Sunday, December 20, 2009

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

I haven't cooked in two months. I mean, I have reheated some things, but I haven't made something in months. I just got a new job, and have found myself professionally inspired for the first time in years. Which has somehow dramatically reduced my need to be personally inspired. Since my primary creative outlet all these years has been food- well, there has been alot of pizza and sushi recently.

Of course thats the reflective artist explanation. The other, more common reasoning (and the one I think most people resort to, but I kinda think is bullshit) is that I haven't had time. Working a ton to get ready for a China visit, and then traveling, leaves little space for shopping and cooking. Why is this bullshit? Because I have made cookies at 2am when I have been busier. Its no different that people who (quite mind-blowingly from my perspective) claim working out helps them burn off stress, get a grip on life, etc., and looking judgingly at the rest of us who prefer root-canals to long runs through the park in Dec.

I think I, like many people, have a bad tendency to claim that I don't have time to do things, when what I really mean is that I don't have enough passion to do them. Now I don't think this means I should suck it up and do them anyway. I just think it means that we as a society are pretty crappy at knowing how busy we really are, and, even more dangerous, knowing how we really feel about the things we undertake.

Well, I am currently waiting out the snow, hoping to get back to DC. Once there, I sure hope the passion comes back. Till then.......

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hooray Poor Impulse Control- Dark Chocolate Thin Mint Cheesecake

You know something's good when you are checking to see if it's done every five minutes just so you can lick the knife. Especially when there is a consuming craving it's answering.

Yea, I crave. Its a big part of the reason I am good at whatever it is I am good at. I am usually not the most emotional person in the world (or so say legions of my ex-boyfriends), but I can derive a tremendous amount of passion from craving. Much of the skill I have in life is traceable directly to a lack of patience and some sort of slightly demented superman complex. The thought process is something like: 'I can't stand waiting, and why should I have to, I can do this better and quicker myself. I want x now, badly.'

This has unsurprisingly led me down a road littered with a variety of potentially poor/hazardous/certifiable decisions. The funny thing is, despite every public service announcement and self-help book out there telling me that this will get me nowhere, that I just need to work hard and love myself and keep slugging, somehow it is the violent, passionate, often irrational acts of an impatient soul craving something (sex, money, Kröllebölle, experience, Sushi, love, a trip to Indonesia, to name a few) that have led to the best experiences of my life. A big part of that is enjoyment of even the failures, and appreciation of the idea that the more colossal and passionate the failure, the more interesting it makes me. Who knows. Maybe I am just a lazy spoiled girl who has been cut a few breaks. Who cares. I am happy!

Today, after the return of my boyfriend from a few weeks abroad answered one craving, my mind was clear and poised for another. The boyfriend was trying to describe some delicious chocolate dessert he had in Copenhagen last week, and was at a loss for the name. Like any good children of the internet, we immediately began google image searching 'chocolate dessert'. Well, for a hungry girl looking for a craving, this ended predictably. Three pages of delicious looking things later, I 'needed' chocolate cheesecake. Not the fancy, delicate, complicated gourmet kind, but a giant, sour, huge slice of real New-York Cheesecake.

A brief search of my own records reminded me that I didn't have a 'go-to' recipe. I had some that were good, but nothing that was really 'it'. Years of living in Asia and being served fruit-ganache-cream covered glorified egg tarts masquerading as cheesecake left me with fairly low standards, and I had previous just settled for anything happily not durian flavored. Determined to do better this time, I went hunting.

I found this Emeril recipe on food network (yea, I know, I hate the celebrity chef thing too, but if there is anything that a dude who cooks for the psydo-pretentious masses might get right, cheesecake could be it). It provided a good amount of guidance as to proportions, but I wanted something a little more. Mint. Most recipes out there that add mint to the mix do so through creme-de-menthe; however, the alcohol changes the texture and rising of the cheesecake. I am not a fan. I don't even use vanilla extract in cheesecake for the same reason. I did, however, remember the second box of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies sitting in my freezer. Having had some fantastic success at making ice cream out of them, I thought, why not work up a whole line of deliciousness based off of these bestest cookies ever, and break up a bunch and use them like Oreos in the cheesecake? Easy!

I wanted to give the cheesecake itself a little hint of mint as well, however, and was at a loss for how to go about that. Until I saw a York Peppermint Pattie at the supermarket checkout. Perfect! Melted into the chocolate, the Peppermint Pattie was just the right hint of mint.

------Aside- they do give you a weird look when you checkout with only two pounds of cream cheese and a Peppermint Pattie. Like that's more strange that the dude with six boxes of Tampons and a bottle of cherries that was in front of me in line. Whatever. Maybe the checkout lady thought we were together. I shudder.

Cheesecakes are super easy, although they need to refrigerate a few hours before serving, so plan accordingly! Much of below is adopted from the original, with a few significant changes.

6 Graham Crackers
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter
2 1/2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean (scraped from inside of pod)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream
8 ounces melted semisweet chocolate, cooled slightly
1 full-size York Peppermint Pattie, melted into the chocolate
3 eggs
1 tube of Thin Mints (12 or so, to taste)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (if using a silver springform pan, or 325 degrees F if using a dark nonstick springform pan).

Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. In a food processer, combine the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and the butter until well mixed and shapable (sticks together). Press onto the bottom of springform pan and set aside. You can use chocolate graham crackers, or any other dry cookie here too.

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, remaining cup of sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and beat until light and creamy. Add the flour to the cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and peppermint pattie and sour cream and mix well. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition until just blended. Finally, hand-crush the thin mints, leaving some large pieces, and mix into the batter. Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour 15 min, until the center is almost set. You will likely need about an hour and a half, but stat checking at 1:15. Dry cheesecakes suck.

Run a sharp knife around the rim of the pan and allow cake to cool on a wire rack before removing rim of pan. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight before serving. Cheesecake may be made up to 2 days in advance before serving and will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.

Seriously, this is one of the best desserts I have ever made. Damn. There's the craving. Time for another piece. Why isn't running or learning Japanese craveable? Arugh.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh, I so WANTED to love you- A Review of Georgetown Bagelry

Wanting to love people, and wasting time and money and precious energy trying to make it happen has long been a weakness of mine. Something, somewhere, tells me I should love them, because they are kind or attractive or patient or any number of things that are, in reality, never enough on their own.

Although I have happily, after much heartbreak (not the least of which was my own), largely given up on that habit in my personal life, it nevertheless seems to have been pushed off to the little (well maybe not so little) part of my brain that is devoted to food.

Months of perky, chipper little tweets from Mary Beall Adler from Georgetown Bagelry have made me want to try the place for ages. After an unsuccessful attempt a few weeks ago (where I discovered, that it is NOT, in fact, in Georgetown, but rather Bethesda), I went traveling for a bit, and hadn't made another attempt.

Today, in an attempt to actually get some non-food writing done (which you can see I have succeeded wildly at), I finally made the drive up there. Anywhere outside the diamond or across the river is a big deal for me. I had a mini-meltdown when I discovered that my boyfriend lived one block over the dividing line, and in fact paid taxes in Maryland! Gasp! Nevertheless, I have, largely on account of his inspiration (he knows the cities he has lived in more comprehensively than most local police, and I admire his getting out of his own bubble), begun exploring the no-man's land that comprise the DC suburbs. He would take issue with me even calling Bethesda, or Alexandria for that matter, suburbs, but baby steps, right?. I have been recently on a rather unsuccessful attempt to be very productive in coffee shops all over town.

Georgetown Bagelry should have been a great place to love. The tweets are always full of deals, they offer great discounts on already super-reasonable prices, it was busy enough to seem alive without being loud or distracting, there was free wi-fi, and a booth to call my own. A wide variety of bagel options rounded out the deal. Nevertheless, I left feeling 'eh'. The bagels were good, the cream cheese good, but neither blew me away. I still prefer Bagels and Baguettes on the Hill. I wanted to love them, but well, I just couldn't feign enough passion. It didn't help that the first time I ordered, I received a sesame instead of onion with my scallion cream cheese. Still tasty, but not quite what I wanted. The ordering process was itself was pretty painful. The staff was distracted, and not overwhelmingly good with communication- they seemed to have a hard time understanding customers. The second time I ordered a blueberry with strawberry cream cheese, and somehow got a tub of strawberry cream cheese and a milk? When I pointed this out, the server just gave me back the price of the milk, without the extra tax, and seemed mostly annoyed.

That said, its cheap, well-designed, and tasty. I was everything a good bagel shop should be. But like all the 'everything a good boyfriend should be' men I have had to painfully give up over the years, for some reason, there just wasn't the spark I needed.


Give it a try. Who knows, maybe its the bagel shop YOU were meant to be with.

The Georgetown Bagelry on Urbanspoon

24, 24, 24- Suggestions for HaochiDC's dream meal...

Ok. So I am all about the contests lately.

I just came across a contest that would allow HaochiDC, and a fair few of my closest friends, a chance to construct our 'ideal meal'. I would submit a proposal, and if chosen, be given $250 to create and post about an ideal meal experience.

So I am turning to my readers, of course, for ideas! What would you like to see? For those of you around here, what would you like to attend? It can be something I make, somewhere we dine out together, or something we all contribute to....

Post ideas below, or email them to I will post the final proposal here....

Thanks team!

Details below:

24, 24, 24" is the most unique monthly food blogging event covering 24 meals on 24 blogs in 24 hours. From "Dinner in Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen," to "A Cheese Tango in Italy, to "Behind the Scenes, the Making of Artisan Gelato," "24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Posts" captures the spirit of real-time food publishing by real people. This month's Foodbuzz "24, 24, 24," brought to you by Visa Signature, will take place on Saturday, September 26th, so if you would like to participate, make sure we get your proposal by Monday, September 14th at 9AM PS

What would your Visa Signature dinner be? An old fashioned family dinner complete with your mom's famous meatballs? A seven-course tasting menu at your favorite restaurant in the city? Barbecued brisket picnic in the park with friends and family? Taking over your "best kept secret" sushi bar in the neighborhood for sushi, sashimi, and more sushi? A clambake on your favorite beach?

And what would your ultimate post coverage entail? A video segment bringing the world into your dining room? A photo collage capturing the best of the best food photos of the party? Quotes from your guests on the highlights of the night? Recipes to encourage us all to recreate the soiree on our own? An interview with the chef who created your sensational tasting menu?

How it works: Featured Publishers interested in participating can submit a proposal for a unique dinner they will create, capture, and share with the rest of the world. Foodbuzz will select 24 Visa Signature entries and provide the winners with a $250 stipend to help make the proposal happen. All 24 Visa Signature dinner events must be held on the same date, September 26th, 2009. Posts must be submitted to the Foodbuzz website by Sunday, September 27th, 2009. The "24, 24, 24," contest is solely sponsored by Foodbuzz.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Really, it was good! - Goat Cheese Chipotle Ice Cream with Chipotle-Infused Honey Drizzle and Fresh Basil

So I hate the word 'foodie'. I hate the entire culture of food pretension. When I first started this blog, the word 'foodie' was something like 'panties' to me. It seemed somehow pretentious and shallow, and maybe a little dirty. I really hated that it had anything to do with me. This was insecurity at its finest; I have more than once caught myself blathering on about how American food culture should change, and the superiority of eating fresh local foods to disinterested people just trying to get through their day (and hiding McDonalds under their seat). I can be a real ass sometimes. It's not that I don't believe in what I am preaching, I do. It's that I desperately don't want to become one of those Ann-Taylor-clad-preachy-DC-girls that wanders around telling all sorts of people who aren't interested how 'delectable the peaches from the Penn Quarter farmers market were this week.' I try to take time out from my high-falutin' blogging to stress the things that I love that are less top-hat-monocle and more flannel-shirt-old-style. Thus my 'embarassing things I love' series. That said, I do own alot of Ann Taylor. I mean, I am a 20-something professional in DC. There was definitely a note of defensiveness in my aversion to 'foodies.'

All of that aside, I never miss a chance for shameless self promotion. See my comment above about being an ass. When I came across 'foodie fights' a few months back, I thought it might be a fantastic opportunity for such unjustified self-aggrandizement. The site pits several food bloggers against one another to see who can come up with the best, most creative, most delicious-looking dish given two defined ingredients that change every week. I didn't particularly want to be 'queen' foodie for the week, but heck, I'll take the extra traffic, right?

Well, what began as a fairly typical cynical venture knocked me on my heels. These 'foodies'- they were, well, amazing. The recipes people posted were creative, unfussy, and nearly universally delicious looking. Try as I might to find a nugget of snobbishness or pretension in their posts, I came up dry. Once I realized that perhaps these 'foodies' had quite a bit to offer, I thought maybe I should wait a bit before I play. No one likes to be the 8th grader on the varsity court, what with all the wedgies and locker-room humiliation. So I held off for a few months to protect my still-un-towel-snapped ass, read the amazing posts and dishes that people created, and thought out a new approach to this foodie fight thing. Finally, last week I decided it was time to pull the trigger, and here I am, hat in hand, ready to play.

This week's ingredients? Chipotle and Goat Cheese.

My first instinct was the flatbread I normally do with goat cheese and rosemary. I made it, but this time used roasted red peppers in a chipotle marinade and put them on top with a chipotle goat cheese (with pieces of peppers in it!) from the Eastern Market cheese Nazi (who was out of my favorite honey-goat cheese). It was delicious, but really kind of a no-brainer. I kept it as my backup, but decided to go a bit more out there for the post. Disaster or not, I figured it would make a good post.

My mom bought me an ice cream maker a few years back, and I figured it was time to enlist it in some concoctions more devious than the melon sorbet it has been charged with most of the summer.

So the idea for Chipotle Goat Cheese Ice Cream was born.

1.5 cups milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of the cheese)

2 oz chipotle (or any peppery flavor will do, not too sour though) goat cheese. You can make your own by mincing up a few peppers and mixing them in to taste. I suggest about one pepper per two oz, no more or it will overwhelm the cheese.

Honey (I used chipotle-infused honey, which basically means I steeped the honey with chipotle peppers before using it)

Basil Leaves

(A note- I don't include process pictures for a very good reason. It's not that I think they are boring or unnecessary. It's that my process is ugly. I mean sugar-on-the-walls, using-an-old-baseball-helmet-as-a-bowl, feeding-cheese-rinds-to-my-dog, occasionally-throw-an-egg-cause-its-fun-to-throw-eggs ugly. If you are reading this, chances are your process is better than mine. Certainly prettier. Why would I go screwing that up with my pictures? Make it your own.

I started out with a very basic custard recipe:

1. Heat the milk and sugar over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
2. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl.
3. Slowly add the milk to the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until well-combined.
4. Put the mix back in the saucepan over medium-low heat.
5. Stirring constantly (a good rubber scraper works best to keep it from congealing on the sides of the pan), heat the mixture until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon opaquely.

This alone makes a great base for any ice cream.

Then you add the goat cheese

6. Put the goat cheese large bowl with a strainer or small-holed colander over it.
7. Pour the custard into the colander and let it drain onto the cheese.
8. Stir the cheese into the hot custard until melted and combined.

From here, its just a matter of making it cold!

9. Put the mixture into the fridge and allow to cool.
10. Once cold, add the mixture to your ice cream maker and follow instructions. I left mine in for about 20 minutes, and then put it in the freezer for four hours to harden.
11. Serve with a thick drizzle of the infused honey over the top (I love the way it hardens just slightly), and serve with basil leaves as garnish (tasty when dipped into the melty bit at the end!)

I NEVER expected this to be so good, but it was just delicious. Something like cheese cake, with just enough kick to it to be interesting. I had thought I might add some chipotle chocolate cookies as well, but once I tasted the ice cream, I realized that it would be too much. One of the hardest parts of cooking (and something I think pretentious food almost always messes up) is knowing when to stop, when the right amount has been achieved with a dish.

One of the real pleasures of having friends who love food, but are far from 'foodies' is presenting them with creative dishes they have not seen before, and that they would never normally choose. This was absolutely one of them. Talking normal people into trying interesting, fresh, different food is one of my true pleasures in life- for that, I love my oldstyle-drinkin-papa-johns-pizza-orderin-non-foodie-friends. But for the ideas, the inspiration, and my own education, I am DAMN glad there are some amazing foodies out there. I can't wait to see what they did with this!

Miracle in the garden: This Week's Garden Report, Summer 2009

The Honey Locust tree that was cut down and ground out last fall has been sending up new shoots. I ran the lawn mower over ‘em as soon as I spotted ‘em. Within a week it grew back again! This time I went chemical on it. I figured good blast of Round-up ought to do the trick. I cut the tree down in the first place because there was an image of the Virgin Mary in the bark. I didn’t want anybody seeing it, as before you know I would have every religious crackpot in the state is trying to build a shrine out in the back yard. A Lazarus Locust!? Now the question is, do I ignore the obvious divine intervention and take the lawn mower to it again if it does grow back? Or let it grow? Maybe I should consult a priest. I wonder if they do garden consults?

The hammerdog experiment has only been partially successful. It would be a huge help if he lifted his leg to pee, but he just does a semi-squat . However he does prefer to go along the edge of the garden and straddle a bush or plant. The real benefit comes from Stelladog, being the manly dog that she is, feels it necessary to remark her territory everywhere Hammerdog pees, so she pees right on top of it. So she is not making new brown spots out in the middle of the lawn. Experiment successful?

Most of the re-locations over the past month have been successful. The Russian Sage and Winter Creeper were roughed up pretty bad in their transplant, but now seem to be recovering nicely. The infiltration of Charlie from the south has come to a complete stop. A couple more Hostas were rounded up and pressed into service along the southern frontier. I need only about 5 more yards of Hostas to close the remaining gaps. The dig-n-dash at the bank parking lot has bee ruled out. If I ever make a run at a bank, it ain’t going to be for flowers.

The shed relocation project has begun. The Bleeding Heart was transplanted along the western border next to its offspring. What a plant that has been! It has cuttings planted in over 4 states, in just about every neighbors yard and God knows where else. The way that thing takes to splitting and transplanting is amazing. I should have sent some of the shoots off to China, introduce some invasive species as payback for the Ashborer Beetle, and Asian Longhorn Beetle. That’ll learn ‘em!

The fern migration to Wayne’s world began years ago, most of the early migrants got the choice spots. Unfortunately, like a bunch of autoworkers at a GM plant, some of those ferns refused to see the inevitable. A forced migration is now underway. About 40 ferns were dug up and put in temporary storage in Wayne World. That guy now has probably the best fern garden in town and doesn’t even know it.

Lots of excitement in the garden in anticipation of this weekends annual Pansy Pride Parade. Big crowds are expected. Most of the other plants are putting on their finest. You should see the Clematis. What a display they’re puttin’ on. Speaking off Clematis, the mutant Kudzu/clematis had to be physically restrained this week. It was becoming a serious hazard to the Azalea and was starting to climb the birdbath. I found a bunch of feathers back there and I’m getting suspicious. Either that plant has gone carnivore or the neighbor’s cat got lucky. I think the cat is too stupid and fat, so I’m getting kinda worried. I spent a whole hour tying the damn plant to it’s trellis and I think it’s slipping loose again as I write! I better go check while there’s still daylight, I won’t be able to sleep otherwise.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mas Tuna Rolls, Por Favor! - Sushi Hana in Portland

So I have mentioned my addiction before. Sushi. It started as just something I did socially, with friends, just so they wouldn't have to indulge alone. And then something flipped. I had some gooooood stuff. In LA. And now I think about it all the time. I need more each time, and I am spending money I don't have in its pursuit. I neglect my family (or at least my dog's evening walks) in order to go out and score, and when I am at rock bottom and really jonesing, I do things I am ashamed of. Like order it from Chinese restaurants. I ignore the rubbery-ness and awful-ness of certain sushi go-rounds and even mediocre tuna with red pepper flakes triggers a binge.

Vacation is no different. The month I spent in China for work was torture. I did Sushi in China once, even though years of living in Asia should have made me wiser. I can still hear the dialogue in my head.....'But it's the nicest place in Beijing, where the Japanese Ambassador eats. Surely this would be ok'. Rationalization. I knew better, but maybe the inklings of the addiction were coming through even then. 'I will only have a few pieces.' Bargaining. I should have seen it coming. How did it end? With me puking at the sight of the 4 cases of beer the Irish guys ahead of me in line were bringing on the trans-siberian train the next day, coming off the worst night of sick in my life.

Anyway, my two trips to Portland this summer offered no respite from the craving. Fortunately, I have a boyfriend who is not only indulgent, but also encouraging of my little problem. He likes his sushi too. He had been talking about a little place in Portland for ages that was supposedly great and cheap. Keep in mind, however, that as he hates most things about DC, everything in Portland was both 'cheap' and 'great' in comparison. Add to that the fact it was in a strip mall, suspiciously located next to a Petco, and I was wary. Still, not many crack addicts complain about the quality of their rocks, especially when they are far away from their home dealers, so I hardly resisted trying it.

When I first walked into Sushi Hana in Tigard, just south of Portland, I saw a basic sushi-go-round. It took a few seconds for the real magic of the place to become evident. Like any sushi-go-round, Sushi Hana uses little colored plates to show how much various items cost. Unlike basically any other sushi-go-round, however, the most expensive little plate is $3! Most are between $1.50 and $2.50. Add to that the Monday happy hour special during which all plates are $1.50, and you have one of the best deals ever.... basically all you can eat. And eat I did. Although no match for the boyfriend's 19 plates (which blew the mind of our tiny waitress), I did a respectable 10. For under $25.

All you can eat is great (my favorite for the DC area is Matsutake in Ballston), but a good deal alone wouldn't justify the longing that I currently am feeling for Sushi Hana.

No, what was most remarkable about Sushi Hana was the quality. The sushi was fresh, the rolls creative and well-constructed. Unlike too many buffets and sushi-go-rounds, the chefs were selective about what was put on the belt- they didn't put out things that would go off too fast, and had a remarkable sense of just how much of anything was desired at a given time. Of course if you wanted anything in particular, they were not only receptive to, but actively seeking out requests.

This brings me to the final reason Sushi Hana is almost enough alone to pull me back to Portland for keeps, and the title of the post. Throughout the meals, a chorus of 'Mas Nigiri' or 'Hand-roll por favor' accompanied the methodical activity of the sushi chefs behind the counter. Normally, hearing your sushi chef shout to the kitchen in anything but Japanese is a reason for concern. Of course, there are the one-off all-you-can eat situations for which, as my best friend puts it, 'quantity has a quality all its own'; even these places, however, usually hide their non-Japanese sushi chefs in the back (along with, thankfully, the prep area... not visible is basically equivalent to sanitary for this girl).

Sushi Hana chefs were amazing, however. They were clearly in love with their work, and every time I went there, they seemed genuinely happy to be alive and making sushi. And I went there three times. In one 10 day trip. Yea, I like the place. I can't imagine how it must feel to be a super talented sushi chef who happens to be from Guatamala, but I imagine its not great. Like an Alaskan surfer, or a Laotian tight-end. No one expects your talent, and it must be infuriating to constantly surprise people. These chefs, however, have found a home, and for that, I am grateful. Not as grateful as if they were my dealers back home, but happy nonetheless.

Of course, now that I have had the pure stuff, it will take me a bit to get used to the expensive home brew here in DC again, but, as my visit to Kyoto Sushi last night proved, I can't stay away long.

Oh, Sushi. Mercury poisoning tastes so good!

Sushi Hana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Cost of Food- from Macheesmo Blog

(Photo courtesy of eHow)

So I came across this the other day, and I thought it was incredibly interesting. I think when estimating the cost of things, people consistently neglect the value of their time. When looking at the economy of cooking, time plays a considerable role.

Of course the value that one assigns to different types of activity is also key- if you hate cooking so much that you now need to take time afterwards to do something to relax, well then you would have to add the cost of that time in. Conversely, if you love it enough that it is in and of itself relaxing, and you can scratch another relaxation activity, then you need to consider that benefit in the cost calculation.

I very much like how the poster laid out his assumptions clearly. Its also worth checking out the original post for all the great comments.

Anyway, from the Blog "Macheesmo (Cook Something)":

I was at a party last weekend talking to someone about Macheesmo and they mentioned that they probably wouldn’t read it because they don’t cook. Ignoring the point that I try to write for an audience that doesn’t cook frequently, I instead asked them why they don’t cook. They sited two of the most frequent reasons I hear for why people don’t cook: It’s too expensive and it takes too long.

I’ve talked about the time it takes to cook before, but I want to focus on the dollar bills for this post. If you’re an economist (I’m not) then you might argue that the time argument is really just a money argument. Depending on how valuable your time is, it may or may not be worth it to take the time to cook. Because really, time is money right? So I thought I would take a recent recipe I posted and go into the approximate economics of it to try to prove, more or less, that cooking really is a great way to save money.

The Argument Against Cooking. The basic argument goes something like this. There are a lot of costs involved with cooking. You have to buy the ingredients, you have to purchase the equipment, you have to spend the time to learn to cook, and only once you’ve done all that business can you actually cook the meal!

All of those steps either cost actual money or time-money.

So all of those are legitimate arguments and some of them are easier to put an actual dollar sign on than others, but I’m going to do my best in the below example. By the way, as an aside, yes I’m a complete geek and love doing stuff like this.

The Assumptions: For this little test to work out, I need to make a few assumptions:

* The test subject’s time is worth $20/hour. That’s an extremely respectable wage.
* The subject has a pan and a freezer already and some basic kitchen tools.
* The subject knows how to read.
* The subject likes burritos, because that’s what we’re making.

The Cost to Cook. These are my basic break downs on cooking costs for these burritos. The time costs are estimated, but the food costs are based on actual receipts. I had to do some interesting math for fractions and stuff, so I always rounded up when in question.

The Ingredients: (Keep in mind I shopped at Whole Foods. You could beat these prices.)

8 large tortillas - $4
1 pound Cheddar Cheese - $5
3 cans of beans - $3
2 avocados - $2 (these were on sale)
Sour cream - $.50
Rice - $.50
Peppers - $1.50
Onion - $.50
Hot sauce - $1 (I probably used half a bottle.)
Spices/salt/oil/etc. - $1 (estimated)
Equipment (aluminum foil, etc.): $1
Tax: $0 (no tax on any of these things in DC)

Total Ingredient costs: $20

The labor:

Learning: $10 (I can’t imagine that it would take someone half an hour to read my recipe and interpret it. Seems generous, but I’ll go with it.)
Shopping: $20
Cooking: $30 (This recipe took me about an hour and a half, start to finish. I’m pretty fast at chopping and stuff, but I was also taking photos and taking the occasional beer break, so that evens out.)
Reheating: $30 (10 minutes per burrito maybe.)

Total Labor Costs: $90

Total Burrito Costs: $110 or $13.75/burrito

That seems like a pretty expensive burrito!

The Cost to Eat Out. To get a decent comparison for this, I assumed that I would buy 8 veggie burritos from my local Chipotle. This will be a lot shorter.

8 Burritos: $49 ($6.14/burrito. I rounded down.)
Tax: $4.90

Total Burrito Costs: $53.90 or $6.74/burrito

Oh but we aren’t done….

Labor: I’m going to break this down per burrito so I don’t lose you.

Walking to Chipotle: $3.30 (I would guess it takes 10 minutes on average to walk to Chipotle.)
Ordering burrito: $1.70 (I assumed an incredibly efficient Chipotle which can make my burrito in about five minutes with waiting in line. In reality, this usually takes at least 10 minutes.)
Walking back from Chipotle: $3.30

Total Labor Costs: $66.40 or $8.30/burrito

Total Chipotle Costs: $120.30 or $15.04/burrito

Honestly, when I did this calculation I was a bit surprised with the result. I wasn’t expecting it to be that much of a difference.

The big thing that you might notice is that the labor costs for going out were higher than cooking. I think that sometimes this gets forgotten. Because people aren’t actively working when they go out, they forget that they are still spending time doing that activity. But if you’re doing a real analysis of costs, that lost time has to be factored in.

A few follow up comments that are worth mentioning:

Cheap meal! When I told my roommate Jeff about this post, his response was that I picked the cheapest meal possible. That may be true, but that doesn’t take away from the point. I used the example mainly because it was easy to find a place that made almost the same burrito that I made. But honestly, I would bet that if there was a restaurant that churned out something more expensive like Mango Chicken Simmer dishes, my version would still be cheaper.

Buy in Bulk! This is an interesting argument. If you were to go to Chipotle, buy 8 burritos, immediately take them home and freeze all of them, you would bring down your costs per burrito substantially. There would still be labor costs involved in this such as reheating etc. It might might the per burrito cost cheaper… But seriously. Who does that?

Hidden perks: What absolutely blows the Chipotle burritos away though is that the homemade burritos taste better! You can customize each one. You can take your time to ensure that the ingredients are evenly distributed and seasoned. Basically, you can make the perfect burrito for you!

A second hidden perk that I’m only mentioned as an aside because I can’t prove it, but I would suspect that my version is healthier than Chipotle’s version. If they aren’t, you could make yours healthier because you are making them.

So that is my analysis on the issue. I’m a huge geek.

At least now when someone gives that reason as an excuse, I can just give them a link to this post.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Savor: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience

Somewhere over DaNang, on SQ 837, it hit me. I need a beer. Badly. Three days of cross-pacific travel, followed by horrid food in a overpriced Chinese hotel, and a whole month of worrying about getting work done ahead of me adds up to one stressed girl. This is not surprising. What is surprising is the manifestation of the need for stress relief in the form of beer craving. This is new. In the past, stress drove regrettable binges of homemade cookie dough, financially ill-advised trips across the planet, and questionable romantic endeavors. Even a craving for a good whiskey or lots of bad gin and tonics. But never before beer.

Why the sudden prominence of beer in my consciousness? One word- Savor. Haochi DC was lucky enough to swing passes to this fabulous event, featuring craft beers paired with delicious food a few weeks back in a delicious worship of everything beer.

I was totally and utterly blown away. I mean, I liked beer ok, and had progressed beyond the natty-light-in-a-garbage-can-full-of-ice-at-the-party-of-that-dude-I-accidentally-made-out-with years ago, and liked a good stout, but I hadn't really given much thought to the nuances of good beer beyond, well, it being good.

I can even pinpoint the moment that all changed. Haochi DC was offered a seat in one of the sideline seminars during the event featuring beer and chocolate pairings. Best case scenario in my imagination was that this would be like a wine tasting, where things were good together, but my palate was sadly unsophisticated, and I would leave not really understanding why or having any hope of replicating the pairings myself. More likely, I figured this was just a lame attempt by the beer industry to move in on the wine market by making up their own lexicon of fancy-words. This fit right in with the trashy-is-hip, PBR-is-cool trendy demographic I feared would make up the main body of attendees. But hey, free beer? Im no snob, that was enough to get me to give it a try.

What I discovered with the first pairing felt like coming in from the darkness. After years of desperately trying to pretend I understood what the difference between 'oaky' and 'woodsy' was when tasting six different seemingly identical mediocre chardonnays, it was like a light bulb came on. Hoppy. Now there is a taste I can identify. When beer is said to have hints of chocolate, it has hints of fucking chocolate! I get it! It wasn't my tongue that had failed, it was the medium! After years of being a fraud at wine tastings, suddenly I actually got it. This was right up there in the revelation department with understanding fractions and decimals were the same thing, my parents were winging it more often than not, and that nothing about The Wall is really all that profound without heavy drugs and the mind of a 15 yr old (warning, those two are often related).

Not only did the beer bring out certain flavors in the chocolate, as one expects with a paired tasting, but the chocolate actually pulled things out of the beer that would have been otherwise overlooked. I have never had paired wines that so delightfully and comprehensively intermingled flavors with the food they were paired with. Its as though beer were made for chocolate, and all these years I totally missed it. Of course it helped that the beers in question were all from New Holland Brewery, my vote for the Best in Show at the event. Each beer was complex, interesting, and eminently drinkable. The brewer, Fred Bueltmann, was on hand and accessible to all my bumbling inquiries (thankfully forgiving of my newly-in-beer-love swooning and patient with my myriad of questions). Gail Ambrosius, a choclatier from Madison WI brought her A game as well, and the chocolates were exquisite. You can see all the pairings below, but my top pick?

Dragon's Milk, a rich ale brewed in old bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill, one of our favorite Bourbons, with one of the most unusual, yet natural chocolates I have ever tasted, Shitake. The combination was earthy and rich, almost like a cream sauce. Dragon's milk brought out the sweetness in the chocolate, and the Shitake balanced the creaminess of the beer. Interestingly, the Dragon's Milk would have been right at home paired with something richer as well, my vote would be the sea salt caramel, but would have been a totally different beer.

The other strong contender was the Black Tulip Trippel Ale and the ginger and Lemongrass chocolate. The Black Tulip cut the spiciness of the chocolate, resulting in a strong leading taste with a quick end of sweetness, rather than the lingering gingery-ness that would otherwise overwhelm the chocolate. The chocolate brought the fruitiness of the Ale forward. It was perfect, and meant for Thai food. Asian food sorely lacks dessert, but this would have made up for it 50 times over.

For now, I'm going to flag down a stewardess and bitterly drink my Tsing dao, dreaming of better brews and better days

A few other winners:

Available locally:

Steamworks 'Backside Stout'

Schmaltz Hebrew 'Original Pomegranate Ale'

Schlafly Reserve 'Oak-Aged Barleywine'

Magic Hat

Further Afield:

Rogue 'Nut-Brown'

Rock Art Brewery 'Vermonster'

Oskar Blues 'Old Chub' (in a can!)

Southernmost Pale Ale (from Key West)

Heinerbrau Maerzen

Coney Island "Sword Swallower"

General Guide to beer pairing:

For more info on all the beers and foods at the event, please check out the Savor homepage. or check out the info sheet below.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Old Friends Abusing Good Graces: This Week's Garden Report, Mid-June 2009

The Sedum Society meeting scheduled for this week has been canceled! No reason need be given!

The Arborvitae felt the wrath of the lawnmower today. Actually, they didn’t feel anything because they were already dead. The whole bunch of the filthy cowards apparently committed mass suicide. They were on the north side of the house away from the rest of the garden, even still, they had a way sweeter deal than the rest of the garden. They got plant-feeding spikes and had their own irrigation set up. Winter was too tough on them or some such tripe. Waa, Waa!!! Plants were a lot tougher when I was a kid. While I was walking thru 3 feet of snow in 100 degree heat to school, up hill, both ways, the plants back at home would be growing all by themselves. No codling needed. They didn’t need any stinking plant food. They would have spit in your eye if you so much as tried to put some mulch around ‘em. Those were the day when men were men and plants were plants and proud of it! It was satisfying to me to feel their ungrateful little stalks being ground into sawdust.

There has been a new source of strife in the garden this spring. The mutant Clematis refuses to climb it’s trellis and is draping itself all over the Azalea. This presents a big problem for all the plants involved in the shed removal project. The mutant Clematis has a special place in my heart, one of the first installations of mine almost 20 years ago. It has proved to be one of the toughest plants out there. I’ve always suspected it being half Kudzu. The Azalea, also a long time winner in the garden, is relatively defenseless from such an assault. I suspect the plants have been talking amongst themselves and are jockeying for the best positions when the relocations start. It will take some genuine diplomacy to sort this problem out.

Hammerdog has been brought in in an attempt to teach Stella to lift her leg when she pees. It’s worth a try.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Saving Squash.....and meditations on being, potato-edition

So I like Squash. I never did when I was a kid, in part because I only was ever treated to the ethnic-family-boil-it-till-its-gooey-enough-to-be-soup-cause-soup-is-how-we-had-enough-to-get-to-this-country-and-you-are-so-ungrateful variety. It was only thanks to an otherwise charmless Australian boyfriend who introduced me to pumpkin as something other than a goofy once-a-year decoration filled with tasty seeds that I came to see this entire vegetable type as potentially appetizing. Add to that a few Chinese meals during which squash was a God-send amid plate after plate of things that were staring back, still flopping, or resembled the un-potato pieces of Mr. Potato Head, and squash became ok in my book

<< Linguistic aside: are Mr. Potato head feet actually potato, since they are by definition part of him, or does attaching them cause them to undergo some sort of transubstantiation by which they become 'potato' or are they just feet? British courts recently ruled, wisely that 'A Pringle is “made from potato flour in the sense that one cannot say that it is not made from potato flour"'..perhaps this applies in the abstract to representations of potato?>>

Anyway, now that I am safely back in the land of bread and cheese, squash has slowly but surely lost its appeal. However, I am a regular recipient of it in my boxes from Washington's Green Grocer, and have as of late had a harder and harder time not just letting it turn into a research project in the veggie drawer that conveniently takes out the potatoes and lettuce, of which I am equally enamored.

Last box, however, Washington's Green Grocer Came through- they published a post on facebook with a little recipe (they, and their followers, have been doing this more and more, its really a great use of the social media space for them). I tried it out today, and it was perfect. Nothing revelatory in the ingredients, nothing shocking or unexpected, but just the perfect balance of flavors, which I often seem to get not quite right, as I am distracted by the main affair (dessert) or the secondary affair (the main) and throw together vegetables as an afterthought. With a little thoughtfulness, this becomes a nice main course. Now I am not going to go all vegan or anything any time soon, but this was pretty good!

One note, use fresh cheese, and big lumps of Buffalo Mozzarella- it makes all the difference....

From Washington's Green Grocer, who adapted it from: Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook (Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbk)

2-3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (if zucchini are large, cut in half or fourths lengthwise, then slice)
1 T olive oil
4-6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
pinch sea salt
2 T chopped flat parsley
2 T grated parmesan
1/4 cup grated mozzarella

With stove set to medium, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan with a lid. Add sliced garlic and saute about 1 minute, until you start to smell garlic. Add squash and stir to coat with oil, then cover and cook 4 minutes, stirring once or twice. After 4 minutes, check to see if there is a lot of liquid and whether squash is tender. Cook 1-2 more minutes, uncovered until zucchini is tender-crisp and liquid is evaporated.

Sprinkle squash with salt and chopped parsley and stir to wilt parsley. Add parmesan and stir until it melts, about 1 minute. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the squash, cover pan again and turn off the heat. Let sit 1-2 minutes until cheese is melted and serve hot.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Meditations on Trampling: This Week's Garden Report, Early June 2009

Significant progress has been achieved this week in the garden. Exiling the Gang of Four Burning Bushes was a stroke of genius, the treacherous bastards had more Creeping Charlie hiding out under them than I could have possibly imagined. A deal was struck with the new neighbors; they could have the bushes as long as they do not plant them close enough to each other that they could start a new conspiracy. Sod has been installed in that newly pacified corner of the yard. Hostas have been recruited to keep an eye on things along the fence. Peace reigns.

The Hostas repositioned along the southern frontier have taken to the task like a bunch of fat, drunken, middle age, Minutemen sitting along the Mexican border in lawn chairs. They seem to actually enjoy their new station in life. Their effectiveness is not yet up to their full potential yet because there are still gaps in the line. A recruiting campaign is in the works and walk-ons are welcome. Also my bank has the right kind of Hostas planted around their parking lot, a midnight dig-n-dash is being considered.

The Daylilies were trampled but not mowed to the ground. Lightnin never did learn how to work the lawnmower, he could never figure out how to hold down the dead man’s switch while he pulled the starter cord, so I’m not sure mowing them down after trampling is really what he would have wanted. I got to thinking about Lightning’s problem with daylilies. We never discussed why he took such joy in trampling them all the time. It’s funny how you can be so close to someone for so many years and never really know what’s going on in his head. We would sit around and talk for hours and never really say anything, down, sit, stay, speak, kill. The daylilies do make a neat crunchy-squishy feeling as you trample them. It might have just felt cool under his feet. Within a week the daylilies are coming back stronger than before. Maybe he knew some secret to growing daylilies that I didn’t. It's like those olive growers in Spain that go out and beat their olive trees with chains. It actually improves their growth.

A new bright spot in the future, Bill and Harriet are now to old and feeble to maintain their yard so they hired some landscapers to do it. The first thing they did was to douse it with weed and feed. That should slow down the infiltration of Charlie from that direction.

Next week the cowardly Arborvitae will be dealt with.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Miracle of Soft Eggs- Brunch at Creme

I can make complex meringues, reduce a delicate sauce, and cut a pie crust together until the exact moment when it is mixed and not a moment after. I can't paint, sing, pretend I care about things I don't, choose flattering makeup, run 10 miles, or any number of other talents that the young yuppie often has, but I can cook. I don't know how or why, but I get it. Which is why the seeming miracle of a poached egg is so perplexing to me. Every time I try this, I end up with some nasty form of flavorless egg drop soup, crunchy with egg shells that got away and littered with bits of egg that are more boiled to death than poached. I have some sort of neuro-block it would seem against paying attention to a cooking egg. I can't soft-boil either, for much the same reason. My inflated sense of self importance almost makes me believe that there is some sort of cosmic conspiracy that will insert something shiny into my field of vision within 3 minutes of touching an egg. And I do so ever love shiny things :-)

All of this is quite tragic given the delicious uses of half-cooked eggs. Soft cooked eggs are delicious in salads, with vegetables, and even as a meal themselves. Of course their most common incarnation amongst DC food lovers is as the critical component of Eggs Benedict. At summer brunches throughout DC, deals are cut, relationships blossom, marriages falter, houses hypothetically decorated, clothing evaluated, hippies scorned, and babies longed for. Brunch is where the young yuppie cuts their teeth on the DC restaurant scene. Is the food often second-rate to that of normal meals? You betcha. Does that make it any less appealing to linger for a long meal with friends with nothing else to do all day after sleeping off the previous night? Not a bit.

With an old friend in from out of town and a new one just arrived for her first big-kid DC job, brunch was calling. Thanks to the recommendations of DC Concierge, I chose Creme in U Street to inaugurate the season. I couldn't believe that despite a good friend living across the street, I had never noticed the place! It was tiny, and didn't take reservations for brunch, so our group of 6 had to wait about a half hour for a table, which isn't bad, especially since the same cosmic forces that interfere with my egg preparation seem to affect the ability of anyone I care about to be on time to anything, while driving my own paranoia about being late to such a degree that I am chronically 15 min early. All in all, this means that no matter what, there is a half-hour wait, so no problem.

I saw two things on the menu that intrigued- Chicken and Waffles, that Clydes favorite that is oh so good after a night of beer tasting (and facilitates the brunch attendance of any self-respecting dude who is not trying to sleep with you), and the Eggs Benedict with wild mushrooms. Our table had both. The Mushroom Bene, as the Eggs Benedict was called, was fabulous. The mushrooms were fresh and tasty, the Hollandaise rich and not too salty, and the poached egg in that perfect miraculous form that so eludes me, with a runny yolk and firm solid white that requires rapt attention by a chef who is swamped with a brunch crowd. So simple, but in may of the brunch factories of DC, the details are lost, and you get either a protein shake of raw eggs fit for a dude trying to 'get huge' or chewy hard-boiled eggs reminiscent of the less delicious parts of a polish deli. The chicken (white and dark) was proclaimed better than Clydes (bonus, since Clydes doesn't even offer white meat with their Chicken and Waffles- well, they do, but its sans the spices which make the chicken worth eating). The waffles were thick and fresh and the salad a little salty though better than your average garnish. I also had the bacon which was thicker than I like, but I imagine perfect for most people's preference. Roasted potatoes and an Eggs Benedict with crab rounded out our selections, and all was delicious. Portions were sizable without being ridiculous, and all were happy.

I also sprung for the expensive Hibiscus Mimosa. While too expensive at $12 for a flute, it was just delicious enough that I will probably continue to be annoyed at the price, but order it anyway.

The atmosphere was loud, but conversation wasn't too hard, as the tables were small and intimate. Hard to hear the servers, but tolerable. The interior is tidy and modern.

The best part? The prices were super affordable- $10-14 for most mains, with an option for a $16 unlimited mimosa (not the hibiscus kind however). This makes a $20 brunch a real option.

What do I take away from all of this? Poached eggs and mushrooms are inspired. And I now have a source of them for a reasonable price that will keep me from initiating any more egg disasters, and do wonders for my self-esteem :-) Yea Creme!

Creme on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 25, 2009

Resurrection! This Week's Garden Report, May 2009

Years ago, when I was living abroad, my dad sent me a weekly garden report detailing events back home in Chicago, to help me stay connected. They were hilarious. At my prompting, he has restarted this tradition, and I will be publishing them here. Look for archived posts soon!

This Weeks Garden Report.

The garden has been in a terrible state of neglect for well over a year now. I have always suspected that the garden was incapable of self-governance and I have been proven correct. The various factions are fighting amongst themselves while the weeds are multiplying from within and infiltrating from the perimeters. The situation demands a strong leader. Because of the chaos out there I have decided to once again come to the rescue. Memorial Day weekend will see the change of a lot of policies out there.
First off, in memory of the passing of my little fuzzy friend, Lightning, all Day Lilies will be trampled and mowed to the ground. He had a special love of trampling Day Lilies and I feel he would wholeheartedly approve of this action.
The lawn is in a terrible state, although a big part of the problem is a female dog. Male dogs at least have the manners to go pee in a corner, they don't feel the need to pee in the middle of the lawn and create dead spots. I know she does this on purpose, just to piss me off! Another problem with the lawn has been the execution of the Honey-locust tree. It left a huge scar on the lawn and the chips from the stump grinding seem to be everywhere. This action was taken because that overgrown primadonna could not take instruction and grow right. The uncooperative attitude of that stupid tree was endangering the house. I had a long talk with it but it still refused to cooperate, so now it is part of someone’s firewood pile. Harsh, maybe but an example had to be set! All that aside, a reseeding program has been initiated. With the help of some timely rain, obscene and probably illegal, amounts of chemicals, recovery is expected.
As always, Creeping Charlie is a problem. Charlie seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Although it has been eliminated from the lawn for the most part, it still creeps in from the perimeter. In an effort to control this problem, several radical measures are being taken. First, all Hostas are being shifted to the southern frontier. They will be planted along the fence line. This should help control that border once the present infiltration of Charlie is dealt with. It will also cut down on the amount of weedwacking, a huge side benefit since I’m too cheap to replace my broken weedwacker. Also along this border the Burning Bushes have been caught hiding the creeping Charlie, in retaliation the Burning Bushes will be sent into exile to the yard next door. They brought in on themselves!
On the northern frontier the two scraggly Pines are to be transplanted to the side of the house. Looking thru my neighbors windows no longer holds any fascination for me so I’m blotti’n ‘em out. On hold for now, but a possibility before the end of the year, is the elimination of the Forsythia bushes. No fault of their own, but the dog has taken a likin’ to digging under them. She gets all muddy, tracks it inside and somehow it is my fault. It’s a shame, they have been troopers since planted almost 20 years ago, but some sacrifices must be made.
Along the western frontier, good progress has been made in the civilizing of Wayne’s world (yard). My guerrilla gardening efforts are paying off. Ferns have replaced most of the weeds from his edge. That campaign should be over by the end of this growing season. The other edge of the western border is totally out of control. Charlie is doing a re-enactment of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I have a massive attack planned for this very afternoon, unless I find something better to do. Temporarily the Russian Sage and Winter Creeper have been replanted in hopes of slowing Charlie down.
The shed tear down project is going slow. There are too many tough decisions to make as to what to throw out and what to make room for in the garage. An additional complication is that some of my best performing and loyalist plants are around it. I refuse to sacrifice them. A relocation program must be initiated first.
Work to be done. I gotta get to it.
Forget it the Cubs game just started, I just found something better to do, oh well!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Embarassing Things I Ate that Sucked: Part 1

So sometimes I am lazy. Now that Mott's Mart, the local mini-mart, takes credit cards, I am doomed on these lazy days. Today, as I, the big fancy food blogger, checked out with an armload of ramen noodles and Diet Dr. Pepper, I won't lie, there was shame.

At the same time, I vowed to dig deep, and do what my dad did when I was growing up- turn Ramen delicious with all sorts of yummy stuff from the fridge. Upon opening the fridge, I discovered all that was in there was some squishy tomatoes with which I plan to make sauce this weekend, and some left over egg whites from the 4 egg yolks I used to make Thin Mint Ice Cream earlier this week. I figured, hey this will be good, I will make egg-drop noodle soup.

Well, suffice it to say, curdled egg yolks, slimy noodles, and enough MSG to kill all the rats in the kitchen of a giant-slice pizza shop at 1 am (look for a review of this in Embarassing Things I Love- Part 5) were not enough to convince anyone that I was a culinary genius. Or that its even safe to let me near the stove unsupervised.

Yuk. Well, at least I have a whole sleeve of Hit cookies to dull the pain.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thin Mint Ice Cream- Go Girl Scouts!

I hate being sold to. I walk out of stores as soon as someone asks if there is anything they can help me with, and I never ever ever ever buy anything from someone who is selling door to door. Or at work.

With one critical exception- Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. There is no substance on earth quite as divine. This year, when someone at work was selling (well, mentioning loudly in the hall he had girl scout cookies on offer, since we work in a gov't building that doesn't allow any charities but its own), I pounced. I had previously actually ordered Thin Mints on the internet and had them shipped to Singapore when I lived there. I expected to convert the population. Instead I spent four hours explaining the different between scouting and the Hitler Youth. The best I came up with was "well, I think they let Catholics in".

Anyway, I have three boxes in my freezer, and had been patiently waiting for the mint in my garden to get big enough to use my brand spanking new ice cream maker to make what I was sure would be the seminal dessert of our time.

I found a what looked like a great recipe for mint chocolate chip ice cream. I figured, shouldn't be a problem to replace the chips with the far more delicious Thin Mints. A whole tube of them. Maybe two tubes. Well, maybe 1 1/2 because someone ate 5 or 6 spoonfuls of the cookie crumbs on the way from the food processor to the ice cream maker.

I used half as much mint, as I didn't want to do in the poor little mint plant. Basically you seep the mint in the milk/cream (make mint milk tea in effect). Then make a custard with 4 egg yolks. Yep, 4. Good stuff, mix in the remaining cream, and throw it in the mixer.

Well, I was disappointed when I took it out of the machine to put it in the freezer to get nice and hard. It was too eggy- for some reason I never like frozen custards as much as I think I will, given the preponderance of ingredients I love (eggs, milk,, sugar). I am curious how different types of egg would taste- maybe free range organic would have a different character since they are not all corn fed and white-y. For more on why this would make a difference, and my the reason I am thinking of driving 4 hours to get eggs like the fancy chefs, check out: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Anyway, I didn't hold high hopes for the ice cream when I dug it out tonight after a long day running around and scooped it out of the 20yr old Ricotta tub that my mom has been using to send me pasta sauce for ages in. Last night's disappointing taste after 30 min of eager waiting for the ice cream machine got the ice cream relegated to a crummy container so it could think about what it had done. This strategy seems to have been effective, quite to the surprise of the shred of rational me left in matters of ice cream. A night in the freezer did the ice cream a world of good. Its as though the mint came into its own over night, the cookies softened just enough to make pretty marbling, and the eggy taste dissipated into the freezer vent (or the ice cube tray, yuk). The flavor was a delicate spearmint, with rich dark chocolate cookie undertones. It scooped like a Baskin-Robbin's ad (did you know that they actually use mashed potatoes for ice cream pics, or so says a food stylist friend of mine).

It was awesome!! And so pretty. I now want to make it last to show it off, but the likelihood of that is about nil. Guess I will just have to convince myself all that slow churning the machine did burned off the calories!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Serious Sushi Addiction- Time for a 12 Step Program?

The need seemingly came out of nowhere. I had tried the stuff here and there before, enjoyed it, and been fine. Others claimed they couldn't live without it, but I never got what the big deal was about.

And then, on a wild weekend in California not too long ago, I thought I would just have a little taste, it had been months, and what was the harm. And then, poof, like that, it consumed me. I think about it all the time. I dream about it. I have spent every last dime of disposable income on it in the last month, and a bit on the credit cards. As soon as I get it, I think, 'whew, that's the last time', and then two days later there I am again, in dark street in Chinatown looking for it without even realizing it. Friends I have known for years, who I never knew had a problem, crawl out of the woodwork looking for company to score now they know I am one of them. It starts with thinking I'll just have one little roll, what could the harm in that be, and then, $150 and two hours later I am looking at the scattered remnants of 4 giant rolls that were overflowing with the good-stuff.

Yea, I have a sushi problem. I went years being fairly indifferent to the stuff, and woke up one day and can't get enough. I love tempura, teppanaki, udon, miso, all sorts of what should be gateway Japanese food. Somehow, they never sucked me in. And then, boom, a taste of sushi out West, nothing extraordinary about it, and I can't get enough.

The result? I have been trying sushi places all over town, and you, dear readers, will benefit from the reviews as I begin to post. I have even had a recent adventure with making it myself, which turned out better than I thought. Unlike most addictions that inspire this sort of craving, the home fix was delightfully explosion and felony free. More on that tomorrow.

So what am I comparing? Well, ask 10 sushi lovers what the ideal measure of the craft is, and you will have 10 different answers. As a fresh food advocate, and flavor purist (lets pretend I didn't just post about a love of Ikea meatballs), I am supposed to like the simple, fresh, perfect sashimi or nigiri best of all. I do like them. But they are not what creeps obsessively into my thoughts. In fact, its not even the simple elegant maki that get me. Its the big, expensive, ridiculous rolls with names out of a disaster preparation public announcement: volcano roll, dynamite roll, typhoon roll. Yea, I'm an American. No subtlety here.

Consistently my favorite? The Rainbow Roll. Like a california roll, with the added bonus of a wide variety of fresh sashimi toppings, it showcases a range of the core fishes in a sushi chef's arsenal, and leaves plenty of room for creativity. So at each place I review, you will see a little note about the rainbow roll. For better or worse, its the place the comparisons begin.

Enjoy! And if you hate sushi (and read this far anyway for some reason), hang in there. This addiction is not sustainable in the long term, and I will eventually have to find my way back into the light :-)

Until then, YATA!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Pope= Emperor Palpatine?

So yea, this has nothing to do with food. Other than I was eating pizza when I saw it. DC has no good pizza places. Papa Johns is about all I order. It makes me sad. There is your food note for the day.

Now on to the real subject of this post.

I was watching the Daily Show, when the profiled this Pope blooper, or 'Plooper' as I believe they called it.

Yea. Change the color of the robe, and you have:

The Holy Roman Emperor. He is German after all!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Story of My Mom's Lasagana

So, this mothers day got me thinking. Well, it also got me complaining about how we all got tricked into being jerks if we don't honor Hallmark with all we do a few days a year, but thats besides the point. Marketing worked, and I was thinking about my Mom. Maybe my memory has been colored by the nostalgia of passing years, and a sadly lacking robust adult relationship with her, but I remember the mom of 20 years ago as a domestic goddess. Halloween costumes were handmade, clothing was sewn, the house was immaculate, and dinner was always homemade (and awful for you, but oh so tasty). My mom doesn't pursue these sorts of things anymore with the relish she used to (I think she was the one woman on earth genuinely happy to get a vacuum cleaner for Christmas), but the one thing she still does is make Lasagna. Its our Christmas tradition. These past few years, even though I don't go home anymore and my cousin comes out here for drinks and escape, I still make it.

My family loves its traditions. Not the solemn, reflective, values-based traditions that ground the average corn-fed Mid-Western family, but rather the uproarious, beer-flowing, love-you-for-what-you-are-but-still-gonna-mess-with-you-about-it, show-love-through-food-not-touching, help-build-a-porch-for-you-when-you-need-it kind. On one hand, it means that serious conversations are impossible to have, and relationships that are not natural simply don't deepen. This is sadly why every conversation my mom and I have is something along the lines of "What, I'm working, I'm so busy, you don't understand, how's the dog?, gotta go." On both ends.

On the upside, it means that the few things we have left to connect about, especially now that we don't travel together any more, are these little traditions. For me, and my mom, I think Lasagana is where it all began.

For all the stress and sadness that is elsewhere in her life, my mom retains tremendous pride in this dish. She still makes it right, from start to finish each time. And she is still utterly unable to communicate how to make it to others with annoying, off-topic details like measurements. Its something you have to grow up tasting, watching. Grow up complaining about with the family like the spoiled brat you are, but then bragging about to friends when ma's not listening. Grow into wanting to make yourself. And grow-up to realize that its one of the only things you have left that ties you to your mom. Its precious, beyond the perfect balance of flavor and texture. Its the past of my family, and the future of a relationship.

Here are my mom's own words about this tradition. You can try to make it all you want. But some things are their history as much as they are their substance.

"When Mother's Day rolls around each year it [directs] my thoughts [to] my family. Particularly my daughter and husband. I think how caring they are to me. It makes me think about making my famous lasagna which they love. Learning to make this was an interesting part of my life. When I was 11 years old my neighbor was an older Italian man and one day I started to ask him questions about his sauce as it smelled so good. He said he would show me. We took all the ingredients, tomatoes, garlic paste, sauce, water and gently stirred and the most important factor is to simmer for 3 patient hours to get the well blended taste. Then a few years later I lived for a couple of years with a Sicilian lady and helped her and she asked if i would like to learn to make lasagna the real Italian way. Of course I said yes. She showed me how to mix the ricotta, mozzarella cheese, parsley eggs, milk and then how to layer. The sauce I used from what I learned several years before. This recipe came our very satisfactory for the real Italian way. I served to my family and they love it. It makes me so happy as they deserve it and just these thoughts give me a happy mothers day."

Thanks ma.