Monday, July 31, 2006

10 Things I Learned From...Nigella Lawson

I think I have pretty thoroughly proclaimed my Nigella love on the pages of this blog. This appears to be a bit redundant, but hopefully others will chime in or say I'm full of it. I can't help it, Nigella is so completely cool. She's witty, self deprecating, and appears to be totally genuine. No, stupid catchphrases for this English rose (Hah!), her personality comes from intelligent humor and revelatory insights as opposed to bizaare personality tics (we're looking at you Rayray).

10 Things I Learned From Nigella Lawson

1. The utterly divine Union Square mixed nuts. Absolutely perfect party food. The corollary revelation is that party food should be finger food and not rely on a fork and knife to be eaten.

2. To love myself. No really. In this fitness obsessed world, Nigella proudly proclaims her love of food and therefore affirms MY love of food. For example, she writes in How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food - "I don't disparage the shallow concerns of the ordinarily vain, which, after all, I share. What I hate is all this new-age voodoo about eating, the notion that foods are either harmful or healing, that a good diet makes a good person and that that person is necessarily lean, limber, toned and fit. Quite apart from anything else, I don't see the muscular morality argument. Why should a concern for your physical health be seen as a sign of virtue? Such a view seems to me in danger of fusing Nazism (with its ideological cult of physical perfection) and Puritanism (with its horror of the flesh and belief in salvation through denial)." Could she rock any harder? It's not like she hates dieting or healthy eating, it's just that she puts it in perspective.

3. With dewy skin and gorgeous hair, noone notices the junk in your trunk. Seriously, Nigella is pretty amply proportioned down there but does ANYONE notice? Hell no. Why? She and her stylist make sure that her skin is flawless and her hair is divine.

4. Cakes are not hard to make. I recommend making her chocolate cake from Nigella Bites.

5. Sweetened and flavored whipped cream, when frozen, turns into ice cream. See her recipe for Seville orange ice cream.

Embrace the concept of child labor. Nigella is constantly having her kids help with the cooking. And not in some stilted Stepford way, but with the kdis making a mess and bugging her about how to do things. But the result is that her kids, like Nigella herself, actually know how to cook.

7. There's a difference between food that takes a long time to cook (braised meats) and food that takes a long time to prepare. For example, while risotto may only take 20 minutes to cook, you are stuck behind a stove the entire 20 minutes. On the other hand, a stew make take four hours to cook, but it take ten minutes of prep.

8. Speaking of stews, you can change the recipe for a stew fairly dramatically and still end up with a delicious stew.

9. There's a firm place for junk food in your kitchen (i.e. cheap white bread for Mozarella en Carozza).

Roasting a chicken breast side down results in the moistest chicken EVER.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Start of Something Medium - 10 Things I Learned...

So I'm going to do an ongoing column on this blog. 10 Things I Learned from XXX. I consume a lot of food related media - tv shows on both PBS, the Style Network, and the Food Network, magazines (Fine Cooking, Bon Appetit), and websites. Each have their value and I wanted to write what exactly I get out of them. So this is the inaugural 10 Things I Learned... I want this to be discussion starter. What are other things YOU learned form the particular book, magazine, or tv show? On the other side, what are ways in which the particular food media bites? So to kick off I am doing 10 Things I learned form the Barefoot Contessa. I know I will cover 10 Things I Learned From: Martha Stewart Living, Paula Deen, Bon Appetit, Fine Cooking, Giada DeLaurentiis, Chowhound, Tyler Florence, Nigella Lawson, Kylie Kwong, and Rachael Ray (GASP).

10 Things I Learned From Barefoot Contessa:

1. In a cocktail party, remember to come up with recipes that are ideally served at room temperature.

If you don't have a citrus zester and are need finely zested zest, mash the zest in a food processor with the sugar you need for your dessert.

3. It's okay to pimp out your totally stilted society matrons and gay friends for a little face time on tv.

4. How to make jam without using pectin. (Hint - a LOT of sugar)

5. You can keep your mashed potatoes warm in a bowl above simmering water. Corollary - new potatoes make for really creamy mashed potatoes.

6. The exact amount of time you need to dunk a ladyfinger in espresso to make tiramisu.

7. In making a cheese plate or antipasto platter, group things together as opposed ot mixing all of the things up. For example, put strawberries in a big clump on one side of the plate and figs in a big clump on the other side of the plate with a wedge of brie in the middle.

8. If you don't have things like cake stands you can turn things like souffle dishes upside down and put a plate on top of them to create height on your table.

9. Hershey's chocolate syrup makes great cupcakes.

10. Women with round faces should have their hair messily curles with the bangs parted to the side as opposed to straightened with the bangs coming directly down.

P.S. To Jon at Ihatebroccoli. I totally read your blog but beep won't let me make comments.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Showtime Synergy!

I'm totally having synergy with Scotte at Eat with Me. We bought all these chicken breast from Costco and I wanted to clear the freezer for the massive amount of food we are making for our open house. So Saturday night, I was inspired by Tyler Florence making chicken piccata (or scallopine, I forget which is which) that I had to make some myself with all that chicken. It turned out beautifully and I am convicined that piccata/scallopine is the best way to cook a chicken breast. What you do is cut the chicken breast through the middle so that you end up with two flatter breasts. Then you put the halves in between two pieces or wax paper/parchement paper/plastic wrap and pound the hell out of them with your instrument of choice - mallet, frying pan (preferably cast iron) or rolling pin (my favorite). I had a crappy rehearsal for this show I am in and it was bvery therapeutic. The reason for the pounding isn't necessarily to tenderize the meat but to get it into a uniform thickness. You then salt and pepper the breasts and dredge them in flour. In a hot frying pan, pan fry them in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry each side for 4 minutes until they get a golden brown crust. Put aside and add another tablespoon of olive oil and saute a small onion and two cloves of chopped garlic in the oil. Deglaze with 1 cup of chicken broth/white wine or any combinatin thereof. Let the mixture reduce by half and if you want to be decadent add a quarter cup or cream or even sour cream. To make it scallopine, add the juice of at least half a lemon. Put the chicken back into the sauce (pour the chicken juices in) and let simmer for another ten minutes to cook through. The result is tender, moist, flavorful chicken with a divine sauce. There must be something in the air about my joint need with Scotte to make pan fried meat.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Not just for organizing your life

Doesn't J rock? Seriously, back off boys, he's ALLLLL mine.

Anyhoodle, guess what I am doing this weekend? Here's a hint:

I'm picking blackberries tomorrow morning. I am getting up at half past ass but given this weather, it's worth forgoing a few hours of sleep to pick blackberries in the cool of morning. Blackberries are the fruit most worth picking yourself since htey are so fragile. Buying them in the store means that you are also paying for the cost of someone handling them gently enough to get them to the store. I love the fact I can pick 10 pounds worth for 15 dollars. I will be holding back this year because we just don't have the freezer space but it was a joy to have bags of frozen blackberries in the middle of winter.

Here's my blackberry cobbler recipe which I just brought for the neighborhood lGBT potluck where I encountered someone who knew me when I was deeply closeted and had hair. Needless to say that was a long time ago.

For filling
1/2 stick butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup sugar

For topping
1 cup self-rising flour (if you don't have self rising just add a teaspoon of baking powder to the cup of flour)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1/2 cup of milk
Accompaniment: Fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

To prepare the filling:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the butter in an 8 x 8-inch square glass baking dish (no substitutes), and melt the butter in the microwave. In a mixing bowl, combine lemon juice and blackberries. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the blackberry mixture to the baking dish with the melted butter. Do not stir.

Make topping:
Combine all of the topping ingredients in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the blackberries and bake 45 minutes, or until brown. This recipe is also good for apples, blueberries, and peaches.

P.S. RANIER CHERRIES ARE IN SEASON!!!!!!! These things are so good, I put them in the candy food group and not the fruit food group.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gay Marriage for Dinner?

Yes. This is a food blog. I just wanted somewhere to put this. There is so much stir on gay marriage. Congregations, courts and others are deciding who gets to marry, who does not, who is an abomination, who is not, etc.

I have to add that for some of us, the scariest thing is that a group of people that have the opportunity to use policies and rules to exclude, judge, or harm you are having the conversation at all.

Not that it shouldn't be had. Given the years of brutal silences, I suppose talking is better than not talking, but it makes many of us pre-emptively shut down in fear of the angry mob, or worse yet, the well-intentioned "sinner" lovers that somehow still do not beleive that people who do things they find abhorrent should still be able to live mutually loving and consenting lives in peace and under civil protections.

I abhor fighting wars for little good reason. Am shocked and disgusted that people create political dynasties on the backs of the poor and downtrodden. I'm saddened by the abusive way people treat others, the racism, the classism. I'm offended by the lack of funding for basic human needs in our cities in the face of corporations making billions. I'm shocked and find repulsive the votes waged for building bigger prisons, larger factories, and more when our schools need so much love, attention, and resources.

Yet with all that repulsion, abhorrence, disgust, shock, offense, and sadness, I would never seek to deny the bureaucrats, the abusers, the "activist judges," etc. love. Love is about hope and community, about connecting, growing, etc. Is it really Christlike (so much of the conversation is in the "Christian" churches) to deny people that or stand in the way of their equality?

And let's set that one straight. Equality also means I cannot be fired from my job for loving the other mutually consenting adult. It means I do not have to hire an attorney to secure the right to visit the person I have cared for over decades or to inherit our shared assets. It means there are protections from violence that are clear and deliberate because, somehow it has often been permissible to hurt people because they are gay or perceived to be. Equality means I have the opportunity to grow as a parishoner, leader, teacher, employee, neighbor, representative, etc. That my life experience brings value to a conversation and that I can be seen as inclusive of my sexuality but not limited by it. That I am seen when it is preferable for some to not look.

I am an adult human being who will never be attracted to a woman. And I love women. I am grateful to be surrounded by brilliant, strong, creative, critical, beautiul women. We laugh, have fun, build trust, take care of one another, etc. Yet still. You know. I'm really just that gay.

And I do not think we are made for celibacy so I am now a second class citizen? Some people get to discuss whether I am a worthy parishoner, leader, teacher, employee, neighbor, representative, etc.? Isn't that just a little crazy?

Being open to the discussion in churches, courthouses, legislatures, and other places is wonderful in some way and gives many of us hope, but at times it feel like the in-crowd in high school is deciding who is cool enough to sit at their lunch table. And that table really is quite frequently made up of people who are in no way like me, who cannot identify, who think they are protecting a notion of marriage or society that is quaint, but incomplete and fictive. My allies are strong but often too few to matter.

I never liked the in-crowd, yet now I am reliant on them for my rights. It hurts a bit and its very frustrating. And, again despite intentions, isn't it somewhat ridiculous?

Are people really playing "Who is Christian enough?," "American enough?" It makes me think a lot about how I perform my faith, my belief that equality matters, my feminism, my desire to end racism. It's a simple agenda.

And why on earth is the political right in charge of deciding that gay marriage is the big issue on the table? It's a wedge issue. They are trying to play on religion for votes. I resent it. It's arrogant.

I think many of us on the outside looking in know that we are not about to seek peace in hierarchy, to expect justice from those in power, or to seek compassion from those who still do not understand how we are built. I am not going to seek solace from those who are economic conservatives and social liberals who still let their economic views (which we keep proving unworkable for most of society again and again) trump the civil rights of their friends, loved ones and neighbors.

I love men and women. I am a gay man married to man. I love him so deeply I could cry with joy and gratitude that we found one another. Our wedding was powerful for us and our marriage is very strong (so what if it wasn't, right?)

But still, we live every day needing to be somewhat fierce in the face of a fear of violence, discrimination, and the persistent and powerful messages that we are second class citizens. (I realize many reading this experience this doubly, triply, or more. There is a lot of work to do and we have to keep doing it together).

I took too much from Martin Luther King, from Audre Lorde, from Gloria Anzaldua and from my loving heterosexual family to not know that the picture being painted is inaccurate. I am not a sinner. I refuse it as a title. I am flawed and have issues to work on, but my insistent love for another man is not a sin. It has meant too much for us, our families and our communities to be a sin.

The hatred, the choice to discriminate, the choice to exclude, those are the sins. The millions of dollars both sides are having to spend that might be better spent in our communities making a difference for those in need -- that is a sin. The hurt in families when you have to fear that people you love love you a little bit less or when you know they love you not at all- that is a sin.

Next up, empanadas!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

My Bike was Not at the Alamo, but We Did Have a Great Meal . . .

Alamo Restaurant

Have you been to the Alamo restaurant in Riverdale? This part of town is often called "Little Mexico" and if our recent meal there is any indication of the rest of the restaurants in the area, we are very lucky to live somewhat nearby.

Anchoring a small strip mall in Riverdale bearing its name, The Alamo Restaurant looks like just another place to grab a meal from the road. I had seen it written up here and there and never really thought about until we moved a bit closer.

Walking in, it looked much more like the Mexican restaurants I am familiar with from the Dallas–Fort Worth area than any I've seen in DC. Cast iron d├ęcor, low lighting, dark paneling, red booths, etc. Think San Antonio, just off the Riverwalk, South Austin, or other Little Mexicos. It reminded me of home and the Mexican restaurants I grew up exploring with my uncle (who managed a downtown Dallas Tex-Mex place), my family, and friends.

We were promptly seated and gave the menu a quick glance as the chips and salsa arrived. A quick taste and I soon knew that we were in for a good meal. Out come these perfectly crisp, thick chips with a deep corn flavor, you know the type: fresh, opaque, deep golden yellow. We were served individual mini-bowls of incredibly well balanced salsa. This was fabulous -- a touch of cumin, miniscule red peppers, a medium heat that built and just sat there for the rest of the meal, tiny pieces of cilantro. I care deeply about salsa and want it to taste spicy, not too sweet, with touches of garlic and fresh tomatoes. This was a solid 8.5 on a ten-point scale.

Alamo Restaurant has an extensive menu, but it was easy to narrow it down to a few options we wanted to try. T and I decided to split one of the bountiful combination plates and add a seafood enchilada on the side because we were both curious about it.

T ordered an iced tea and I indulged and ordered a horchata, a sweet cinnamon rice milk. It was a cool, refreshing treat on a hot day. Now I was a very happy diner enjoying my seven hundred and fifty-third scoop of salsa and chasing it with my cool mega-sized horchata, but little did I know what pleasure was to come from the meal being prepared for us.

Here's a walk through of the combination plate:

CHALUPAS COMPUESTAS: medium sized tostadas topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. T, not a major fan of refried beans (gasp!), thought the beans were the best he has tasted. Refried beans often end up falling into one of the following categories: pasty with lumps, runny with bits, and, well, somewhere in between. The best refried beans in my estimation are neither wet nor gritty. They taste more of beans and less of the overpowering chili powder, garlic, etc. that many places load them down with. These were notable in a meal of notables.

FLAUTAS – The flauta was a delicious, wet, but not dripping, generous portion of meat packed firmly into a deep fried tortilla. After biting into the flauta, much became clear about the kitchen at the Alamo. 1. These folks know meat and understand texture. 2. The kitchen uses broths to flavor their meats and the flavors are both deep and enjoyable.

TACO – The taco was your basic hard taco. Ground beef topped with shredded cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. Again, the meat had a wonderful, moist, flavor. Hints of chili powder and the juices of the meat made this an A+ taco. It got a bit wet, so I cradled it with one of the freshly grilled corn tortillas that came with the meal. Yum!

RICE – T was especially impressed by the rice. A generous pile of fluffy (no crusty pieces) rice with a tinge of tomato flavor.

NACHOS – The combo came with two nachos, each with generous portions of the soft yellow cheese so popular in Tex-Mex cooking. On top of the cheese were two slices of pickled jalapenos, and beneath the cheese, a spoonful of the delicious refried beans.

SEAFOOD ENCHILADA - The seafood enchilada was a find. Flavorful shredded crab filled a soft, wet tortilla, covered in cheese, and served steaming hot. I'll get a plate of these next time.

SHREDDED TURKEY MOLE - The shredded turkey was the only item that was a bit newer for us. We've both had our share of mole by this point in life, but I did not grow up with it and T had it later in life as well. This mole was worthy of creating some future nostalgia though. A deep intense mole sauce soaked the shredded turkey. This was best eaten with a tortilla so we could sop up the savory and sweet juices.

The combo platter also came with a cheese enchilada, but we were less interested with all that was on the plate. It passed the test, but was not much to blog about.

I am still finding it hard to believe we found such a place. It felt so incredibly like home to me and I can't wait to find others who have left Texas and are looking for the real deal.

I should note that it was quite Mexican and quite Tex-Mex at the same time. For those interested in reading about the difference and learning some good recipes, I highly recommend Robb Walsh's The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos

Last, it would be odd not to comment on the striking seafood platters that kept leaving the kitchen and the heaping bowls of seafood soup. We counted nine orders of the seafood soup coming out and the grilled seafood platters were generous with some fine looking shrimp!

We look forward to a return trip! It'll be a heck of a lot cheaper than flying to Texas for my fix.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Weekend At the Beach - Dinner

This past weekend Rootbeer's boyfriend, Spryogyra, was generous enough to invite us to his family's beach house in Rehoboth. Located in the very tony, North Shore development, the Spyrogyra beach house is one of the few modest bungalows left. The decor is pure beach house with a commemorative plate collection and a captain's wheel. The house is right on the canal that separate the North Shore development from a wildlife preserve which means we had a beautiful view to wake up to and an obligation to wave to all the boats passing by.

The highlight of the the house for me was the huge open kitchen which had a generous counter which divided the kitchen from the dining room. This allowed all of us to cook at the same time. The kitchen also had a pass-through to the screen in porch which had an dining room table of its own.

Dinner was a cavalcade of food. I don't think I've ever had so many courses in my life that didn't involve a Chinese banquet room and a lazy susan. We kept thinking of more fresh things we just had to eat.

The first course consisted of perfectly grilled shrimp. In a true departure for me, the flavorings were minimal - I just tossed the shrimp in a ton of chopped garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. We skewered the shrimp and tossed them on the barby for a scant five minutes. They were perfect.

Along with the shrimp was a salad of heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers with a balsamic reduction. I simply cannot sing the praises of a balsamic reduction enough. It turns the soprano notes of balsamic vinegar into more alto notes of a syrup. What I cannot sing the praises of are the assy heirloom tomatoes from Giant. Heirloom my ass. Their flavor was flat and lacked the vibrant sweetness of a true garden tomato. If you are going to buy a cucumber, buy an English one. I love that Spyragyra and I both wanted the one vaccuum wrapped in plastic on the regular cucumbers. They have fewers seeds and a less bitter taste. As if we didn't have enough fresh food, we also made a mixed green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.

So the salads and shrimp were the starters. I know I know, that's already a meal. But Spyragyra had brought ribeye steaks and lamb chops from Costco. In case Costco's corporate practices weren't enough for you to shop there, the meat is incredible. While I marinated the lamb chops in garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil, they really didn't need it. The full, meaty, flavor of the lamb was the strong flavor and the most delicious. They were tender and meaty. The ribeyes were only season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and they tasted divine. The only starch in this smorgasborg of protein and vegetables was corn on the cob. While they tasted fine boiled, I decdied to make hte most out of the hot coals and put a few ears on the BBQ to roast. This turned them from tasty to spectacular. The smokiness of the BBQ complimented the sweetness of the corn.

Dessert were chocolate/caramel turtles procured from the Candy Shack.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

It's like the food version of Brenda Walsh

I have a secret love of Brenda Walsh on Beverly Hills 90210. It's totally shameful. I grew up watching The Bev (as my friends and I called it) and openly hated the way Brenda could get away with mouthing off to her parents. But I secretly loved the fact that she was such an unpleasant beeyotch. So we were having dinner the other night with a certain twosome, and one of the twosome blurted out "I love Macaroni Grill and I won't be shamed!" It appears that Macaroni Grill is his Brenda Walsh.

I know that true foodies are above such generic chain restaurant tomfoolery but I have seveal Brenda Walshes.

1. Olive Garden. Because they hate LGBTs, I need to hate them but there's so cheap and the salad is SOOOO good.

2. Buca de Beppo. This goes beyond super sized into the realm of enogh to feed an army. Regardless of what you think of the food (I love it), the servers are really friendly and prompt.

3. Sonic. Damn you Sonic and your 50 miles away from DC location. Why must you torture us so with your ads?

4. Denny's. While some prefer IHOP, I find Denny's "hash browns" to be crisper.

5. PF Chang's/Pei Wei. My in-laws are addicted to Pei Wei. In college, the only way you could keep up as a science major was to form a study group. There was this chick named Pei Wei who kept using our notes and never sharing hers. We vowed that whoever got into med school and had to cut up a cadaver would name their first cadaver Pei Wei. But Pei Wei the restaurant has really good brown rice.

So what's your culinary Brenda Walsh? Come on, we all know you have one (if not many).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Salsa Verde

I've been out of commission and leaving T to the posting, but yesterday, with the prospect of no work today, I decided to put together my favorite salsa verde. I've been working on it for a long time and never have been able to get the consistency I am after . . .until tonight! Special thanks to the Arlington, Texas crew from ZuZu's -- Anne, Michelle, Bev, and Mijo.

Salsa Verde

14 healthy tomatillos (golf-ballish size)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp pepper
1 medium jalapeno
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 bunch cilantro
1 tsp honey
2 ripe avocados
1 beautiful ripe tomato
Juice of two loose limes

TOMATILLOS: Halve the tomatillos and throw them in a 9x12 casserole dish. A rimmed baking sheet is fine, but I find it gets very sticky. Toss the tomatillos with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast them on BROIL for about 12 minutes. What you want is a nicely bruised tomatillo that has started losing its juices. Don't go for the full on skin blister unless you want a very deep roasted flavor. Let them cool and place the tomatoillos, skins, juices, everything, in the food processor.

JALAPENO:At the same time, ROAST the jalapeno. I throw the jalapeno in the toaster oven, but it would be fine in the oven with the tomatillos. I really like the sharp high notes that the jalapeno has and the roasting tempers it only a bit. Many people use a siracha pepper in salsa verde and I think this is fine, just different. You may want to de-seed and de-vein the jalapeno before tossing it in the food processor, but I don't. Most people like the kick.

AVOCADOS:Find two wonderfully ripe avocados. You'll be ok if they are a day away or so, but other than that, I would wait. We're going for a smooth texture here and the under-ripe tend to be too chunky. Toss them in the food processor with the rest of their friends.

CILANTRO: This is not one of those recipes for folks that don't like cilantro. In fact, this could be called cilantro lover's salsa verde. Wash the cilantro and use about a cup and a half of leaves. This salsa basically gets pulverized, so no worries if a stem or ten get in. You guessed right, throw it in the food processor.

LIME JUICE:You know those tight limes? The ones that just don't give up the juice. Let's not pretend that using one of those is the same as using a deliciously squeezy one. Lime is where it's at in this salsa. Roll your limes on a cuting board or counter before squeezing the juice out. We want a fresh kicky lime taste! Pour the lime juice into the food processor.

Now add the garlic, cumin, chili powder and honey. Finally, add a medium-sized red tomato. This really completes the flavors, adds a bit of liquid, cools down the jalapeno a bit. A little yang for the yin, ya know?

Now, run the processor. I like to use the pulse feature, but you do want this pretty well blended. Work with the taste.

What you don't want is that very delicious clear salsa verde you see at most restaurants. The avocado should take care of that and smooth things out a bit. We're going for piquant and just on the very edge of creamy, citrusy hot with a gentle tap of the sweet meter, clean with complexity and flavor layers.

I enjoy this salsa on fresh tortillas, with tostada chips, as a marinade for chicken, as a sauce for enchiladas and more!