Thursday, January 25, 2007

Double Vanilla White Chocolate Mousse

"The creamy whipped things you make are always so good." Said in complete deadpan by the son of a co-worker who ate my double vanilla white chocolate mousse. So two years ago J gave me about 20 vanilla pods, of which I used three. Like a fine wine you wait and wait and wait to use only to find it's been stored in the basement NEAR THE HEATER and now taste like crap, I held off on using my precious pods until they became hardened. Luckily, I remembered from Barefoot Contessa that you can soak vanilla pods in vodka to soften them and make vanilla extract. So right after Christmas, I bought a lovely decorative bottle and soaked eight vanilla pods in about 1/4 cup of vodka. One month later I have a soften vanilla pods and homemade vanilla extract.

Friday, there was a after-work party at J's place of business and I made smoked salmon dip with lots of dill and goat cheese instead of cream cheese and the double vanilla white chocolate mousse. Ok folks, mousses are the easiest things to make. The basic steps? Melt chocolate, whip cream, fold. For CHOCOLATE chocolate mousses, you may addd egg yolks and whipped egg whites but for this mousse it was back to basics.

Here's the recipe:

8 oz (1/2 pound) good white chocolate
2 cups of whipping cream (1 1/2 cup for the whipped cream, 1/2 cup for the chocolate ganache)
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod
1 tablespoon of good vanilla

Over a double boiler (in my case a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water) melt the chocolate with 1/2 cup of the whipping cream. Add the vanilla seeds and the extract. Whisk until smooth and take off the heat to let it come to room temperature, whisking ocassionally to keep smooth. In the meantime whip cream until it reach smooth (but not completely stiff) peaks. When the chocolate is room temperature, fold in 1/3 of the whipped cream and then fold in the rest. Cover and stick in the fridge for at least 2 hours but overnight is ideal.

I find them best served in this little clear plastic wine glasses but if you wanted to go all out serve the mousse in a martini glass.

Recent Food Photos

I haven't been here in a while, but thought I'd share some of my recent food photos. Feel free to click and see them larger as well! --J


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Winter 2007 Belated Restaurant Week Review

With a little bit of TV thrown in for good measure. So for restaurant week, J and I made plans to have dinner with Rootbeer and Spyrogyra at Indigo Landing, one of the few waterside restaurants in the DC area and one of the few QUALITY waterside restaurants in the DC area (we're looking at you Sequoia).

Located on GW Parkway just south of National airport, Indigo Landing serves an even more upscale version of the upscale low country cuisine that Georgia Brown's serves. Things like fried chicken or fried green tomatoes.

It's funny walking into Indigo Landing because the architecture is clearly that of a failed Chart House restaurant but the decor is interesting and upscale. They were trying hard to overcome the fact that the architecture was kind of screaming for a captain's wheel and a net hanging on the ceiling. We were all looking forward to warmer weather where we could lounge on the patio with a drink because the view of the Potomac was spectacular.

I'll have to commend the excellent hostess who was perfectly gracious and laid back Rootbeer and Spyrogyra were delayed by an hour with a flat tire. We were seated with a great view of the river and DC in the background. For those of you who didn't catch Indigo Landing during restaurant week, you're still in luck. All of January is restaurant week.

I can definitely give major props for their starters, all of which were excellent. The four of us gave each other tastes of our dishes so we got a fairly comprehensive idea of the menu. The four srters were the fried green tomatoes (rootbeer), the fried chicken livers (J), the oyster sausage(me) and the salad with fried oysters (Spyrogyra). While all the starters were excellent, the oyster sausage was a revelation. It tasted LIGHT with the oyster adding a rounder flavor to the sausage overall.

The two main courses I remember were sliced pork loin (Rootbeer)and beef cheeks (me). While I appreciated the dish, I thought the meat was a little too stringy and fatty and the dish overall being too salty. However, one reason why I may be forgetting the entrees was because the mashed rutabaga that came with Rootbeer's pork loin was positively divine. For such a humble sounding vegetable came a creamy but full bodied mash of heaven. I could have eaten a pho sided bowl of that.

For dessert we had the chocolate cake (me), the rspberry fool (Rootbeer), the buttermilk pie (Spyrogyra) and the coconut cake doughnuts with caramel sauce (J). Once again, uniformly excellent. However, the true suprise and standout for me was my cake. Here's the thing, I hate heavy chocolate desserts. I like my desserts light and fruity. So Rootbeer claimed the fool (a trifle of sponge cake,whipped cream and raspberry sauce) so I had the chocolate cake. It was a wise decision because this cake was light and airy. The texture was perfect and normally overpowering chocolate flavor gave some substance to this airy confection.

This is not a cheap place to eat but we worth going to for a special occasion or going for drinks on a warm spring day.

On the tv front, I am totally loving the new season of Ace of Cakes on the Food Network. Mary Alice and the adorably stoned Geoff are as funny as ever. I keep on wanting to write all of this fanfic about them. I was sad and happy to see Mary Alice's wedding photo as she and her husband made an adorable couple but sad because the MA/Geoff pair was never going to happen. I am glad that the other folks like the bald goateed ambiguously gay cake decorator, the three hip young female cake decorators and the intern wrangler were highlighted in the credits. This season is much stronger than last season and you get a better sense of EVERYONE's role and personality. Especially the adorable Geoff who while completely stoned is amazingly detail oriented and competent. I hope he hooks up with one of the cake decorators (of either gender). One complaint I have is that there's a lot of stuff that Duff does that seems like "for the camera" stuff. Would it REALLY be Duff who would drive 13 hours to Chicago to deliver a cake? Wouldn't he actually want to stay and BAKE? Although Goeff is probably baked enough for an entire Dead concert. HEE.

Ok my other Tv thing is how crazy Top Chef is. Every time I think Top Chef has brought the crazy they seem to bring even more crazy. I almost understand Cliff wrestling a frightened Marcel to the ground (which led to his elimination). Considering that on Project Runway crazy Vincent had a major freak out about DRY CLEANING, I can see where someone wouldn't think about what would be considered good natured wrestling. Although to the much more slender and much more victimized Marcel, it's just assault plain and simple. What has made this season so unwatchable has been that Ilan and Sam's ascension to the final four has been so pre-ordained. The judging has been inconsistent to lead to this conclusion and I am fairly certain it will be a Sam and Ilan final two.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

All Purpose Roasted Pepper Sauce

We keep on finding new uses for this roasted pepper sauce I have been making since my group house days. The last iteration was to toss shredded chicken in the sauce and use that is a filling for tamales. But there are many uses for the roasted pepper sauce - as a sauce on pasta, a good pizza sauce, added to some cream cheese and sour cream as a dip. The possibilities are endless. The recipe is fairly basic:

3 red bell peppers
4 peppadew peppers
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (sheery vinegar is also quite good)
salt to taste
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut the bell peppers in half and roast in the oven at 450 degrees until the skin is blistered and separating from the flesh about 20 to 30 minutes. With 10 minutes to go throw the garlic in skin and all. Toss the hot peppers and garlic in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This will ensure the skin will be easy to peel. Wait for at least 10 minutes for the peppers to steam. Pell the skin off the peppers and garlic. Throw into a food processor or blender with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until pureed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back with the Jet Set

Last night as J and I were coming home from work, I picked up our mail and noticed a bulky Priority Mail envelope in the pile of mail. I looked on the return address and saw it come form the United States goverment. Could it be? After years of sitting on my ass waiting for it to happen it finally happened? "It" being the issuance of my new passport. The last time I had a passport in my hand in 1998, a year after I had to get a replacement passport for the one I lost a year earlier so that I could to go Vietnam with the rest of my family. Before I could use the 1997 replacement passport to rob a bank and then hightail it out of the country, I lost the replacement passport.

After close to 10 years without a passport, why would I have gotten a passport now? Because of the Maryland DMV that requires a CURRENT passport or U.S. birth certificate (which I don't have because I was born in Vietnam) or a Certificate of Naturalization which I don't have because my parents petitioned for me to become naturalized under their own citizenship. I find it crazy (but lucky for me) that the U.S. accepts an expired passport as proof of my citizenship but the state of Maryland does not. But really, the cranky state of Maryland just gave me the kick in the pants to do what I should have done ages and ages ago. I should say that I look completely puffy in my passport picture and I blame the evil passport office for stretching my face to look a zillion pounds heavier than the little passport picture that I gave them.

It's such a freeing feeling to have a piece of I.D. that allows me to just hop to Europe and North America as my schedule and finances allow. So where would I want to go with my newfound freedom of travel?

1. Toronto
- J and I honeymooned in Toronto and it's one of the best cities in the world. Unbashedly progressive, incredibly diverse in both culture and cuisine, Toronto boasts FOUR Chinatowns, a Koreatown, a thriving Slavic community, a little Greece and the adorable St. Lawrence Market.

2. Vancouver - For much the same reason as Toronto. I've heard nothing but good things.

3. VeniceFlorenceRome - I don't think ANYONE who reads this blog needs any exaplanation of having Italy on the list. I've been to Italy twice in my life. Once with my parents at age 14 and once during my study abroad year. I had a blast every single time. I still remember the taste of proscuitto-wrapped figs that we ate at a restaurant near the ponte vecchio.

4. Fontainebleau, France - I've waxed poetic about going to the bakery there and getting baguettes fresh out of the oven. This place is a new urbanist's dream. A 40 minute train ride to Paris, this suburb has a chateau that Napoleon built for Josephine. THe town of Fountainebleau has a Wednesday market that include fresh foodstuffs of all kinds AND a pretty kicking flea market.

5. Hong Kong, China - I know I would probably need a vacation from this vacation because Hong Kong is New York on steroids. Or New York without zoning regulations. However, I've heard Hong Kong is the true capital of Chinese cuisine and that a lot of the high quality food in China gets shipped ot Hong Kong and Shanghai.

My little blue passport with the gold embossed eagle is safely tucked away in our filing cabinet ready to go when I want to hightail it out of the country.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FINALLY - A Review

It's been a while since J or I did a review and I realized that I've been going to the sublime Breadline, run by Marvelous Market founder Mark Furstenburg (any relation to Diane Von?). The story goes that Mr. Furstenberg was kicked out of running MM because of the expansion away from breads and bakery items to pre-made meals. He decided to open Breadline to go back to his baking roots, focusing on the breads and baked goods that made Marvelous Market so famous in the first place.

I have long heard about Breadline but never worked close enough to go there for lunch until my current job. Starting in October, I've been making monthly pilgrimages to Breadline to sample their wares. I found out that a lot of their money comes from baking for restaurants so they only open for lunch during weekdays, leaving anyone who doesn't work near the White House SOL.

It's a zoo at Breadline. You just sort of wander towards the counter where other befuddled professionals wait to get pointed at by the snadwich maker and asked for their order. You then wander over to the checkout and pay. But there are really no lines or any kind of orderliness. Just clumps of people waiting to give their order, pay or pick up their order.

While they have their standard sandwiches such as ,grilled vegetables, chicken salad, roast turkey, and egg salad, they also have daily specials that include sausage heroes, Reubens, French ham, and fried cod fish. Along wit the sandwiches, Breadline offers pizzas, salads, empandas, and piadines - grileld flatbread stuffed with sandwich fixin's.

I've stuck with the specials because the specials often come with fries which mades them a better bargain because these sandwiches aren't cheap ranging from $7.25 to $7.85. I've had a meatloaf sandwich and a sausage sandwich on a hoagie baguette. Both of them have been incredible. You know what Breadline does better than anyone else? Construction and texture. These sandwiches are well contructed to ensured things are dripping, slipping, or oozing out the ends. You are ensured a perfect harmony of flavors and ingredients with each bite. While that may not seem that big a deal, it's something I've really noticed with each sandwich. Also undeniable is the perfect texture of each ingredient, especially the bread. The breads have the perfect amount of softness on the inside with crustiness on the outside. I often find with baguettes, the crust tears at the roof of my mouth. No so with Breadline baguettes. The fries also acheive that perfect harmony of crisp outside/soft inside. Finally, I never leave Breadline without getting their chocolate cookie sandwich. two pillowy soft clouds of chocolate cookie surrounds a lighter-than-air blog of sweetened marscapone cheese. It's a bargain at $1.50.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Inside dirt

So Top Chef. Ummm...Top Chef. Ok, this show is getting progressively unrecappable. The laid back, I'd-like-to-share-a-beer-with-them personalities either being kicked off (Carlos, Josie) or are transforming into grotesquely mean pit bulls (ILAN!!!!). Last week's show was the worst. I kinda hate Marcel but even I couldn't stomach the bus-throwing that was happening. I simply can't beleive that the schoolyard taunts coming out of Sam, Cliff and Ilan's mouths. It was kind of mind blowing, and not in a good way. The only person in Top Chef that acts like a human being on a consistent basis is Elia. And I'm sure in the next few episode she will a. become evil or b. get kicked off. And even more frustating, fratty Michael seems to be coming up with the goods.

So today I found out one of the consultants I work with is a freelance food writer. Yes, someone who actually gets paid by a real magazine. Actually TWO real magazines. He went to culinary school with Marcel from Top Chef and studied under Otto from Top Chef. He told me that Marcel was surprisingly normal and is mystified why he would allow himself to be typecast the way he is. And my inside source let me know that in all the years of culinary school Marcel had never utter the words "molecular gastronomy" or made any kind of foam.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A New Era

So J and I are starting a new era in our cooking with the purchase of a 10-inch cast iron skillet at one of the kitchen outlets at Rehoboth. I have to give props to Spyrogyra for turning us on to cast iron and answering all of our questions about the care and feeding of our new pet. The pre-seasoned skillet was inaugurated at New Year's Day brunch where I made the lovely smoked salmon frittata (thanks Ina Garten!). It's certainly a freeing experience to use sharp-edged metal objects on cast iron as opposed to gingerly taking care not to scratch the teflon pan. Even in the store, I felt like I was Sipsey from Fried Green Tomatoes. I kept going around the outlets looking for an abusive husband to smack on the head.

I have been giddy about the new toy to the point where I seasoned it just to make sure it was REAAAAAALLLLY seasoned. Last night I made parmesan-breaded chicken cutlets in the cast iron and they turned out beautifully. The whole flour-egg-breadcrumb process simply cannot be denied. After the frying, I lovingly cleaned the cast iron with a paper towel and a generous coating of kosher salt with served as an abrasive to wipe off all the gunk and a odor absorber to suck off all of the flavors that were in the pan. In a final act of care, I anointed the cast iron with a good tablespoon of peanut oil to seal in the seasoning. I know that a good skillet cornbread is in the future for the cast iron. Probably not fried chicken because of the massive amounts of oil involved. For those of you who have cast iron, what are other things you make it yours?

Speaking of new eras, Rootbeer just got a stand mixer from her mother for Christmas. I just it changed my life as a cook. She was looking for uses for the new toy. Here's what I use it for:

Bread/brioche and pizza dough

Cookie dough

Cake batter

Whipping egg whites

Whipping whipped cream

Mixing dips

Mixing meatball mix

Any other ideas for the good ol' stand mixer?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Ok. So we saw Dreamgirls last Friday. Jennifer Hudson, she is the Vanessa Williams of American Idol, parlaying a defeat into an incandescent victory that spells out long term success. While everyone and their brother seems to be trashing the pseudo-Motown soundtrack, I can stop singing the title track and "I am Changing." While I was prepared for Jennifer Hudson to be great, I wasn't prepared for her to kick the role's ass and serve it for toast and ensure than any iteration of Effie would be a pale imitation of Jennifer Hudson's performance. Luckily, the bench runs deep with the guy playing C.C., Effie's brother giving a textured, nuanced performance that grounded the movie and the totally surprising Eddie Murphy who USED his charisma and schtick as opposed to relying on it for the whole performance. As everyone and their brother also noted, you gotta feel bad for Beyonce, who was push to the side of the movie. She was a supporting actress in Dreamgirls. I'm not sure if it was her insistence that Deena be portrayed as an ineffectual wimp and therefore, not a villian or it was just hte screenplay. But she and her managers should have put a little more Diana Ross into the story to make her a charismatic bitchy diva as opposed to a simpering victim. And Jamie Foxx can't sing. But somehow those two weak performances don't detract from the overall movie.

For the rest of the weekend, we spent it at Spyrogyra's beach house in Rehoboth. Rehoboth was surprisingly packed as the shops and the outlets were filled with people. It looked like everyone else had the same idea as we did. In the Giant on Route 1, we saw many other groups of folks buying ingredients for similar, multi-course meals that we were planning for the weekend. Saturday night we made s'mores. I am incredibly meticulous about my s'mores. There is not burning flaming marshmallow for me. There is a slow roasting to a golden brown color with the chocolate and graham cracker laying near the fire to melt the chocolate. The result is a yummy oozing concoction. But J did one better and decided to soak the marshmallow in whiskey to see if it would flambe. The marshmallow didn't flabe but somehow kept the outside from burning and liquefied the inside. This resulted in what can only be referred to as a marshmallow shooter. We soon we all soaking marshmallows in whiskey and some folks even started to poke holes in the marshmallows for better absorption.

The two big group meals we were planning for were New Year's Eve Dinner and New Year's Day Brunch. Here's the menus:


- Gorgonzola and Honey toasts topped with bosc pears
- Grilled shrimp with cocktail sauce (nothing beats shrimp marinated in just garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper)

The Beasts
- Ribeye steaks with steak sauce
- Roast beef with horseradish

The Veggies
- creamed spinach
- roasted brussell sprouts
- cider glazed carrots and sugar snap peas
- mashed potatoes

*One note about the massive quantities of food we served. It made getting drunk impossible. We all were drinking a lot but were nowhere near drunk because the massive slabs of meat were soaking up all the alcohol.


The savory
- smoked salmon and goat cheese fritatta
- applewood smoked bacon
- seafood Newburg**
- blackeyed peas

The Sweet
- Stollen
- Banana bread muffins (muched on during brunch prep)
- Waffles with pear compote
- cornbread

**A note of caution. Don't allow a person who can drink Axl Rose under the table gauage whether there's enough sherry in the Newburg. I was getting tipsy from the soup!