Monday, August 27, 2007

What normal everyday thing do you most equate with sex?

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before?) I drove up to NYC with two of my guy friends. The topic during the entire four hour up and seven (yes SEVEN) hour drive back was sex. Favorites, dislikes, bests, toys, fantasies, lists etc etc etc. We promised that "what was said in the car stays in the car" so that every last detail could be explained. I'm only going to share one - i think - inconsequential tidbit. One of the questions was: "what normal everyday thing do you most equate with sex?" Two of us immediately said food (the third said sports, but he also "doesn't enjoy eating" so i think he has bigger issues).

It is becoming more clear why I put a lot of emphasis on the dinner date. My date's choices surrounding the initial dinner(s) is not a make or break situation but very telling. Choice of restaurant is obvious ... but choice of drink, main course, how he goes about discussing and ordering shared appetizers, discourse with the wait staff (huge) and another obvious, dealing with the check work just as well as any personality test.

I'm not positive how I got on this tangent because my initial point was to talk about two dates I've had recently where I cooked dinner. I guess the same general concepts apply.... behavior towards host/chef, gratitude.... tip ;-). I didn't realize it was possible to be utterly frustrated with the male race after one date and a giddy bliss-filled girl anxious to hear from the new (or in this case old) crush after the next. I doubt it had much to do with my choice of dishes because i think they were both pretty successful, but one has to wonder.

Date number 1 was last Wednesday with the same boy who scored top points for taking me to Indebleu the week before. I made Tarragon Chicken Fricassee over orzo and a simple salad. I took the recipe from (although I decreased the amount of heavy cream to about 2/3 cup) so I will simply link to it, but it is very easy and very yummy. He seemed to be relatively pleased with the dinner but I think he was more interested in pounding wine (and encouraging me to do the same) so as to more generously tip me. This did not go over so well and I probably will not be dining with him again.

Date number 2 did not actually begin as a date. My ex - the love of my life ex - came to town to visit and was lamenting how he never has time to cook anymore. One of our favorite things to do together way back when was to cook. We experimented and ruined perfectly good dishes and enjoyed every second of it. Separate for almost three years now, we have both continued cooking in our respective worlds and become much more versatile, adventurous and successful. So we decided to cook and Lamb Chops with a Mint Pesto sauce over angel hair pasta. As he is an almost-doctor (otherwise known as a medical student) and on-call our cooking party turned into me cooking for him and trying to get food on the table at about the time he arrived (10pm). I felt quite a bit like when we were living together and he was a first year med-student with even less time and me looking for work and therefore cooking ALL THE TIME. Ignoring the fact that the deja vu was unsettling and the fact that I've never even attempted to cook lamb before or the fact that i normally ruin any non-basil pesto .... i set to work. .... and had a perfect evening which could have taken place three years ago.

I kept it simple with the lamb chops and seasoned them (8 chops) with salt and pepper. I started them on a grill pan searing each side for a couple of minutes and then put the whole pan in the oven at about 400 for 10 minutes or a little less. I tried to use the instant read thermometer to make sure I was cooking them thoroughly but it was reading much less hot than it was supposed to be. The chops were threatening to be massively overcooked so i took them out despite the thermometer being 20 degrees lower than it should have been. They were perfect ... so don't trust the lil' gadgets. For the pesto I threw in about 2/3 of a cup of mint, 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, a small handful of pine nuts, two cloves of garlic (use one for a date....), parmesan cheese, lemon zest, salt and olive oil. I had to tweak it quite a bit to be happy with it and i still contend it was too salty. I opened a bottle of Cabernet Franc that i was saving from a Virginia winery called Pearmund Cellars to remind him of our old adventures in wine tasting. The bottle didn't quite compare to the french bottle he brought over, but i like to think it jogged some good .... great memories. The dinner was great, i was an impressive impromptu chef (yah) and we fell back into a perfectly comfortable "us" evening and maybe even rekindled what sadly fell apart three years ago.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Good with the Bad

I suppose I should report on the unfortunate experiments with cooking as well as my successes.... The other night I attempted to make a portobello, red pepper and squash pizza. The recipe that inspired this only called for portobello, red pepper, shredded mozzarella and parm but I had a lot of extra stuff in my fridge that needed to be used... so improvisation occurred.

I used whole foods pre-made pizza dough.... which is absolutely not better than Boboli. The packaging and recipes will tell you to lightly sprinkle olive oil on the dough ... i used a marinade brush and thought i was going light... but it was way too much once i also added the oily sautéed veggies.

I decided to add tomato slices as a base to the whole pizza which turned out to be a good idea. I removed the seeds to avoid making the dough too soggy however i should have also salted the tomatoes first and let them drain a little. Then i topped the tomatoes with the sautéed veggie mix... the squash actually being a great addition to the initial recipe. I also used one red chili pepper and one red bell pepper. This didn't seem to affect the taste at all unfortunately. i was hoping for a bit more of a kick or at least that nice fresh taste the chilies give.

For the veggies i used way too much olive oil to sauté and then
was probably a bit overzealous in adding the toppings to the pizza itself. The mozzarella and parmesan melted well and through some of the veggies which was a nice surprise. I think if i ever make anything similar again i will also add in a stronger cheese like fontina as well. This pizza also... naturally... needs more garlic, basil and oregano as well.

I am off to cook dinner for my third date with the new prospect.... the same one who took me to Indebleu. It better be a yummy dinner i guess!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Great Date Spot - Indebleu

Being single, it turns out, has some great advantages. The quality of restaurant that a date will take you to is far superior to the restaurants a long-term boyfriend will spring for on a random Thursday (or even on say ... a random four year anniversary).

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of dining at Indebleu. The French-Indian fusion restaurant lived up to its distinguished reputation. I expected the decor to be a lot more mysterious but the main dining area was par for the course with safe artwork and mellow tones. I think there are some more intimate tables in the back area but i didn't see those. The upstairs bar was really beautiful. There is a bench seat right next to the big window that looks out onto the Chinatown/Verizon Center area. Its a nice little people watching perch. No idea what wine i had but the house sauv blanc at the bar was yummy.

Then onto dinner.... Indebleu extended their restaurant week menu for the entire month (check to make sure). The entire menu is available, although if you were choosing the RW prices you could only order small plates under $11 and entrees under $26. These limitations didn't affect my ideal choices too much luckily ... although on my next visit i would like to try the scallops and the tuna & salmon.

We shared two small plates - the Wild Mushroom Dosa and the Curried Mussels. Dosa is a lentil crepe essentially. The mix of mushrooms was satisfying but i was left wishing it was a tiny bit more rich or exotic. The mussels were fantastic. Very spicy, especially if you dipped the meat into the broth, with a sweet aioli sauce draped beautifully over the shells. I find that mussels are a great date food. They provide a little humor since nobody can ever seem to eat them without flinging something across the table but they aren't too messy or tough to talk between bites. Anyways, they are a nice choice.

For the entrees Mr. Date choose the Pork Loin. This isn't my favorite meal ... even more so because he ordered it medium (big mistake... order it medium rare or rare! Medium was way too chewy). The pineapple slaw that accompanied the meat was incredibly interesting. Almost like a palette cleansing sorbet but not desert.

I choose the Yellow Fin Tuna and am still ecstatic about my choice. The tuna was seared and sliced to about a half inch thickness and presented on top of a roasted corn and avocado salad. I hated finishing this dish and made the runner come back two times before I would relinquish my plate. I would suggest this to anyone who enjoys seared tuna and/or light summer corn salads. Together they are paradise and a wonderful beginning to a great date. If food can be likened to sex, this dish was incredible foreplay.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Brasserie Beck

Restaurant week for me has never been that exciting. I have either had a job where there was no humanly possible way i could sneak out for an hour and a half or a boyfriend who thought the concept was ridiculous. Normally i will do one dinner with the boy of that year and be mildly satisfied.

This year, my whole office got really into it. We spend a good deal of time talking about food in here ... trading recipes and planning group dinners and the such. One of the girls even has a spreadsheet ... So this year we got a tip four months ago about the Restaurant Week dates for August. We work in the political world so August is paradise. We must have
each made 6 reservations for various lunch/dinner combinations.

In reality as a group we just went to one lunch together at Brassiere Beck. We made the reservation four months ago before the RW list was actually posted and nobody checked if Beck was actually on the list... so to our surprise upon arrival, they are not participating. We are told by our waitress that "none of Robert Weidmaier's restaurants participate in discount restaurant week affairs." No wonder its not packed with interns! Our waitress continued to be sooty throughout the meal ... prompting us to ask her to explain just about every dish on the menu ;-). I should say that the rest of the staff were delightful.

We stayed of course and everyone left perfectly satisfied, impressed and full. I choose the Duck Congolese Almondine, Paul had the Potato Leek Soup and the Avocado, Shrimp, Hearts of Palm and Maria Rose Sauce salad, Roshan had the Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Confit of Cabbage and Mustard Sauce and Kellyn choose the Roasted Rabbit in Kriek Beer.

I had the Duck Congolese Almondine cooked medium rare and it was perfection. It was displayed on a bed of Israeli couscous with a sweet almond cranberry type sauce that was definitely not overwhelming. I loved the mix of crunchy almond slivers and the couscous with a little of the tender duck on top. Very rarely in my life have I wanted to lick a plate clean ... but the waiter literally had to wait for me to sup up the last bits of sauce with my bread (which was also fantastic.. it was light and flavorful and served very hot).

I sampled the other dishes... the pork tenderloin can only be described as melts in your mouth wonderful. This was my first experience with Rabbit so I can't compare this particular presentation but it was very tender and flavorful. I didn't love the salad but that was just because I didn't love the sauce... it had a bit too much mayo for my pallet but the presentation was beautiful ... like ceviche.

It was lunch during a work week so we did not sample the beer (a monumental mistake), but the list was overwhelmingly impressive and i would like to wander back for a happy hour at the bar to sample a few along with a few small plates.

Brassiere Beck
1101 K Street, NW
WDC 20005
202-408-1717 or for reservations.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Light Mexican Feast

During the summer I crave Mexican beer. Pacifico, Dos Equis, even Corona if i must. Mexican beer is so incredibly refreshing in a way that only Coors Light can beat, but also surprisingly flavorful in a way that Coors light absolutely is not.

However, Mexican food during the hot hot summer weeks is not appealing. Melted cheese and heavy beans and over-marinated meat is a major turnoff when DC is this humid.

This week i came up with a light Mexican meal that was ridiculously easy and quick to throw together. i got home from work at 6:30, did a quick shopping trip (2 blocks to whole foods) and had the full meal on the table for 5 people by 8:30pm. And we had cold refreshing Pacifico!

Here is the menu:
Black Bean Soup with Avocado Salsa - Serve in bright colored bowls
Spicy Corn Salad
Chicken in a Creamy Tomatillo Sauce - i served both the corn salad and the chicken on a white plate arranged with lime slices and cilantro for garnish.

The Recipes... Most of these are adapted from Food and

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Salsa
* 6 cups drained and rinsed canned black beans (three 19-ounce cans)
* 3 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
* 2 tablespoons cooking oil
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1/2 cup dry sherry
* fresh-ground black pepper
* 2 avocados cut into 1/2-inch dice
* 1/4 cup chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley ... cilantro is better in my opinion
* 6 radishes, halved and sliced thin ... or use red bell peppers or red chili peppers, seeded
* 2 tablespoons lime juice

1. Combine 3 cups of the beans and 1 cup of chicken broth in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat, add the sherry, and boil until reduced to approximately 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the bean puree, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, and the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and 3 cups of beans. Boil soup until it has reduced to a consistency that you like. I prefer a relatively thick soup so i let it boil down for at least 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the avocados, cilantro, radishes, lime juice, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Mix gently. Spoon the soup into bowls and top with the salsa.

Chipotle-Corn Salad

• 5 ears of corn (a bag of frozen whole corn)
• 1/2 medium Vidalia or Walla Walla onion, thickly sliced crosswise
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• a bit less than 1/4 cup sour cream
• 2-4 tablespoons fresh lime juice depending on tastes
• 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, seeded and finely chopped
• 1 scallion, thinly sliced
• Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the corn and onion slices with the olive oil and grill over moderately high heat until charred in spots but still slightly crisp, about 7 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut the kernels from the cobs and coarsely chop the onion. If using frozen corn cook them in a separate pan from the corn.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream with the lime juice, chopped chipotle chilies and sliced scallion and stir in the charred corn and onions. Season the corn salad with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Chicken in a Creamy Tomatillo Sauce

Tomatillo is one of my favorite things to cook with. It seems unusual until you taste it and realize you've been eating it at Mexican restaurants for years. I love that its light and sooo versatile.
* 3/4 pound fresh tomatillos--husked, rinsed and quartered
* 1/2 cup beer, such as a pale lager
* 2 medium canned chipotle chilies, stemmed and seeded - keep seeds if you want it to have a kick.
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
* Four 6-inch corn tortillas
* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pounds)
* Freshly ground pepper
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1/4 cup heavy cream - i didn't try this but i bet you could substitute sour cream
* 1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°. In a food processor, puree the tomatillos with the beer, chipotles, garlic, vinegar, sugar, oregano, 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon of salt.
2. Heat a medium skillet. Brush both sides of the tortillas with vegetable oil and cook over moderate heat, 1 at a time, turning once, until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
4. Melt the butter in the large skillet. Add the tomatillo sauce and heavy cream and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Lay a tortilla on each plate. Slice the chicken breasts and arrange on the tortillas. Sprinkle with the mozzarella, spoon the sauce on top and serve.