Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Microwave Lesson (In Lieu of a Recipe)

I haven't had any new recipes to offer you lately because life has been so hectic I haven't been doing much cooking. I've been on a pasta and pesto diet for many of the past few days--not homemade, gasp!--and today, for lack of time, I actually microwaved an egg instead of taking out a pan and cooking it properly.

I know there are probably a million chefs just rolling over in their graves because of what I just wrote, but hey, I never called myself a gourmet. I like food, and I like good tasting, good quality food, but I'm a busy person and I don't always have the time to carefully plan out a well-cooked meal.

Now I'm not advocating the use of a microwave to cook eggs--I still like the traditional stove method best--but I can tell you that if you've got a nice egg and an empty belly and not enough time to deal with pots, pans, spatulas, dish washing, etc., you can still have your egg (and eat it too).

What does this require? Well generally it requires a soup, stew, or pasta with accompanying sauce. I've done it with all of the above and gotten great results, with cooked whites and a slightly runny yolk... yum.

Here's how to do it:
Heat your food in a container (tupperware, bowl, etc) till warm. On my microwave, I'll heat a bowl of pasta and pesto for about 1 min. Then crack your egg into your food. If it's a stew/pasta, cover the egg a bit with some of the sauce/liquid. Heat for 15-20 second. Take out of the microwave and mix gently (don't break the yolk!). Heat for another 15-20 seconds. Mix. Heat for 15-20 more seconds. Your whites should be set and your egg yolk should be cooked, but slightly runny. Eat and enjoy!

See? You can get a beautiful egg from the microwave.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Medicine & Food

There was recently an article in the New York Times entitled "Doctor's Orders: Eat Well to Be Well," which I spoke to me as a foodie and also as someone going into the medical field.

I haven't previously mentioned much about myself other than my passion for food, because people often find my career choice an eyebrow-raiser, if not just plain odd, given how much I care about cooking and being in the kitchen.

My passion for food, my constant food-related comments, and this blog often have many of my friends jokingly telling me that I'm going into the wrong field. But the truth is, I don't see my two interests as being all that different, and finally I can see that this viewpoint is shared by others.

Food is an important part of our health and a major part of our lives. The people who take care of us--and that includes our doctors--should care about what it is that we eat. They should be examples of how to eat, what to eat. The places that we go in order to feel better--hospitals, doctor's offices--should not only encourage healthier eating, but they should provide it. The words "hospital food" shouldn't bring to mind questionable jello and pudding, they should bring to mind fresh fruit, whole grains, green leafy vegetables. You shouldn't come back from a physical with a lollipop in your hand; how about some granola or dried fruit?

My passion for medicine is equal to my passion for food. I may go straight to the kitchen after a rough day so that I can cook and destress, but I think this makes me a better doctor than the one who comes homes to read a few science articles while eating a cheeseburger and fries. If I tell someone that they should eat more fruit and avoid milk with rBHG, you can believe that I am listening to my own advice. I take care of myself, and that enables me to better take care of others.

Food is love, food is care, and food is health.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On my mind in the morning

I miss breakfast in France.

I can't tell you how much I often find myself thinking these words to myself when I wake up. Breakfast is France is beautiful.

To begin with, the bread is wonderful. It is all crackly crusts and light, airy interiors. A short walk in the morning and about one euro later, you can have in your hand a delightfully warm, fresh-from-the-oven baguette. Heavenly.

Breakfast also involves delicately sweet confitures and the best butter you'll taste in the world. France is the only place in the world where I would ever butter my bread.

Plus, pâté. Oh pâté. I love it. Smooth pâté de foie. Or mousse de canard. Or terrine de lapin. All these delicious things that you’d never find in the states. And if you do, it’s a sad imitation of the wonders you can get in France.

I miss breakfast in France.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Autumn Apple Tart Cake

(also known as the Right-Side Up Apple Tarte Tatin)

It’s recently gotten so chilly outside that everything seems to being saying fall. It’s the start of jacket season, hot chocolate, warm soup, and this beautiful apple tart-cake.

Really, how else to celebrate fall then to bake something with apples? And if you’re going to bake something with apples, you really should consider making this, which has a base that caramelizes in the oven so that it’s crispy on the edges and moist and densely cake-like in the center. This also has a topping which bakes to form a delicious cinnamon glaze that blankets the whole thing delicately and fills your kitchen with the warm scent of autumn spices. The end result is stunning in the complexity of its flavors and textures.

Best of all, for something which I could contain to praise for pages and pages, this tart-cake is surprisingly easy to make.

Before I get into the recipe though, perhaps I should explain the name. I have never had or seen anything else like this, so coming up with a name was difficult. Molly from Orangette dubbed this the “Apple Tart Cake” since it falls somewhere between a tart and a cake, and that name is easy to remember and very fitting, but it also is a bit confusing to write. It is also confusing to people when you try to explain that you made them a tart-cake. Thus, I began to refer to this as a right-side up apple tarte tatin. Everyone knows what a tarte tatin is, and really this tart-cake is just like that, except without the hassle of flipping a cake out of the pan upside down.

Plus, the whole thing is so easy and such an instant classic, I can’t help but hope that it will catch up and spread across kitchens everywhere, just like the famous tarte tatin. And this is really perfect for entertaining, since it doesn't involve a lot of work, requires no special ingredients, and can be served the next day with beautiful results. In fact, Molly argues that it is better on the second day. I've still not reached a definite conclusion on that fact, despite having made this recipe so many times I've lost count. (Hence why you'll notice that my pictures don't seem to be of the same tart-cake each time... these pictures were taken on different days)

Admittedly, it can look a little homely, from the brown color of the glaze topping (from the cinnamon), but what it lacks in looks it most certainly makes up for in taste. And, if you want this to look sexy, all you need to do it be more careful about the glaze. You can use less, or you can use a pastry brush to “paint” it on. I wouldn’t omit the glaze, because it does add some great flavor and color to the tart-cake. Without it, the whole thing looks a little pale (as you can see below).

Right-Side Up Apple Tarte Tatin
Adapted from Orangette’s recipe

¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp almonds (or one generous handful)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
dash of cloves
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut into a few pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract OR vanilla sugar
1 large egg
2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

For the glaze topping:
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp demerara sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan. (You can also make this in a glass pie dish, pie tin, or in little tartlettes... see the note at the bottom for the baking times for the tartlettes)

In a food processor with the steel blade attachment, combine the sugar, almonds, and salt. Pulse till the almonds are finely ground.

Add the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, flour, and baking powder. Pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the biggest lumps are only slightly larger than peas.

Add the vanilla and the egg, and pulse to blend well. The dough will start to come together. Once this happen, stop pulsing and pull the semi-formed dough out of the food processor.

Gently nudge and pat the dough into a tart shell type of shape, so that you have edges that slope up

Arrange the apple slices over the base in whatever pretty design you’d like.

Slide your pan into the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile make the topping (I generally do this when there are about 15 minutes left on the timer) by combining all the ingredients and whisking/pulsing to mix. If you don’t feel like washing another bowl, you can easily make the topping in the food processor from before. You don’t even need to wash it out!

After your 45 minute timer goes off, remove the tart-cake and pour/spoon the topping over it as evenly as you can.

Bake for another 20-25 minutes. The topping should look set.

Cool and remove from pan. Enjoy.

Note: one recipe makes four 4” fluted tartlettes with a thick base, or five tarlettes with a thinner base (bake 25-30 minutes, glaze, then bake for 10-15). Two recipes makes 6 fluted tartlettes and one 9-inch pie pan.

This cake is delicious fresh from the oven, it is delicious when it has cooled, and it is delicious the next day. As it is very moist, it doesn’t keep well beyond the 4th day.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Involving an abundance of stone fruit

Recently I had on my hands an abundance of stone fruit, all of which was ripening at a faster rate than I could eat it, especially since I have no one to share the fruit with (when I'm not with my family, I seem to be surrounded by friends with raw fruit allergies). Being that I love fruit and haven't had the time to bake anything, I decided to turn the fruit into my favorite little fruit salad.

Of course, that name is kind of a faux amis, because while this is essentially a fruit salad, there are some spices in the mix which I think turn it into something that's more pie-filling-esque. Upon re-reading that description, I don't know if I made this sound unappetizing, but I assure you that it is fantastic. It's also healthy, especially since you're not cooking any vitamins and antioxidants out of the fruit.

Plus, the "cold pie filling" name is actually fitting because it began as such. When I first started making this so-called fruit salad, I was mixing fruit and spices and letting them "marinate" while I got ready to make a pie. I've never been one for throwing flour or butter into my pie fillings (unnecessary calories), and that made it easy to taste-test my pie fillings before baking them, and whenever I had extra filling that didn't fit in the pie, I would eat it on its own (or with ice cream). And it was delicious.

Soon, out of laziness, I would just make this fruit salad/cold pie filling and forget about the pie part, because this was good enough, and it was an excellent way to use up fruit. I hope you feel the same way.

This is actually a very easy technique, which is making me start to feel like I'm cheating you all out of a "real" food blog read, but I promise the next update will be a genuine baking recipe. (Hint: it will involve apples)

Basically I slice and dice ripe plums and ripe nectarines or peaches. I tend to peel my fruit, especially because I let my fruit ripen to the soft stage where the skin gets a little leathery and while that's not pleasant to eat, it is easily peeled away from the flesh without even using a knife. For every six fruits (e.g. 4 plums and two nectarines), I add 1-2 tsp of sugar. The amount of sugar depends on how acidic your fruit is. I sometimes like to use raw sugar or demerara sugar because it adds a nice texture to it. Granted, if you do this and let the fruit salad sit for a while, the sugar will dissolve, but if you eat it within one hour, the texture is great. Then with 2 tsp of vanilla sugar, 3/4 tsp of cinnamon, ¼ to ½ cup orange juice (depending on how "juicy" you like your fruit salad to be), and a pinch of salt for balance you're done. It's so simple.

Of course, if your fruit isn't quite ripe or soft enough for this cold pie filling/ fruit salad, you can always nudge it that way with the help of some heat. In fact, that picture above is one I took the other week when I had some nectarines and raspberries that were just too sour to be enjoyed on their own. With some vanilla sugar, love, and low heat I nudged the fruit around until it was beautifully shlumpy on my spoon and could be eaten while sitting on the kitchen floor in my pajamas. Sometimes that's the best place to enjoy the simple things in life.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Of Chicken and Frozen Eggs

So this weekend I took a trip to New York City as I return with a recipe and a story.

NYC was great, as it normally is, because the city is fun to explore and perfect for walking. Plus, as I was staying in my friend's apartment, we got the chance to cook together. We did have some difficulties, however, as her stove top/range is unlabeled, and it took us a rather long time to realize that the dials were set counterclockwise instead of the normal clockwise direction. This meant that turning right was the highest setting and turning left was the lowest. Very odd. Of course, once we figured this our, we figured the oven would work the same way (there is no temperature setting for the oven), but it actually works clockwise. All very counter-intuitive.

Anyhow, back to the food:

We went out in the afternoon and bought some chicken and then cooked that for dinner along with carrots and pasta. The chicken recipe is what I will share with you now. It's actually fairly easy and adjustable, so play with it as you see fit.

We bought a small package of chicken with only two drumsticks and thighs, but we used a large amount of marinade because the liquid was actually fantastic for dressing the pasta.

Because I hadn't thought about sharing this "recipe" (more like marinade) with you, the pictures are not great, so I apologize.

We marinaded the chicken in roughly 1 cup of milk and 2 tsp of lemon juice (we used the kind that comes in that plastic squeeze bottle shaped like a lemon). As usual, I eyeballed everything. Then, we added about 1 tsp of dried oregano, ½ tsp garlic powder, 1 ½ tsp salt (we used kosher salt, but I'm sure table salt will work fine), and 1 tsp ground black pepper. We let the chicken sit in this marinade in a tupperware container for about 20 minutes at room temperature. The marinade almost completely covered the chicken. This is what you want. It helps if you move the chicken around occasionally. We also pierced the meat/skin with a fork to help the flavor really get into the meat.

The flavors would probably meld and deepen more if you let the chicken marinate for longer, but I wouldn't leave it in the marinade for any longer than 1 hour really, since we're talking about a marinade that involves acid and protein at room temperature.

Our attempts at browning the chicken in butter and olive oil did not really succeed because so much liquid came out of the chicken (the marinade), but with some patience and a little bit of time in the oven, the chicken eventually cooked all the way through. I would probably recommend that if you want to try this, you should shake the chicken out a bit or put it on a rack to allow the liquid to drip down before browning it. After the chicken has browned on both sides, add about half of the marinade liquid and allow the chicken to cook through. This may require both stove time and oven time, depend on what cut of chicken you use.

After the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the pan, and use the cooking liquid to dress the pasta. The end result was incredibly fragrant. The lemon and oregano melded together beautifully, and the the chicken was great. Served with a side of carrots and a nice cider, it was a lovely fall (well, technically, end-of-summer) meal. I'm sorry I don't have more pictures.

But I do have the story I promised you:

Upon my return from New York City, I open my fridge to find some food, and decided that a sunny side up egg sounded lovely. But when I took out my carton of eggs, three of the eggs had long jagged looking cracks running all the way down their sides. I was horrified. What happened??? I always check my eggs for cracks before putting them in the fridge.

What was even more odd was that despite the long, jagged cracks, none of the eggs had leaked. I picked up an egg. It was ice cold. Had my refrigerator somehow frozen my eggs? I checked the fridge and yes, I had left it on the coldest setting, and yes, my milk was frozen. Lovely.

Of course, I'm not one to let food go to waste, so I had to check to see if the eggs were salvageable. I carefully tapped the shell against the counter and peeled an egg. It was surprisingly easy. Easier even than peeling a hard boiled egg. And after all the shell was peeled off, I found myself with an oddly beautifully little gem:

Sunny side up eggs were definitely out of the question, and I didn't know if letting the other eggs defrost slowly in the fridge was a good idea--especially considering the size of the cracks in some of them (remember: water expands when it freezes), so I decided that some nice scrambled eggs were in order. I peeled all of the eggs and after beating them up a little bit with my fork, I added them to a hot skillet, with a pat of butter.

The eggs cooked up a little oddly, especially since different parts defrosted at different times, but after taking the scrambled eggs off the stove, I took a deep breath and put a forkful in my mouth. It tasted just fine. With a little salt and pepper, you couldn't even tell that the egg had previously been frozen!

So now you know that frozen eggs can indeed be eaten with no awful side effects, because I have lived to tell the tale. And that's the story of chicken and frozen eggs.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sugar Cookies from Blue Duck Tavern

I have told you already that my family doesn't really do sugar cookies. I don't really do sugar cookies. I've always been prejudiced against them because they seemed so... simple, so one-dimensional. I wasn’t going to waste my time making them when I could make cobblers or lemon bars or tarts. And the idea of going out to a nice restaurant and ordering sugar cookies? Absolutely absurd. Why would anyone do such a thing?

Well now, I would like to issue my sincere apologies. I am sorry, sugar cookie. I underestimated you.

After the deliciousness that was Blue Duck Tavern, I decided that for the better part of two decades, I was wrong about the sugar cookie. It was time to give the poor thing a chance. I didn’t want to just try my hand at any old sugar cookie recipe though; I wanted Blue Duck Tavern’s recipe. Luckily enough, I am not the first to have been smitten by those darlings, so with just a little bit of research, I found the recipe online.

Of course, being me, I couldn’t follow it. I wanted to, I tried to, but old habits die hard, and I’m just one of those people who can’t follow a recipe even if their life depended on it. I can’t even follow my own recipes. I can never make the exact same thing twice. Perhaps the problem is that I really never use measuring spoons. And I enjoy substituting things with whatever I have on hand.

As such, I replaced the unsalted butter in the original recipe with salted butter. I always use salted butter when baking. I think it provides more depth of flavor and helps balance the sweetness of a dessert. I also noticed that the original recipe called for 1 1/3 cups sifted flour. Feeling a little lazy, I decided to cut down the things I would need to wash afterwards by not sifting the flour. Instead, I used my normal measuring method, which means I used my measuring scoop to “fluff” the flour first (this can also be accomplished with a fork or spoon), and then I gently scooped up the flour I needed and I leveled it off by shaking side-to-side. This method works 99% of the time when baking. In this case though, I probably should have paid heed to the fact that recipe specifically asked for sifted flour. In the future, since I am still too lazy to sift my flour, I will edit the recipe to 1 ¼ cups flour, not sifted. Lastly, I also used vanilla sugar in place of vanilla extract. I did this because 1) I had no vanilla extract on hand and 2) the vanilla sugar I have is excellent.

We buy this in France and it is deeply scented with vanilla, not like the timid vanilla sugars that you get from at-home experiments. I use it most of the time when I am baking and things require vanilla, since I like the flavor it imparts more than the flavor you get from vanilla extract.

Ultimately, the cookies were not the same as the ones we had at Blue Duck Tavern, but this was to be expected. I think the next time I try this recipe, I use a decreased amount of flour (look above) and then refrigerate the dough overnight to allow the flavors to deepen and meld, and for the moisture of the egg to really set in.

The final cookie was a little sandy and crumbly, like shortbread cookies. I attribute this to the fact that I may have added a little too much flour. I think next time I will use a scale to measure how much flour I use so I can scale up or down more precisely. The taste of the cookies was good though. Obviously, not restaurant level, but good enough for me to save this recipe for future experiments. I will report back when I redo this recipe and tell you if it's improved.

Sugar Cookies
adapted from Blue Duck Tavern’s recipe

1 1⁄3 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1⁄3 teaspoon baking powder
1½ sticks (6 ounces) salted butter
2 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
7.5 grams vanilla sugar (or ½ tsp vanilla extract)
1 egg

For rolling: 2 tbsp white sugar + 1 tbsp demerra sugar (if you have it on hand)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter with 2 tablespoons white sugar and the brown sugar and vanilla. Beat in the egg. Mix in the dry ingredients.

Place the 2 tbsp white sugar and 1 tbsp demerra sugar in a clean bowl. Using a small ice-cream scoop, shape little balls of cookie dough and roll each in the sugar. Bake 11-12 minutes on the top rack, until the cookies are just browning at the edges. Remove from the pan and cool. Transfer to an airtight container, or your belly.

These cookies will keep about 4-5 days at room temperature in an air tight container.

Yield: approximately three dozen small cookies

The cookies, rolled in sugar, before going into the oven

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lunch at Makoto

This will be the last restaurant review of the summer! And most likely the last restaurant review for a while, since life tends to get very hectic once summer ends.

On Friday, we went to Makoto for lunch. Makoto is a well known, highly rated Japanese restaurant in DC that is incredibly affordable, especially for the excellent quality of its food. Our experience at the cozy restaurant—which can only seat 27 people at full capacity— was very good. When we walked out, we all agreed that although it was a fairly fast lunch (we were in and out in a little bit over an hour), it was also somehow very soothing.
The ambiance was nice. At the door, shoes are taken off and exchanged for slippers. Women are provided with pantyhose—like the kind you get at DSW or other shoe stores when you don’t have socks—to put on so that your bare feet don’t have to touch the borrowed footwear. When entering, you are also instructed to turn off your phone. You can opt to either seat at a table or at the “counter,” facing the chefs in the kitchen. Every chair is designed like a small wooden chest, so that purses/bags can be put inside. There are no cushions or backs to the any of the chairs.
After we were seated, we looked at the menu and chose to order two lunch boxes and two sushi assortments (there were four of us eating). Each was about $17-18 and included a starter and a dessert.
Everyone was given the same thing to start: mussels in a smoky rice wine broth with charred tomatoes and chive. This dish had a subtle complexity to it. Its flavors were elegant, but not at all overwhelming. The smokiness of the broth was a very nice surprise. I have never tasted anything like that. We gave it an 8 out of 10.
The lunch box came with this three-part appetizer (this was not included with the sushi assortment meal). Because I thoughtfully wanted to provide you with two different angles (and because I couldn’t decide between two pictures), you can see the appetizer above and to the side. Remember, if you click on an image, it zooms in!
In the blue and white striped, square bowl was a cold shrimp and avocado salad, which was spicy and mildly sweet: an 8 out of 10.In the dark green square plate there were two sushi rolls which had rice with some kind of pickled vegetable, egg, and cooked fish. I really enjoyed the texture and flavor play in this, with the crunchy/soft/flaky and the acid/umami/starch: a 7.5 out of 10 (good, but lacking a wowfactor). Last in the square white bowl with the “flower petal” blue rim was a salad with seaweed, which had a citrus taste to it and included crunchy deep fried beef, which was very light and not at all greasy (8 out of 10). All together, this appetizer was really a success because of the different tastes and textures it presented. I enjoyed sampling from one thing to another.

The sushi assortment included ten different types of seafood, all of which were incredibly fresh. We loved how the natural flavor of the seafood was allowed to shine. This dish was also great because it allowed us to enjoy different tastes and textures, including (this list is not in order) tuna, salmon, flounder, giant clam, yellowtail, spot prawn, squid, octopus, scallop, and mackerel. So key highlights? The octopus was very good. The mackerel melted in the mouth and had all of the flavor of the delicious fish without the saltiness that you get when you eat the canned or grilled variety. It was an unexpected delight. My favorite though was the giant clam. I have never eaten pure, raw, unadulterated clam before, and this was surprisingly sweet and tender. Thinking about this makes me want to go back to Makoto just so I can eat this again.
The main course for the lunch box had four parts, which I shall describe going clockwise. On the top right is Chilean sea bass with mushrooms, sugar snap peas, and pickled green beans (8 out of 10). The fish was marinated well and cooked so that a kind of “seal” formed on the outside of the fish, and the fattiness was contained on the inside. If you know Vietnamese cuisine, it reminded me of the “caramel pot” style of cooking, like cá kho tô. I have never seen Chilean sea bass cooked in this manner, and it was delicious. The mushroom was moist and bursting with flavor, and the sugar snap peas had just been blanched, so they retained their snap. The pickled green beans were interesting. On the bottom right was orange roughy with tamago (8.5 out of 10). This was my favorite part of the lunch box, as the orange roughy (which I have never had before) was beautifully cooked and marinated and the egg omelet was delicate and faintly sweet. On the bottom left salmon with a cooked slice of lemon, soft (silken?) tofu and spicy radish (7.5 out of 10). This salmon was perfectly cooked so that it retained its moistness. The lemon slice was citrusy in a very mild way, without any of the bitterness that I expected. The tofu melted in the mouth (do I use this description too often?) and the spicy radish was a great addition, providing more depth of flavor (although it wasn’t needed). On the top left was tuna sashimi (three slices). This was fresh and good, but, being that it was simply raw fish, this part of the dish lacked the creativity displayed in the other elements.
With the main course, everyone was served a bowl of miso soup, which had the same smoky quality to it that the earlier broth with mussels had had. A bowl of rice also came with the boxed lunches. For both of the main dishes, the sum was even better than the parts, because of the variety we were allowed to taste. The best part of the meal was going back and forth between the different elements in each course. This also prevented our taste buds from becoming bored by one thing.
For dessert, we were all given a chilled bowl of grape and Grand Marnier sorbet, which was excellent. It was very refreshing and delicate, and served as the perfect palate cleanser. A beautiful 9 out of 10.
This restaurant is a place to go primarily for the excellent quality of food. Nothing was overwhelming or shocking, but neither was anything boring or timid. Every element was executed well, and each dish tasted sophisticated and fresh.
The service matched the quality of the food, and by that I mean that our waitress was very attentive and extremely polite. She constantly checked in on us to see if we needed anything, and our cups of tea were always promptly refilled. Some people may find this type of service to be a little distracting to the meal, but I didn't find it to be obtrusive.
The overall experience was very enjoyable; I would be happy to go back, and with the price tag, it's nice to know that I can afford to.

4822 MacArthur Blvd NW
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: 202-298-6866

Overall rating for the price: **, 2 stars out of 4 OR 8 out of 10