Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Irish Invasion

The folks are coming to town this weekend and I am more than a little excited. Yesterday was a particularly craptastic day at work, so I decided to prepare for my parents' arrival and bake my bad day away with some warm treats.

For my dad, I made traditional Irish Bread. It is our family recipe and other than adding a little sugar and a lot of raisins, I am pretty sure it sticks close to the occasionally-debated "traditional" Irish Bread. In terms of food-rearing, my dad grew up in a house where my grandmother hated to cook, and always bought her potato- and pasta salads from the local deli. To further illustrate my point, my father had never tried any cheese other than American before meeting my mom. Shocking. (My mother has converted him). But Dad contributed to my young education in other ways. He is responsible for my love of the Beach Boys, Star Trek and John Wayne. Often times our conversations consist completely of movie quotes or whole scenes of dialogue. "Put zee candle beck!" And so forth.

Irish Bread

4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp sugar, with extra for sprinkling
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cups buttermilk
1-1 1/2 cups raisins

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix ingredients in large bowl until well blended. Place in a greased and floured layer cake pan. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from pan and cool. Sprinkle sugar on warm bread.

For my mom I made Ambrosia Macaroons, from the December issue of Bon Appetit. My mom is just crazy for coconut. Although she taught me to appreciate food, not just as sustenance, but as an experience to be savored and enjoyed in and of itself, she also taught me how to eat a medium Brigham's ice cream cone without spilling a drop on myself (which she can do while driving) and instilled in me a deep love of ABBA. Nothing beats baking to ABBA.

I use two 14-oz. bags of flaked coconut (there can never be too much) and only about 4 oz. of chocolate, if that. If you use too much chocolate or dip the macaroons in chocolate, you'll overpower the lovely hint of orange. If you're a macaroon dipper, try another recipe. This recipe makes a ton of bite-sized, guilt-defying tasties. Pop a couple in your mouth and enjoy!

The folks and I are hitting up Fogo de Chao and D'Acqua this weekend. While I am pretty sure that nothing can top hunks of tender, red meat, mounted on spears, periodically visiting my table, D'Acqua's menu looks promising, too. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nerd-Culture Comes to the Kitchen

I am pretty sure that if someone made me this brownie mosaic for my birthday, I would be indebted to him for life. As it is, I am wicked jealous of my friend Daley, whose friends must love him very much. All I can say is:

"Master using it and you can have this."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dessert Before Breakfast?

Saturday, I rolled out of bed around seven, which was impressive since I usually can't muster that much forward momentum until closer to eight on weekdays. Somehow I managed to get showered, dressed and down to my farmers' market around eight. Sadly, my favorite growers had not arrived or were still setting up, so I made my way down to Jasper sans delicious apple and freshly baked bread.

L'Academie de Cuisine is in Bethesda, so I had a beautiful drive up through the Palisades neighborhood. Man, those houses are gorgeous. I bet their kitchens are huge and sun-filled.

From the outside L'Acadmie looks like a corner bistro with a yellow-trimmed, many-paned bay window. Since I attended the demonstration class, we were set up in a room on the first floor, which was decorated in what I think of as a French countryside palette of soft blues, yellows, and greens, not unlike my mother's kitchen. (Sadly, like myself, my mother has felt the frustration of being constrained by the limited confines of a tiny kitchen). The three-hour class breezed by while our instructor Chef Nichole Ferrigno taught us how to candy oranges, make a flawless caramel sauce and peppered us with helpful hints about baking and entertaining. Most of the prep work and measuring had been done ahead of time by the lovely three assistants, who would have looked more at home at a church bake sale rather than in a teaching kitchen. Frankly, their feathery, white-gray hair and plump grandmotherly appearances were at odds with everything I associate with grandmothers and cooking. Instead of being culinary and cultural experts, waiting to impart generations or knowhow and can-do in the kitchen, these ladies seemed a little uneasy finishing up for our chef as she demonstrated the first few servings of any one dish. I realize my preconceived notions may be unfair and a tall order to make of all grandmothers, but it is what it is. (My grandmothers both hated to cook. Go figure).

The menu was: Mini Cheesecakes with Raspberry Sauce, Apple Spice Cakes with Maple Glaze and Candied Walnuts, Chocolate Brioche Pudding with Warm Orange Marmalade, and Warm Banana-Chocolate Wontons with Caramel Sauce.

The spice cake, I must say, was far superior to my recipe, which is a) not really mine, and b) a total disaster. I'm looking forward to making it on my own.

The cheesecake truffles weren't really doing it for me. Plain cheesecake really has to be something special to get my interested. I must prefer flavored cheesecakes, like key lime, ginger or chocolate. However, I did go to the famous Junior's once in high school. I don't know whether it was having cheesecake with my bacon and eggs that did it, but I seem to remember that experience being pretty kick-ass.

The Brioche pudding - oh my - was so delicious. I have never met a bread pudding I didn't like. It was a little denser than what I usually make, but I invariably substitute croissants for whatever bread is listed in recipes I try. And I have never made a chocolate one before.

The real winner of the day was the Banana-Chocolate Wontons, which were deep fried, covered in a cinnamon-sugar mix, dipped in caramel sauce and embarrassingly elicited a mumbled, but audible, sigh of deliciousness from me. I didn't realize that you could purchase wonton wrappers in packages that look not unlike Kraft Singles cheese slices. This recipe couldn't be easier. Slice up some bananas, bust up some chocolate, stuff it into a little crab-rangoon-looking purse and deep fry for a couple of minutes. (Fry Fest III menu addition?) I think I actually felt the back of my knees tingle on these ones, folks. Whew.

All in all, it was a great class. I'm sure I will benefit from all the little tips and hints the chef added along the way. I think I'll try a few more demonstrations before I go all-in and commit myself to an evening of potential kitchen catastrophe in front of a room full of strangers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

NYTimes: Brooklyn's New Culinary Movement

Check it out: Culinary Community

I thought this article was so cool. I wonder if DC has a neighborhood like this. I love seeing people my age getting excited about food, but also about food culture. Personally, I don't really know how to cook; I know how to read recipes. If you dropped me back in time about a hundred years, I would be completely useless. I love that people are getting out, learning about where food comes from, how it is made and sharing it with other people in their communities. I'm a firm believer that food always brings people together. Maybe I should quit my job, master some culinary genre and open up a speciality shop. Meats and cheeses perhaps?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Manchego, Krispy Kreme and New Orleans

I've been playing with the idea of starting a food blog, since - let's be honest here - until baseball starts, food is the only recreational activity that truly interests me. Plus, I try new restaurants, recipes and techniques all the time, so I'll be detailing all of my successes and failures.

But first, a review of my weekend exploits. Ah, New Orleans, what a fabulous gastronomical experience you are. I had a grand time. I worry that I am becoming an old lady, because Becca and I barely "went out." We ATE OUT quite a bit, but we didn't do the whole drinking-until-dawn routine of our youth. Honestly, I think both of us were ok with that. We had some very good heart-to-hearts. Despite the fact that both of us still have no idea what to do about our differing little dramas, we ended our trip feeling satisfied in our heads, hearts and tummies.

Friday night we went to a place called Mimi's in the Marigny. Mimi's is right by Becca's apartment and was recently voted best bar by the Gambit Weekly, although my friend Andy says he's not quite sold. We chose a sampling from the Hot Tapas Menu , the pinnacle of which was the Mushroom Manchego Toast. This little square of cheesy goodness was piled high with shaved mushrooms, a soft, melty layer of salty manchego and just-solid-enough piece of toast. Manchego was one of our cheeses of choice in high school, so it was fitting that it still has the power to bring Becca and me together.

The next day we went to the home of the famous Purple Truck, Boucherie. The small plates, alone, are well worth a return visit. I have to admit, that Boucherie may have been my favorite meal of the weekend. We went in for lunch and enjoyed a couple bottles of Abita Amber, which was surprisingly good, considering I have only ever had their very sweet Purple Haze. We started off with the Collard Greens and Grit Fries as well as a plate of the French Fries with Garlic Butter & Parmesan Reggiano. So good. I have to say I preferred Becca's BBQ Shrimp Po'boy to my Pulled Pork Cake, which was a little ridiculously constructed as a leaning-tower-of-pork. But the real gem at this place (which I will be attempting soon) was a Krispy Kreme bread pudding. It doesn't take much to get me excited about a bread pudding, but the super sweet hint of donut glaze in every other bite was transporting. There is something about glazed donuts that makes me feel so carefree.

While I had intended to try the fried alligator appetizer at Cochon, Becca insisted that I try the Fried Rabbit Livers. I don't think I've ever had liver, regardless of who it belongs to, but this was very good. It had a funny consistency that felt kind of like goat cheese, which weirded me out when I realized it wasn't. But I powered through and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

In other food related news, I found what is rumored to be a very fun cooking school that offers recreational classes. They do demonstration and participation classes for pretty much everything under the sun. I am going to a demonstration class (read: cheaper) this weekend on "dessert tapas" where we'll be trying bite-size delectables. I am very excited. One of my co-workers says he has bought their classes as gifts for his wife and that they are: "fun, social and involve food, " which pretty much meets my essential requirements for any kind of event. Apparently, I am going to an authentic Scottish bar this weekend as well. Mini raspberry cheesecakes to lamb haggis. Stay tuned.