14 December 2007

Chocolat Chaud

For my friend K*'s birthday on Tuesday we had a night on the town. We went to see Spamalot at the National Theater (my first time seeing a Broadway show off Broadway- luckily I was not in the least disappointed, but that's another topic). I felt very cultured and all (despite having just seen some very rude gestures by a French Knight) especially as we ended up at Brasserie Les Halles for a late supper.

I wasn't very hungry so I had a really lovely potato and olive salad with mixed baby greens and then turned my attention to dessert. I wanted something, and that something was chocolate. Although intrigued by a molten chocolate cake I decided instead to have my first hot chocolate of the season and I was not disappointed.

The chocolate chaud was served in a little metal pitcher which you could then pour into your cup. It was thick and rich with a real, slightly bitter chocolate texture- no Swiss Miss there. It was so thick it easily coated the back of the teaspoon and had a consistency almost like that of homemade pudding, right when you take it off the stove before it has cooled down (what do you mean you have never tried hot pudding? you have really been missing out). The cup was passed around the table and all agreed that I had made the best choice (quite a nice feeling). The hot chocolate was so good, I had all but forgotten the brownie that it came with. Would that I had, for after the chocolat chaud, the brownie was a weak tasting, dry disappointment.

Brasserie Les Halles, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.

13 December 2007

Cooking: Fondue Style

Yes, that is the name of the cookbook that I inherited from my grandmother along with her bright orange fondue set. The book is copyrighted 1964, so I think it is safe to say it's a bit of a cooking relic. I've had the fondue set for over a year and have always wanted to have a fondue party but never quite got around to it. Then one day a few weeks ago I decided to just do it and send out the invitation over email. Only afterwards did I realize that I had never had fondue before so didn't know if I would even like it, much less be able to make it.
After looking at many recipes, both in the cookbook and online, I decided to go with Alton Brown's. For my first attempt at fondue cooking I thought Alton's recipe would be a safe bet- also, it called for emmenthal and smoked gouda in a base of hard cider. Since I am not a fan of swiss cheese, I thought this would be more to my liking than using the traditional mixture emmenthal and swiss. The recipe called for 10 oz. of cheese total and as this was going to feed 5, I didn't think it sounded really ridiculous, healthwise. I tried to make our dipping choices a bit healthier too with broccoli, mushroom, carrot and grilled chicken along with the requisite bread.

Fondue, it turns out, is really quite easy to make- you just grate the cheese, toss it with some cornstarch and slowly add it to the sauce base (wine, beer, cider, stock) on the stove, before moving it to the fondue burner on the table.* There, your guests will be impressed both by the fire on the table and your cooking skills and they dip and swirl away. Unfortunately, while the emmenthal melted quickly, the smoked gouda was being rather stubborn and refused to melt, no matter how long I stirred it. We ended up with a delicious tasting, if slightly bumpy fondue. I think it may have been my particular brand of smoked gounda (the full fat variety from Trader Joe's) that didn't melt, as this particular recipe seems to have had good success judging from the comments on the food network website.

I followed Alton's recipe to the letter on this one, so I will give you the link here. If you try it out, do let me know how it turns out.


*I did have a bit of a problem with the fire part that I should warn you about. My fondue set has a small alcohol burner that fits perfectly into the fondue stand. I just assumed that I would be able to pick up the fuel alcohol at CVS or at the camping goods store down the street. It turns out that even the term 'fuel alcohol' is archaic and caused Zach some unwelcome stares when he asked for it. Now it's called denatured alcohol and apparently isn't widely available, at least where I live. I had to improvise, creating a little platform out of a cut up cereal box wrapped with tin foil on which I perched as many tealights as I could fit. So- the moral of this tale is- don't wait to purchase the fuel for your fondue burner until an hour before dinner begins.

Happy Hanukkah

It had been years, literally, since I had last made latkes for Hanukkah but this year, with the first night during my last week of classes I felt that I needed to do something to celebrate. My last latke experience involved 4 pounds of potatoes, a box grater and wounded knuckles but this time my 3-in-1 kitchen miracle machine was available for assistance. I consulted both my mum and a recipe in the Washington Post and then realized I had absolutely no idea how much to make for dinner for 4. We would have a salad as well as there had to be some greenery to accompany the fried potatoes.* Two pounds sounded like it would be enough but then when I actually looked at the number of potatoes involved, I changed my mind. 3 pounds of potatoes worked well for dinner for 4- but I will give the recipe here for 1 pound as you can easily double, triple or even quadruple it. The traditional way to serve latkes is with apple sauce and sour cream, although they are really good on their own too. I hope you like them.- we certainly did.

*Hmmmm... you might be saying- isn't this supposed to be the healthy food blog? In defense of my fried dinner here is what I will say- Hanukkah only comes around once a year and I don't think latkes would be worth eating if I tried to bake them or make them with Pam (the thought makes me shudder). I certainly hope the occasional fried treat won't be the death of me

1 lb. potatoes, shredded on a box grater or with a food processor
1 egg, beaten well
1 heaping tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 grated onion (optional)
canola oil for frying

-Heat oven to 350F. Prep a large sheet pan with wire wracks to put the latkes on.

-Get a pan (or two) ready for frying on the stove. Add a bit more than 1/8 in. oil to the pan(s). Heat over medium high.

-Put the shredded potato in a clean kitchen towel and wring out to remove the excess water. Put the potato in a large bowl.

-Add the egg mixture, onion (with its juice) and flour to the potatoes and mix well.

-When the oil it hot (test it by dropping in one potato shred- if it starts bubbling immediately it's ready, if it just floats there the oil is not hot enough) drop in the lakes, about 1/4 cup of potato mixture for each, and flatten with the back of a spatula.

-Fry latkes until golden brown (this shout take 3-4 minutes per side) and flip. Once browned on both sides, remove from the pan and place on the wire racks. Move the sheet pan to the oven to keep the latkes warm. Keep this up until you've used all the potato mixture, adding more oil to the pan when it runs low.

-Serve the latkes with sour cream and apple sauce.

28 August 2007

Lost in Cyberspace

Well now that I am almost done with the semester I have come back to my sadly neglected blog and found this post from September that I never managed to finish. As meatballs really are one of my top ten all time favorites I couldn't let this entry get lost in cyberspace, so here it is.

Meatballs are one of my favorite things. Not just favorite foods but favorite things in general. They are round. They are delicious. And you eat them with spaghetti. What more could you ask for?

Meatballs were one of the few things my mum made growing up that I really liked (I hope my mum doesn't read this). She would make mix the meat with breadcrumbs, spices and A1 and then simmer them for hours in the Dutch oven and the whole house would smell slightly tart with tomato and that mouthwatering meatball smell.

As much as I love my mum's meatballs, I never have time to simmer anything for hours on a weekday. Last night we needed something quick for dinner and had no ground beef but there was a package of soy protein in the fridge... so I meatballs it was (well they aren't meatballs but soyballs just does not sound appetizing at all). With the right spices, soy protein can be good- perhaps not as good as beef meatballs- but on the other hand soy protein won't leave your arteries looking like a gutter at the end of autumn either. If soy meatballs seem a little out there for you, you could substitute ground beef or turkey for the soy or you could even make half soy/half beef meatballs.

Almost Meatballs
1 lb. soy protein meat substitute, not in crumble form (I use GimmeLean)
1/3 c. Italian style breadcrumbs
1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 t. dried oregano
1 T. dried basil
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 c. grated onion
Several shakes of A1 steak sauce
A bit of canola or olive of for cooking

-Mix all of the ingredients well. The mix will seem quite sticky but this is normal.

- Cover the mix and refrigerate for 30+ minutes.

- When you are ready to cook, take out a non-stick skillet and add a little bit of oil, about a teaspoon and heat over medium-high.

- Form the meatballs and add them to the pan. I prefer my almost meatballs to be quite small, sort of cocktail meatball size, but they can be however large you'd like.

- After all the meatballs are added, give the pan a shake to coat all the balls in a little bit of the oil. Continue to shake every minute or so until they are browned on all sides.

- Serve with your favorite pasta and tomato sauce, or on a crusty Italian roll with sauce.

22 August 2007


My good friend Charlotte recently came back from a year in Africa and her first food request when she returned to the States was that we go to Chipotle for dinner. I hadn't been in quite a while and I had a 'wow- I think this is really good. Why don't I have burritos more often?' moments. It's because I think that they are a 'bad for you' food. Though I do try not to assign that label to too many things sometime I think it just happens subconsciously. After all, burritos tend to come smothered in cheese and sour cream in serving sizes more fit to body-building champions than paper-pushers like me. I started thinking about it and decided there must be a way to make tacos at home that a) had actual flavor and b) didn't make me feel like I had to go run a mile. First stop on the quest was the Farmers' Market as usual.

There we got little basket of yellow and red peppers for $2 (major score as they are usually $4 each in the supermarket) and some thin strips of beef. Charlotte had left us with a big ripe tomato that seemed perfect for a home-made salsa and in homage to Chipotle I decided to pair it corn as well.

On dinner night I was feeling very lazy so instead of scrambling to get everything on the table piping hot I decided to cook in shifts and serve everything room temperature. First the corn and tomatoes were mixed with chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin and fresh cilantro and left to chill out in their bowl. Then I grilled the peppers along with a red onion. While the peppers were grilling I made a rub for the beef and left it to sit for a few minutes. After the veg came off I grilled the meat, which was sliced so thin it only needed about 45 seconds on each side. Finally the tortillas (they were whole wheat and really quite good) got toasted directly on the gas burner and we sat down to dinner.

I was feeling quite relaxed since I hadn't been rushing to get things done and the tacos looked so pretty with the bright yellow peppers, purple onion, red and yellow salsa and strips of beef. The peppers and corn gave the tacos quite a bit of sweetness which I balanced out with the addition of some Sriracha sauce at the table as well as some sour cream (which is actually not all that bad for you in small doses). Altogether an excellent taco night.

Tomato-Corn Salsa
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
10 oz. frozen corn kernels, cooked (or you could substitute fresh)
one handfull fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tsp. each salt, chili powder, cumin and smoked paprika
1 tsp. vegetable oil (can be omitted)
Sriracha or hot sauce, to taste

Put all of the ingredients in a serving bowl and mix. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Note: The salsa can get a bit juicy so I would recommend serving it with a slotted spoon)

Taco Beef
1 T each: chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, brown sugar, salt
1 t. black pepper
2 t. vegetable oil
1/2 - 1 lb. beef sandwich strips or flank steak

Mix the spices and the oil well. Coat the beef and let marinate for 15 minutes to 1 hour depending on the cut of beef and how much flavor you want to impart.

Heat your grill pan (or real grill if you are lucky enough to have one) to high. Rinse most of the marinade off the beef and pat dry. Grill on both sides then let the meat rest for a few minutes before slicing into thin strips.

09 August 2007

Blue Plate Special

The story of this dinner starts the week before I actually made it. Last Saturday, Zach and I got up at 9, determined to make it to the the Arlington Farmers' Market before all the good stuff was gone. It had been far too long since I had been to a farmer's market and Zach had never really been to one in DC and since my inner food-hippie is starting to come out, we decided to make a morning of it.

Even though it's the middle of summer and I knew there would be all sorts of fruit and veg I was most excited about meat. I know- it seems a bit strange to go to a farmers' market to buy meat but two local farms that humanely raise chickens, beef, pork and lamb have stands at the market and I wanted to give them a try. [After stints of vegetarianism in the past I have come to the conclusion that I'm just not that committed- and Zach really likes to eat meat. As the compromise we are trying to eat only naturally and humanely raised critters.]

So we strapped the cooler on the back of my bike and headed to the market. After buying a week's worth of fruit and veg we headed to the stand run by Eco-Friendly Foods and stood there looking at the vacu-packed products waiting for inspiration- it went something like this,

"Well, what should we have?"

"I don't know. What do you want?"
"I'm not sure... well we could-"

"Yeah we could."

"Why not"

"We'll take a pound of ground pork please."

The lady behind the table gave us a rather odd look at this point and asked what we would be making and we answered 'Danish Meatballs' and got another strange look in reply. Danish Meatballs (frikadeller) are quite distinct from their Swedish counterparts in that they have no gravy and are instead cooked in a pan till browned and served (at least in my host family) with boiled potatoes and a white sauce (on the potatoes, not the meatballs). In the effort of both making dinner a bit more healthy and using up what was in the fridge, I decided, a week later (don't worry, the ground pork came frozen and had been in the freezer the whole time) to make the meatballs and serve them with the potatoes we got at the farmers market (sans white sauce) and a carrot salad.

The frikadeller themselves are very simple to make, simply blend together the pork, milk, onion, egg, flour, salt, pepper and spices, let sit for 30 minutes if you have the time, and fry up in a bit of butter and oil. The only really special thing is that the onion gets grated instead of chopped; the result is a meatball that is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and smooth, without pesky bits of undercooked onion poking out everywhere.

Marjoram has always been my spice of choice since that is what my host dad always uses, but my marjoram went missing in the move and as I didn't realize it until I was halfway done with dinner (does this happen to anyone else besides me?) some Spanish smoked paprika came on as a pinch hitter. I was pleasantly surprised at how well they came out; the paprika gave the meatballs a smoky quality reminiscent of chorizo and the pork itself actually had flavor, which I think can be sadly lacking in mass-market pork. We'll definitely be visiting the market again next week to try out another meat.

Danish Meatballs (Frikadeller)
For 16 meatballs (to serve 4 for dinner or to serve 2 for dinner and lunch the next day)

1 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, shredded on a box grater
1/4-1/2 c. of milk
1 spoonful of flour
1 egg
1 tsp. smoked paprika
a few pinches of salt
pepper to taste

- Put the pork in a medium bowl. Grate the onion on top and add in a spoonful of flour (I use a soup spoon and take a scoop out of the flour bin) and the rest of the ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

- The mixture should be quite soft, soft enough to get a good mix going so add more milk if needed.

- Let the mix rest for at least 30 minutes.

- Heat up your frying pan over medium heat. Add a knob of butter and a bit of oil. When the pan is hot, dip a soup spoon and your hand in water. Use the spoon to scoop up some of the meat mix and use the spoon and the palm of the opposite hand to make a little football-shaped meatball.

-Arrange the meatballs in the pan and cook until golden brown on the bottom. Use two spoons (the mix is too soft to use tongs on) to flip and then good until golden on the other side.

- Drain on paper towels if desired and serve immediately.
Posted by Picasa