Thursday, June 30, 2011

When in France... Make Crêpes

My hiatus in posting recipes and reviews is fairly inexcusable, especially since I have three reviews backlogged just waiting to be published, but to make it up for you I have a recipe for something everybody likes: crêpes.

Crêpes, for those of you who don't know, are a large, very thin French pancakes made with a very liquidy batter.  They can be dusted with sugar and then lightly spritzed with rum or lemon juice, or they can be served with nutella or jam, or they can be filled with bananas, whipped cream, nuts, and such.  They are also sometimes served flambé, with Grand Marnier.  The possibilities are endless.

I have always preferred my crêpes simple.  I like them cooked to a nice golden color and served with sugar and rum.  I recently went to dinner at a restaurant here in Paris which only served crêpes, and the savory options were extensive and delicious.  It may sound odd, but my  crêpe had hamburger meat and was served with a fried egg on top.  Yummy!

I can't say when I ate my first crêpe, but I'm sure I was very young, since my grandparents live in France and I have been coming here for years to visit them.  This summer I find myself in Paris again, somehow at the same time as my older cousins.  Ironically, of all the cousins, only one of them is Parisienne and she now lives in Saigon, Vietnam.  The other two are from the Bordeaux region of France (famous for its wines) and have moved to Paris for work.  We got together the other night for raclette, wine, and crêpes.  This recipe for crêpes is my cousin's; I had actually never made crêpes before from scratch.

The recipe itself is very simple, likely stuff you already have in your kitchen, and once you made one or two crêpes, you get the hang of things pretty quickly and they start looking nicer and nicer.  Be warned though: these are best when eaten warm.  So have your company ready to eat them, or take a break between cooking every one or two crepes so that you can enjoy them while they're fresh.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lemon Bars

I've been in a funk for a while and for some reason I just haven't felt the same about cooking, baking, or posting.  Which is very odd for me.  Cooking and baking are usually my go-to activities, especially when I have a fully stocked kitchen and great seasonal ingredients.  Which I do have right now.

But I just haven't really felt that wonderful feeling of happiness I normally associate with cooking.  I made pork belly today with king oyster mushrooms and onions and while it was good, I felt no real satisfaction in making it.  I also made a strawberry rhubarb crumble.  It was my first time cooking with rhubarb.  And no real excitement.  It was good, but I don't feel compelled to share it with you.

Instead, I offer you lemon bars.  I made these a few days ago because we happened to have a lot of limes in the house.  And, yes, I made my lemon bars with limes.  So really, I suppose, they should be called lime bars, but that just doesn't have the same ring to it that the name "lemon bars" does.  So lemon bars.

This recipe has been a long time family favorite.  My parents are crazy about them and I've made them as gifts for family friends many times.  They were also the defining baked good of one of my relationships.  It's funny; I have certain recipes that I inextricably associate with people.  My oatmeal chocolate chip cookies will always make me think of Josh.  My apple tart cake always reminds me of my dad.  These lemon bars always make me think of E.

When we first started dating, E. came over fairly often and to my surprise, he sometimes rummaged my kitchen and fridge.  I had never had anyone just come over and open my fridge before, so it startled me quite a bit that he did it so naturally, but I was blinded by my infatuation.  On our third or fourth "date" (I put that word in parentheses because he was just coming over to watch movies), he discovered a container of lemon bars on the counter.  Of course, he was interested in trying them.  So, we sat down in the living room with the container and we snacked on them while smiling at each other and half-watching something on the TV.  And then, the inevitable happened.  The taste of lemon bars was in both of our mouths when we kissed, and when we pulled back from the kiss, E. told me with a smile that that was the best tasting kiss he'd ever had.  I thought it was one of the sweetest things I'd ever been told.  I've baked him these lemon bars several times since then, and I am still reminded of that summer when I think of this recipe.

As I said before, I normally use limes for this recipe.  Limes are generally cheaper than lemons at the market, and no one can really tell the difference anyway. Also, one lime typically yields more juice than one lemon, so it is an economical choice.  But, if you feel the need to be "authentic," the recipe works with lemons just as well as it does with limes.

This standard recipe one 8x13 pan, but I normally find that that simply isn't enough to satiate my family and friends, so I make the recipe slightly bigger and make an 8x13 pan and an 8x8 pan so there is a lot to go around.  The bars keep well in an air tight container at room temperature.  They keep even longer in the fridge.  And when I say "even longer" I mean almost two weeks, if you're a hoarder, like myself.

These lemon bars are delicious when served with blueberries, strawberries, or peaches.  Of course, they are also great alone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lunch at Michel

This is the first time that I've ever let weeks slide by in my posting.  I've normally tried to keep the space between my posts be no more than six days, but this summer has been rather up and down and while I have not had a lack of things to post about, I just have not had the energy nor the will to post.  But yesterday I went out to lunch at Michel, a relatively new restaurant in the DC area, and I feel like I need to share this review with you.  Michel is located in the Ritz Carlton.  It is another one of Michel Richard's restaurants (the Michel Richard of Citronelle and Central).

Michel offers a changing three course menu for $21 which is called the "Lunch with Benefits," as part of the profits goes to a cause.  This week's cause was cystic fibrosis.  Two choices were offered for the appetizer, two for the main course, and three for dessert.  We also ordered a la carte off the main lunch menu.

One of the appetizers offered with the prix fixe menu is a vichyssoise, or a thick soup made of leeks, potatoes, and onions.  Michel's vichyssoise was served with potato crisps (also known as potato chips).  It was interesting, as it had an acid note to it that I have never tasted before in a vichyssoise, but it was not unpleasant.  The crisps provided a nice textual element to the creamy, smooth soup.  Overall it was a 8.5 out of 10.

The other appetizer offered as part of the prix fixe menu was the tuna tartare nicoise.  This was a salad with green beans, red onion, and hard boiled eggs, among other elements.  I thought the tuna was a little thickly cut and could have been more elegantly presented.  It was a 6.5 out of 10, which is pretty average.

An appetizer ordered a la carte was the cheese puffs (also called gougères, $8).  These were a little too heavy.  We’ve had Michel Richard’s gougères before (at Central), and they were lighter and fluffier.  These ones tasted fine, but weren’t the airy puffs we’d had before.  We gave them a 7 out of 10.

Diver scallops with couscous paella was one of the main courses offered with the prix fixe menu.  This dish featured two scallops on top a bed of Israeli couscous.  The scallops were sweet, and nicely cooked.  The paella was not as spicy as a tradition paella, but did include squid, mussels, and sausage.  It was an 8.5 out of 10, good but not amazing.

The other main course offered with the prix fixe menu was a croque monsieur.  This was fairly banal.  Not only was the plating boring—just a half sandwich with some green leaves, and I even had to re-plate it a bit because it was done with absolutely no attention to detail—but the sandwich itself was nothing special.  We had hoped that Michel Richard might put some fun spin on it (like Inn at Little Washington does with mac and cheese), but instead it was just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich on some decent bread.  Worse yet, the salad was not fresh.  Not only were the greens wilted, but they were bruised and aged so much that some were almost black in color.  My mom called over one of the waiters and showed him the salad.  He very quickly brought it back to the kitchen and she was given a new salad on a new plate.  Unfortunately, this salad was not properly dressed and was very plain in taste.  I have to say, I expected much better of a Michel Richard restaurant.  We gave this a 6.5 out of 10.

One entree we ordered a la carte off the lunch menu was red snapper with pipérade and garlic parsley sauce.  This was served with some great roasted red pepper.  It was a full bodied dish, well executed, with some beautifully cooked fish.  Not a wow, but very good.  An 8.5 out of 10.

The second entree we ordered a la carte was flat iron steak with shallot sauce and french fries.  This was executed well, with some very great crispy french fries.  A solid dish, we gave it a 8.5 out of 10.

One of the desserts offered as part of the prix fixe menu was a chocolate bar.  This was a little too sweet, and the sweetness was not balanced properly by salt.  The milk chocolate bar did have some texture due to a hazelnut crunch layer, but it was unimpressive.  I do not think we finished it.  The pistachio wafer was beautiful and impressively thin, but it did not offer much in terms of taste.  We gave this a 6.5 out of 10.

The other dessert offered as part of the prix fixe menu was a vanilla pot de creme (the item as listed on the menu has no accent marks).  This was very sweet, and almost overwhelmed by the layer of caramel on top.  The caramel had no sophistication to it; it was like something you would buy in a squeeze bottle at a grocery store.  The thin pale wafers served with it were likewise unimpressive and lacking in flavor.  This dessert was a 6 out of 10.

In the end, when the bill was brought out, our waiter told us that we were compensated for my mother’s meal, meaning that a total of $21 was subtracted from our bill as a result of the wilted and bruised greens.  This was a very generous move on the part of the restaurant, as only one part of her three course meal had been a disappointment, but it did not move us in terms of our opinion of Michel.  Overall, the experience was very average.  There are too many good places in DC for us to return to this one, which is sad, given that my dad had previously eaten at this restaurant with my sister and they had both enjoyed the meal very much.  I suppose it is hit or miss?  But that is not acceptable when you’re serving the foodie crowds of the DC metropolitan area.

1700 Tysons Blvd
McLean, VA 22102
Tel. 703-506-4300
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10