Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Uncle Brutha's: Trust The Hype

Back in the day, a wandering Texan crossed paths with the burrito cart at 15th and K. James and Patti Tui would hook me up with a bad-ass burrito a few times a week. It was always worth the wait. I loved the burritos but I had a deep personal need for their huge selection of hot sauces.

One day, James offered up some Arizona Gunslinger, a sauce I hadn't heard of before. The Gunslinger and I became fast friends. I was so dedicated that I bought a key ring with a trial-sized bottle connected on the thin metal ring. Arizona and I wanted to be close in a way Arizona the state And I never could be. My Arizona was off for Martin Luther King Day. My Arizona was hot but not too hot. I even sought out the company's website and bought a 32oz bottle (http://www.arizonagunslinger.com).

I was very excited while walking to Eastern Market to finally open the door to Uncle Brutha's Hot Sauce Emporium and see the Arizona Gunslinger right there inside the door on the bottom shelf.

Looking around, there were hundreds of sauces of all shades, spices, and flavors. Prices varied but for around five bucks you can grab most of them.

That would have been enough for me, a reunion with an old friend and a new place for sauce and gifts, but my co-worker said I should grab a bottle of Uncle Brutha's #9 green sauce. She's got great taste, so I thought I should go for it.

Oh my, what a wonderful, wonderful decision that was. This was two weeks ago and I have gone through the entire thing. I've used it on nachos, burritos, sandwiches, and gelato. I love it. I hate to say it, but I even had an evening when Arizona and Gunslinger and I were having a chat and the #9 called me from the kitchen and yelled "Flip my lid!"

We've since become a two-sauce family and all is well, but for one night, #9 ruled the roost. It's Serrano peppers, garlic, ginger, and deep brothy flavors will be a new staple in our cupboard. I visited again recently and learned that they are working on producing some larger bottles. Thank goodness. I'd love to share with guests, but the current bottle is just a bit small.

*OK, I didn't make gelato. Just checking to see if you're playing along. And the burrito cart is still there, but it's called Pedro and Vinny's. Rumor on the street is that it's stil mighty fine. If you can, hook them up with some Uncle Brutha's #9!

1 Star Around the Moon, Not 7

Seven Seas in College Park this evening was an unsettling disappointment with fried food tasting more of oil than meat, vegetables in too-gloopy lukewarm starchpools, and unkind flavors dominating multi-ingredient dishes.

After reading some good reviews, we dropped in at dinner time expecting some delicious Chinese food. The menu was standard Chinese fare with a sushi menu on the side.

We kept trying to find a way to enjoy the wonton soup. It's thick wonton was bland pork in a leather jacket as thick as Danny Zuko's. It lacked both the pleasant, slippery mouthfeel I expect from wontons in my soup and the broth was as thin and flavorless as Ann Coulter's last good idea.

Egg rolls were large and packed with pork bits and cabbage but all parts tasted vaguely salty and of pepper and MSG. Clearly, the meat had not been cooked in any spice, broth or marinade.

We ordered a dish called Seven Stars Around The Moon. Fish, chicken and shrimp for two. I kept thinking how positive we like to be about food and dining, but we looked at the dish and, like waching a John Hughes movie's opening sequence, had a pretty good idea where this was going.

Chicken was fried tempura style and served with a traffic-cone orange bowl of sauce. The chicken was bland and dry.

Shrimp was overcooked with little differentiation in texture between its heavy batter and the shrimp itself. Each piece tasted more of grease than batter or seafood. I wanted to set the shrimp free to enjoy them on their own, but no.

Fish was decent with a light clear sauce. By the time we made it to the fish, we decided to cut our losses, pay the check, and go.

I thought of running down to Ikea for a lingonberry soda or driving across to the Taco Bell to squeeze sauce packets in my mouth. I wanted flavor so very much.

I've had average Chinese for years in DC and enjoyed it. It sounds odd, but we're pretty open to enjoying a meal as a casual social encounter where food is more sustenance than inspiration.

Sadly, our trip to Seven Seas offered neither.

Monday, August 28, 2006


I think in the spirit of full disclosure I want to report on the total failure that was my attempt at fig jam. It was pretty fricking vile. I’m not sure if the recipe sucked or the figs sucked but the jam was so not right. I used the fig jam recipe from epicurious. It seemed to get high reviews and the sugar content was low for jam (1 ¼ cups). The only thing I did differently was to cut the amount of sugar (by ¼ of a cup) and use calimyra figs instead of mission. I had such high hopes for this too. Imagine making your own fig jam? Throw in some Pipe Dreams goat cheese and that’s heaven on toast. But it wasn’t meant to be.

What was wrong with the jam? It tasted like metallic sugar syrup. It was heavy, heavy heavy and just tasted leaden. The freshness from the lemon was gone and any inkling of fig was just beaten out of it. I was only halfway done with the cooking but if gentle simmering is supposed to intensifying the flavors of a dish, I did not want intense tasting ass. I hated to do that to 2 pounds of fresh figs but down the garbage disposal they went.

On the plus side, J made some great cookies (chocolate chip with cranberries) and he discsovered my seekrit love of pickle loaf.

Friday, August 25, 2006


To the 200 plus people who came to the site looking for the dirt on Brooke Deen or TR Pescod, why don't you come on over and sit for a spell? I looked at my site stats yesterday and saw that over 75% of the hits we get are referrals from google searches looking for Brooke Deen and TR Pescod. If any of you readers wants to send me to the Hamptons or Savannah to root through TR or Brooke's trash, I'd be happy to do it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Grab Bag - A little bit o' food and a lot o' randomness

1. What did J and I have for dinner last night? Figs with shaved pecorino cheese and slices of Wisconsin cheddar (imported directly from Wisconsin by my friend Writergirl). Where did we get the figs? Form our next door neighbor who has a fig tree with well over 200 figs ripening as we speak. While the ideal accoutrement for the lusciousness of the figs is prosciutto and goat cheese, he had to make do with what was in our fridge. To round out the meal we had char siu bao from Safeway. Surprisingly edible.

We watched The Hill on Sundance last night. It's a documentary series on stafers working for Congressman Wexler. When I first moved to DC I REALLY wanted to get Hill job because it seemed like an extension of college with all of the late night deadlines and interstaff dating and workplace drama. Tweleve (!) years later, I would totally never work on the Hill because it seems like an extension of college with all of the late night deadlines and interstaff dating and workplace drama. The Hill did nothing to dissuade me of this as everyone seemed so intense and Type A and constantly trying to prove how smart they were. I find it interesting how tribal DC is - I work in advocacy and policy and the Hill is still is a world unto itself.

3. Normally I would just reserve this for a comment on Jason's blog but Tim Gunn really hates the judging this season. If you read his blog, he consistently disagrees with the decisions. He's become the voice of the viewer this season. Please give him his own reality show.

4. Does anyone else think that the racial segregated Survivor is the stupidest idea ever? I am so banning that show. And their excuse for doing it was they wanted more folks of color. Dude, just get more folks of color to the tribes instead of segregating them. The Washington Post also points out in their article about this debacle that the producers of Survivor assume that a Mexican, Salvadoran and Puerto Rican are all the same "Hispanic" category as Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino are all "Asian."

5. So a bunch of us are going to the beach in a few weeks and I came up with doing an antipasto potluck. I find antipasto and tapas great putluck things because those things are totally expensive when you get them in a restaurant. If you wanted to buy a whole antipasto platter at the store that would clean your wallet, but if each person brings an item, you get a great spread without a huge hit to the budget. What would you all bring to an antipasto potluck?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Restaurant Week Reviews

Sometimes I think restaurant week is for food bloggers to come up with something to write about. I've been cooking a lot but the inspiration to actually WRITE about it isn't there. Luckily restaurant week as last week and I was able to take advantage of the generosity of Viridian and Acadiana.

I went to Viridian for lunch last Friday with Auntie Em. I think the theme of this meal was that I ordered the wrong thing. Not that anything I ordered was bad per se but while my dishes were competent, Em's dishes were extraordinary. I loved the decor of Viridian. Concrete floor and clean and lovely lines. The only weird thing was some guy's face blow up to cover half a wall. It was a bit disconcerting. I would highly recommend this as a lunch place because it was only half full which meant the background noise wasn't overpowering. I think with that concrete floor and a full house, the noise would be deafening.

So how was the food? Auntie Em's meal was specatacular. Mine was decent. She ordered the mixed green salad which had the best salad dressing I have ever tasted. The salad was lightly dressed but the dressing clung to the frisee so you had a harmonious blend of fresh, crunchy, salty, sweet, sour. I could have an a meal out of that. My starter was a beet salad with goat cheese. I think the flavor of the beets overpowered the goat cheese. The goat cheese was more textural than flavorful.

For our entree, Em had the gnocchi and I had the smoked salmon reuben and we split the cauiflower gratin. I got a taste of the gnocchi and it was truly divine. The gnoochi was light as a feather and the sauce was delicately seasoned with saffron. The reuben was okay. While the smoked salmon tasted great and had a more subtle saltniess than most smoked salmon I've tasted, the bread was way too dense for me and it took a lot of chewing to eat the sandwich. It was definitely a messy meal. I was somewhat mistified by the side order of potato salad. I kind of felt like it had an identity crisis. On the one hand it was chock full of fresh crunchy vegetables, on the other hand, the mayonnaise sauce didn't taste any different than something you would find in a platic bin at Safeway. And the gratin just tasted, meh. It was pretty underseasoned and I usually hate salt. Once again, the breadcrumbs didn't have any flavor of their own and were primarily textural.

Dessert was a miss for me only because I didn't remember I am a fruit person not a chocolate person. I ordered the flourless chocolate cake while em ordered the citrus cake. The cake is a chocolate lover's cake - dense, fudgy and slightly molten, the chocolate flavor was intense. On the other hand, the citrus cake was light and crumbly. All in all, you need to order with care at Viridian. Some dishes are standsout while others are competent.

Sunday, J and I got together with Rootbeer and Spyrogyra at Acadiana. One thing I will say is how much care was put into everything in that restaurant. Our waitstaff was cheerful and engaging withour being obsequious. The decor combined old fashioned elements like chandeliers with clean lines. And the food was well thought out.

I loved our server who had made a few mistakes in the drink order but cheerfully apologized and corrected them immediately. Take heed restaurants, it's not the perection of the service but the attitude in which mistakes get addressed. Our server was really wonderful in correcting her mistakes and promptly bringing our food. We started with the complimentary biscuits which were buttery and light served with butter that was laced with pepper jelly. Soooo good. Rootbeer, J, and I all got the deviled eggs while Spyrogyra got the gumbo. the deviled egg starter had three kinds of eggs - crabmeat, caviar, and shrimp. I found it funny that each of us chose a differnet fav. J, the caviar; me, the crab; and Rootbeer the shrimp. All of the eggs were divine. I usually hate caviar but the caviar really enhanced the flavor of the egg. Spyrogyra said that the gumbo was well made.

For entrees, Rootbeer had the filet of beef, Spyrogyra had the duck, J had the crawfish ettoufee, and I had the veal. Luckily we are all close enough friends to give each other tastes of our dishes. J's assessment of his dish is that it's hard to be inventive with dishes like ettouffee so the ettoufee tasted like it should. to it's credit the ettouffee was loaded with crawfish. I loved my dish which was with a wine reduction and jalepeno grits. The veal was tender and the sauce was out of this world and I am giving it my highest compliment by saying that if it were socially appropriate to lick hte plate, I would have. I wish the grits were a little more solid so I could taste them separately from the rest of the dish. I also ordered the jambalaya ristto which was a standout. The really got the al dente texture of the rice perfect. I usually don't like al dente rice because I hate having the hard chalky core but the rice here was firm without that awful chalkiness. Well done! The beef was also well done but all of the entrees paled in comparison to the duck. My Chinese uncle says that with duck, the chef concentrates on one of two things, crispy skind of tender flesh. You can't have both in a duck. But on this one, we most certainly did. They cooked the duck with a sweet glaze that highlighted the almost pork like flavor of the flesh and the skin was cripsy and sweet. What was hilarious was that we all kept on getting tastes of the duck because they have Spyrogyra and entire half.

The one disappointment was dessert. True to form, J, Rootbeer and I ordered the bread pudding while Spyrogrya ordered the panna cotta. I was disappointed in the bread pudding because it had so much chcolate (with a chocolate pudding base) that it overwhelmed the flavor of the actual bread pudding and the rum sauce.

Overall the experience was memorable and it's a perfect place for a date.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

10 Things I Learned From...The Frugal Gourmet

The Frugal Gourmet. Oh the bittersweet memories of the Unitarian? Methodist? Minister and his cooking show that at once delighted, inspired, and entertained. When I was a child, I got home at 3:00pm, did exactly two hours of homework and then watched the PBS cooking show lineup of the Frugal Gourmet and Nathalie Dupree (that's another 10 things). He was kind of like the Mr. Rogers for foodies, gently introducing the audience to new cuisines and techniques and reveling in the power of food to build community. He ended every episode with his tagline, "I bid you peace." And let's not get strted on the scorching hot assistant Craig.

Sadly, it all came down when he was charged with sexually abusing the young men who worked for him. Talk about a let down. No matter what happened off-screen, on-screen the man was a hoot. I still remember trying to get through my math homework as fast as I could so I could watch the Frugal Gourmet.

10 Things I Learned From the Frugal Gourmet:

1. Frugality isn't about denial and aesecticism, it's about using the most of your resources. For example, the Frugal Gourmet would buy some expensive organic chicken but make sure to use all the meat and the bones for stock.

2. The saddest thing in the world is a single-serving frozen dinner. If you ever read his books he constantly bemoans the fact our society has become less communal and more compartmentalized.

3. How to poach a chicken Chinese style so that the meat is moist and tender. I did this once when I was visiting a friend in Boston, it was incredible.

4. Dim Sum means "little jewels that tug at the heart."

5. Cookbooks can be good bedtime reading. I loved how his "Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines" was put together more like a paperback than a cookbook. It was as much a history lesson and anthropological survey as it was a cookbook. Many recipes were there for historical value and not expected to be made.

6. Dude. Keep it in your pants.

7. You can teach people how to cook without being a crazy spaz case, RACHAEL!

8. Meat can be used sparingly and more as a flavoring. He was constantly talking about how much resources are used to raise a cow as opposed to growing grains and vegetables. he never said no more meat, just to reexamine our relationship with meat.

9. Native Americans thanked the animals they killed for providing the hunters and their families with food. A little gruesome but the point is to have a direct relationship with your food.

10. Hot pan. Cold oil. Food won't stick.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Not Food Related - The Giving Tree

So I did it again. I'd like to say that some argumentative person raised my hackles and I just had to respond, but this time I started the conversation. I was at the cast party for the show that I was in and a member of the cast was a children's music teacher. For some reason, I thought it was appropriate to announce my eternal hatred of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Poor R just meekly said "It's one of my favorite books." And then I had to erupt into a Julia Sugarbaker style tirade. Don't jump to conclusions. I love every other poem by Shel Silverstein (and what a great name for a children's poet). All I wanted as a child was to get Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. I have the Hug O' War as a tattoo for God's sake. So yes I love Shel Silverstein. I just hate The Giving Tree. It's Shel Silverstein's Lorax. It's the book of unabashed gloopy sentimentality from a writer with a wickedly evil sense of humor. And moreover, it's the biggest ode to co-dependence I have ever read in my life.

What happens in The Giving Tree? There's this little boy and this big tree. The boy climbs the tree and plays in it and he and the tree are each others' best friend. As he gets older he asks the tree to give him things. First apples to sell in town and make a living. And then branches to build a house. And then a goddamned trunk to build a canoe. And finally, after giving up its apples, branches, and trunk, the BOY STILL ASKS THE TREE FOR SOMETHING. He whines that he's old and just needs a place to sit so the tree offers up its stump for him to rest his ass on. Every stanza ends with:

And so he did and
Oh, the trees was happy.
Oh, the tree was glad.

What kind of horseshit is that? This boy asks and asks and asks and the Tree gives and gives and gives and the boy doesn't do a goddamned thing for it. No weeding, no fertilizer, no watering. It's all take, take, take. He could have planted a few apple seeds to grow other trees. He could have taken only the dead branches. But NOOOOO he takes it all. All the apples. All the branches and all the trunk. And he wants more. And the tree was happy and glad. Not effing likely. The boy was probably telling the tree that it could do no better than to have an immature taker as its buddy. And so the tree didn't know it could probably let its apples fall to the ground and create saplings to support it as it got older. It didn't know that it could just let a dead branch fall on the boy's noggin to keep him from sawing off the branches. But it was probably so beaten down by a boy that paid attention to it only when he needed something that it didn't think it could do better. I bet you there was probably another tree in the woods that wanted to pollinate the Giving Tree's blossoms and they could make saplings together and have a whole orchard, but the stupid, selfish boy took away the tree's branches so no blossoms could form.

And so he did and
Oh, the trees was happy.
Oh, the tree was glad.

Happy and glad my ass.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

10 Things I Learned From... Martha Stewart Living

So my question to the readers of this blog: Is this 10 Things more or less suprising than the Rachael Ray 10 Things. Because really Martha is just so eeeeevil. I do hate how she just lords it over everyone that things are easy. Making a gold-leaf gingerbread replica of a three story Victorian house is NOT easy. Do you remember when MSL first cmae out and she posted her datebook in the magazine to show all of the fabulous people she dined with? So annoying. But the magazine itself? Kind of useful. I ask for your forgiveness again.

Ten Things I Learned from Martha Stweart Living:

1. The difference between a grunt, a crumble, a buckle, a crisp, and a brown betty.

2. How to make gourmet popsicles with fresh fruit juice.

3. Things lit by candles are so pretty! And also easy as hell. Examples: luminaries in brown paper bags. Halloween pumpkins with stencils of Magritte paintings. Photos printed on vellum lit from behind by a tea candle. Milk glass.

4. Start with a basic dough and make variations. In a lot of MSLs they have a whole section on one thing with five or six variations. Case in point: shortbread.

5. The proportion of sugar and lemon juice to fruit for some pretty kicking jam.

6. It's best not to thank you husband for making your dreams come true unless your dream is to have your husband run off with your assistant.

7. Pretty glass containers make everything pretty. (i.e. nuts in jars. dishwashing liquid in a glass dispensers)

8. How to put together a gift basket. Hint - lots of raffia.

9. It's perfectly legitimate for an adult to subscribe to Martha Stewart Living Kids because the adult crafts are kind of difficult.

10. Do not fuck with Ina Garten. She will CUT you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Open House

So yesterday was our big blowout open house. We love our house and wanted to show it off, much like a new baby. And show it off we did. I think by the zillion tour, I had somehow reverted back to my days as a campus tour guide complete with rehearsed stories and sure to point out the quirky details of the house. For example, by 2:00 pm (the Open House was from 11:00 to 3:00) I would take people upstairs, show them the quilt in the bedroom and say that I wished I had designed the living room aorund the quilt which was all primary colors and then I would take them to the kitchen where I would regale them with stories of our lovely neighbors from whose herb garden I poached dill and chives and who inexplicably hated figs even though they have a huge fig tree in their yard.

You know who did not have to suffer through the the rehearsed quality of the late afternoon house tours? Scotte, Jason, and Stef. They were sensible enough to come early. In fact this blogging trifecta was the first to arrive. I kind of giggled with glee when I saw them coming up the walk. Luckily, they got the house tour when everything was fresh and spontaneous - Oooh lookee here, a quilt; OMIGOD I HAAAVE to show you the basement bathroom. My one regret is that I didn't get to spend that much time with these three. It wasn't long after I gave them the tour and poured them a bellini that more people came up the walk. And then more people and more people. By the end of the day we counted 65, well more than the 42 who RSVPed.

Since this IS a food blog, the food was great. And what was the best? The lemon ginger muffins that Scotte brought. People were constantly coming up to me and asking for the recipe. It was such a standout. Moist, flavorful, and not too sweet. And Scotte is seriously the spiritual twin to Bree van de Kamp. Scott came with this adorable metal basket of muffins wrapped in a tasteful dishcloth. The basket was a housewarming present. Isn't that the sweetest?

Our own dishes certainly held their own to the fabulousness of the lemon ginger muffins. By the way, this prompted me to reminisce about my friend whose last name was Wong. In college some frat boys would constantly call her and ask "What's Wong? What's Wong?" When she told us this story, our friend Dan said she needed to change her name to Muffin. So if they asked "what's Wong," she would reply, "Muffin wong." HEE. Anywho, the bellini bar was incredible. People LOOOVE the bellinis. J was sensible enough to make a how-to guide on bellini making for those people who don't watch Everyday Italian. We had the traditional peach, along with raspberry and blueberry.

On the food end, we had:

parmesan pastry cups filled with dill creme fraiche and smoked salmon
deviled eggs (a salute to J's Texas past)
caramelized onion and bacon quiche
roasted pepper and feta quiche
Thai chicken meatballs with Thai chili sauce
a cheese plate with Gruyere, Cheddar, and Fontina cheese
Nigella's Union Square mixed nuts
spinach balls
lemon pound cake
and blueberry muffins (MUFFIN WONG!).

The is the first time we ever undercatered an event (20 more people!). But we were able to ensure that there was champagne and prosecco flowing throwing the entire party. This was the first event since our wedding I really needed to process everything that happened. I loved that people actually used the basement as a party room. I loved that my biggest challenge was to not put the food out too early (because we made it in advance). Most of all I love that our crazy community of friends, co-workers, singers, and bloggers came together to celebrate our house.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Hilarity Ensues

Sometimes you just need to laugh. I have no idea how I got there, but this food site's songs are absolutely silly fun. It's They Might be Giants meets Weird Al meets Food Network. Oh my.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

10 Things I Learned From...Rachael Ray

I know this 10 Things is going to suprise some of you readers but really, if you ignore the stupid personality tics, she actually has some good advice. While her meals take far longer than the 30 minutes she talks about, Hecate's Handmaiden #2 (Handmaiden #1 is Sandra Lee), does know how to put together a fairly decent meal in less than an hour. I hope you all will forgive me. Here goes:

1. Choose recipes that are not dependent on exact measurements. Measuring takes time. A forgiving recipe (one that doesn't involve baking) really makes the cooking go a lot faster.

2. A grill pan is your friend. Hecate's Handmaiden #2 is right about a grill pan giving your food a nice char-grilled flavor without having to heat up a barbecue.

3. A garbage bowl is also a big timesaver. Rather than going back and forth to your garbage can, having a bowl right next to you for the garbage you create while cooking shaves at least 10 minutes off prep time.

4. There IS such a thing as overexposure. If I ever build me a media empire I will stop at one television program, a line of cookware, and a magazine. Three tv shows is just overkill (PAULA!).

If you tear out some of the inside bread in a baguette, you will have more space for the fillings. Hollowing out a baguette or any other crusty bread is useful because the filling won't be sliding out the back.

Vanilla ice cream with a topping is a perfectly acceptable dessert.

Day old bread that is cut up into bite sized pieces is NOT an acceptable substitute for gnocchi.

BEHOLD...the power of deglazing. Throwing wine/chicken broth/cream into the pan that you just seared some meat in makes for some damn fine sauces.

If you are posing for some cheesy lad mag, try not to dress up like Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island.