episode
Episode: Welcome Back Breakfast

We open with the fabulous house at night and Ina is telling us how her husband is coming home late after a long business trip and that she can’t make her usual roast chicken dinner. For avid Ina fans we also know that her husband spends the week in New Haven as the Dean of the Yale business school and comes home only on weekends. Anyway, since she can’t do the Friday night dinner, she decides to go all out on the next morning’s breakfast. And then she betrays her deep neurosis and insecurity about her ability to be an adequate wife by saying “if I don’t cook for him, I’m sure there’s someone else who will.” That’s so sad. Ina, Ina, Ina, he should love you whether cook for him or not.

Segue into her faboo kitchen where she is in the midst of making strawberry jam by simmering sugar and lemon. The natural pectin in the lemon will help the jam to gel. She hulls the strawberries, cuts them in half, and then dumps them into a pan with the sugar and lemon mixture which she sets to simmer. She gives her first piece of useless advice during this segment by admonishing the viewer to “always use strawberries that are fresh.” The recipe itself seems completely doable and the fact that you are not slaving away over a hot stove worry about melting powdered pectin and sterilizing jars is a big plus. GO INA!

We then move on to making the brioche with yeast, sugar, eggs, water and flour. I’m dying to make this recipe but this is a two day event. The dough needs to rise overnight. Another big complaint many people have about Barefoot Contessa is that it relies so much on a standing mixer. But luckily, I do have a standing mixer and I use it religiously.

She then gives us a useful piece of advice when she tells us a good way to see if jam has been heated enough is to put a spoonful on a cold plate and see if it gels. More brioche action with the standing mixer. After the commercial, she puts the brioche dough into a buttered bowl to rise overnight.

Ina goes back into insecure housewife mode where she know her husband Jeffrey was on the road all night and HAS to make him something comforting. Homemade hot chocolate is her comfort food of choice. In an artery-clogging move she heats whole milk AND half-and-half and throws in both dark chocolate and milk chocolate along with vanilla, coffee granules and sugar. Like all of her recipes, the hot chocolate is straightforward and easily replicable. Her gnome-like husband Jeffrey comes in and all of her viewers collectively wonder why she’s so desperate to please this guy. To his credit, Jeffrey is duly appreciative and they start their mildly suggestive banter about the hot chocolate and going to bed.

In the next scene, it’s morning and Ina walks into the kitchen with her cup of coffee. She throws the sticky dough back into the mixer and she adds butter. She then rolls it out and separates it into 20 little balls. Of course she has these fabulous little brioche pans for her loaves and we collectively sigh in envy.

This leads to the more annoying segment of her shows – the shopping segment. Of course it’s all designed to show how fabulous her life is in the Hamptons with little gourmet shops and farmers’ markets. She buys fruit for her fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Back to the house. She “fakes out” Jeffrey by telling him she’s gonna serve him dry toast and old coffee for breakfast and bids him to make a fire. While he’s making the fire Ina puts together the ingredients for her homemade granola with oats, coconut, and almonds tossed in honey and canola oil. This is such a rockstar recipe. I’ve made it. It’s delicious, simple, and easily modifiable. When I made it I omitted the almonds and replaced the honey with maple syrup. It turned out wonderfully

As the granola is baking she puts together the fruit for her parfaits and goes to the brioche where they have surprised her by rising. Ina, things with yeast rise.

Ina layers the fruit, granola, and yoghurt and marvels that her completed parfaits look like ice cream sundaes. When we come back from commercials she is putting peaches in a food processor to puree them for Bellinis. She puree the peaches with the skin on and then sieve the mixture to catch the peach skin. This another one of those wonderful tips that she gives that make sense and actually save time and effort in the kitchen. The Bellinis and the whole breakfast is assembled and served to Jeffrey.

Ina goes on and on about her ‘international” breakfast where the Bellinis were inspired by their trip to Venice. The brioche, from their trip to France and their parfaits from their trip to Belgium Fine Ina, you travel all over the world. Your life is fabulous. Damn you, DAMN YOU.

Jeffrey coos over the homemade jam and wonders if she made the plates and the silverware. I wouldn’t put that past her. They toast to their fabulous breakfast and we leave their gorgeously appointed Hampton country home duly impressed.

This won't be the last Barefoot Contessa recap. Hee hee.