Thursday, January 31, 2008

Food Crush: Mary Alice from Ace of Cakes

Top Ten Reasons Why We Rock the Mary Alice Love

Besides the fact that her name is comprised of trochees, we celebrate the following:

1. Mary Alice redirects Duff, but does not thwart him. She's not a thwarter, she's a supporter.

2. Mary Alice rocks the bangs and the Madonna microphone-headset with a sassy elegance. She's in control and witty and does not appear to have succumbed to the BlueTooth robo gadget blue light special ear contraption that must be quite tempting, especially when she has complete access to the tools to make one that is partially edible.

3. Some people call her quirky. We call her awesome. It's a better word and "quirky" gets overused by people hinting that someone is just too weird or off for them. Mary Alice is just fine the way she is so don't get it twisted.

4. She says "rad" in a way that just does not bother me. At all. (I know!)

5. Mary Alice is the absolute totally awesome Queen of the superlatives and she's superduper triple excellent at using them.

6. She bested Gabrielle Union in a Patron Saint contest. And Gabrielle Union was in Bring it On and is now on Ugly Betty. I believe she should win a World Wrestling Federation belt made out of golden pierogies for such an honor.

7. She's pro-cake. A Cakevocate. We like cake a lot and she facilitates cake making. Maybe her title could become Chief Faciliicaker and she could wear our Gilded Pierogie Championship Belt of Awesomeness.

8. She has a picture of Tagalongs on her Charm City Cakes blog. 2 years ago, I wrote about the Tagalong/Tagalog/Hoedown perplexities in my entry about my time as a male girl scout. I appreciate any version and appreciate the support in my national effort to have peanutbutter goodness overtake Thin Mint superiority.

The best cookies, hands down were called "Hoedowns." Peanut butter on a cookie, covered in chocolate. Here they are called "Tagalongs," but of course I always accidentally see or speak the word as "Tagalogs." Maybe someday they will come out with a Filipina cookie and they can call it that?

9. Mary Alice is friends with the pun. The mind of a writer and the wit of a really funny writer. We're going to do more pun posts like our Dirty Dancing Chimichangas.

10. It really looks like she is part of a team. A team that works hard but has fun. Fun that is creative and silly. And silly with a clipboard is kind of hot.

Here's to Mary Alice for being our Food Crush of the Month! And to the Charm City Cakes team for being quite rad.

p.s. The "pun" link above is to Christina Aguilera playing Samantha from Sex and the City in an SNL skit. Puntastic and she does an incredible job.

p.p.s. Things we like that we think Mary Alice would also like: Flo Anito, Carol Channing, Elastica, Pasta Plus, Our Tie-Dyed Aqua Fresh Marshmallows, Nibblefest 2007, Laurie Notaro, The Lynda Barry Experience.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

25 Recipe Blogs in One Search: The List

Here is the list of the sites I've included in the Mega Recipe Search. Regular updates and an emphasis on recipes were the criteria. Is your blog missing? Maybe in the wrong place? Let us know in the comments!

We're getting lots of hits here. Hopefully people are finding some great recipes!

Next up, the full list of who is in the search of the DC area food blogs.


101 Cookbooks
80 Breakfasts
Accidental Hedonist
Apartment Therapy
Becks and Posh
Chocolate and Zucchini
Coconut and Lime
Cook Almost Anything
DC Food Blog
Desert Candy
Dorie Greenspan
Eat With Me
Humble Pie
Matt Bites
Milk and Cookies
Other People's Food
Serious Eats
Simply Recipes
Smitten Kitchen
Thai Table
Traveler's Lunchbox
Veronica's Test Kitchen
Wicked Good Dinner
You Gonna Eat All That?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

There's shortcuts and there's shortcuts

I hate to sound blasphemous but Nigella Express really irritates me. I watch it week after week hoping it will get better and it just gets more annoying. In the grand scheme of what's on the Food Network, it's clearly more satisfying and entertaining that most of what's out there. However, I am grading on a curve here and I am comparing Nigella Express to the divine Nigella Bites, the fabulous Forever Summer, and even the decent and not annoying, Nigella Feasts.

It seems the Nigella overall demeanor and the demeanor of her guests has a rehearsed quality to it. While the dinner scene don't do that forced gushing about the food that Barefoot Contessa is notorious for. The way they talk seem a lot less natural and spontaneous than in her previous series. I also compare that to Jaime Oliver's new show where his delivery just seems a a little messier and therefore a lot more natural. He'll be like "the pepper is the friend of the garlic while the basil is best friends to them all" and somehow it doesn't come off as twee in the least. I think it does help that whoever styles him goes for a deliberately tousled look. When I compare the two shows, a sheen of perfection has settle on Nigella Express while Jaime at Home has an enthusiastic spontaneous energy. And the thing is, some of the stuff he does do, like throwing vegetable scraps directly from his outdoor table into a flower bed, would be really annoying if it didn't seem like Jaime did that sort of thing all the time.

The previous shows were built on a reliable premise - Nigella likes to cook. She may not always have time to cook (i.e. the TV Dinners episode of Nigella Bites) but she doesn't see cooking as this horrible chore. The thing that seems to be missing in Express is that cooking is enjoyable. There are times you really want to just make something that takes all afternoon. At least I do. Sure she took some shortcuts (using boullion cubes and frozen peas), but they weren't shortcuts that compromised the flavor of the dishes and they weren't being used to avoid cooking. however on Nigella Express, she liberally uses bottled lime juice and seriously that stuff has nothing to do with what you squeeze out of the fruit. It's sad because Nigella has been a voice of intelligence, balancing the utter insanity of Martha Stewart perfectionism with the complete the Sandra Lee levels of expediency. I am sad that she's leaning towards the Sandra Lee side of things.

One shortcut I am very happy to use is gyoza skins as ravioli. Ever since New Year's when I made dumplings with round gyoza skins, I have been dying to use them as ravioli. Two Saturdays ago, I went on a riot of cooking, got some peeled, chopped butternut squash from Trader Joe's and made butternut squash ravioli with brown butter sauce. It's probably one of the most successful dish I have ever made. The ravioli froze beautifully and tasted sublime. Here's what I did:

Butternut squash ravioli
1 package of round gyoza skins (these are round and slightly thicker than won ton skins)
1 package of peeled and chopped butternut squash
1/4 cup of dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, pecans or hazelnuts
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons butter

Roast the squash in the oven for half and hour at 425 degrees. Let cool. Blend the rest of the ingredients in a food processor. Add the squash and puree until smooth but not baby food. Put about a tablespoon of the filling onto the gyoza and brush half of the gyoza with the beaten egg. Seal and press out any air. Repeat. A lot. If not using immediately, freeze on a cookie sheet and then put the frozen ravioli in a ziplock bag.

To serve, boil in salt water until they float to the surface. Cook butter until browned. You can add toasted chopped walnuts or a few sage leaves to the butter. Toss the butter and ravioli together and top with shaved parmesan.

I've done the dumpling route. I've done the butternut squash route. What else can I fill these gyoza skins with?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Who's In The Searches, Coming Soon

Hi everyone, thanks for coming by! We're excited about these custom searches and have heard from several folks wondering which sites are included. Check back soon. We'll put up a list and see if we've left anyone out.

Our goal was to pull together blogs that are consistently being updated (within reason) . I'm sure there are some great ones we are missing, but from the looks of it, people are having a very good time with the Mega DC Food Blog Search. Less so on the recipe search, so we're moving that up the page. I've been having a blast with that one!

And yes, more pictures too!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Before the Time of Fancy Marshmallow Cream"

Now and then, I come across some of my grandmother's writings. These are often discovered in the margins of books, sometimes right over the text. She was a prolific writer and cook. In Mary Blake's Carnation Cookbook from 1948 she writes:

December 1994-Sorting out my cookbooks- will sell in April, 1995. My goodness. Remember the first sale at the new house when we brought all the leftovers from two sales at the old? A woman from the new street stole many of my cookbooks- walked right off with them.

As I touched these cookbooks
they are spread all over the house
I'm trying to rid the ones away
or should I say like a baby
from a mother's breast

I remember
certain days
cold outside
wind blowing
as I was cooking

Autumn moods, put
in my stomach,
May sadness - yet again

Could it be I was overjoyed
for it might have been Spring
-time to turn the soil over-
I can raise my kitchen window letting
it announce its presence to me

My man is in sight
I am watching him digging
stopping to shake out
clods of dirt
remaining stubborn

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Palomarvelous: Domaso Trattoria

Domaso (at the Hotel Palomar)

What a lovely meal. Our recent trip to Domaso was wonderful. Specialty cocktails were $8-12 and each was a hit. I was partial to the vanilla bellini.

The room is quiet and elegant. It was very comfortable.

Bread was delicious. Rosemary breadsticks and some soft focaccia. Both were served warm.

Appetizers included sausage stuffed fried olives. A somewhat too-small portion, but delicious and satisfying and a prosciutto di tonno which was unique to me and perhaps my favorite dish of the night. This was prosciutto made of tuna with fennel and orange. Total harmony of texture and flavor on the plate. It has a saba* dressing that was applied with a light touch. I may go back and just have a double portion of this as my meal. Fabulous.

I then had the ravioletti, red snapper ravioli with shrimp, clams, mussels and a tomato and white wine sauce. Again, a lot of balance and harmony as the sea met the pasta and the sauce brought it all together. It had a saltiness to it that some may not like as much as I did, but the flavor was incredible. Fresh and simple and well-portioned.

Others enjoyed spaghettini, and tortelloni and a few other appetizer dishes.

A trio of sorbets was dessert for me and they were expert. Others at the table had a trio of small krafen (Italian doughnuts) which were good, but cream-filled versions were more successful than a Concorde grape.

I tend to not be so worried about service, but service was very attentive.

Don't forget to look at the bar menu-- both for drinks and for a few more small plates.

I will definitely go back and think this is a very nice addition to the DC dining scene.

*Saba was new to me. It's a sweet cooked grape syrup that resembles balsamic vinegar.

See what others are saying about Domaso by using the new blog search on the right. Click here to read what the search turns up for Domaso.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Loafin' around

For a long time, J didn't like meatloaf. I made a vegetarian version with Gimme Lean log o' meat and I converted J back to the dark side. The great thing about meatloaf is that it is a clear-out-your-fridge dish that is fairly forgiving. The key pieces that make meatloaf, meatloaf are: the meat (obviously), breadcrumbs, eggs, Worchestershire sauce. from there you can go the Italian route (grated parmesan, basil, etc), southwest (jalepeno, cilantro, cumin) or even Asian (shitake mushrooms, soy sauce, spring onions).

So last Thursday we had a bunch of stuff lying around - ground chicken, Mexican chorizo, sun dried tomatoes, and bacon. All of it went into a satisfying meatloaf. Along with the meatloaf, we threw some sweet potatoes in the oven and it made for a nice winter meal. The sweet potatoes only needed a bit of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Here's what we did with our Thursday night meatloaf:

1 lb of ground chicken
2 links of Mexican chorizo
1 egg
1/4 cup of dried breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of fresh breadcrumbs
12 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce (we used JT Pappy Florida Gator Sauce)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
5 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
6 slices of bacon

Throw everything except for the bacon and ketchup into a bowl and mix well with your hands (seriously it's the only way to do it). In a greased pan, form the meat mixture into a nice loaf shape. Lay the raw slices of bacon on the loaf lengthwise and then smear the ketchup all over the top of the bacon covered meatloaf. Bake at 375 degrees in the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes. Slice and enjoy.

Leftovers make great meatloaf sandwiches.

Monday, January 21, 2008

DCFB announces New Searches of Recipe Blogs

So we have two cool new searches. The first is for DC food blogs and shold be great for learning about local restaurants, reviews, etc. The new one (just before the recipe site links section) is for recipe blogs. It does not search huge sites like Epicurious, Food Network, or Chowhound's Home Cooking. But it should be a cool way to see what people are cooking at home and sharing with the world!



Saturday, January 19, 2008

Search Many DC Food Blogs at Once: The Makeover Entry

DCFoodBlog has a brand new look and all sorts of fun happening. We've had the same look since 2004 and were ready for something fresh! So what's new?

-We created an awesome Mega Search that you can use to find information about restaurants, neighborhoods, and more. When you use the Mega Search over on the right, Google will pull entries from 21 local food blogs. It does not include the local media and larger discussion sites, but we hope this is a fun way to explore blogs and DC food.

-We finally got around to adding links to all the great sites that have been recommended and sent to us! This includes links to all the sites in the Mega Search as well as those that were sent to us as site nominations.

-We added a new section on DC food-related nonprofits. If you are looking for a great place to invest time, energy, and money, each of these is a worthy cause.

-We added a new header photo. This is a beet shooter from a visit to Latino Dim Sum at Cafe Atlantico. J is planning on doing more food photography this year and you'll see it in the template and in the posts.

-We divided the sections up a bit more. DC's food media and the larger message boards have a section of their own, recipe sites have a section as well, and we'll be developing the section on Great Food Links and Blogs that are not in DC and are not focused just on recipe. (Explore Shuna Fish Lydon's site for some mighty fine writing and thinking).

-Last, we've temporarily removed the recipe and restaurant index. It will be back, but is deserving of some TLC.

Here's to 2008! We're excited to write, read, cook, dine, and chow down with everyone.

More to come . . .! -J

Friday, January 18, 2008

5 years married!

On January 18, 2003, J and I made our vows to share out lives together. Here's the lyrics to a song we walked into the ceremony.

I Adore You

If I adore you
it is because you are
my love my accomplice and everything
and in the street arm in arm
we are much more that two

Your hands are my caress
my agreed daily affirmation
I adore you because your hands
Work by justice

Your eyes are my spell
Against the bad day
I love you by your glance
that it watches and it sees future

Your mouth that is yours and mine
your mouth is not mistaken
I adore you because your mouth
Knows to shout defiance

And by your sincere face
and your vagabond step
and your weeping for the world
because of this I adore you

And because our love is neither famous
nor innocent
and because we are two
who know we are not alone

I adore you in my paradise
it is to say that in my country
People live happily
although they do not have permission

Monday, January 14, 2008

Splendid Table

So we're both huge consumers of food media. We've mentioned books and god knows we've talked about TV, but we're also happy to get our food media fix on the radio. Thank god for NPR and its Splendid Table series hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the Jewish-Italian aunt everyone wishes they had. Lynne is a warm, funny, expansive personality to really delights in talking about food. Along with her bales of laughter, she brings a really deep level of food knowledge. Moreover she's got a wonderfully inquisitive nature that brings out great bits of information from her guests. We discovered the Splendid Table on our trips to the farm. In the DC area it airs from 2:00-3:00 pm every Saturday. That means we usually can catch half of the broadcast and we then download the show via the internet to hear the rest of the broadcast. It's been a welcome addition to my morning commute.

The segments for Splendid Table include:

Road Food with Jan and Michael Stern. This earthy couple roams the country eating out of diners, drive-in and dives but is a zillion times less irritating than that guy on the Food Network. They really let you know what's good at a particular place and what the particular mood and crowd is. They are great compliments to Lynne's earthy love of life. I will say that Michael has the queeniest voice this side of Harvey Fierstein.

Stump the Cook with the nerdy editor of Cook's Illustrated. A very funny segment where people call in, give five completely uncomplimentary ingredients and Lynne has to come up with a recipe using ingredients like: pomegranates, coffee, sour cream, corn, and butterscotch. Chris Kimball is the judge of how good the recipe is. While I love both Chris and Lynne in this, the challenge isn't particularly useful because I would just eat everything separately.

Finally, there's my favorite section which is the call-in part. People call in to Splendid Table looking for cooking tips, food trivia and even advice on how to patent a recipe. For the most part the callers are delightful. Case in point - an 8-year-old who wants to make baked French toast. Lynne tells the girl to layer the bread in a baking pan and says it's ok if the slices of bread overlap. The girl responds, "there are worse things in the world."

Along with the regular sections she has segments about ingredients, farming, travel, and food history. On top of that she has delightful guest like Nigella Lawson and Nora Ephron. The only thing I don't like is the wine segments which bore me to tears (sorry sis!).

But if anyone likes talking, eating or hearing about food, the Splendid Table is a great way to go.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Babe's - crazy ass amounts of food

One of the highlights of our trip to Texas was going to Babe's, a local Texas chain of restaurants that is a true Texas experience. It's a family-style, old-time dinner joint complete with stuffed animals on the walls (and we're not talking teddy bears) and honky tonk signs saying "Life's too short to live in Houston." On top of the roombiance, periodically the waitresses would start doing karaoke to Shania Twain and Bonnie Raitt on the jukebox. Because the food is served family style, most people were coming in groups of nine or ten. Our own group included myself, J, J's brother and parents and J's sister and her family of four. We were lucky to come at 5:30 (when the restaurant was already 3/4 full) because when we left two hours later it was packed with mange many large parties waiting outside.

This was Texas so you know the servers were going to be nice. When they say family style, the food is served family style. All of the food is in platters in the middle of the table and plates are passed around. You get a choice of meat that includes fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried chicken tenders, smoked chicken, catfish, and pot roast. Since the Babe's is known for their fried chicken, we al went with fried chicken. The meal started off with salad dressed in a solution of white vinegar, salt, sugar, pepper, and water. No oil. It made for a surprisingly light and refreshing salad. J's Mom said that this was the dressing she grew up with. along with the salad came feather light biscuits accompanied by butter, honey and molasses. Already we were feeling happy and sated and the main course was yet to come.

After the salad, the chicken came in big platters along with sides of Mashed Potatoes
Creamy Gravy, Green beens, and Grandma's Corn. I'd like to highlight Grandma's corn which is shaved fresh from the cob and is in a thick corn milk sauce. It was sweet and fresh at the same time. The trip was worth it just for the corn. The chicken itself was surprisingly moist and tender. Kind of like a homey version of KFC. One good thing about the chicken is that it tastes great cold the next day. Essentially everyone was served the equivalent of half a chicken which meant many many leftovers.

For dessert we have a choice of peach cobbler and banana pudding. The clear winner was banana pudding which tasted like a banana version of creme anglaise. Babe's is kind of a once a year type of place because of the insane portions but it's well worth going there once a year.

A few cooking things

So Friday, I had this urge for both finger foods and vegetables. Go figure. As a result I made pigs in blankets, broccoli slaw, and bacon wrapped dates. That was like the best dinner ever. The pigs in blankets were of the crescent roll-lil' smokie variety and the broccoli slaw was a bag of broccoli slaw (yes you can find it in the bag o' salad part of your grocery store), dried cranberries, and toasted walnuts with a nice balsamic vinaigrette. The true kicker was the too easy to be true bacon wrapped dates. Basically, take a few dates and take out the seed which makes a remarkably neat hole for you to fill. I filled in with a 1/4 inch chunk of pecorino romano. then you just wrap the whole shebang in 1/3 of a slice of bacon (cut widthwise), secure with a toothpick and bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes. I found that the bacon needed some time in a hot frying pan to fully render out the fat. The end product was a Jaleo worthy meld of sweet and salty.

The other thing I made this weekend was an amaretto cake. While we were grocery shopping, we looked wistfully at all of the expensive holiday cakes soaked in rum, or frangelico or amaretto. For some reason they were not on sale and therefore, prohibitively expensive. I decided to make my own. I figure I'd find a recipe somewhere. In all of my cookbooks there wasn't really a cake that fit my needs so I made one up. I adapted the Barefoot Contessa lemon cake since it was a cake that required soaking the cake in a lemon syrup. I substituted amaretto everywhere the recipe asked for lemon. It made two cakes. One of which I iced and sliced immediately and the other I put in the freezer. The first was lovely, but the syrup really didn't soak through. I then took the second out of the freezer, poked a zillion holes in hte loaf and made another batch of syrup to soak the cake. We're still finishing the first loaf so I'll report later on whether the second loaf had the requisite soaking.

BTW, the homemade gyoza for New Years turned out PERFECTLY! I made it before the holidays and froze them. They boiled to perfection and none of them exploded in the pot. The key is using round gyoza skins and NOT won ton skins which are much thinner. The gyoza would also be perfect for ravioli.