Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Baked Peaches with Vanilla Rice Pudding

I came across this recipe on Tastespotting through a much more beautiful picture than I've taken here. Rice pudding reminds me of being a child, which is funny, because most of the reactions I've gotten to rice pudding are "gross," "mush," and "old people food." Often with raisins added, I loved the sweetness and mix of textures that rice pudding provided. I also, not surprisingly, liked tapioca pudding when others were screaming "Ew! Fish eyes!"

This recipe takes a more adult approach to rice pudding, using jasmine rice, adding vanilla, and serving it in a baked peach. The result is sweet and soothingly fragrant when it comes out of the oven. And, the left over rice pudding is enjoyable, hot or cold, on its own.
Baked Peaches with Vanilla Rice Pudding

4 large peaches or 6 small peaches
1/2 cup cooked jasmine rice
1/4 cup cream
1 TBS sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To the rice, add cream, sugar and vanilla. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Spoon rice mixture into each peach half, place in a baking pan, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Top off with a dash of nutmeg.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On the Road: Yechon in Annandale, VA

4121 Hummer Road
Annandale, VA

When our friends invited us at the last minute to join them for Korean food in Annandale, I could not contain my excitement. Not only would it be my first experience with Korean cuisine, it would be my first "road trip" to Annandale (and therefore providing a story perhaps for this blog's "On the Road" series). I am always up for a food adventure! We were going to Yechon on Hummer Drive. Immediately, I began to research - reading reviews, about the service, decor, and what to order. Before even setting foot in the restaurant, it seemed we had picked a winner. Armed with this knowledge and GoogleMaps directions we set out for dinner.

Only about a 1/2 hour outside of D.C., it barely constitutes a road trip, but we don't go to Virginia very often so it was an adventure nevertheless. We reach the parking lot and it looked packed with people hanging out around their cars and under the neon signs on the exterior of the otherwise nondescript building. I assumed there must be a long wait. It got great reviews, it is open 24/7, so why not? That's when we saw the flashing blue lights and police tape. There was a serious investigation going on, complete with Mobile Command Centers. In fact, the police tape stretched right up to the restaurant door.

After some inquiry and a quick fact check on, we learned that earlier in the day a woman had been found bound and stabbed down the street. Horrible. Nevertheless, the pleasant wait staff ushered us inside and apologized for the commotion. They were eager to serve us, though, and oddly I thought, they sat us right in the front window, with a view of the action. It was, I admit, a bit disconcerting when the police passed by our window with flashlights, peering into the news stands (perhaps looking for the murder weapon)?

We tried hard to direct our attention to the food, and with the pleasing aromas coming from the kitchen, it wasn't too difficult. Multiple waitresses came to our table to take our order and we had to keep explaining that we needed "just one more minute." Perhaps there was a general anxiety because of all the police activity? For a newbie like me, I needed some serious time to digest my options. I got a brief navigation to the 10+ page menu from our waitress (the restaurant also serves Japanese cuisine) and ultimately settled my focus on the Korean Traditional Dinner page, Kal Bi Dolsot Bibim Bap (Bibim Bap with marinated ribs served in a hot stone bowl) to be exact. Bibim Bap, for those totally new to Korean food like I was, is the Korean's version of "everything but the kitchen sink" - rice loaded with a mix of vegetables and bean sprouts and topped with an egg.

The service was incredibly fast (perhaps because it wasn't too crowded). Within an instant, the real fun began. Soon we were greeted each with a bowl of miso soup, and 10-15 small plates to share, along with our Mung Bean Pancake appetizer. At this point I start wondering whether we really needed to order an entree! I'm afraid I won't remember all of the small plates we received by some of them were kimchi, fried squid, noodles, potato salad of sorts, and an egg dish similar to a quiche. Each delicious and varied enough in spice and texture so there was something for everyone. The miso soup was light and flavorful with a generous portion of tofu cubes.

Within our next breath, our entrees arrived, before we barely had two bites of the small plates. Generally, I'd balk at the overly fast service, but it all seemed appropriate here. A celebration of variety, excess, and sharing food with good friends. Plus, my Bibam Bap was served in a hot stone pot, so it wasn't going to get cold anytime soon.

I sparingly added the accompanying sauce and stirred all of the ingredients together. I steer clear from the overly spicy, generally, but I was soon to learn that although the sauce had some heat to it, it was more tangy/ sweet than anything and a perfect accompaniment to the marinated ribs over vegetables and rice. (The Kal Bi Dolsot Bibim Bap does not come topped with an egg). There was so much in this hot stone bowl that it was hard to get tired of any one flavor: rice, bean sprouts, carrots, noodles, zucchini. Each bite provided a new adventure. The marinated short ribs were sweet and paired nicely with the tangy sauce and the heat of the bowl gave an interesting yet unexpected crunch to the rice at the bottom (I don't know if that is intentional, but I'm not sure how you would get around it, eating out of a bowl that is still cooking your food).

I'm officially a fan of Korean food and Yechon in Annandale. Not only did they handle a very unconventional evening with grace, but delivered a tasty and satisfying dining experience to a newcomer to Korean cuisine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tempura Battered Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella and Basil

Squash blossoms have intrigued me this season. For the first time ever hearing about them, I've seen them at all of the farmer's markets, Oyamel is having their 2nd annual squash blossom festival, and Michelle Obama is eating them (at Oyamel). Plus, they are beautiful, and just scream summer. If someone hadn't thought to eat them, I'd put them in a vase.

Once I got up the nerve to buy a container of the delicate yellow and orange blossoms at the Dupont Farmer's Market (I always try to buy one thing I've never cooked before at the markets each week), I set out on a researching expedition. Squash blossoms don't have a long shelf life, so I had to work fast. I ultimately decided on stuffing and deep frying, as that seemed to be the most popular preparation, but I soon learned that it was possible to use the blossoms in sauces, soups and even quesadillas.

I found a Wolfgang Puck recipe for tempura battered squash blossoms, but I decided to incorporate my own stuffing - some fresh mozzarella and basil (from my Aerogarden, of course). A little East meets West. Now I was faced not only with the prospect of cooking with squash blossoms but embarking on my first deep frying experience. Without a deep fry thermometer. True culinary challenges, indeed. I'm proud to say that I didn't burn the house down and that I thoroughly enjoyed the final product.

Tempura Battered Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Mozzarella and Basil

Tempura Batter

1/4 cup rice flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBS baking powder
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 TBS salt
1 tsp cayenne
3 cups soda water

Squash Blossoms

squash blossoms (cleaned with stamen removed)
vegetable oil for frying

To make the batter, sift together all of the dry ingredients. Whisk in the soda water, a little at a time, until the right consistency is achieved. The batter should coat the back of a spoon, but some excess batter should run off the spoon. Allow to rest in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before use.

Once batter has rested, heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. I placed about a half inch in a deep pot and heated until a small drop of batter browned nicely. In the meantime, stuff squash blossoms with one piece of mozzarella and one leaf of basil. Twist ends of blossom to seal and dip into batter. Fry in oil, turning once or twice, until golden brown on all sides.

Food Truckin': Fojol Bros

[photo by benmurray, available under a creative commons license]

Continuing with my series on food trucks, I visited Fojol Bros., the traveling Indian cart that also announces their whereabouts on Twitter. When I learned that they would be two blocks from my home on a Sunday evening when I had no dinner planned, it was a no-brainer. Plus, I've recently decided I like Indian food! My husband and I set off for an evening stroll and to eat dinner curbside.

We could hear the music from a block away, of the upbeat carnival kind. Then, the costumes came into view. Men in wearing fake moustaches and turbans with bright colored jumpsuits. It was kitschy and exciting all at once.

Unfortunately, that's where the high hopes peaked. Selections for the evening were limited to chicken masala, chicken curry, spinach and cheese, and pumpkin. You can choose one, two, or three entrees over rice. I opted for the chicken masala, which was way heavy on the rice, and piddly on the chicken. That was even ok, though - I was just looking for a taste. And a taste is what I got. I found the masala to be sweet, almost sickly sweet, and I (who generally steers clear of all things spicy) was begging for some zing. The real disappointment, however, was in the rice. It was way overcooked and seemed like it had been sitting around all day (as did the chicken). Everything was luke-warm.

I do applaud their environmentalism and community involvement, however. They'll deliver your forks and eating containers to a compost facility after you are done. Plus, a portion of their proceeds goes to charity. I really really wanted to like them. Who doesn't want to get excited about following a traveling culinary carnival around town. Unfortunately, it was the culinary part that was missing. In this day and age, there are very few excuses for not delivering a fresh, quality food product.

According to the Fojol Bros. Web site, they "hope to bring together local communities through a dynamic food experience on DC's streets." Reminiscent of the neighborhood ice cream truck, they certainly attract a following when they roll through with their brightly colored truck, music and costumes. I'm afraid the food, though, does not keep up with the fanfare.

Location: varies.
Follow @fojolbros on Twitter for up to date locations.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Coffee Rubbed Pork Chops with Apricot Sauce

One of my favorite steak dishes is the coffee rubbed fillet at Capital Grille, and I'm not even a coffee drinker. But there is something about the smokey earth sweetness that pairs so nicely with the meaty texture, similar, I guess, to barbecue sauce. Well, I did not have any steak on hand, but I did have boneless pork chops in the freezer, so I set out to see if the pairing would work as well. After reviewing a few coffee rubs in cookbooks and online, I settled on adapting the recipe from this site. Plus, I liked the suggestion of the apricot topping. (And let me say that pork is the only meat entree that I will pair with fruit. Otherwise, I save it for dessert - see Medallions of Pork with Pear Sauce.)

The dish was a breeze to make. I marinated the pork for a few hours in the refrigerator and let it come close to room temperature before grilling. Slice up some apricots and soften them in a saucepan and voila! Coffee rubbed pork chops with apricot sauce. The tangy sweetness of the fruit was a nice contrast to the smokey spice of the rub (thanks to some chili powder).
Coffee Rubbed Pork Chops with Apricot Sauce
Serves 4

4 boneless pork chops

1 1/2 TBS French roast coffee (ground)
3/4 TBS smokey paprika
1/4 TBS chili powder
3/4 TBS coursely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt

3 apricots, pitted and sliced
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 TBS sugar
dash of salt

Combine coffee, paprika, chili powder, black pepper and salt. Rub over pork, cover and refrigerate for 1-4 hours. Let pork come to room temperature before grilling 4-5 minutes on each side.

For the sauce, combine the apricots, lemon juice, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan. Heat on low for 4-5 minutes until apricots just begin to break down.

Top grilled pork with apricots.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Zucchini Cakes

There comes a time in every cook's life when she is faced with an abundance of one ingredient. And then she commences to cook that one ingredient in every possible form known to mankind.

Enter zucchini. Lots of it. My husband is lucky to have a boss that has something between your typical backyard garden and an abundantly productive farm and lately he has been bringing in zucchini. By the bucketful. While I will never turn away a fresh squash, I've lately been worried I might turn into one.

I've been sauteeing, adding to salads, even making up recipes (which involved brie and breadcrumbs and were not so good). Tonight I tried Paula Deen's Squash and Zucchini Cakes (with just the zucchini, of course). I also halved the recipe and used Italian flavored breadcrumbs, thus eliminating the need for Italian seasoning and I served the cakes with a tomato salad rather than the marinara sauce. Although they may not be the most beautiful dish, the result was something like a latke, nicely flavored, and would make a great dinner party hors d'oeuvres. To see how pretty Paula Deen's turned out, click here.
Squash and Zucchini Cakes
Serves 6

3 medium zucchini
3 medium yellow squash
1 cup toasted bread crumbs
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1/3 cup minced Vidalia onion
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 jar store-bought marinara sauce

Grate zucchini and squash with a fine grater. Press between paper towels to remove excess moisture (this took more time than I thought).

In a medium bowl, combine grated zucchini and squash and next 7 ingredients. Shape mixture into 2-inch patties, pressing together firmly.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Cook squash and zucchini cakes 3-4 minutes per side until lightly browned.

Place on a serving platter and serve with marinara sauce.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baked and Seasoned French Fries

Not a particularly fancy recipe, nor does it involve any crazy techniques, seasoned home fries are easy to make and a sure crowd pleaser. Plus, if you bake them, they're kind of healthy!
Baked and Seasoned French Fries
Serves 4 (side dish)

3 medium-large baking potatoes
2 TBS olive oil
Old Bay seasoning to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes. Cut potatoes in half and half again, continuing until you reach the preferred size of your fry (usually 8ths or 16ths).

Place cut potatoes into mixing bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and season with Old Bay seasoning. Using your hands, toss the potatoes a few times so that they are coated with the oil and seasoning.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes until tender. Place under broiler for 2-3 minutes until crisp and golden brown.

Summer Berries and Ice Cream

Nothing says summer more than fresh berries and ice cream. Marinating the berries in a blend of balsamic vinegar and sugar gives this classic refresher a grown-up punch.

Yes, you can marinate berries! For a great ending to a summer barbecue, try using this berry salad as a topping for your favorite ice cream or creamy gelato.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Food Truckin': Sweetflow Mobile

Something the DC street food scene has recently been energized with is the emergence of a few new food carts (or trucks as is the case with Sweetflow Mobile and Fojol Bros.) Of course, there have always been the standard hot dog vendors who also serve pretzels, candy and a variety of beverages out of white coolers (most big cities have those). And, there are the two competing burrito carts - one at 17th and K and Pedro and Vinny's two blocks down on 15th. But, Sweetflow fills a much needed void in the realm of street food: dessert. Specifically, frozen yogurt. Breaking boundaries by using fresh, organic ingredients, the concept of "street food" is elevated to a higher level. Plus, it is environmentally friendly. Brought to us by the folks behind Sweetgreen, their trucks are "uniquely engineered to run without a generator, thus significantly reducing the amount of fuel consumed." Sweetgreen, indeed.

I recently found Sweetflow at MacPherson Square thanks to Twitter. Tim regularly posts a heads-up to his whereabouts and what time he'll be there. When I showed up, he gave me a great introduction to his product - refreshingly tangy yogurt from Stoneyfield Farms, frozen, fat-free, and containing those all important live and active cultures. Then, topped with your choice of fresh, local ingredients, including fruits and crunchy toppings such as nut and granola. My selection: yogurt topped with mango, blackberries and coconut. It was so good and so fresh I felt like I could be on a tropical island. The yogurt was cool and creamy, tangy but not puckering, and surrounded by the perfect portion of fruit that appeared to be picked at its height of ripeness.

A small cup costs $5, but was not at all skimpy in size. The portion, I felt, was actually generous. For something so refreshing and healthy, it was worth it.
Location: varies. Follow @SweetflowMobile on Twitter for up to date locations.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Green Living

You are what you eat. Or, as Michael Pollan would say, you are what what you eat eats. For this post, however, we don't have to worry about whether our cows are eating grass or corn mixed with growth hormones because I'm talking about vegetables and herbs. Specifically, green ones.

Nevertheless, it is no secret that everything that you eat has the potential to benefit you (by giving you essential vitamins and nutrients) or harm you (by clogging arteries), with the exception perhaps of celery which in college circles has long been believed to only offer negative calories (once you are done chewing).

The real point of this post was to give me a chance to play around with my food photography, using some recent items that I've incorporated into my meals. Seeing that they are all green, and healthy, I thought that in addition to sharing pretty food pictures, I'd share with you the nutritional benefits of the subjects as well. Plus, summer squash, peas and basil also happen to be delicious!

Summer Squash: chock full of beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin C making this vegetable an excellent fighter against cancer, heart disease and inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis and asthma.

Cooking Suggestion: summer squash has a light yet somewhat sweet taste. I find it best just lightly sauteed in olive oil. No seasonings needed; it can completely stand on its own.

Fun fact: the largest squash ever grown weighed in at 962 pounds.

Green (and purple) Basil: basil also has anti-inflammatory properties. It is recommended for nausea and motion sickness and aids in digestion. Also a good source of folic acid.

Suggested uses: basil's most common usage is probably in pesto or paired with tomatoes, but is also delicious added to a stuffed chicken breast with goat cheese, mixed in with salad, or as a stand-in for mint in a mojito.

Fun fact: in Italy, basil symbolizes love (where ELSE would a symbol for love be a food?).

Peas: green peas provide 8 vitamins, 7 minerals and are important in promoting good heart and bone health. They also supply dietary fiber and protein - good for digestion and recharging your (inner) battery.

Suggested uses: like summer squash, peas have a deliciously delicate flavor all on their own. I prefer to quickly blanch them and eat them sans dressing.

Fun fact: peas found by archeologists on the Thai-Burmese border have been carbon-dated to 9750 B.C.

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