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.