Unlikely panfellows.

For those who enjoy shrimp, try taking a pan-full of just-finishing fellas and toss them with a little oil, fresh oregano, a tiny bit of lime juice, and some feta cheese. Marvelous.

Of course, some brined London Broil and grilled summer vegetables don't hurt, either!

The reality is that, someday, whatever you are eating will be the last thing you ever eat, so don't make it crap.

Eat well, everybody.


Gioia di consumo di estate.

Ah. The simple pleasures of warmer-weather eating. I know summer isn't here yet, not by a long shot. But to me, seventy-five degrees is seventy-five degrees, whether it's in March or August. Warmer weather means two things; the baseball season is approaching, and Our Grill Friday will be assigned heavier duty. (In the true Italian family styling, we have nicknames for everything.)

Last night, she was to handle the first serious grilling detail of the year. We do use her year-round, but in a limited capacity; winter fare calls for fewer grilled dishes other than meat. Come warmer weather, everything is grilled, and it began last night.

First up were the pork chops. Thickly-cut, pork chops sear extremely well on a medium-high grill. When glazed, they retail their moisture quite well. The lovely wife and I tried an apricot-dijon glaze. Dee-lish. The glaze is thick and tart with just a skosh of sweetness to it. The secret here is to begin grilling the chops without the glaze; just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. We used kosher salt for the larger grain, and Indian Telicherry pepper for the robust kick it gives. Served with grilled vegetables (again, in only oil, salt, and pepper), this dish brings out the best in warm weather. We washed this down with a fairly cheap Rose (I am really growing to love rose wines; the perfect synthesis of chill and fruit.)

Thick-Cut Pork Chops with Apricot-Dijon Glaze

4-6 Pork chops, bone-in, thick-cut (1-inch thick or so)
1 cup Apricot preserves
1/2 cup dijon mustard (don't skimp here; better mustard pays off)
2 cups orange juice or pineapple juice
2 tbsp. bourbon
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Let the grill plate heat up for 5-7 minutes. Lightly toss the chops in olive oil, then coat with salt and pepper. Place as close to the center of the grill as possible.

Meanwhile, whisk all the remaining ingredients together until well-mixed. You can add red pepper flakes or minced hot pepper (1 tbsp MAX) if you want to spice it up, but it's tight the way it stands. Just like to give options, s'all!

After 4-5 minutes, turn the chops and brush the cooked side with the glaze; coat it well without globbing it on. After 2-3 minutes, turn the chops over again and glaze the other side. Repeat this until the chops are cooked; roughly 8-12 minutes depending on the size of the chops and your heat. The name of the game here is to flip and glaze frequently. The sugars in the glaze will turn the meat a golden-brown. It looks HOT!

If possible, cook the veggies simultaneously. If your grill can't accommodate the volume of food, cook the chops first, then tent in foil; it will give the juices time to come out even more.

Wicked yum.

For dessert, more grilling. We grilled a sliced pineapple that had been soaked in butter rum. We then topped it with Italian marscapone cheese blended with Bailey's and vanilla.

Again, wicked yum.

Grilled Butter-Run Pineapple with Mascarpone-Vanilla sauce

! pineapple, sliced (and cored, if preferred)
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup dark Jamaican rum
1 pinch freshly-ground allspice
1 pinch cinnamon, if desired
1 cup mascarpone cheese
Bailey's Irish Creme to taste
1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add rum and spices and whisk briskly until thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in a shallow baking dish. Add the pineapple slices and let soak, turning occasionally, 4-5 minutes. Put on medium-heated grill and cook, flipping frequently, until golden-brown and slightly burnt, approximately 4-6 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk cheese, Bailey's, and vanilla in a bowl until well-mixed.

Remove pineapple from grill and top with cheese. Serve immediately.

As mascarpone cheese isn't all that sweet, I would imagine you could substitute a hand-made Ricotta cheese to sweeten it up a bit. I haven't tried that variation yet, but it's on my list.

Now, get out there and grill something!

Buon appetito.


A new link.

For those who love fish, Beyond Salmon is a great blog to check out the latest goings-on in the pesce world. One of her entries just now saved me the embarrasment of serving a poor selection to the Mrs.

Thanks, Helen!


Nibble Notes: L'Enfant Cafe

One part Belgian, one part French. Crepes dominate the menu, Belgian tasties...the bar list. The best French Dip I've ever had, Belgian endive salad.

So which is it?

Who frickin' cares?

L'Enfant Cafe provides a bounty-o-happy for anyone wanting French or Belgian. And we were that anyone. Well, four anyones, to be precise.

Our friends, das Webbers, joined us downtown DC for a night of drinky-drinky and eating. After perusing a list of possibilities, we ultimately chose L'Enfant Cafe for its broad selection of Belgian beers. (Factually, I erroneously thought it a Belgian cafe. Oops.)

Located at 2000 18th Street NW in DC, it is a mere four blocks from our apartment. Easily walkable, and so we did. Herr Webber and I speculated over what beers we would find. The girls? Don't have a clue; brau chat can do that to a fella. Especially a fella who love beer as much as we do.

The cafe boasts the largest patio in Adams Morgan (that is not saying much, but it is a goodly-sized patio. Twelve tables provide seating for 72 or so.) The building is on a corner and provides more than a few window seats. The interior is dark wood, and wooden tables and chairs. It is very cozy, and without any pretense whatsoever. Coming from Boston, I found it just like a number of pubs back home, and that comforts. The tables are close enough to feel intimate, but the din is sufficient to provide privacy during conversation. The walls are adorned with posters of yesteryear, French of course, and are interspersed with photos and sundry decorations. It is by no means overwhelming or too much. In fact, after a few seconds of checking it out, I forgot all about the walls.

Sitting near the window, we checked out the menu. Simple, the menu is. The entire right page of the menu is dedicated to crepes of all sorts; sweet, savory, and so on. Clearly, this is a crepe joint. Otherwise, the menu offers sandwiches, salads and appetizers, and bowls of stew.

As we were in no rush, we decided to start with apps and drinks, and then order dinner when the mood struck us. We also decided to each try a beer we had never had before. Herr Webber got Hoegaarden (good for him!), Frau Webber got Stella Artois, Carmencita got a Delirium Tremens, and I got a Chimay Red. None were disappointed. For me, the Chimay Red was a great new flavor, mixing charcoal, molasses, and a slight fruit overtone, resulting in a hearty glass on a chilly night. (Ok, truth be told, I only had one; then I promptly switched to Hoegaarden for the rest of the evening.)

For starters, we ordered a cheese platter, featuring Brie, Camembert, and a mild cheddar served with crackers and fresh red grapes. Additionally, we got an unfortunately-named Pu-Pu L'Enfant; Prosciutto, marinated olives, pearl onions, gherkin pickles, roasted red peppers, and shaved Parmesean cheese. There was more than enough for the four of us to start, and we savored every minute of it, taking over an hour to polish it off; it's just that kind of place. Eventually we ordered dinner. For Carmencita, a turkey club sangwich. For Frau Webber, a crepe. For the guys, the French Dip.

Ok. Let me take a moment to tell you how ridiculous the French Dip was.

Pretty ridiculous, let me tell you.

My number one complaint with French Dips I've had is the au jus. It's always the damn au jus. Noone had ever gotten it right. The juice is meant to be a robust, flavorful, and textured dipping sauce...NOT a weak beef-flavored broth. Give me depth, damn you! We got our French Dips (served with a mesclun salad in a vinaigrette), and I knew L'Enfant meant business. The baguette was wide, browned perfectly, and with just the right amount of crunch; it would prove a worthy tool to sop juice with. The meat was flavorful and slightly stringy. I suspect it was a flank cut; a vast improvement from the chuck cuts I'm used to getting. Ick. Swiss cheese melted all over this sucker and provided a tangy cut to the richness of the salty jus.

The dip: soaking up juice with crusty bread, watching it stain a deep, deep brown is one of life's true pleasures.

The approach: droplets of beef juice fall to the cup below in slow motion, like beads of brown gold going back to the juice lair to await my command to enter my face. I can't believe this is happening to me.

The entry: My jaw drops in anticipation of the sangwich, much like the blast shield dropped for Han Solo and Luke pretending to be an Empire transport ship in The Return of the Jedi. I am still in disbelief. Sweet, sweet disbelief. Satisfaction...imminent.

The bite: Oh. My. God. My eyes tear up. Up until that moment, I could only imagine the joy a mother feels when holding her newly-born child for the first time in the hospital. Now...I weep with understanding. I have to will my face to chew. Otherwise, if left to its own devices, my body would crawl underneath the table and wait to perish, assuming it had seen the best this world had to offer a soul. And so I chew.

The swallow: It pains me to swallow, even though the rest of my system is patiently waiting for the bolus to come. I can't bear to let it go. Just...one...more...chew. Finally, after climax, I am ready for the next bite. I flag the waitress for many more napkins.

Yeah. You think I'm kidding.

For dessert, we ordered a variety of sweet crepes; Amaretto, Nutella, Chocolate, Lemon and Sugar. We shared crepes, the four of us. Crepes...and a moment. We were all changed by my ordering a French Dip sangwich, and somehow, we all knew it. We left better somehow. Better, and happier for me having ordered the sangwich.

The bill was a bit steep for our liking, but when you order $7 beers, that will happen to you. The service was okay (the waitress kept chatting with the bartender, resulting in our having to approach her a couple of times), and moved at a comfortable pace; we spent the better part of three hours eating sangwiches, cheese, and booze.

Interior: 8.50/10.00 (Cozy, dark, and all about the conversation, baby.)
Menu: 7.00/10.00 (Higher if you dig crepes enough to have it dominate a menu.)
Wine list: N/A. (Sorry. I didn't look at all. I'll go back and investigate.)
Service/Waitstaff: 5.00/10.00 (Nice when she was with us. Had to chase, though.)
Food: 9.00/10.00 (Do I really have to recap here?)
Value: 6.00/10.00 (If you order beer. If not, 8.25/10.00. The sangwiches were $9.)

Overall: 8.75/10.00


A mid-winter's snack.

We had a few friends over this evening to enjoy each other's company while the snow piled up outside. We couldn't decide what to serve; stew was too predicatble. Soup? Sure. In fact, we whipped up another batch of the tortellini soup from last night (we got a higher-quality spinach and splurged for the black Angus ground sirloin. What the hell, it's snowing out!) But we needed something else to start off with.

For whatever reason, my mind recalled a time when I had a single green Gironde oyster in San Francisco. Just one. At $7 a pop, a dozen seemed a far, far shot. Besides, where quality of flavor is concerned, one of something is more than enough to savor the experience; over-consuming overwhelms the taste, and leaves you with a lesser impression anyway.

For those who haven't had a green Gironde oyster, they really are something special. By French standards (as they are from the French Atlantic), green oysters must spend at least two mature weeks in their oyster bed, and have a population density of no more than 20 oysters per square meter. Only the Spéciales de claire stays longer (over twice as long), and has a smaller population density (10 per square meter). They are delicious, and "bien équilibrées"; providing a well-balanced taste with smooth flesh texture. As for serving them, hard-core enthusiasts insist you chew them "natural," with no additional sauces or dressings. For those not quite as fervent for the little bi-valves, a vinaigrette with shallots or a lemon sauce is dee-lish. Of course, the high-society way to nibble on the little guys is to eat an oyster (chewing for only a moment to release the flavors), take a sample of crusted bread (a la baguette), and a sip of a dry white wine. Repeat as necessary, or until you are mistaken for a debutante or ambassador's well-wisher.

While at our local Whole Foods, I spied a 16-ounce container of same-day-caught Maryland oysters. They may not be Gironde, but they are fresh, and that makes ALL the difference. Lightly-crumbed and sauteed, they were delightful with nothing more than a twist of lemon and a moderately-chilled glass of Sonoma Chardonnay.

Casserole-frit Huîtres
(modified from MacGourmet)

18-20 fresh oysters, drained
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp telicherry pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
A pinch of lemon thyme or lemon grass (just a pinch to accentuate the lemon juice served with them.)
1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter

Drain the oysters. Mix the dry ingredients together. Coat both sides of each oyster and put on paper towel for two or three minutes. Heat oil and butter in a frying pan until hot but not burnt. Brown oysters on each side and remove from heat. Serve with your favorite sauce and a glass of chilled vino.

Bon Appetit.


Dinner and a Mac.

My lady and I made our first major purchase together this afternoon; a shiny new Apple laptop computer.

In light of such a major endeavor to set it up and get it going, I wanted to make something easy for dinner. Easy, and tasty, of course. I started flipping through my home recipe cookbook, and came across this gem. Growing up, this soup was one of the favorites; probably THE favorite. I hope you enjoy it as well. Serve it with any crusty bread and fresh parmesean cheese grated over top.

Minestra della Polpetta con Tortellini

1 pound ground sirloin
14 oz. beef broth
14 oz. stewed tomatoes
2 cups tortellini
3 cups fresh chopped spinach
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. parmesean cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp parsely, minced
Garlic salt
Fennel seeds

For meatballs: mix beaten egg, bread crumbs, parsely, onion, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Add sirloin and fold in until well-blended. Preheat oven to 350. Roll meat into smallish balls and put on non-stick baking sheet; this should make 20-25 meatballs. Bake in oven until browned.

For soup: Bring broth, tomatoes, basil, fennel seeds, and oregano to a boil. Add pasta and reduce heat to medium-low to allo pasta to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Add spinach and meatballs. Simmer a further 4-6 minutes. Serve in a bowl with grated parmesean cheese and a fruity white wine.

Buon appetito!

A quick dessert.

For me, dessert is an occassional treat; this is largely because I could eat my weight in pie daily. As they say, however, moderation is best, and so I moderate whenever possible.

Yesterday was one of those times where moderation simply doesn't work, and I indulge. Cognizant of the need to moderate, I went in the pantry looking for a snack I could feel good about, and realized we had the makings for one of my favorites; vanilla wafers and warmed butterscotch.

It's quick, simple, and really tasty. I prefer the actual butterscotch to any 'flavored sauce,' and would suggest actual caramel if butterscotch isn't available. This goes well with a piece of sharp cheddar cheese and a tart fruit.


Nibble Notes: El Pollo Rico

Tonight was Sunday-dinner-with-the-inlaws night. And it was a winner. Boy, was it a winner.

We went to El Pollo Rico, a Peruvian rotisserie chicken joint in Arlington, Virginia. Mom-in-law has friends who know it well, and recommend it highly.

Located amidst office buildings, El Pollo Rico is an unassuming storefront with a small private parking lot, full at 8pm on a Sunday night. Families were making their way into the building as we pulled in; one of the gentlemen even guided us into a parking spot.

As we opened the door, the smell of chicken and cumin hit us straight on, and it was oh-so-savory. The interior is painted in red, green, yellow, and white (the colors of Peru), with paintings of country scenes hanging on the walls. The line wrapped around the edge of the interior, and was almost all Peruvians; I figured we were in the right place. We made our way up front and the line rounded to the left near the two small registers at the serving counter. I looked up at the menu to peruse their offerings, and saw only the following;

Quarter-chicken $3.90
Half-chicken, white and dark $6.30
Half-chicken, white $7.80
Whole chicken $11.00

All orders served with steak fries and cole slaw.

Cash only.

That was the second good sign. It has been my experience that cash-only joints are serious foodie locales. Experience did not let me down this time, either.

The line was held up while they replenished the chicken supply from the open-air roasters. Twenty-five chickens in each turned slowly over the exposed flame, their juices spitting into the fire, making it lick up at the lower birds. The stove itself is old wrought-iron with brick and surrounded by bags of charcoal; it mesmerized me as my dinner spun before my eyes. After a few minutes, the chickens were ready, and the line moved. Finally, we got up to the counter. It was our turn. My mother-in-law and I ordered (in Spanish, of course!)

The process was as simple as this;

(In Spanish) "I'd like a half-chicken, please, with an Inca Kola (a Peruvian drink that smells like Bubble-Yum and tastes like cream soda.)"

One cook took a plate and put freshly-made steak fries, cole slaw on it, and several little containers of just-made salse verde and spicy mayonnaise. The second cook grabbed a bird, took a cleaver, whacked off half of it, and put the rest on my plate. On a tray, at the register, and off to an old wooden table to eat.

My first bite confirmed my suspicions; this place knows how to make a rotisserie chicken. The skin had been cured in cumin, garlic, pepper, parsely, and salt. The fire-roasting gave the skin a crisp, light texture that was delicious and moist. The meat was perfectly-done, and plenty juicy. I preferred to dip mine in the salsa, which provided just the right amount of kick. The steak fries were hot and lightly-salted, and provided a great starch to go with the protein. The cole slaw was a little runny, but hardly worth complaining about (face it, when the first 'complaint' is about the cole slaw, you're doing something right.) For dessert, a home-made flan ($2).

So let's see. A half a chicken, steak fries, cole slaw, flan, and a soda for under $10? This was one of the most value-oriented meals I've ever had in metro DC. South American candies were available as well to finish off your meal if half a chicken wasn't enough for you.

Interior: 7.00/10.00 (it's simple, appropriate, and very comfortable.)
Menu: 2.00/10.00 (in this case, not a bad thing at all! It's the best 2 I've ever given.)
Wine list: N/A
Service/Waitstaff: N/A (but I will compliment the staff for trying to speak English to us.)
Food: 8.50/10.00
Value: 9.50/10.00 (you cannot beat a quarter-chicken meal for $3.90 around here. Nope.)

Overall: 9.00/10.00

I know the numbers don't add up; I can barely explain it myself. But maybe I can sum it up best this way. On our way out, I noticed a table of ten people. They were a Peruvian family having dinner together. The father sat at the head of the table, overseeing it all with a smile on his face. He had a suit and a tie on, and it was then I realized; this was their Sunday family dinner together. The children were laughing, the adults were chatting, and everyone was eating with a grin on.

I cannot encourage everyone enough to try this place.



I stand over the 12" pan, sipping a deep and fruit-forward Cab from California, inhaling the aroma of breaded veal sautéing in butter, olive oil, and as much garlic as it can take.

And it is intoxicating.

Cooking is every bit as gratifying as eating. It is the process by which one earns their palatal fulfillment. Ask my wife; for me, half the pleasure in going to (or hosting) a dinner party is the time spent socializing over an ambrosial stove; all the ingredients to be consumed later still melding together and learning to play nice.

The veal is where the forthcoming L'umido di Vitello starts. Lightly breaded and then sautéed, it will soon be joined by red peppers, freshly-cut sage, and pitted Kalamata olives in an oregano-infused tomato base. Yum. Yum. Yum. Accompanied by a Greek salad (of which my ever-faithful Carmen is the master), and a fresh, warm baguette.

I assemble the ingredients together, and set the pan to stewing the concoction for another fifty minutes. Hey, a good stew takes time. But it's okay. It allows me to peruse the used copy of the Culinaria France I acquired earlier in the day for a mere twenty bucks (score!), and imbibe a bit more. This Cabernet, from V. Sattui wineries in St. Helena, California. We discovered this non-distributed winery on our honeymoon, and are finishing off the last of the case we bought. It's all about the blackberry and vanilla with this one; twenty months in French oak barrels will do that to a fella. I love the underscored anise flavor as well. I wonder for a moment if it will pair nicely with the veal stew, and then dismiss the thought. Good ingredients, good wine. That's that.

As the stew nears readiness, I start the egg noodles and once again hover over the pan, inhaling. It never gets old, the aroma of tomatoes and meat and spices working together. I revel in how many memories it brings back for me. I take another sip.

Everything is at last complete. The egg noodles are just a skosh al dente, the veal is falling apart, and the red peppers and olives are tender and sweet.

Dinner time.

L'umido di Vitello con Pepe e Olive

1.5 pounds veal, cut into stew cubes
3/4 cup red wine (I used Cabernet, and it worked well)
28oz. crushed tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, cut into thick slices (3/4-inch wide)
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
5 garlic cloves, flattened with a knife blade
1 tbsp. sage, chopped
1 tbsp. oregano
Sea salt (to taste)
Tellicherry pepper (coarse-grind, if possible)
2 tbsp. butter

2 cups egg noodles

-Heat olive oil in deep pan. In the meantime, coat the veal in flour, shaking off any excess.
-When the oil is warmed, add the garlic. Sautee for 3-4 minutes and discard the cloves.
-Add the butter and melt.
-Add the veal and sautee until golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the pan.
-Add the tomatoes and sage. Mix over medium heat until warmed, then add veal.
-Let simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes.
-Add the peppers and oregano. Let simmer for an additional 50 minutes until the veal and peppers are tender.
-Add the olives.
-Start the egg noodles.
-Simmer mixture for 5 minutes longer (approximately the same length of time the noodles need.)
-Spoon the mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle oregano or chopped parsely over top as desired.


The simplicity.

If there is a more gratifying dish than sausage with roma tomatoes, garlic, and roasted peppers, I don't know of it.

The more I explore culinary traditions and proclivities, the more I appreciate the Italians.

It's the simplicity of Italian cooking I'm hooked on. True Italian cuisine is subtle, unrefined, and purposeful. Italian chefs mostly use only ingredients that are in season. They do things like use the whole fish, not just fillets. They use few spices (an Italian kitchen, at it's most basic, has basil, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper, and fennel.) They rarely use much sauce on a meat. It's purity of ingredients.

And that brings us back to the la piastra del giorno. This is my recipe. Of course, it can vary by taste, but in any case, please please PLEASE! Keep it simple; otherwise my grande nonna will roll over in her grave.

La salsiccia italiana con i pomodori

6-8 sweet Italian sausages
8 semi-firm Roma tomatoes (a.k.a. "plum" tomatoes)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped (2" pieces)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (2" pieces)
6 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Iron skillet (if you have one)

Put 2 tbsp. oil in the skillet, heat over medium-high heat until the oil is warmed, around 3 minutes. Add the sausages and peppers. After 2-3 minutes add 2 tbsp. oil. Shuck garlic gloves, crush with the heel of your palm or a knife blade (crush the garlic to increase the surface area exposed to the oil). Add garlic and oregano. Simmer for 10-12 minutes, turning frequently. Chop tomatoes into largish chunks. When sausages are browned, add tomatoes. Let simmer for 5 minutes longer. Serve with Tuscan bread or any other crusty loaf.

You can serve this with either red or white. I prefer a room-temperature or slightly-chilled Italian white.

Buon appetito!


The virtues of Cognac.

Ahhh. Cognac; a favorite on a cold winter night. Apropos for a well-crafted flask, or served simply straight-up in a snifter, this spirit never fails to serve and delight.

For those interested, Cognac is named for the region in France from whence it came. (Interesting fact; only products from Alsace are excused from including the town or region name in the title. French law. Kah-razy stuff.) It is rated into several different grades by marketers; they use brandy grades, but the conversion is not always accurate. But, it's a good starting point.

VS (very special, three stars); the brandy is stored at least two years.
VSOP (very superior old pale, or Reserve); the brandy is stored at least four years.
XO (extra old); the brandy is stored for at least six years.

I prefer XO-grade Cognac; the taste mellows significantly as it ages, and allows for much more depth to come through in the palete.

Particularly, I favor what I am sipping now; Tesseron Lot N° 76, X.O Tradition. It is complex and delicious. If you like a Cognac now and again, this is a great bottle to try. It's my standard 'house Cognac,' if I can have one without sounding like an a-hole. It sells for around $80 a bottle, and a bottle typically lasts me 2-3 months.

As for what to have with it, I suggest complimenting it's peach, almond, or candied fruit flavors. Here is a recipe for a dee-lish Portugese honey bread.

Portugese honey bread

2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for buttering pans
3/4 cup dried cranberries or dried sour cherries
3/4 cup chopped mixed fine-quality candied fruit such as pear, citron, and candied orange peel 1/4 cup Port
1 1/4 cups walnuts (4 1/4 oz)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons active dry yeast (from two 1/4-oz packages)
1/4 cup warm water (105–115°F)
3/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 cup mild honey

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter loaf pans.Bring cranberries, candied fruit, and Port to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and set aside, covered.Pulse walnuts in a food processor until just coarsely chopped. Add flour, salt, baking soda, and spices and pulse to combine.Beat together butter (2 1/2 sticks) and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes in a stand mixer or 6 with a handheld. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.Stir together yeast and warm water in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, discard and start over with new yeast.) Add one third of flour mixture to butter mixture and mix at low speed until combined, then add molasses and mix until incorporated. Add half of remaining flour mixture and mix until combined, then add honey and mix until incorporated. Add yeast mixture and remaining flour mixture and mix until combined, then stir in candied-fruit mixture.Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops. (Do not let batter rise.) Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in centers of loaves comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pans on a rack 10 minutes, then remove loaves from pans and cool completely on rack.

(recipe courtesy of www.gourmet.com.)

Bon appetit!


Nibble Notes: Bistrot du Coin.

The more culinary skills I acquire, the more I appreciate the French, and their contributions to the gastronomical world. During this journey, I came across Bistrot du Coin, located two blocks from my house in downtown Dupont Circle, DC. If you enjoy the true bistro experience, this is an excellent restaurant to visit.

This past Saturday night, Whisky, TMS, and I visitied for a nibble. Arriving at 1145pm, the restaurant will still bristling with energy as waitstaff zipped around delivering loaves of bread, crockpots of steaming mussels, and bottles of French wine. We intended to grab a light supper, as none of us had eaten properly that night.

For starters, we shared a Pâté de campagne Maison; a pork paté served with grilled bread and mesclun greens. The paté was slightly chilled below room temperature, allowing the fatty flavors to develop slightly in the warmer air while retaining its firmness. Whisky and I each ordered a glass of Puligny Montrachet, one of my favorite French chardonnays (at least, one of my favorites I can regularly afford to enjoy!).

For dinner, Whisky enjoyed a Tartine à la tapenade; an open-faced hot sandwich wth black olive puree, bayonne ham, and Swiss gruyère. Dee-lish! TMS and I split an order of Ravioles du Royan, mini herb ravioli in a cream sauce with Swiss gruyère cheese. The cheese 'crust' was near perfect; browned at the edges, and creamy as all-get-out (which, as I'm sure everyone knows, is pretty darn creamy.)

Dessert? French dessert is a study in sublime subtleties; basic ingredients used simply and effectively to create a taste profile rich in complimentary flavors, with no clear-cut emphasis to overpower secondary flavors. For us, it was the brioche with custard, orange blossom, and a light custard sauce. Whisky and I complimented the dessert with an iced Lillet with orange slices; if you have never had an iced Lillet, try it. They make this delightful in two flavors; blanc, steeped in candied orange, honey, mint, and fresh lime; and rouge, raspberry, cardamom, and ginger powerful on the palate. We drank Lillet blanc, a perfect pairing to the orange blossom in the custard.

Bistrot du Coin came about in the recent (80's-90') renaissance of French eating in Washington DC, a trend originally started by JFK during his presidency. The walls are yellowed with paint, helped along by years of tobacco smoke and aging. They are decorated with artifacts from all over France, as the mostly French staff will tell you. The service is comfortable and just the right speed; there is no rush here. Over the din of boisterous conversation (this is not a quiet establishment), one can barely make out the French DJ spinning trance and dance hall tunes at just the right volume. Their wine list is comprehensive and intelligently thought out; they have something for everyone despite one's preferences for type or region. The prices are reasonable, especially for DC (the three of us ate for $65, including the drinks.) And if that wasn't enough, it's one of the only places I've seen here so far that offers steak tartare, complete with egg yolk.

Interior: 7.50/10.00
Menu: 8.00/10.00
Wine List: 8.25/10.00
Service/Waitstaff: 7.50/10.00
Food: 8.50/10.00
Value: 8.00/10.00

Overall: 8.00/10.00

If you like casual (and actual) French, give it a try.



Beurre Monté.

Made from chunks of butter and just a few drops of water whisked over moderate heat, Beurre Monté is considered a "workhorse sauce," as Thomas Keller calls it. Used for basting meats, poaching lobster, and sauteeing any number of foods, Beurre Monté helps keep foods moist, enhances flavors, and helps cook foods, as the butter layered evenly helps distribute heat.

Beurre Monté

Heat one tablespoon of water until boiling in an appropriately-sized pan. Reduce the heat to low, and begin whisking in chunks of butter to emulsify. Keep the heat low and constant. Keep sauce warm until ready to use. Any unused portions can be refridgerated and reheated later.

Easy enough, right?

Speaking of Thomas Keller, here is a recipe from his The French Laundry Cookbook.

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto

Sweet potato filling
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
4 oz. unsalted butter
2 slices bacon, cooked, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Pinch of nutmeg or allspice
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Fresh pasta dough

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake potatoes in tinfoil until soft, 1-2 hours, depending on size of potato. Skin potatoes and discard. Push potato through ricer and place in saucepan. Add bacon. Stir over low heat, seasoning with nutmeg or allspice and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in 4 tbsp. butter. Yields filling for 48 agnolotti. Roll out the dough, and make agnolotti using filling.

Sage Cream

1/3 cup sage leaves
1 cup crème fraîche
1 cup beurre monte

Blanch sage leaves in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain in cool water, and drain again. Squeeze dry.

Heat the crème fraîche and beurre monte with the salt on low heat; do not boil. Place the sage in a blender and process to chop it. With the motor running, pour the hot cream mixture through the top and blend thoroughly. Strain, salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat oil for deep-frying, and lightly fry the sage leaves. Dry on paper towels and set aside.

Place the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook until brown. Reduce heat and keep warm.

Cook the agnolotti. Drain and mix with sage cream.

Set agnolotti in dish with cream sauce. Sprinkle with prosciutto, and garnish with fried sage leaves.


Mayonnaise by any other name...

I have taken a recent shine to mayonnaise. Well, I suppose it's fairer to say I've taken a closer look at this most tasty sauce.

Yes. Sauce.

I confess I have spent most of my life looking at this wonder as little more than a condiment for my BLTs. Once I began examining French cuisine more closely, I commensurately began realizing how important this sauce would become in the near future. I guess you could classify me at the time as mayo-curious.

If you are not intimately familiar with mayo (Heather, you are excused from this discussion. You may put your head down on your desk, or go to the cafeteria for a frozen fruit pop,) it is classified as a cold emulsified sauce comprising egg yolks, blended oils, and flavorings such as mustard, herbs, wine vinegar, et cetera.

As for the best mayo going, I can't begin to speculate. I can tell you, however, this mayonnaise was superb for the recipe below. It's important to note, however, that most hard-core cooking references will tell you to keep it room-temperature. I, however, am not so brave. Yet.

Asparagus with Mayonnaise Verte

1 1/2 pounds trimmed asparagus (white is ok, but green is more visually impactful here.)
1/2 cup Italian parsely, chopped
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste (after experimenting a little, Tellicherry large-grain crushed is best.)
2 tbsp. verjus (juice from unripened fruit, and can be ordered here.)
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Herbs de Provence to taste

Blanch asparagus for one minute. Remove from water and place in ice bath to arrest cooking. Drain well and pat dry. (Asparagus can be made up to one day ahead, store in sealed bag in refridgerator, let them come up to room temperature before serving.)

Mix the parsely, oil, lemon juice, verjus, mustard, and herbs in a food processor. Pulse until well-mixed and smooth. Fold over into mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve aside the asparagus.

This is great with any dish sauteed in butter. I wouldn't suggest mixing it with dishes in cream sauces or red sauces; the mayonnaise is delicious as the only sauce on the plate. Plus, it's flavor is extremely delicate and can be overpowered easily. We ate it with a pork tenderloin glazed with peaches and ginger. It worked well as the only side dish. (We had some cheeses as well, but nothing else, save for the three bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.)

Do I like fish?

Sort of. Through the patience of my wife, I am learning. I've added salmon, tilapia, squid, and some sushi to my repertiore. Slowly, my precious! Eats fish a little at a time, it does!


Seeing it for what it is.

"When I was thirty-two, I started cooking; before then, I was just eating."
-Julia Child

How true, those words! I have always enjoyed eating well; I come from excellent stock in this regard. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents; they all cooked wonderfully. I grew up learning from them, shadowing them in their kitchens, mimicking their techniques (even if the results fell somewhat short of their makings.) But it wasn't until a few years ago that my appreciations for thier skills, and the magic of well-crafted foods and spirits came together. When it did, though...yikes.

This site is for the epicurean in us all; in appreciation of the finest of foods, spirits, and the pleasures they create.

To start it off, Julia Child's first, and ultimately favorite, dish when moving to France.

Bon Appetite!

Sole Meuniere


6 sole fillets (6 to 8 oz each)
8 tb salted butter
1 cup flour
1 lemon juice
Fresh black pepper
Parsley sprigs

Remove the black skin from the soles. Chop the parsley sprigs, discard the stems. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Spread the flour in a plate. Dredge fillets in flour, shaking off any excess flour. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add a sole fillet or if the skillet is large enough, place 2 fillets at the same time. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Turn the fillet and cook on the other side for 5 minutes again. Set aside and keep fillets warm. Sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley. Cook the other sole fillets the same way. Add butter if needed. Melt the remaining butter in the skillet. When brown, remove from heat and place the sole fillets. Serve immediately. Garnish with lemon slices.

Serve with a lightly-chilled Chablis.