Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sugar Snap Peas and Scallions with Pappardelle

Add Bacon...

What a Springy dish, springing into summer...mmmmm!

Meghan found this recipe from Food Network Magazine and what a SNAP (pun completely intended)

This was such an easy fix as I was ravished by hunger after the gym. I was honestly thinking of getting take out, but the peas were going to go bad had I not fixed this then and there. Honestly this dish took 20 minutes.

Easy Easy steps here....Dice up your veggies, cook bacon, get your pasta water heating...cook veggies till tender, cook pasta Au Dente (translating "To The Tooth" in Italian), add bacon, and grate fresh Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano. Viola..enjoy.

By easy mistake Meghan bought a fresh Ricotta instead of the Ricotta Salata. Thusly I used a Peppato Romano instead. Just like a Pecorino Romano...except the Peppato has Black Peppercorns giving it an extra peppery taste.

Now you ask me, "What is Ricotta Salata?" Well, the word "Ricotta" actually means "Re-Cooked" referring to the process of making the cheese. Traditionally a Sheep's Milk is cooked and then separated out (curds and whey type stuff). The big difference of "Salata" vs traditional hand dipped Ricotta is that the product is immediately dried and pressed together and not aged. So you get a nice salty and milky taste/texture to your dish. Thusly pairing well with your pasta.

What a happy happy dish, healthy as well. I paired it with a great little white I found at a local winery in my home town. Nonetheless a crisp Sauv Blanc or velvety Viognier will work as well.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato and Basil Soup

Alas I forgot to include this recipe from our "Golden Girls" outing. Honestly, this is the best Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup I have ever eaten. There are a couple of hidden secrets that make this recipe better.

1) Use Heirloom Tomatoes instead of the standard fare available at the grocery store.

2) ADD BACON....more or less 6 pieces.

3) We use our Dutch Oven to crisp the bacon, then we deglaze the bottom of the pan to get the extra yum yums into the party. Then you can add the rest of the ingredients.

4) Use a little Balsalmic Vinegar and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.

5) The best...use an Immersion Blender to mix it all together. I love using these because it's like bringing a power tool to the kitchen. Oh yeah baby...the blender is nicknamed the "Boat Motor" by a lot of chefs b/c in large industrial setting, it actually looks like a boat motor. Also, please use some heavy cream, it adds a texture that makes this dish.

6) For an extra flare for your guests, place empty bowls on plates at their setting. Place a few roasted cherry tomatoes and pieces of crisp bacon in the empty bowl. When plating, pour the guests the soup on top of the goodies they discovered in their bowl. The bitter/acid taste of the cherry tomatoes and crisp bacon pair well with the rich velvet texture of the soup.

I suggest pairing a smokey Malbec with this dish. They are highly underrated and FINALLY gaining steam amongst wine lists here in the states.

Bon Appetit

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Golden Girls

The Golden Girls came back. Yep, they tasted the "Koolaid" and came running for another bruncheon. Last May, I blogged about a catering Meghan, Mary Ellen, and I did for her Grandmother and her closest friends. This year, Mary Ellen decided for a repeat.

What a treat, and honestly this brunch was better paired and a cinch to wife and mother-in-law did most of the cooking...I did a lot of smiling, greeting, and busing of tables. Nonetheless, another success and a really nice time to watch these old birds reminisce over the old times and talk about the new ones.

Ahem...yes, the menu:

For starters, we HAD to have cocktails...let's not talk about these ladies trying to drive home...hear no evil, see no evil...speaketh none!

Mary Ellen's White Cranberry and Peach Cosmopolitans

This is made in true Mary Ellen fashion..dash of this, splash of this, add the ingredients to your taste, no measuring involved!

Ocean Spray Low Sugar White Cranberry Peach Juice
Citrus Vodka
Fresh Lemon Juice
Add either Lemon Peel or Orange peel for Garnish

For Finger food she made "Steamed Asparagus with a Lemon Dipping Sauce" as well as "Pickled Shrimp"

...Main course....

Bacon Potato Torte with a Mixed Green Salad and Dijon Balsamic Dressing

The Vinaigrette...

1 Clove of Garlic halved
3 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Splash of Soy Sauce
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1) Take the halved garlic and rub your empty glass (preferably wooden) bowl with it.

2) Add Vinegar, Mustard, dash of Soy Sauce and whisk vigorously.

3) Drizzle in the Olive Oil with one hand, vigorously whisking with the other, thusly combining and emulsifying the ingredients. You really want to see a nice velvet texture. You will know you have too much olive oil when it will no longer combine the two elements together.

4) Add Salt and Pepper to taste.

Raspberry Tart

From Cucina Italiana....

Try as I might the recipe isn't available is the way we did it:

Use a pre-fab Pie Tart easy (can make your own tart crust if you like, we were lazy).
1 Jar Raspberry Preserves
1 Pint Fresh Raspberries
1 Lemon
1 Tablespoon of Turbinado Sugar

1) Bake the Pie Tart crust in the oven with pie weights for about 10-12 minutes on 350, take the weights off, and cook till golden brown

2) Let the crust rest until cool

3) Spread fresh preserves on the crust

4) Fill the tart completely with fresh raspberries

5) Grate fresh lemon zest on top and sprinkle with Turbinado Sugar (raw sugar)

6) Serve

Friday, May 14, 2010



Ladies and Gentlemen, we now have a new champion in Pupusas. Down round ole' Chincopin Round Road, off to the left, in the strip mall of shops....lies Martitha's Salvadorian/Mexican Restaurant.

Holy Cow! Does this place have 30 some items of goodness. Meg and I tried the Pollo al la Plancha (Grilled Chicken Breast), Beef Tacos, and wait for it...yes..."Pupusas".

Traditionally Pupusas are thick hand made corn tortilla/cakes filled with a nice soft cheese and pork. We saw them being hand done as street food in Belize for the first time and fell in love. The condiments are salsa, green salsa, and cabbage. The best is that the condiments are served seperately in little baggies (Spare no expenses). These were the most succulent, moist, and savory pupusas we have ever had. The cheese was kinda of melted/fried hard on the griddle..cooked just right.

And you know it's the right spot to go for a few reasons:

1) The girl at the liquor store who married a Guatemalan goes there and swears by it...first clue.

2) I was the only white guy there

3) A Soccer game was on the t.v.

4) Plain out it just tasted good

Seriously guys, go out and do it...find an authentic hole in the wall restaurant and enjoy a food not of your own origin.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Talking to Washingtonians they all say, "Where the hell is Buckeystown?" Hell, talk to a lot of people and the reply is the same. And I would never know save one helluva find by my mother-in-law(who knows everyone I swear), and late father-in-law Mike.

The chef Chris Smallwood is the son of Chip Smallwood, my late father-in-law's grilling buddy. Chip and Mike ran a cool operation of catering bar-b-que as well as breakfasts called "Guys on the Grill". Long story short, when we were looking for a caterer for our wedding Mary Ellen said, "Why don't you go with Chip's son Chris...he caters all the time...he makes wonderful home made ice creams...the food is divine".

So, we went out and met Chris at a little wedding he was catering. Food was simple yet elegant...he was hired, our wedding was perfect, end of story. Or was it? Bout a year ago word on the street got out that Chris was investing in a new venture, opening a restaurant at an old Inn called "Alexander's", located in Buckeystown, Maryland.

"Where the hell is that?" I said. "Near Mike's brother's place for the annual corn roast." said my wife. "Aha, middle of nowhere..." And yes, you blink, you have driven through the thriving metropolis of Buckeystown. However, if you keep your eyes open you will actually see a huge mansion with about three signs reading out, "Alexander's".

It's actually quite stately, unique, cozy, and well...comfy. As you walk onto the veranda you can imagine yourself sipping iced tea, or maybe a mint julep. There you are, rocking on the porch, watching the weather pass, wondering where each car is going as they drive by, talkin' bout' nothin'.

You walk in, such a non assuming place for an old mansion. The staff, welcoming and simple. The tables, antiquey with white linen. There are no pretenses. Thank god for that too, because much of the beltway arena is nothing but a soulless and shallow succubus of material. I don't care what car you drive, who you know or what you do. I do care about who you are. And that's what sticks about this place from the start. People are who they are...there's some meat on them bones at Alexander's. The service may not be fancy and elegant, but it's genuine and real.

The chef, he's pretty gifted as he is a "One Man Band". No sous chef, no prep, no guy at the fry station...and definately no pastry chef. The guy is all alone back there, sweating it out, putting soul onto plates.

Before opening, Chris and Chip journeyed to the south in search of the best pulled pig, fried chicken, home made pie, a la best damn southern food to emulate in that talent laden mind of his. My wife said, "There's no way I'd like to share a room with them at night after eating all that comfort food"...she's got a point. Roughage...line two...need some help here...

Our epic pilgrimmage and party of 5 diners gave us 2 entrees, 3 appetizers, 1 extra side, and 5 desserts. Christ, in hindsight that's a lot of food. Aha, to the food...


Crispy Pork Boudin Balls with Tomato-Grain Mustard Dipping

Who the hell can beat hand rolled and deep fried sausage balls cooked perfectly?

Fried Green Tomatoes with Pickled Shrimp and Red Onion

A finely sliced green tomato...perfectly paired with the pickled shrimp.

Slow Smoked Brisket and Pimento Cheese served on a
Buttermilk Biscuit Sliders

His Pimento Cheese is the real deal, the biscuits are great...the Brisket and the tomato based sauce pairs with the savory cheese like nothing I have ever eaten.

Southern Fried Chicken

What can you say about half a chicken fried to a succulent perfection...moist, crispy skin...I'm having a seizure...or maybe orgasm...I think I need a cigarette, or a nap...

Low Country Shrimp in sherry cream sauce with Benton’s
Bacon and Roasted Peppers on Creamy Stone Ground Grits

Been to Charleston...Where the hell is Charleston and who the hell cares after eating these grits?


Chocolate Cake with a Marshmallow Creme Frosting

Yellow Cake with a Vanilla Bean Frosting

Yellow Cake with a Marmalade Jam, and Vanilla Bean Frosting

To be honest, the cakes were a bit dry...good ideas however. Chris himself admitted he was working on getting the moisture "just right". The Marshmallow frosting reminded me of a "Moonpie"...paging R.C. Cola? Anyone got any? Seriously, when you remind a southern boy of Moonpies and R.C. Colas you're doing something right.

Chocolate Coffee Ice Cream

Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream

His Ice Creams are the creme de la pun intended, some of the best I've tasted. Fresh frozen strawberries in the vanilla ice cream....and a terrific strong coffee bean ground in the chocolate.

Let us never forget...the most perfect side available...Potatoes Au Gratin...heaven in many many a bite!

Bottom line, Chris Smallwood is just waiting to be discovered. And he's doing it the right way. He's done his research, he is perfecting his dishes, and you will not be disappointed at this little hideaway.

You Want Fries With That?

Done correctly fries are amazing...done wrongly they are quite like an old man's wiener...limp, soggy, and no zip. Vis a vis..."The Good Stuff Eatery"...horrible fries. And like all good food we all have our favorite places to nosh on those delightful strings of starchy goodness.

Do I have an all time favorite? I can't really answer that completely because fries can often be compared to sex. Some are amazing, some are okay, and some are plain not good...but it's still a fry. Like getting something at discount or for free, you're still getting to enjoy a fried potato...whether good or bad. Kind of like sex...bad or good, it's still sex (This can also be applied to pizza).

As a relation to my favorite fries lately, they have to be the ones Meg cooks. And the recipe once again comes from that hippie nutritionist Ellie Krieger from Food Network. The one with that cute pixie haircut trying to convince us that we can eat vegetables and like them..."It's all about portion control" she says. Okay okay, I kind of agree with her. And despite her whole "yippee" (that's yuppie/hippie) persona that she oozes...she ain't half bad.

And these are baked...what the hell? Am I becoming soft? Is this blog even credible any longer?

As you'll see in the recipe, the secret is in that wonderful garlic I so astutely presented in my "Greens and Garlic" blog. If you feel good add some white or black truffle oil and Parmesan cheese on at the end (hand grated reggiano of course). Remember, they are baked, so you can add the extras. I promise you, you will enjoy them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Greens...and Garlic?

Growing up in the south I never ate greens. I think it was because of the whole pork phobia we had. Usually, anything associated with greens, was associated with pork.

In my limited knowledge, me thinks all of the fatback/bacon/pork shanks/ham hocks...PIG, was used to counterbalance the natural bitterness of most greens. Having had greens a few times after the religious pork ban was lifted, I never fell in love with them.

They were too bitter, and too wilted (dadgummit if people didn't try to cook the bitterness out of them by overcooking them), floating in some sort of yellow/greenish/brown juices...blechhh...not worth my chewing time and effort especially when many other yummies existed on the platter (fried chicken, bar-b-que, etc).

Then I met Alton Brown and his most recent book "Good Eats, The Early Years". He has a dynamite recipe for greens. Honestly, I have never had greens so good. The trick...garlic, and well...not overcooking them. To paraphrase the chemistry behind the magic...

Garlic contains the compound "Alliin" and enzyme "Allinase". They are seperated via cellular layers within the garlic. When you slice into garlic, the compound and enzyme combine giving you a pungent aroma of the new compound Allicin. Thusly, if you crush the cells together in a garlic press, you have a more pungent smell and taste because you broke and combined more cellular layers. If you roughly chop the garlic and penetrate less layers, less smell...less "Garlickey" taste. If you roast the garlic whole...a nutty/sweet aroma/flavor. For this recipe, we'll stop and settle that we want more "Garlickeyness". So, finely mince your garlic, or use a garlic press if you have one.

What is genius about this recipe is that the garlic counterbalances the bitterness of the greens...thusly making them more buttery and more palatable, also giving the ability to not have to cook them to "death" in order to render out the bitter taste. We also add bacon. Why? Bacon makes everything better.

The recipe is listed below. Sorry I didn't photograph our greens...they disappeared before the camera came out. We used this recipe once with Swiss Chard and once with Collard Greens. The result = good. And if you ever watched the movie "Jerry McGuire", the famous line "You had me at hello, you had me at hello"...was originally "You had me at bacon...and garlic" of course.

All Hail the Slow Cooker!

Take the following recipe, and cook all day in your slow cooker...

My parents gave us a slow cooker for Christmas back in 2009. A great gift I do say, as you can really be productive all day doing other things. As long as you wake your busted ass up in the morning to put the dish du jour in the pot and turn it pretty much makes it self. And when you find yourself too tired at the end of the day to think of a meal to take the lid off the pot, dig the dish out and plate saying, "Dinner is served!" Seriously, as non chic as a Crock-Pot may seem, it's a worth-while invention.

As a child, I only knew slow cookers for chicken, roasts, and the general chili or baked beans...quite pedestrian I thought. However, leaning on the principle that cooking things slow and low means keeping the succulent juices in and not out, you can do oh so much more.

Vis a vis...ribs. Seriously, these ribs are damned fantastic. If you want to get fancy you can grill them afterwards in order to caramelize the sugars. Best of luck however because these oinkers are falling off the'll get lucky to get them to your mouth before letting them fall all over your tablecloth. Add some baked beans ( we cheat with the "Grillin Beans" from out the can), and some greens. Mmmm pork you cunning little beast, I love your ribs.

If you are into pairing wine or beer, try a nice Belgian Trappist ale (the sweet compliments the heat) or a smokey Syrah or Malbec.

The Perfect Burger...

Whoever grills the heck out of their burgers, pushes them down with the spatula, and waits till they are charred with grill marks...STOP IT! For the love of everything holy please please please just stop!

Laurent Tourondel, owner of BLT burger and BLT steak (arguably one of the best burgers in DC) is a master at burger making. Joining a heap of other chefs, he advocates cooking the burger on the flat top grill. Say goodbye flame broiled whopper...say hello to pan seared burgers...with butter no doubt! Did meat ask to be cooked on a grill where it can watch it's own life drip away into a firey pit? No! It only makes sense it likes to bathe in it's own merry juices as it sears away on a happy hot top.

The other night, we used a cast iron skillet placed on our grill top. Mmmmmm....add bacon...and we like to make a Chipotle Mayo (take two Chipotle peppers, add some salt, olive oil, mayo...blend together...yum). Cook the burgers to rare/medium rare (only 80/20 meat will do unless you find Kobe). Please don't forget cheddar (we have lately been using smoked cheddar), cause cheddar makes everything better! Biggest disappointment for us lately is seeing all of these beef cheek burgers done perfectly with bacon, and then the chef throws on that processed American Cheese..yecchhhh (Note to you Chef Tourondel and Joey Campenero)!

A must is finding a good bun...we really like's soft and soaks up the flavor of the beef. Worst thing...dry bread or really crunchy/crusty bread.

The resultant difference of the burger on a flat top is certainly palpable from those dried out grilled burgers of yore...remember those picnic burgers where usually the man or dad wears some kind of clever apron saying, "Dad knows grilling" and proceeds to kill everything that is already dead? The worst thing about guys on the grill are guys who have no idea what they are doing on the grill. Generally there is much bravado and beer involved and not a lot of time spent on the product...well, unless you count the time they overdid everything they cooked.

You wanna know something Mr. Grill Man? You can't undo overcooked meat! And stop it with all the bacteria scares. Please leave some moisture in your meat...hence the point of searing a burger and letting it baste in its own gloried juices. There are ways to cook meat to a perfect doneness without killing it...oh...don't get me started...

Oh Mr. Jacobs...Cardiology line one! Can I get some fries with that?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

To follow up on our farewell trip to "The Mexican Cafe", it was the perfect goodbye, hence, the perfect break up. Service, food, and drinks...all that and more of what we forever remembered. However, we couldn't leave it alone.

Remember those epic nights out, when you didn't plan for anything to happen and the night fell together in legendary proportion? You can't try to re-create it, no matter how hard you chase it the next just wont work.

And like the tumultuous tumbles of the 70 year old who had too many Margaritas, we tried to say goodbye just one last time. We wanted one last haunt with those candy-like Margaritas. And just like telling yourself, "I'm just gonna sleep with her one more time, and then we're through"...we attempted another jaunt. Except in this instance, she said, "Guess what poppy, I'm pregnant"...or better yet, "Hey, that burning you're gonna get...sorry, you'll need to see a doctor for that".

It's the re-awakening, the revelation...epiphany if you will, of taking back your ex, and realizing they were a horrible person and the only thing that was good was your first date. Suddenly, the nostalgia of the cafe came to a screeching halt....from the moment we arrived, the ugly just kept coming. Our hostess claimed a new seating policy...thusly the friends we wanted to hop tables from a 2 to 4 top, got squashed. The waiter...whizzed by us, acted like he was deaf, and when he brought the half pour Margaritas he said, "That's the standard here"...abruptly leaving us in disbelief.

Instead of acting gracious we were for our last jaunt, everyone acted smug..."who cares they projected...we are leaving this dump anyway, we don't need you, pay your bill and leave". Dead and gone we were...sitting there, jaws dropped, knowing the relationship was dead...itching to get the bill and split.

After swigging down that last bit of memento, our friends (whom we happened to meet there on coincidence) turned to us and said, "You ever been to the Ebb Tide"? I said, "The "Duck and Dive" next door? Won't we get stabbed, shot, or corn holed there?"

"No way," they said. "The burgers are awesome, the wine pours, top of the glass, and the mixed drinks...splash of soda".

Through our Margarita goggles we peered at the cinder block facade and thought, "What the hell...couldn't be that bad". We were right...we had struck gold baby! A down home crusty place with not too many folks. Food = Burgers...awesome! made hand cut fries? Yum! Fish and Chips...actually not bad. The summary...Cold beer, surly patrons, fried bar type eat em' up food and a great bartender who busted her ass to keep our glasses and bellies notch.

Interestingly enough, we found our waiter from "The Mexican Cafe"...he was at "The Ebb Tide" all along...doing who knows what...but he kept coming and out, in and out...seems like he too knew the old cafe was on it's last gasp.

The most perfect thing about the "Tide" other than the non-pretentious nature and good signs!

Hey folks, all mother-in-laws have a free place to park!

Hello new "Cheers", good riddance "Mexican Cafe". And just like getting a new girlfriend and learning the old one sucked and your life is now quite remember the good old times, and look forward to the better ones.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Oooooh You Dirty Dirty Poutine!

Since watching my food idol Anthony Bourdain take down some Poutine in Quebec, I have longed for this stuff. My longing was placed on the back burner and fired back up when I watched Al Roker and his cronies chowing down on some Poutine over in Vancouver, B.C. (During the Winter Olympics). And at last, after a long ass night at work, little sleep, and a big hike, I finally got my wish.

You're reading and saying, what the hell is this Poutine? Well, apparently the stuff originated in Quebec..just outside of Montreal. And in "American", I can say, basically it's like cheese fries...but with a few subtle differences.

Poutine = Fries, Cheese Curds, and a Sauce (generally a veloute...Chicken or Veal stock based sauce). There are many derivations on this theme and of course there are the Poutine traditionalists insisting only "Real Poutine" can only be served in Quebec. However, I had my first Poutine experience in Columbia, Maryland at "The Victoria Gastropub".

All I can say is "Damn, that shit was good". I don't have an honest picture of the actual experience for you...well, I do, but it's damned horrible. My friend Melly Mel tried to take a picture of me eating a huge bite of the stuff on her iPhone, and I just looked washed out and terrible after working all night. Thusly I deleted the pic.

My Poutine?..Fries cooked in duck fat, Duck Confit, Gruyere Cheese, Veloute, and some scallions. I later topped it off with a Kobe Burger with Maple Bacon, Onions, and Swiss (Paging a Cardiologist...anyone?).

In America we have "Cheese Fries"...and they're damned good, but I have never had such a thing as a Veloute (it roughly translates to velvet in English, and it's one of the mother sauces of French cuisine) on top of fries. I beg of you, find some Poutine, or find a wont be sorry. I do highly suggest trying the cheese curds as they are the traditionalist cheese with the dish. If you haven't had cheese curds they are briney, and chewy, and I imagine will match well with the sauce and fries.

If you are longing for cheese curds, or have never had them, go up to Wisconsin...they are ubiquitous as Midwestern accents up there...seriously, nothing better than a game of bean bag at a bar (many of you know it as the game "Corn Hole"), drinking Leinenkugel beer, and eating basket upon basket of fried cheese curds. Oh you serve fried food in heaven? I promise if you do I'll still do yard work for my wife, and maintain an active healthy life...within reason of course.