26 February 2016

Washington D.C. Hearts Public Transportation

After a 28 year hiatus, I have weirdly found myself travelling to our nation's capital twice in the past six months. To be fair, that 8th grade class trip really wiped me out. The Smithsonian is so big.

I barely knew anything about the place before, except that Washington D.C. is filled with trinkets and expensive monuments meant to make me proud to be an American (and something about terrible public schools and mayors who do drugs), but I'll tell you what I have really come to appreciate: the public transportation system. The WMATA seriously kills it, and clearly other proud Americans think so, too. That's why you can easily find this handy guide to staying at hotels near train stations (and you can fast forward to the map to compare to your hotels.com searches if you're saving up those free room points). In fact, you can easily visit all the patriotic stuff (I joke, it really is some breathtaking stuff) on the Metro, tour many of the area's colleges (which is how I was able to string together a whole recital tour without ever renting a car), and plan your meals based on Metro stops.

If you are planning a trip to D.C., I implore you to take advantage of all of the amazing public transportation available to you. It's convenient, easy, and driving in that town is totally stressful if you're not familiar with the crazy street system. In my off hours during my last visit, I jumped on and off trains and tried to cram in as much national culture as I could.

Triple B Fresh, a Korean deli in DuPont Circle

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, L'Enfant Plaza

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Foggy Bottom Station

Clyde's of Gallery Place

Nando's Peri-Peri in Chinatown

23 February 2016

Mediterranean Chick Peas and Shells

What's better than a pasta dish that comes together quickly when you're cold and hungry? This one highlights roasted cauliflower and kale, two of my favorite vegetables in the world to turn brown and crispy in the oven.  The spice mix I am referring to as za'atar is by no means traditional, but it does contain sumac and sesame seeds, and it was inspired by za'atar.  Call it whatever you want; it's great on popcorn, vegetables, chicken, or fish.  You can keep extra mix in a small jar on the table when you're feelin' fancy. 

(PS: find dried sumac here.)

Mediterranean Chick Peas and Shells

Serves 4

8 oz. small or medium pasta shells
2 cups cauliflower florets and stems, broken into very small pieces
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup chopped kale
5-6 very thin lemon slices, cut into half-moons
¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives or marinated artichokes
15 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 medium tomato, chopped into small pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste
Za’atar: 1 teaspoon sumac, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon sesame seeds,  1/8 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients for the za'atar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and return to pot.

Heat the oven to 375⁰F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Spread the lemon slices on the sheet, then scatter the cauliflower on top in a single layer (no overlapping). Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and cumin, and roast in the oven until cauliflower begins to brown a bit, about 20 minutes. 

Remove from oven, add the kale, stir it around a bit with the cauliflower, and return to the oven to roast another 10 minutes or so, until kale has some dry, crisp spots on it.

To the cooked, drained pasta, add the olives, chick peas, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and half of the za’atar seasoning. Stir to combine and keep warm. When the vegetables are sufficiently roasted, stir those in as well, and serve in individual bowls or plates. Sprinkle more za’atar on top, or let everyone season their own. 

19 February 2016

No, you are not a vegetarian if you eat seafood.

You are a pescetarian if you eat seafood. It's a real thing, but you don't get to berate your waitress for getting confused on whether or not you will eat a bacon garnish when she has already brought you two other dishes with fish as the base. And you know, pescetarianism is alright.  The BBC thinks it's a good idea, and CNN even reports it might be better for keeping cancer at bay than strict vegetarianism (though really, all these diet assumptions turn out to be wrong in the end). Just don't be a jerk and eat endangered fish (this super-handy seafood recommendation guide should be bookmarked on your phone!), and don't go around calling yourself a vegetarian when you clearly are not, because that's very annoying.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you will notice that I like seafood quite a bit, so after you've checked out your local seafood market, maybe give some of these featured DFT recipes a try:

Broiled Salmon: Honey-Soy, Sriracha, and Herbed Mustard

Quick Fish Tacos & Grilled Shrimp Tacos

Easy Homemade Fish & Chips

Steamed Fish with Better-Than-Tartar Sauce

Thai Curried Fish in Banana Leaves with Coconut Rice

Peruvian Fish in Sour Onion Sauce

Blackened Broiled Tilapia

16 February 2016

Farro with Vinegar-Glazed Sweet Potato and Apples

Ever since I got back from Italy a few summers ago, I have been a big fan of farro salads. But this could easily be done with some other grain--barley would be the most similar, but quinoa or cooked bulgar would also be quite pleasant, and even a chewy, short-grain brown rice would work.  Substitute butternut squash for the sweet potato if you prefer, omit or swap the dried fruit, and use whatever nut you like. This makes a great lunch or dinner, and if you prep everything the night before (including making the grains ahead of time), you can pop the roasting pan in the oven as soon as you get home from work and relax with a nice bottle of wine while you wait. 

Farro with Vinegar-Glazed Sweet Potato and Apples

Serves 6

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt
4 cups water
2 cups farro
3/4 pound sweet potato (1 large), scrubbed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup dried cherries, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes and drained
1 cup roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
Shaved pecorino cheese, for serving

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the fennel, onion, garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the water and farro and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the farro is tender and the stock is absorbed, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the sweet potato with the remaining 3 table­spoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the sherry vinegar and roast for about 15 minutes, until just starting to soften. Add the apples and toss to coat. Roast for about 20 minutes longer, until the sweet potato and apples are tender but not falling apart. Let cool slightly. 

In a large bowl, toss the farro mixture with the dried cherries, cashews, parsley and the roasted sweet potato and apples. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to plates, top with shaved pecorino cheese and serve.

12 February 2016

It's my Valentine's Day and I'll drink if I want to.

I'm not going to write you a special blog post about how you can honor the very real holiday called Valentine's Day by eating and drinking red-colored things while peering at your lover around a huge, throbbing vase of red roses.  I think Valentine's Day is stupid, roses are expensive and die quickly in vases, and food is food, either good or bad, but it is not romantic or non-romantic. However, I will reminisce about some of my favorite indulgent cocktails that you may or may not find appropriate for this weekend. And if you are single, as I was for many Valentine's Days in my life, I hope you enjoy it however the hell you want, and do not feel bad about not being part of some nauseating couple who tortures everyone else with their existence.

Redhead in Bed

Enough for a small group
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons citrus vodka
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup chilled Riesling

In a bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries release their juices, about 10 minutes.

In a blender, combine half each of the strawberries and their juices, the vodka, and lime juice with 1 cup of ice and puree. Pour into a pitcher. Repeat with the remaining strawberries and juices, vodka, and lime juice and 1 more cup of ice.

Fill 10 collins glasses halfway with ice. Pour the cocktail into the glasses, top each with about 1/2 tablespoon of Riesling and serve.

Bee's Knees

Makes 1 drink

1 tablespoon honey
2 ounces gin
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 lemon twist, for garnish

Combine the honey, gin, and citrus juices in a cocktail shaker. Before adding the ice, stir well to incorporate the thick honey with the other liquids. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds.

Strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with a lemon twist, and think about how stupid everyone is.

Ginger Salty Dog

Makes 2 drinks

1 grapefruit, freshly squeezed, rind reserved
Coarse salt, to rim the glass
3 ounces vodka
1 1/2 ounces ginger simple syrup

Run the grapefruit rind along the rim of the glasses, then dip the rim of each glass into a saucer filled with salt.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the vodka, grapefruit juice, ginger simple syrup, and ice. Shake until cold, then strain into two ice-filled glasses.

09 February 2016

Baked Oatmeal Squares

A wee bit healthier than chocolate chip cookies, but dessert-y enough to round out a properly indulgent coffee break, Swedish-style (If you don't already know and love the Swedish tradition known as fika, read about it.  It will make you want to move there.), these baked oatmeal squares can be justified anytime of day.  And they're pretty easy to make.

Baked Oatmeal Squares

1 1/2 cups old fashioned (not instant) rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried fruit or chocolate chips
1/4 cup seeds (i.e., sunflower, pumpkin, flax, sesame)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry. Stir to combine.
Pour into a 9×9 baking dish either coated in cooking spray or lined with parchment. Bake for 40 minutes. Cut into squares. Eat with strong coffee in the middle of the day. 

The variation pictured below includes pecans, chocolate chips, a combination of millet, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds, and a little coconut. 

05 February 2016

I tried Mark Bittman's Paella Master Recipe. It was OK.

Bittman's paella from NYT

I referenced Mark Bittman's latest cookbook, Kitchen Matrix, less than a month ago in this blog, and I still say it's a great book. It is written as a set of master recipes and basic techniques with ingredient options to cater to your tastes.  I have long admired Bittman's pedagogical approach to food writing, whether it's in the New York Times, his classic handbooks, How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, or delivered charmingly on his various PBS shows. He is practical, flexible, and incredibly clear in his directions, and his recipes always turn out as promised (for me). So when I saw that Matrix contained a paella recipe, I jumped on it.  I remembered having it on various occasions during sea-faring vacations and loving it, but I have always been too intimidated to try to make it at home.  Partially because I live in a very landlocked place, and partly because I (therefore) have no experience cooking a good many of the creepy-crawlies that go into the dish, I never thought I should try it, until I saw Bittman's inviting instructions taking up no more than a page. So I got a packet of mixed frozen seafood and got to work.  

If you don't have access to Kitchen Matrix, you can also read his Paella Master Recipe on the New York Times site here. Basically, as he explains it, paella is rice and things, but what truly makes it paella is the lack of stirring, so that a crunchy, browned layer forms at the bottom of the pan. I followed his recipe, with this exception: instead of saffron, I used about half a packet of Goya sazon to season the rice.  I stand by that decision, as I really like the flavor, and it's way cheap, while saffron is far to precious for my taste. I also used water instead of stock, with a splash of red wine.

My flavoring agents were as follows: that mixed seafood packet, which contained mussels, shrimp, squid, and clams; a drained can of tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives, half a zucchini, and some frozen peas; a chopped vegetarian sausage (why, you ask, when I'm already eating seafood? CANCER, that's why!), and of course the bell pepper and onion.  I also threw in  two minced cloves of garlic, because it's garlic.

As for the crunchy bottom, mine got a little closer to the black side of the spectrum, after having to add more water a couple of times until the rice was tender enough.  I probably should have lowered the heat more, and sooner; the rest of it I blame on the higher elevation (approx. 4700 feet above sea level), which can make cooking rice a little tricky. But again, a lower temp would have done the trick, so that one's on me. 

The result was...OK.  The shrimp were very rubbery and overcooked, but the rest of the seafood was a good consistency.  Everything else worked the way it should have.  It was a bit bland, and I found that generous squeezes of fresh lemon and hot sauce (Tapatio has a great chili flavor) helped, but I think that the nature of paella is actually to be quite bland.  So, in my cobwebbed memories of this dish, I think it was an accurate rendering, but I also discovered that, once the novelty wears off, it's kind of a boring meal. If you think you would like a very mild, tomatoey rice dish with bits of seafood and vegetables in it, this is a very user-friendly recipe to try.  If you want something truly exotic and/or brightly flavored, I would recommend Bittman's take on Asian dishes in the book, which are much more interesting and equally accessible to the home cook. 

My paella from Greeley, CO

02 February 2016

Italian Drunken Noodles

This fast and easy recipe is slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and pepper, earthy and boozy from the wine, and oily from the...well, oil.  What more could you want on a dark winter's night?

Italian Drunken Noodles

Serves 4

1 lb. pasta (stick or shape, whatever you like)
1 cup broccoli florets
Olive oil
2 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed (I used veggie sausage by Field Roast)
4 oz. white mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 small onion, quartered and sliced thinly
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 orange bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ cup dry red wine
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Bring a large, well-salted pot of water to boil.  Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions, adding the broccoli in the last 4-5 minutes to cook until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, place a large, heavy-bottom pan or over medium-low heat; add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion and bell pepper and allow it to caramelize and become golden for roughly 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to medium, add the mushrooms, and crumble the sausage into the pan in small chunks, allowing it to brown in the oil for a few moments on each side; once the crumbled sausage is browned, add the salt, dried herbs, and cracked black pepper, and stir to combine. Next, add in the garlic, and once it becomes aromatic, add in the wine and allow it to reduce for a 3-4 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes with their juice and stir to combine; allow it to gently simmer for about 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors, then turn the heat off; to finish the sauce, drizzle in another 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil to create a silky, rich. Stir in the cooked pasta and coat thoroughly with the sauce.  Garnish individual plates with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.