… while I switch to a new blog theme. Things are still getting tweaked, so the pages will probably look a little weird for a day or two.
Archive for April, 2008
This pie tastes like summer. I made it for a work picnic on Thursday. I was going to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, but Giant was out of rhubarb. Instead, I got some purple plums and Bosc pears, both of which were a bit under ripe. I was a little skeptical of the flavor combination, but it turned out great! The pears and plums were cooked, but not mushy. The texture contrast was great with the soft strawberries. Also, this pie tastes very fruity, but not overly sweet. I think this might be my new favorite pie.
For crust: I swear by this all-butter crust recipe from Bon Appetit
- 1 lb ripe strawberries (1 of those plastic flats = 1 lb)
- 6 firm medium purple plums
- 4 firm Bosc pears
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 heaping tbsp corn starch
- 1 tsp high quality cinnamon (I use Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon from Penzey’s and it makes a huge difference in the flavor. If using lesser quality, I would increase the amount.)
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I received a bottle of Haitian vanilla for Christmas and it’s got a wonderful bright flavor that I love with fruit. Mexican vanilla would also work nicely.)
1. Make crust dough per Bon Appetit’s recipe. While dough disks cool in the fridge, make the filling.
2. Hull and quarter strawberries. Cut plums and pears into roughly 2″ sized pieces. You can leave the skins on. Toss cut fruit with the sugar, corn starch, cinnamon, and vanilla. Set aside.
3. Roll out 1 disk of dough for the bottom of the pie. I like to roll my dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. This means I don’t have to worry about my dough sticking to my counter or rolling pin. Once you have rolled your dough out to the desired thickness, carefully peel the plastic off one side of the dough. Lay the dough into your pie plate, plastic side facing up. You can then grip the plastic side and adjust the dough as needed. Once your dough is in place, carefully peel off the other piece of plastic and press into the pan. If there are any holes, you can patch them with excess dough on the edges of the pie.
4. Pour fruit into pie. Roll out the second disk of dough. After you’ve peeled off your first piece of plastic, you can cut little shapes into the crust with a cooking cutter. I use the pointy end of a chopstick to pull the cut outs off the plastic sheet on the backside of the dough. Lay the dough over your fruit, plastic side up. Be extra careful when removing the plastic, as it is easy to tear the shapes. Alternatively, use a knife to cut a few vents for the steam to escape.
5. Use a pair of scissors to trim the excess dough from the edge. Fold edges over and crimp as desired. I am terrible at crimping. If you want to learn how to crimp your pie nicely, Epicurious has a nice instructional video. Otherwise, you can just use the tines of a fork to smush the edges together.
6. For a nice golden crust, lightly beat an egg and brush it over your finished pie. Sprinkle with sugar for extra crunch and flavor. Bake the pie at 375 for 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Makes one 12″ pie. Easily adapted for a 10″ pie–just mound the fruit in the middle.
Every year, Lee’s mother mails him a birthday care package. Aside from presents, it always includes a box of angel food cake mix, as well as candles, balloons, and paper plates and napkins. It’s sort of quaint, because no matter how old he gets, the care package is exactly the same. This is not limited to birthdays. For the last two years, we have received plastic eggs, candy, easter grass, and an egg dying kit for Easter. This package is usually accompanied by a phone call explaining that Lee can open the box early if we want to dye the eggs the night before. I am 24 years old and have not dyed an Easter egg in over a decade.
While I don’t dye the eggs, I do make the cake. (I’m not really sure if the cake mix is really for him so much as me, since I can’t really imagine Lee making himself a cake.) In my early baking days, I attempted angel food cake from scratch, not realizing it was one of those fussy recipes that require precision and good technique. My cake puffed up nicely in the oven, but quickly deflated into a lumpy mess once I took it out.
The mix, however, is completely idiot-proof. You add water and, through the magic of chemistry, the mixture foams to 3x its original volume. Then you pour it into the pan and bake it. Unlike many box cakes, which have an artificial taste, I think box angel food tastes pretty darn authentic. I like to add some extra vanilla and almond extract, so it tastes like a giant, almond-y marshmallow.
This year, I decided to mix it up with some cupcakes, which are oh-so-trendy right now. I wanted to make mine sparsely beautiful, like Nigella’s fairy cakes. Per her recipe, I whipped up some royal icing and spread it on the tops with the back of a spoon. But, unlike Nigella, I didn’t have any cute little sugar flowers or fondant cut outs to stick on top of my cupcakes. After digging through the pantry, all I came up with were some raw almonds and leftover Christmas sprinkles. So, I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I think they look decently cute, if not ideal.
In case you didn’t know, Westend Bistro is the brain child of pouty-lipped chef Eric Ripert. If there is any doubt about this, please visit the Westend Bisto website. You can listen to some horrific ambient electronic music, accompanied by a giant headshot of Ripert. There is also this “thought-provoking” quote by Ripert: “A cook and a chef are different entities. “Chef” is a title… but when you are a cook, that is who you are. It’s your spine and soul.”
So, is Ripert a cook, a chef, or both? Wait, do I actually care?
No. What I do care about is how my food tastes. Last night, I went to Westend Bistro for Lee’s birthday dinner. I had done some research via Don Rockwell and had learned that Westend Bistro was good but perhaps not awesome. (I also learned that Don Rockwell members are incredibly snotty.)
To start, we ordered two seasonal appetizers: rabbit rillettes with apple and celery and soft shell crab on a watercress, fingerling potato, and caper salad.
The rillettes were a bit over salted and one note. Mostly, you tasted salt, then the rabbit pate. The delicate apple and celery shavings were completely overwhelmed. As a personal bias, I’m just not that big a fan of spreadable meats. The mushy texture doesn’t do anything for me.
On the other hand, the soft shell crab was very good. I was a little skeptical of the flavor combination, but was very pleased when I tasted it. I am a die-hard soft shell crab fan, and this crab was perfectly dredged and fried. Very light and crispy, though a touch too salty. However, the light, tangy flavors of the salad balanced out the richness of the crab. This was one of those dishes in which you must eat all the components together on your fork to get the full experience. Apart, they are a bit pedestrian, but together it’s quite wonderful.
For our main courses, I ordered the braised veal cheeks with potato puree and wild mushrooms (pictured above). Lee had the special, roasted shoulder of lamb with white beans and pine nuts.
My veal cheeks were tender and served in a very rich pan gravy. Again, the sauce was a bit too salty. There was not enough potato on the plate to make up for the richness of the meat and sauce. The mushrooms were earthy and bursting with roasted flavor; the carrots were tender but not mushy and the sweetness was a nice contrast to the meat. If this had been served with more potato and carrot and a hair less salt, I think it would have been successful. That said, I don’t think it was anything earth-shattering–it kind of tasted like an upscale beef stew. Given that spring has officially arrived in DC, I think a dish like this is a little too heavy. I probably should have ordered fish or something lighter.
Lee’s entree was much more seasonally appropriate. I only had a bite, but the lamb was perfectly roasted: tender and pink, but not bleeding. It did not have even the slightest bit of gamey taste, though the layer of fat on the outside did. Unfortunately, like everything else, it was slightly over salted.
Dessert at Westend Bistro was our best course. We ordered the rhubarb tart and the nougat glacé (pictured above), based on a tip from DonRockwell.
The nougat glacé is basically a little mold of very creamy hazelnut ice cream, served with an orange sauce and candied pistachios. The best part was the edges, which had melted slightly and were incredibly smooth and rich. If you have good self-control, I recommend letting the dish rest a few minutes so the nougat can melt a little. I have a bad habit of rapaciously attacking my desserts and, after nibbling at the edges, began hacking at it very loudly with my spoon.
The rhubarb tart was even better than the nougat. The tart was served with a scoop of strawberry mascarpone ice cream. It tasted as good as it sounds, especially since the strawberries were fresh and the mascarpone made for an extra rich texture. The tart had stewed rhubarb pieces atop a firm, pear-flavored custard. I was expecting more rhubarb flavor, but I actually really liked the combination of tart/sweet flavors and stringy/custardy textures that resulted from the rhubarb and pear marriage.
Overall, my reaction to Westend Bistro is mixed. I would definitely return for the desserts, and I was impressed with the soft shell crab appetizer. However, the entrees were a bit disappointing, especially considering that they were between $20-35 a plate. Starters are $10-15, salads and soups $7-12, vegetable sides $7-10, and desserts were $9. (Funny, because bistros are supposed to be cheaper…) If I’m going to pay that much for my main course, I can get better food elsewhere.
That said, I believe you can eat at Westend Bistro for a better price. We did not try any of the sides, but the couple next to us was eating the mac and cheese for two, and it looked delicious (herb and breadcrumb topping, served in a little cast iron dish). If I were go to back, I would stick with appetizers, salads, sides, desserts, and some of the cheaper entrees (the burgers looked good, and the mac is big enough to be a meal for one). The more expensive entrees simply aren’t worth it. The dining experience itself is very pleasant–the waitstaff are very attentive, the atmosphere is friendly, relaxed, and the decor is warm and modern. In that sense, it is exactly what a bistro should be.
I feel like now is sort of the best of times and the worst of times for food-centric shows on tv. As a child, I remember the only options were watching low-budget how-to shows on PBS or reruns of Julia Child. Now that food is trendy, the Food Network machine has exploded into every home in America via Rachael Ray’s face on a box of Ritz crackers. The upshot of this trend are shows like No Reservations or Top Chef. The downside is that the Food Network’s programming seems to get worse, and worse.
For instance, now that Tyler Florence is too fat to be a viable host for Food 911, they’ve reworked the same format into this new show called Rescue Chef, hosted by some guy called Danny Boome. Based on the endless promos currently running on the Food Network, Danny is cute, British, and most importantly:
1. A former hockey player
2. An ex-model
3. And, lastly, a chef
Is this guy’s food any good? Who cares! We see images of young, attractive women pouting into the camera and helplessly sighing, “I am a total mess in the kitchen!” You can just imagine the next line of this show: “Please, Danny, come rescue me!” It’ll be like Take Home Chef, except with even more overt flirting. If only Tyler Florence had a foreign accent, it would have given him that extra edge with the “culinarily challenged” ladies.
I think what I find so gross about this whole marketing scheme is that it smacks of some damsel-in-distress fairy tale. Like, women (who, let’s be honest here, have historically done most of the common home cooking) need some big strong man to teach them how to use a spatula. I understand that the supposed message of the each show is going to go along the lines of, Cooking is actually easy and fun! (Especially if some hunky chef stands next to you while you slice onions.) But in order to sell this concept, you first have to make cooking seem too hard to do it by yourself. However, this show is clearly aimed exclusively at women, so I feel like the implicit message here is that young women today don’t know how to cook and are just lost without Danny Boome to “rescue” them. (Side note: What kind of last name is Boome?!)
You need to eat food to live. Therefore, cooking is a survival skill. Somewhere, some day, you might not be able to or afford to go out to eat or buy something pre-packaged. The basics are not that hard–for goodness sake, children can do it. Secondly, food is a pleasure. People love to eat delicious food; it makes you feel happy. So I find it nauseating to see the Food Network working the sex(ist) angle so heavily with this show. It’s insulting to my intelligence, not to mention the every female member of my family that had a hand in my culinary education.
It may be true that more young women today don’t know how to cook compared to earlier generations. But I think it’s generally true that many young people of both genders don’t know how to cook. So why isn’t Giada De Laurentiis traveling the country in her deep v-neck sweaters teaching helpless men how to cook pasta? Or, better yet, why isn’t Mario Batali traveling the country in his giant orange crocs teaching men and woman of every age how to make Pasticcio di Bietole al Forno or a host of other barely pronounceable dishes? Food Network, why must you dumb everything down to it’s most shallow, stereotypical level??? Ahhhh!
I think I need to go watch some “Baking with Julia” reruns on WETA.
In American restaurants, the kids menu tends to consist of things that are fried, white in color, or both (see chicken fingers, french fries, mashed potatoes). In Japan and Korea, kids get to eat something called omurice or omu-raisu. I saw this dish for the first time during Tampopo, a bizarre Japanese send up to noodle shops and food fetishes from the 1980s. (If that plot line sounds even remotely intriguing to you, Netflix it now. You won’t be disappointed.) I actually ate omurice for the first time at a tiny Korean restaurant near Dulles airport. My friend explained that this was “kid’s food”, but she had a craving, so we ordered it anyway.
For the uninitiated, omurice is a omelet filled with fried rice and topped with a few artistic squirts of ketchup. I know the ketchup part sounds a little strange, but trust me when I tell you that the ketchup is key; the sweetness of the tomato really brings the whole thing together. There is also something incredibly comforting about eating omurice; even if you didn’t grow up with it, the flavors and textures have a simplicity that practically screams home cooking.
A few weeks ago, I developed my own acute hankering for omurice. I followed this recipe from Just Hungry, substituting as needed (I didn’t have any meat, but I threw in some spinach and scallions). The technique is very simple. Saute your veggies, add pre-cooked meat, a little ketchup, and rice until heated through. Remove from pan, pour in lightly beaten eggs, cook until barely set, then flip over the rice mound. Apply ketchup designs as desired. Technically, you should put the rice back in the pan and fold the egg over, but that’s a little trickier, as the recipe explains. It tastes just as good without making the full omelet fold. Watch the omurice-making scene in Tampopo for some complex omelet folding action.
I love this recipe because it’s really quick, easy, and is a great way to use up leftover rice. It makes a hearty meal for one, or a great late night snack. Next time, I want to try it with some peas, carrots, and ham. However, for a true throwback to my childhood, I think I would have to use Spam. Yes, I used to eat fried rice with Spam as a kid. And, like omurice, it was delicious.