Monday, June 23, 2008

secret sauce

Here's one to pack away in the "family secrets" recipe file. A simple tomato sauce perfect for really, just about anything. Since there are so few ingredients - it's important that you use a really good quality everything, most importantly, the tomatoes. I use San Marzano tomatoes...if you've never heard of them, here's what Wikipedia has to say:

"The story goes that the first seed of the San Marzano tomato came to Campania in 1770, as a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples, and that it was planted in the area that corresponds to the present commune of San Marzano. They come from a small town of the same name near Naples, Italy, and were first grown in volcanic soil in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. The volcanic soil is believed to act as a filter for water impurities. Compared to the Roma Tomatoes with which most people are familiar, Marzano tomatoes are thinner and pointier in shape. The flesh is much thicker with fewer seeds, and the taste is much stronger, more sweet, and less acidic."

...So, there you have it (the story anyway). Here's the recipe:

Tomato Sauce
Serves: 1 lb. of pasta
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
You'll need:
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic Cloves (3)
  • Basil Leaves (6-10)
  • One 28 oz. tin San Marzano tomatoes, peeled, whole
  • 4 T. butter
Special equipment:
  • 2 saucepans
  • 1 strainer
  • wooden spoon
First, slice the garlic cloves. Then heat 1/2 C. olive oil over medium heat for 1 minute. Add garlic cloves. When garlic is blonde, add the basil leaves and cover immediately (will splatter). Let the basil fry for another 2 minutes while you open the can of tomatoes. When you are ready to add the tomatoes to the saucepan with the olive oil and garlic, take the pan off the heat. Break the tomatoes up a bit in the pan, cover, replace pan over a low flame for another 5-10 minutes. The next step is straining the sauce. Put your strainer over a clean saucepan, and pour sauce into strainer. Use your spoon to push the sauce through the strainer. Get as much sauce as you can through, but don't feel bad if you have lots of solids left (I had almost 3/4 C. basil leaves, garlic, and tomato stems). Put the strained sauce back on the stove, over a low flame. Stir, season with salt to taste (probably 1t. to 2t.). Next, cube the 4 T. butter, and add them to the sauce. Stir until smooth.

The secret, aside from the tomatoes of course, is the butter. By infusing the sweet tomatoes with basil, olive oil, and garlic flavors, then straining it and and adding butter - you get a wonderfully rich sauce that is perfectly smooth. This thin sauce is perfect for long pasta, like angel hair. Don't forget fresh grated parmiggiano over the top of your pasta and sauce, and a nice Chianti.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

georgetown cupcake

Sprinkles, I think, is to blame/credit for the nationwide cupcake bonanza that's piqued the interest of even the tiniest sweet tooth.  Today, I visited one of the two cupcakeries that have gained a wide-reaching fan base in Washington, D.C. 

Georgetown Cupcake
1209 Potomac Street
Washington, D.C. 20007

This tiny outpost, located adjacent from the Shops at Georgetown (across the street from Dean & DeLuca on M) draws admirers from far and wide for their tiny confections. At $2.75 a pop, it's a splurge, but one bite into their lemon berry cake and you'll know it's worth it. They serve about a dozen flavors every day, plus chocolate and vanilla. I got a half-dozen of these in mocha, lemon berry, vanilla squared, chocolate banana, and chocolate mint. I polished off the lemon berry buttercream in no time flat - I can't wait to try the rest! (Photo is of Georgetown Cupcake's finest). 

Cake Love
1506 U Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 588-7100 

Lawyer-turned-baker Warren Brown started his empire with this store in the late 1990's. His cakes and confections won him the favor of an untold number of Washingtonians, not to mention a new national fan base thanks to his show on the Food Network, "Sugar Rush." If you don't have a sweet tooth yourself, this is the perfect spot to buy a box of four as a thank-you to someone who was nice to you! 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

ten things to do with ten bucks

Are you feeling the pinch of our crap economy? Yeah, me too. But I'm still hungry. No bother, just time to get a little creative. Here are ten ideas for what you can do with ten bucks at the grocery store. These recipes assume that you own olive oil, salt, and pepper. Otherwise, everything you'll need for the recipe is included in the price. Each of these recipes serve at least 4 people/make great leftovers. Enjoy! (Prices according to Georgetown Safeway).


What to buy:

6 eggs - $1.29
1 quart 1 % milk - $1.79
Lucerne 8 oz. Shredded Cheddar - $2.50
16 oz. frozen, chopped broccoli - $1.69
20 oz. shredded frozen potatoes - $2.00
1 sm. yellow onion - $0.70

TOTAL: $9.97

What to do: This is a great one for your cast iron skillet. First, chop the yellow onion, and add it to your skillet with 1 T. olive oil. Sautee for 5 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown. Next, add 2 C. frozen hash browns and another T. olive oil, mix with the onions, and cover and let cook for 5 minutes. While that's cooking, thaw out your broccoli in the microwave. Preheat your oven to 350. Next, crack all six eggs into a large bowl. Whisk well, and add 1 C. milk, whisk. Add all 8 oz. shredded cheddar, and all the thawed, drained, and chopped broccoli. Add 1 T. salt, and 1 T. pepper. Stir well. Uncover your cast iron skillet and check on the potatoes. Do not salt the potatoes while they are cooking. When your potatoes begin to brown, turn off the heat, and spread potatoes/onions in an even layer on the bottom of your skillet. This will form the "crust" of your souffle. Pour the entire egg/cheese/milk/broccoli mixture over the potatoes. Put it in a 350 oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is uniformly brown, and center is only slightly jiggly.


What to buy:

Barilla PLUS Thin Spaghetti, 1 lb. $1.75
1 5 oz. pkg. Stella Parmesan - $4.49
3 lemons - $3.00

Total: $9.24

What to do: Put a large pot of water on to boil, and add at least 2 T. salt into the water. Meanwhile, grate the entire block of parmesan, and juice the lemons, taking care to remove any seeds. While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the lemon juice, plus 1/4 C. olive oil, plus 1 t. salt and plenty of black pepper. When the pasta is al dente (about 9 mins), don't drain it - instead use a tongs to move the pasta from the boiling water to the bowl with the lemon juice/olive oil. When pasta has been combined with lemon juice and olive oil - add 1 C. pasta water into the bowl. Toss until absorbed (2 mins), then begin to incorporate about 1/2 the grated parmesan (you can use the other half of the parmesan to top each individual plate, if you like a lot of parmesan, which I do). Enjoy!


What to buy:

Barilla PLUS Penne Pasta, 1 lb. $1.75
1 32 oz. can CENTO Crushed Tomatoes - $2.49 (Get good quality crushed tomatoes)
1 Head Garlic - $1.25
McCormack Red Pepper Flakes - $4.20

TOTAL: $9.69

What to do: Put a large pot of water on to boil, and add at least 2 T. salt into the water. Meanwhile, peel and crush or finely chop about 6 cloves of garlic. In a saucepan, heat 3 T. olive oil. Put the garlic in there and cook until just beginning to blonde - then add 1 t. pepper flakes (2 t. if you want it really hot). Sautee another 1 minute. Then remove it from the heat. Next, put your pasta in the boiling water - and cook until al dente or better, about 11-12 minutes. While your pasta is cooking - remove the garlic and pepper flakes from the heat. Next, open your can of crushed tomatoes, and add it to the saucepan with the garlic and pepper flakes. Add 1 T. salt. Mix with a spoon well, and replace over low heat - and COVER it! (It will splatter). Let the flavors of the sauce combine while your pasta cooks. When your pasta is done, drain it, and mix it with the tomato sauce. The end.


What to buy:

Barilla PLUS Elbows, 1 lb. $1.75
1 quart 1% milk - $1.79
Lucerne 8 oz. Shredded Cheddar - $2.50
Lucerne 16 oz. Butter - $2.50
Flour (5 lb. bag is $1.29)

Total: $9.83

What to do: Not so healthy, but definitely delicious. First, put a large pot of water on to boil. Put at least 2 T. salt into the water once it's boiling. Next, melt 3 T. butter in a saucepan. Add 3 T. flour, plus some salt and pepper. Whisk well until golden - but not brown. Slowly begin to add the milk, a little at a time. Whisk constantly. You will use about 3 C. milk. Put your pasta on to boil for 10 minutes, and preheat your oven to 350. Mix the entire 8 oz. bag of cheddar into the milk sauce, and whisk until it is melted. When the pasta is done, drain it, and mix it with the cheese sauce. Put in oven-safe pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes, until top is golden. Yummy.


What to buy:

2 green zucchini - $1.24
2 yellow squash - $2.24
2 lemons - $2.00
Fresh Thyme - $2.00

Total: $7.48

Rinse off your zucchini. Strip thyme leaves off the stems and run a knife through them to release the flavor. Chop the bottoms and tops off the green zucchini. Thinly slice, vertically - you don't want little round discs, you want long ribbons. Take care to slice them thin and well, that is what makes this taste so good! Repeat with the yellow squash. To serve - alternate green and yellow pieces - then squeeze the juice of two lemons over it. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Liberally salt and pepper. Sprinkly thyme leaves over the top for garnish and extra flavor. Beautiful, simple, and healthy.


What to buy:

Hot Italian Sausage - $3.50
1 large onion - $1.29
2 bell peppers (any color) - $2.00
Hoagie rolls x 6 - $2.50

Total: $9.29

What to do: First, peel and chop the onion. Next, slice the bell peppers. Sautee with 2 T. olive oil for 10-15 minutes until they start to caramelize. Do not salt while cooking! Meanwhile, pierce the sausages with a fork, and put in a sautee pan over low heat. Cover while cooking - they will splatter. Next, cut the tops out of your hoagie buns, and put them in the oven for a few minutes until they're toasty. Don't forget about them! Nobody likes burned buns. When your buns are toasted, your veggies are getting caramelized, and your sausages have a nice dark brown sear on them (should cook for 10 minutes), you're done. Put sausage in bun, top with peppers and onions. Takes you right back to the stadium!


What to buy:

6 eggs - $1.29
Ground Pork, 1.25 lb. - $2.99
1 head Green Cabbage, $1.38
Won Ton wrappers - $1.50
Chicken Bouillon Base (powder) - 4 oz., $3.50

Total: $10.66

What to do: finely chop the cabbage - should be in shreds. Mix with ground pork, and one egg. Add 2 T. chicken bouillon powder with plenty of black pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands. To fill the dumpling wrappers - use 1 t. pork/cabbage mixture per wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrapper with water on your finger to ensure a good seal, and fold in half on the diagonal (end shape: triangle). When your'e ready to cook these - put 1 T. olive oil in the bottom of a nonstick skillet and fry over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes per side. Cover during cooking to make sure the pork is thoroughly cooked. This is a bit of a process, so it's a good project to do with someone else.

If you have leftover dumplings - you can freeze them and cook them later. Make sure that when you put the uncooked dumplings in the freezer - they are not touching each other at all - or else they will freeze together and not be useable. Separate layers of dumplings with plastic wrap. (After you freeze them not touching for 2 days, you can transfer the frozen dumplings into a storage bag...once they're frozen, they won't stick together).


What to buy:

Blue Cheese Crumbles - $3.59
Pillsbury Pizza Dough - $3.19
1 bosc pear - $1.00
1 large onion - $1.29

Total: $9.07

Peel and slice the onion. Combine with 1 T. olive oil in skillet, and sautee until caramelized, or about 15 minutes (maybe more). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 and roll out pizza dough onto a non-stick cookie sheet. Spread with fingers until a uniform thickness of about 1/2 inch. When the onions are caramelized, sprinkle 1/2 the blue cheese on the pizza dough. Slice the pear into thin slices, and top the pizza with the pear slices and the caramelized onion, and finally with the remaining blue cheese. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the entire pizza, then bake it in a 350 oven for 15-17 minutes, until crust is golden.


What to buy:

Lucerne "Best of Egg" - 16 oz. $3.00
1 pkg. fresh thyme or dill - $2.00
1 bunch fresh asparagus - $4.99

Total: $9.99

What to do: Preheat oven to 350. Rinse and snap off tough ends of asparagus. Toss with 1 T. olive oil, and salt and pepper. When oven is ready, pop in the asparagus - they will roast for 20 minutes. Next, rinse off the thyme or dill and strip leaves off the stem. Run a knife through them - they are tiny, but this is the best way to get all the flavor. Put 1 t. olive oil in omelette pan. Whisk together 1 t. chopped thyme and 1/2 C. egg whites, plus salt and pepper. Pour in omelette pan - cover and let cook for 4 minutes or until done. (You may need to flip it, cook for another 2 minutes on the other side). Serve omelette with roasted asparagus on the side, or tucked inside the omelette.


What to buy:

6 oz. baby spinach - $3.49
1 small Vidalia Onion - $1.29
1/2 lb. strawberries - $2.00
Ken's Lite Asian Ginger Sesame Soy Dressing - $3.49

Total: $10.27

What to do: Slice vidalia onions in very thin slices. Rinse and slice the strawberries. Toss with spinach, and 1/2 C. Ken's dressing. Absolutely wonderful!

tapas feast

This is my favorite kind of post. The kind of post where I can review, and offer recipes. During our recent travels abroad, we enjoyed a tapas feast in Barcelona. Here's the original restaurant information:

Ciudad Condal
Rambla Catalunya 18
Barcelona - Spain
+34 933 181 997

While the dollar is suffering, this place is a hungry travelers dream come true. We feasted on just about everything on the menu - and managed to rack up a manageable 79Euro tab. (There were four of us and they had to roll us out by the end of it...not bad!). I especially enjoyed the briney olives, the delicious sangria and the patatas bravas. When we got home - you can bet I did my best to re-create our Catalunyan feast...and you can bet that tapas night is a new tradition at our house!

First things first, the potables:

(1 pitcher)
  • 1 bottle rioja red wine
  • 2 C. fresh orange juice
  • 1 C. ginger ale
  • 1/2 apple, cut into tiny pieces
  • 1/2 orange, cut into small pieces
  • 1 lemon, sliced thin
  • 1/2 (or so) C. dark rum

Stir, with ice, until it's really cold! Garnish each glass with an orange and get ready for a treat.

Now, for the edibles (for 4):

Patatas Bravas
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Serves: 4

You'll need:
  • 4 potatoes (medium sized, I used organic white potatoes)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 C. olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 t. chili flakes
  • 1 small can tomato paste (I like Cento)
  • 1/2 C. mayonnaise

For the potatoes: Preheat oven to 350. Dice the potatoes into 3/4" cubes. Coat with about 2 T. olive oil, liberally crack black pepper over them. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour or until tender and starting to brown.

For the sauce: Clean and chop the garlic. Add 1/4 C. olive oil to a small saucepan, heat for 1 minute over medium heat. Drop in the garlic, let it blonde (about 1-2 minutes). Add chili flakes, stir over heat for 1 minute more. Remove from heat before garlic burns, and add tomato paste. Whisk until combined (if the mixture is too "tight" - add a couple T water to loosen). Put over low heat for 20 minutes while flavors combine. Season to your liking. Then, let it cool. When you're ready to eat the potatoes, mix the tomato paste mixture with the mayonnaise.

If you want to get really fancy - you can scoop the sauce into a plastic baggie, snip off one tiny corner and drizzle the sauce over the potatoes. Me? I was far too eager to eat them to take the time...

Tomato Bread
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Serves: 4

You'll need:
  • 1 baguette or something similar
  • 1 ripe tomato (medium-sized)
  • 1-2 large cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

This couldn't be easier. First, slice the bread into 1/2 inch slices, and toast them (either in an oven or a panini press). When they are nice and crusty, they're done. Next, peel the garlic-but leave it whole. Cut one tiny end off the garlic - and rub the raw garlic clove across each piece of bread a few times. Next, cut the tomato in half. Rub the raw tomato on each piece of bread too - should give it a nice pink hue. Next, arrange the breads in a single layer on a plate - and drizzle olive oil over the whole platter. The last step is a little salt and a little pepper on top of each slice - and you're done!

Garlic Sauteed Mushrooms
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

You'll need:
  • 2 containers of pre-sliced white mushrooms
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • salt & pepper
First, dice the garlic. Next heat some olive oil in a skillet. When the garlic is blonde, drop the mushrooms in - stir to coat with olive oil. Stir occasionally for about 15-20 minutes until the mushrooms are sauteed to your liking. When they are done cooking, season with salt and pepper to your liking, and enjoy!

...And that's pretty much it for the cooking part! Take some help from the store on this one - and go find a couple blocks of good cheese, some mixed olives, and some prosciutto to enjoy along with the tasty things you made. Enjoy your tapas feast with no less than two glasses of your delicious sangria.

roman holiday

Ah, Rome. As was mentioned in a recent NYT Frugal Traveler, Mark Twain writes this in "Innocents Abroad," on Rome:

“What is there in Rome for me to see that others have not seen before me? What is there for me to touch that others have not touched? What is there for me to feel, to learn, to hear, to know, that shall thrill me before it pass to others? What can I discover? Nothing. Nothing whatsoever.”

With all due respect to Mr. Clemens, I'd like to disagree. There are things left to discover! There are things yet to learn, to feel, to hear...mainly, in restaurants. A word of caution to the savvy traveler - the Euro/Dollar exchange is painful right now. So - go forth with your appetites and savor every bite.

Dal Bolognese
Piazza del Popolo 1-2

This white-tableclothed post is my very favorite kind of place. It dresses up and serves a great number of elegant Italians - but the menu is as comfortable as they come, simple food made with only the best ingredients. We liked it so much, we went twice in one day. And don't be disappointed when I tell you I ate the same thing twice - it was just that good. To start, I enjoyed the caprese salad - with milky fresh mozzarella slices and fat, ripe slices of red tomato. Just a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh cracked black pepper and sea salt - perfection. Ben snacked on the prosciutto di Parma twice that day - it was, of course, perfectly sliced. The flavor was brighter than most prosciutto flavors - something a little peppery. I just loved it when he gave me a taste. For dinner, I enjoyed the spaghetti cacio e pepe, which must be the simplest food in the world. It's salt and pepper spaghetti, served with plenty of grated pecorino cheese on top. The hearty strands of spaghetti were coated in grassy olive oil, pecorino, and pepper and made each bite a real delight. Ben enjoyed the tortellini con burro e parmiggiano - another simple classic. The tortellini were filled with bites of pancetta, topped with plenty of butter, and as much parmesan as you like. Really, totally delicious stuff.

Piazza Santa Maria 13

Set up shop on a weekend evening at a table in lively Piazza Santa Maria. Sabatini offers wonderful outdoor tables and a menu chock-full of Roman Specialties (don't miss: the artichokes!). We had an 8:00 reservation - which is an early dinner for most Romans. We watched over wonderful appetizers of stuffed zucchini flowers, prosciutto, and carciofi, as the Piazza transformed from a sleepy public square to a lively public stage - complete with a street performer who grew his audience from 10 to 50 by the time we left. We really ate our hearts out here - as for me, I started with the pasta con vongole, and ended with the lovely veal piccata. We sipped on a local chianti, and enjoyed steamy cappucini after dinner. Trastevere is the spot for Roman nightlife, as we found wandering a couple blocks down for a drink after dinner. As one online reviewer noted of Sabatini - order carefully or your bill can triple before your eyes...

so cal tables

I'm guilty of not really liking L.A. I'm guilty of thinking it was a cesspool for bloated egos and powertrips (wait, maybe I'm thinking of D.C.). Regardless, the scales fell from my eyes on my last trip out there for brother Mike's graduation from USC film. Congrats, Mike! (You can see the award-winning film he produced here and here.) In between graduating and managing our entire family, he chose some fantastic tables to share with us while we were there. Throughout my four day trip, we dined high (Geoffrey's) and low (In & Out). Here are my favorites:

3200 W. Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(323) 906-1018

We enjoyed a fantastic brunch here one morning. Don't let the name or the Mickey Rourke posters on the wall deter you from their fabulous and extensive menu. The generous portions and the paper-placemat-menu make this place an instant favorite. I enjoyed a croque madame for brunch - this giant, ham-and-cheese-filled sandwich arrived to me with an abundance of fresh organic greens. I loved it! I'm not one to advocate dieting - so I figure that if you eat a giant sandwich with ham and cheese and bechamel, you should eat a salad of equal size to balance things out. Dusty's agrees with this. Go, bring your friends, and spend a morning in what will be your new favorite place.

The Alcove
1929 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 414-0100
Another wonderful spot for brunch, this organic coffee and tea house doubles as a gourmet wine and cheese shop. Hand-painted tables await you and your friends on a sunny brick patio in front of the cafe. You pay before you eat (and order at the counter inside), but efficient waiters and waitresses will bring you your omelettes and crepes and take your plates away when you're done, making this an ideal spot to either dine and dash, or hang out for hours without having waiters trying to shoo you out the gate. I ordered an omelette with onions and swiss cheese - you can get nearly any combination of fillers your heart desires. My omelette came with two hefty slices of freshly baked wheat toast. And, if you've got a sweet tooth, you won't believe their crepes! Smartly presented folding in quarters on a long slim plate, these crepes were more than an eyeful. Filled with nutella, banana reduction, and mixed berries, everyone was eager for a forkful! Everyone at our table enjoyed their house mimosas - each comes with a personal split of bubbly with a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice. An elegant yet relaxed way to begin any day!

27400 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
(310) 457-1519

The perfect place to spend an evening dining out. Geoffrey's is situated atop a cliff, overlooking the Pacific. You're sure to catch glimpses of the rising moon, and maybe, if you're lucky, a couple of stars. (How apropos - we saw an actor who was in the originial 90210.) We started out with a panoply of appetizers, including their deliciously gooey baked brie. For dinner, I moved on to the most wonderful seared scallops I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Each of the five day boat scallops was perfectly golden brown on each side - served with a rich, salty fois gras risotto and a bright pomegranite reduction. Sadly, (and probably because I was so late in getting there!) they had run out of the kobe beef filets that night, but judging from the high quality of the rest of their menu, I'm sure it would be delicious. The atmosphere at Geoffrey's was full of rich laughter, the open fire pits around the seating area made the whole experience warm and wonderful. I can't wait to go back.

La Valencia Hotel
1132 Prospect Street
La Jolla, CA 92037

A road trip to visit my favorite friends from Rome brought us to San Diego. Though I didn't enjoy any meals or stays at this picturesque spot, it was the perfect place for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up at La Jolla beach. Located on busy Prospect street, and overlooking the extra blue Pacific, you can't go wrong ordering a coffee, a beer, or a cocktail on their patio. Thanks for showing it to me, VT!

Lastly, but most definitely not least, my beloved:

In-n-Out Burger

No road trip in California would be complete without a stop to In-n-Out. My favorite thing is a grilled cheese, animal style, with animal style fries to split. I could (and shh, have) eaten this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ben's favorite is a double double, of course. The best part, aside from the prices, is that everything is made in a spotless kitchen, right in front of you, when you order it. Nothing frozen. Amazing. Delicious!