I had enough of Canada winning at the Olympics so we shut off the television and went to see the Oscar nominated animated shorts. I loved “Room on the Broom.” A simply adorable movie about a witch and her cat, and dog and bird and frog, and a wicked dragon who wanted to eat her. We also really enjoyed “Mr Hublot.” There is no explaining this one.
After the movie we headed to Brasserie Beck for dinner and beer. This is a good restaurant that serves traditional Belgian food as well as other mostly richer foods that go great with beer. But the real draw is getting to try the Belgian beer they have on tap. The chef and owner is Robert Weidmaier, a Belgian, and therefore beer connoisseur. He always has great beer.
We had skipped lunch so we were making up for it. We both had frisee salad with a poached egg. Oh, how we love poached egg in a salad. Trust me, you have to try it. Then I had a mushroom stuffed crepe and Matt had a house made bratwurst with spaetzle. We shared a dish of papparadelle with wild boar ragu. Yummy.
But the best part was we discovered a new Belgian beer–Gulden Draak. Also here. It was sublime. A dark triple, it was great with food, especially the meats and the wild boar ragu. Fantastic.
It only took me three years but I finally organized all of my recipes into binders. I have been collecting recipes for years, ripping them out of magazines and newspapers, downloading and printing them from the internet. The collection just grows and grows and grows and I vowed that I would go through and organize them. Tell me, how many pumpkin pie recipes can a person have? Well, a lot if you are not looking. I probably had a dozen.
Going through the recipes was like watching the entire world of cuisine develop in a few short decades. Looking at the recipes it was easy to see how tastes have developed over the years, from meat and potato dishes to exotic dishes like steak with chimichurri sauce or kimchi pancakes. My tastes have changes and the food magazines have changed. There is so much more variety in terms of fruits, vegetables and even meats. The regions from which the recipes came was like a world tour. We went from pan-Asian in the 1990’s (more Chinese and Japanese with things like miso), to South American, Hispanic and Latino, things like tomatillo sauce and moles, even Cubanos, then on to southeast Asian such as Thai and Viet which is still pretty popular. Then it all turned back to places like Spain and Italy. Spanish food has gotten a lot of attention in the last few years.
I promised myself that I would stop collecting and try to work through them. Maybe I can bake a dozen different pumpkin pies and decide which recipe is best.
Matt downloaded the entire season of Downton Abbey and our plan was to have raclette and watch a few episodes without completely bingeing. After all, if you watch it all in one day, that is 364 days you have to wait for the next season.
What is raclette? Raclette is a swiss cheese but not Swiss cheese. It is also a popular Swiss meal, custom, and winter rite. Here is how it works. You take raclette cheese and you put it under a special heater to melt it. There are actually raclette burners just for this process. Like this one:
There is something about melted cheese that excites our genes and our taste buds. Once the heat gets going, the top layer of cheese starts to melt and brown. (With my griddle, we melt chunks of cheese in little skillet like plates under a burner. Same effect. Melty oozing cheese.)
Once the cheese gets to melting, you scoop it onto a plate paired with boiled potatoes, brescaola or some other dried meat, cornichons or gherkin pickles, and pickled pearl onions. It is a real treat and we like to have it once a year, sometime in the winter when it snows.
Well, there has been snow on the ground, it has been cold, and it seems we are really having winter. So we fired up the cheese grill and poured some red wine. It was delicious. If you remind me and you visit in the winter, I’ll treat you.
Vietnamese food is very popular in D.C. I had never had pho, which is a noodle soup dish. Matt took me to Pho Nom Nom to give it a try. It was good. Really, it was. But I don’t think pho is great. It is not something I would go out of my way for. I much prefer the Sapporo noodles at Ren’s Ramen or the northern Chinese noodle soups at A&J’s Restaurant. Just my opinion.
I read an article about chocolate helping to ward off cardiovascular disease. Chocolate has been found to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke by relaxing your blood vessels, i.e., lowers blood pressure. The recommendation was to add a tablespoon of unsweetened chocolate (not dutch processed) to your coffee everyday. So I started doing that. Hey, why not a little chocolate everyday?
I also drink a small glass of beet juice twice a week. That is all I can stand because I hate beets. I hold my nose and gulp it down followed by something, anything sweet. There have been several studies that show beet juice increases oxygen uptake and also lowers blood pressure. This was all the rage at the last Olympics. They have also tested this on cyclists. So I gulp down the terrible stuff. (For me, beets taste like dirt. I just cannot get past that taste.)
Then I add kale to my breakfast shakes because aside from being a superfood, it helps with blood vessel function. I bruise easily and it is supposed to assist with blood clotting. (If you are prone to clotting problems, for heaven’s sakes, stay away from kale!)
All these home food remedies may have worked. When I swim I usually spend 15 laps just warming up and getting my lungs working so that I am not sucking for air. This week, I swam like a fish. I had no problem with breathing or fatigue. Or maybe it was just in my head and I was having a good day. It is hard to say. But if I have a choice between pharmaceuticals or supplements and foods, I’ll take the food. There is no harm in them. Except for those nasty beets. Yuck! (And no, family, I never ate my mom’s pickled beets.)
We had an ice storm to day so it was a good day for hot noodles.
I bought a large bunch of mustard greens and had to do something with them. I started searching for recipes and found one for dan dan noodles, but it called for pickled mustard greens that it said, helpfully, I could locate in the nearest Asian store. I love my Asian grocery store but it was the greens I had to cook so I decided to pickle the greens myself. Why not? I changed up the dan dan noodle recipe a bit to make it quicker. Here is the adaptation that I came up with.
Noodles with Pickled Mustard Greens
Marsha’s Recipe Repair, Dec. 2013
This recipe originally called for ground pork. I use the leaner cut of pork tenderloin. I have made this more of a noodle dish with a lot of broth. Not quite soup but not noodles tossed with a light sauce either. It is kind of spicy, hot and slurpy. If you cannot find sambal oelek, a possible substitution would be Italian ground chili peppers, like that used on hoagies, but it won’t be quite the same.
1 lb linguini or Chinese egg noodles if available
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
½ cup sliced onion
1 lb pork tenderloin, sliced into ¼ inch thick pieces
2 Tbsp. tahini (sesame paste)
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. sambal oelek (Thai chili paste)
1 garlic clove, mashed
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups pickled mustard greens (recipe below)
1. Cook noodles according to package directions and drain. Toss noodles in large bowl with sesame oil and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large deep skillet or sauce pan over medium high heat. Add onions and pork slices and saute (stir fry) until the meat is no longer pink, about three to five minutes. It will cook quickly. Remove pork from skillet and set aside.
3. In a separate bowl mix tahini, vinegar, chili paste, and garlic. Pour into same skillet and let is sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add broth stirring up brown bits. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.
4. Divide among four large soup bowls ¼ of the noodles, ¼ of the pork slices, ½ cup pickled mustard greens, and a ladle about ½ cup sauce over all. Toss and eat. Serves 4.
Pickled mustard greens
These need to be made at least 48 hours ahead of time.
In a saucepan combine 2 Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp salt, ¼ cup white vinegar, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Stir until sugar melts. Remove from heat and let cool.
After cutting off larger stems, cut 1 bunch of mustard greens (about four cups) into thin strips, and then coarsely chop. Cut any remaining stems into small 1-inch pieces. Pack the mustard greens into a large quart canning jar. Pour pickling liquid over the greens, covering them completely. Screw lid on tight and place in refrigerator for at least two days. The greens will wilt and soften somewhat, which is fine.
We love chips and dip and at this time of year appetizers are often on the menu. But they can take a costly toll on the waistline. There is a simple way to make the dip better. It requires some time cooking onions but it is well worth the effort. As for chips, I recommend Kettle Brand Baked Potato chips. These are not potato mush formed into chips liked Baked Lays. They are real potatoes that are baked. Quite good and a lot less fat. Here is the recipe for the dip to go with them:
2. Pour oil into large non-stick or iron skillet and heat at medium high.
3. As oil begins to glisten, add onions and stir to coat onions with oil. Turn heat down to medium low or low depending on how your stove and skillet cook. You want the onions to be cooking but not getting black.
4. The onions now have to cook for about 25 minutes over low heat, stirring periodically to make sure they do not stick and burn. This will caramelize the onions, which means the sugars will start to brown. Use this time for some meditation. Contemplate life. Smell the aromas. Be patient. The following pictures show the progression you should see:
5. Place cooked onions into a food processor and give it a whirr to coarsely chop them. You will have about a 1/2 cup after cooking and chopping.
6. Mix onions, sour cream, and beef broth flavoring in a large bowl and stir. Note that the beef broth mix will give it a smokier onion soup flavor but it is not essential. if you don’t have any on hand, you can use only salt, pepper and paprika. You can also add herbs like oregano and thyme to liven it up. Use your imagination.
7. Now comes the hardest part: adding the salt and pepper. Add the spices a little at a time, take a taste, and see where you are. Add a smidge of paprika but not more than that. You will be surprised to find out that you will not need a lot of salt. Here is a hint. Instead of just randomly adding it to a recipe when it is called for, add it to your food after it is cooked, unless there is some specific reason to use salt (like in baking or in a spice rub). Salting your food at the finish will result in the use of a lot less salt because it is on top of your food for your taste buds to sense. I rarely add salt when I am cooking. I salt my food at the table.
8. Once you get the salt and pepper to where you want them, enjoy!
We were in Bermuda many years ago and we ate fish with bananas. I know it sounds funny, but it really is quite good. Bananas go very well with different meats and seafoods. I later discovered a recipe for it in Burt Wolf’s Eating Well cookbook. He in turn got the recipe from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans.
Today, I had some ripe bananas so we had fish and bananas for dinner. I have revised this recipe over the years largely because it requires the fish to be breaded and fried. Here is my revised and more healthful version:
Roasted Fish and Bananas
Serves 2 can be scaled up
2 4-ounce halibut steaks
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
dash of salt and pepper
2 bananas peeled and sliced
For lime sauce:
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of two lemons
1 clove garlic mashed
1 tsp peppercorns
2 Tbsp canola oil based butter substitute
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the halibut steaks with olive oil and place on oven safe skillet. (I like cast iron.) Mix herbs and spices in a small bowl and spread evenly over fish. Place skillet into oven and cook for about 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. The fish is done when it flakes easily and is a rich white color.
2. While the fish is cooking, place the sliced bananas in a roasting pan sprayed with cooking spray. Place into the oven with the fish for five minutes. Don’t cook for too long or they will turn into mush.
3. In a small saucepan, mix the juices, garlic and peppercorns. Allow to come to a boil and then turn on low for about 15 minutes. The juices should get somewhat syrupy and the water cooks off. Add the butter substitute, stirring until a soft sauce forms. Note: I like things tart. If you do not want it as tart, remove the juice of one lime, add a bit of water instead, and a dash of sugar, and keep stirring.
4. With all the pieces, build the dish. Plate the halibut. Top with half of the bananas. Then spoon over some of the sauce. Sprinkle with almonds and enjoy.
We gave thanks for not being in the traffic and weather that created numerous headaches up and down the East coast yesterday. We also gave thanks for having a nice relaxing movie day.
We watched the movie, The Grand Master, the story of Ip Man, a kung fu grandmaster and his journey from pre-Communist China, the invasion of Japan, and his exile to Hong Kong. It was a gorgeous movie to watch, the scenes so carefully planned with color, texture, lighting and costumes. The story focused on Ip but the larger history of China and kung fu were also part of his personal history, which made it a big, lush cinematic movie about a historic figure. Plus, there was a lot of kung fu which made it that much better. He is reputed to have taught Bruce Lee.
After the movie, I had to focus on dinner.
I had a bee in my bonnet that I was going to have game for dinner. I started off thinking buffalo but as I investigated Colonial history, it was clear that the likely food would have been game birds or venison. I went with pheasant.
I found a recipe for pheasant with a rustic cranberry sauce that turned out to be a true plate scrapper. It was an odd combination of cranberries cooked in red wine, sour cream, bacon and honey. We could not get enough of this sauce. As I was cooking the pheasant, the gamey smell started to worry me. But the sauce mellowed out the flavor of the bird and complemented it completely. Sometimes game birds need something sweet to offset the game flavor. This sweet-tart combination was so much the better. I wanted to take a picture but alas, we had scarfed it down before I remembered. All that was available were clean bones and scrapped plates.
On the side, I had a wild rice dish from The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook. The Cafe is attached to the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall. If you every want a fantastic meal when you are checking out the museums or monuments, stop in. It is pricey but this is fine dining in a cafeteria. The recipe called for the rice to be tossed with a simple apple cider vinaigrette, pumpkin seeds, green onions, and I added some micro-greens instead of carrots and tomatoes.
For dessert I made mini pecan pies.
After dinner, we went out to a movie. All is Lost with Robert Redford, and only Robert Redford, is a tale of one man’s battle with the sea. What we learn is that the sea and weather are formidable opponents and we are at their mercy. You can take all of the action movies with monsters and super villains and they can not match what nature throws at him in this movie because this is actually real life stuff. What happens to him could happen to anyone.
This movie has only a few words of dialogue. It is just Redford acting. It was gripping. To watch him alone trying to figure out what to do when a hole is blown in his yacht was absolutely worth watching. I had to know what was going to happen. Redford carried that movie with only his face and his body doing the acting. We watched in fascination as he tried to survive. I cannot say enough about this movie and if he is not nominated for an Oscar, indeed, if he does not win the Oscar, there is no justice. I cannot think of anyone who could pull this off. But he did it. Just see the movie.
I got 34 catalogs in the mail today. 34. It was a very big pile that filled the mail box. I wish I could sell my name and address with such success. It really bugs me that someone else is making money from my profile.
Tonight we had a meatball soup from Umbria. Ground veal and pork mixed with raisins, pine nuts and orange zest poached in chicken broth. Oh, Lidia, thanks for that. You too Umbria and Italy. I added some cherry tomato halves and a small portion of egg noodles to fill it out, then I topped it with Asiago cheese. It was light but filling.
Holy moly, I need to put a warning label on that green curry paste from the Korean store. Caution: HOT!!!
I cooked up Nicole Routhier’s Bangkok Noodles for dinner. It is a lovely amalgamation of rice noodles, shrimp, coconut milk, and pineapple from her Fruit Cookbook. The recipe calls for yellow curry. I did not have it so I went with Thai green curry paste. Yikes! I thought my lips were going to fall off. I tried chugging beer with it but that did not help much. I gulped it down but it was pretty painful. Matt was in such distress he finally gave up and asked me to rinse his noodles to clean off most of the curry.
Why do we eat hot foods? Why? Because our brain doesn’t know any better or if it does know better, it just doesn’t care. By the time the tongue gets the message up there, it is too late.
We got all of our vegetables today since it seems to have been cabbage day.
I bought some kimchi and we had what I call Kimchi Reubens for lunch.
Kimchi Reuben – Serves one
Two slices rye bread
2-3 ounces roast beef or roast turkey
1/2 cup kimchi (we like medium spicy)
1 slice reduced fat cheddar cheese
Top one slice of rye bread with the meat, then kimchi, then cheese. Broil or toast both the stack and the other slice of bread. Eat it up, yum.
There is a food writer in the Washington Post, Joe Yonan, who claims his friends accuse him of putting kimchi in everything. We are not quite there but it is true that sometimes we get on a kimchi binge and then look out. I will hunt the internet for recipes and sometimes I make my own.
For dinner we had a risotto with shredded cabbage and sweet Italian sausage.
… at home. We watched RED 2. This is great stuff for we middle aged types. Not too violent and noisy but entertaining. I still think Bruce Willis is funny and interesting and who knew John Malkovich could be so funny. He plays this loony RED to the max.
We had one of our favorites for dinner. First I broiled some roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese. Then we followed that up with a balsamic tossed arugula salad wrapped in a lavosh that has been sent under the broiler to melt its Gruyère cheese topping. I adapted this from a recipe in a cookbook called Mediterranean Cooking the Healthful Way by Marlena Spieler. I love this cookbook. It has wonderful Mediterranean recipes that are simple, full of vegetables, and reflect the Mediterranean diet, written long before that was the thing. I have several of Spieler’s cookbooks and everyone is just as good.
We have developed a passion for the mini chocolate cupcakes from Whole Foods. We are allowed to have one with afternoon coffee. They are called two-bite cupcakes. Nonsense. one bite will do. I have concluded that a cupcake is really nothing more than icing delivery vehicle. That is fine so long as you don’t over do it.