Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Athena Pallas Leftovers at Home

For lunch, I had some leftover dolmades, with rice pilaf, bread, and an IPA.

No photos. I'm feeling lazy, and it's all pretty ugly, as I didn't bother to re-heat it. The "avgolemono" sauce it came in (really more of a schmaltz-flavored bechamel, if there is such a thing)is grotesquely congealed in a solid mass on the dolmades, and the rest is pretty monochromatic.

The dolmades are mostly filled with meat, and taste heavily of pickle, when they don't taste like dense mystery meat (beef, pork, lamb, or some combination thereof).The bread is gorgeous and probably homemade, reminding me a lot of the recently departed, much-mourned (even from a thousand miles away) Central II. Central II had such amazing food, and the most fabulous waitress in the world; it's tragic it's gone. But Athena Pallas has the potential to become my DC-area replacement.

The IPA is a leftover half glass of Dogfish Head that's been sitting stoppered in the fridge for a few days. Normally I don't feel guilty about drinking with lunch, and think America would be a much better place if we made that normal. However, being unemployed and day drinking is vaguely more awkward. But it balanced the fatty sauce really well, so I stand behind my decision.

Athena Pallas is a great DC-area find- reasonably priced, nice but not stuffy atmosphere, and a gorgeous little patio that will surely become my summer wine drinking locale of choice. Their tarmasalata kicks ass, and their roasted chicken dish is really good. I just kind of wish I'd gotten that again instead.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pike Pizza in Arlington

For lunch, I had Bolivian soup, with Mocochinchi to drink.

I would be more specific, but I don't remember what my soup was called. I first tried to order a tripe dish, but was told it's only available Mondays and Wednesdays; then I tried to order a different dish (but decided against it when the waitress mentioned it was a soup) before settling on this particular dish (which is also, oddly, a soup). It contained large chunks of pork, tons of hominy, some chuño,and small, green-colored pepper slices. The broth was a bit oily, but very richly flavored and filling, kind of like pho broth. The hominy and pork were really nice together, and the chuño (aka blackened, "preserved" potatoes) was not nearly as funky as the stuff I had in Bolivia- it tasted more or less like a normal potato, with a slightly chewier texture.

To drink, I had mocochinchi, which is sort of like a Bolivian agua fresca. Apparently, it's made by soaking dried peaches in very hot water, then adding copious quantities of sugar. It was pretty awesome, with a slight cinnamon note, and came with its very own dehydrated peach:

It looked like a shrunken head, but was extremely tasty.

I'd definitely go back to this place- Bolivian food is always hearty and comforting, and the atmosphere was very cheerful. Jon ordered a salteña (which is, I think, where the "pizza" comes from in their name- they do not serve any pizza) and a lomo montado sort of dish (fried meat, covered with fried eggs, on top of rice, with some pico and sometimes fries), both of which were extremely tasty.

Looking forward to more Bolivian around town- this part of Virginia has a huge number of Bolivian immigrants, and is sometimes known as "Arlibamba" for the large percentage who hail from Cochabamba. Also hoping for cheap airfares to Bolivia someday- it's a fabulous place to visit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lazy Yuppie Crack

For dinner, I had some mac n' cheese from Annie's.

I initially planned on eating it with an arugula salad, but laziness and a determination to consume as many delicious carbs as possible subverted the arugula. (Maybe next time jog after dinner?)

It was quite tasty- I miss the neon orange of Kraft just a little bit, but eating it makes me feel gross. There are very few foods that, due to the complete lack of any redeeming nutritive qualities, just *feel* disgusting to consume, but that's one of them for me. The Annie's is perfect because it is as healthy as mac n' cheese can get- 100% whole wheat, without a weird texture or flavor, and decent-tasting cheese powder that's readily traceable to actual cheese. It was a little salty, but whatever- it's not like I had to make a bechamel or anything. Sometimes lazy is ok.

To drink, I tried a glass of crappy California moscato, on the McDonald's theory of wine pairing, but in reverse- fancy mac n' cheese with crass commercial wine. I also thought the sweetness of the moscato would play off the slight sweetness of the mac n' cheese. It was okay. The moscato has a slight acidity, and isn't as overwhelmingly floral as ones I've had before. But the pairing wasn't great, and I'd probably rather buy another bottle of last week's white lambrusco over this.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Salmon Bocadillo at Home

For lunch, I made a salmon and cream cheese bocadillo.

Ok, so not the most traditional bocadillo. Bocadillos are little sandwiches they make in Spain for a light packed lunch or snack. They're just a slice or two of meat, maybe a little butter, on a small baguette. My host Señora (Hola, Pilar!) used to make them for me. They're also usually the cheapest street food you can find.

I had leftover "pan francés" from the Mexican grocery, sort of a rich, sweet, soft baguette that doesn't at all resemble French baguettes, but decided it would make an interesting bocadillo. It would have, except for the horror that is Trader Joe's low-fat cream cheese (which I accidentally bought, assuming it was Neufchâtel). It was tangy and oddly grainy, and completely disgusting. Kind of ruined the sandwich. I hope I don't get sick, but I think it was just gross, not actually spoiled.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Completely Obsessed with the Cheese Shop Down the Street

For dinner, I had some red pepper pappardelle with garlic & olive oil, finocchiona, and a 60 Minute IPA to drink.

The meal was a fabulous spur-of-the-moment impulse I had while walking home from the (very far away) metro stop. I was annoyed, thinking about having to drive to the grocery store, when I did a double take and recalled that my friendly local cheese shop sells more than just cheese.

Wine. Cheese. Pasta. Beer. Charcuterie. Bread. Specialty jarred things. Chocolate. Is there a better business plan anywhere? I could move right in. They even sell my much-obsessed-over Iberico de Bellota. Oh, and the aroma in there? Saying it smells overwhelmingly of cheese sounds kind of gross, but it's actually the most delicious thing ever.

The pasta was pretty good, though the lemon fettuccine I had a few weeks ago was even better. I tossed it in a little grated garlic and olive oil, and shredded copious quantities of parm-reg on top.

The finocchiona was ok. I am still in denial/withdrawal from Salume Beddu's finocchiona. Theirs is so perfect, with a mellower, floral, more rustic flavor. I also prefer the thicker slices at Beddu. I know it's not a food mag, but believe Forbes when they say Beddu is the best cured meats place in the country. They are, and I fucking miss them.

Requisite cured meats rant over, I can now discuss the beer.

Dogfish Head's IPA is pretty worth the hype. Hailing originally from Denver, and never having lived east of the Mississippi, DH has always been one of those mythical things. Maybe I tried it at the GABF once, but I would've still hated IPAs back then. So it's new to me, and pretty decent- floral and slightly citrusy. It might be better with a bit more bite? Next time I'll have to try the 90 Minute.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

McDonald's Party is Surprisingly Delicious

For dinner, I had McDonald's. With wine. Please don't exile me from foodie blogland. But it was surprisingly decent.

The impetus was this article, discussing pairing wines with McDonald's food. We thought it would be interesting to approach bad fast food in this way, with pairings gleaned from Trader Joe's cheap wine selections (because pairing with Boone's Farm is taking irony too far).

The first course consisted of chicken nuggets, paired with a rosé (Cotes du Rhone) and a white (the macabeo I've been all over lately)

(Thanks to Brian and Stephanie for hosting, and for the lovely china. I'm really sick of our plates, and I'm sure the two people that read this blog are as well)

The nuggets were better than I remember. Apparently, they've changed the recipe since I've had them, many years ago. The dipping sauces were also interesting- a pretty nice buffalo sauce, and a very good sweet chili sauce. I liked the rosé best with the nuggets, but there was no consensus at the table. The only thing I feel comfortable generalizing about is that wine makes McDonald's better.

The next course was the Filet O'Fish, with the same two wines. It should be noted that, if I am stuck at McDonald's for some godforsaken reason, the Filet O' Fish is my go-to order for its inoffensive and vaguely healthy nature.

It was ok. I usually get it without the tartar sauce, but we ordered everything in its ordinary state. The tartar sauce was extremely briny and intense, and the fish was fishier than usual. I preferred the macabeo with the fish, but again, there was no consensus.

The third course was the McChicken. It was peculiar- very flat and compressed looking, with flecks of black pepper and an excess of mayonnaise. In fact, someone was compelled to comment that the quarter pounder (proposed next course) would be a palate-cleanser, given the extensive use of mayonnaise.

On to the reds. With the red meat courses, we tasted a meritage
and a zin. Honestly, I strongly preferred the meritage as a drinking wine. The zin was extremely "hot" to me, and had an extreme ABV. Interestingly, it did pair well with the heavier meat courses.

The Big Mac was surprisingly tasty- the consensus at our table was that the sauce provided a compelling counterpoint to the sandwich that made the entree extremely good.

Next came the McDouble, a double cheeseburger that was probably the overall evening favorite for taste and value. The melty cheese and meat proved a strong counterpoint to the heavy zin.

Our final main course was the Angus Mushroom and Swiss Burger. I was a bit disappointed in the overall quality, though we are unsure if this can be partially attributed in part to its long tenure in the oven through our other courses.

The mushrooms tasted like they came from a jar, and there were heavy umami/MSG/"fake" overtones. The meat itself seemed more substantial and flavorful than that of the other courses. The burger, still, was puzzling- as someone noted, this isn't the kind of burger you'd seek out at McDonald's. It's a peculiar, and probably unfruitful niche product at a fast food place better known for cheap, flat patties.

Finally, the dessert course. We sampled the apple pie, with and without the addition of cheddar, with a white lambrusco and a port.

The port was tasty, but a bit sweet to pair with the sugar-saturated pie. The lambrusco was nicely balanced, and had a great apple note that echoed the apple dessert. The cheddar is highly recommended, as it added a sharp, tangy note to cut through the sweetness.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment, and one we will have to recreate in the future with different cuisine. I found particularly interesting how persistent flavors can be across time- I recognized their "spicy mustard" (it's not spicy) sauce from my own childhood nugget-dipping days- and how oddly compelling even bad fast food can sometimes be.

Pupusas at Home

For brunch, I had a pupusa with tomatillo sauce, smoked salmon, and coffee.

The pupusas were courtesy of our local well-stocked grocery store. It's nice to live somewhere with a surfeit of Latin American foods again. I cooked them in the toaster. Toasters are extremely useful- watch carefully for flames, but almost anything can be cooked in one. Covered with leftover tomatillo sauce from my little Rick Bayless adventure, they were extremely tasty.

The salmon was an afterthought- initially, I was going to make a pupusa stack, but the salmon by itself seemed like it would overwhelm the pupusa. If I had been extremely hungry, a stack of pupusa, salmon, and crema may have been tasty.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sammy Scramble at Home

For breakfast, I ate a salmon scramble, with coffee to drink.

The secret to a good scramble is low heat and fatty dairy. We have tons of 'crema Salvadoreña' left from a Rick Bayless recipe I made earlier this week, so I thought it would be a good way to use the remainder.

I'm not sure if crema Salvadoreña is distinct from crema Mexicana, crema Hondurena, etc., or if style names are merely an appeal to national allegiance. The basic idea is a thickened, soured dairy product resembling, but more delicately and richly flavored than, sour cream. It has a buttery flavor, and is sometimes compared to creme fraiche.

I scrambled the eggs over low heat with a tablespoon or so of the crema and shreds of smoked salmon until soft-set, and finished with a sprinkle of freeze-dried chives (I have no idea why we have freeze-dried chives).

It turned out pretty well, although I need to learn to not buy TJ's salmon- there's always something wrong with it- either too mushy, too greasy, or way too salty. Today's is too salty, which I will take over mushy. I also just learned not to research TJ's salmon online (ewww).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Omelette at Home

For breakfast, I made a potato, green bean, and mushroom omelette, with coffee to drink.

I used TJ's "country potatoes" frozen blend, which is a mix of the aforementioned veggies in a garlic-parsley sauce.

The potato blend is pre-"pan-fried", so it was sufficiently oily that I didn't need to do anything special to my cast-iron skillet. I covered and steamed the potato blend, in the hopes it would cause them to cook faster, then uncovered for a few minutes in an effort to develop some crust. It didn't really work- I got some nice char from the skillet, but only minimal crispiness. After cooking thoroughly, I added an egg. The result was pretty tasty overall, though the mushrooms seem to have been chosen for prettiness rather than flavor. Nevertheless, it was certainly faster than chopping and cooking my own potatoes.

The coffee was less successful. It's the dark French roast from TJ's, aka their cheapest coffee blend. I used to drink it, but after a few years of drinking better stuff (ie, Northwest Coffee) it's awful. So now I'm looking for a palatable, freshly roasted, and inexpensive local substitute. Any suggestions? So far, I have heard good things about Mayorga and M.E. Swing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Chinese Food Coma at Home

For dinner, Jon made some truly delicious homemade Chinese food.

Definitely better than Trader Joe's. It consisted of pan-fried tofu, with water chestnuts, mushrooms, and red onions, in a mirin and soy sauce. The overall effect was one of heavenly glutamate deliciousness.

To go with it, I made some basil ice cream with leftover basil from Sunday's panzanella.

The flavor is not at all like the amazing basil ice cream I had years ago at some posh restaurant in Santa Fe, the name of which escapes me. It's actually rather bitter. Which I attribute to my sad basil leaves, and not the recipe I used. The upside is that I never before realized how awesome my ice cream maker can be when I use eggs- lots of eggs- in my ice cream. The consistency is gorgeous, and exactly like commercial ice cream, but better because it's fresh.

To drink, I had a glass of red wine from La Granja. The tempranillo is my favorite go-to cheap Spanish wine from TJ's. Under $4 a bottle, and a decent, nicely tannic red. Pretty shocking for cheap wine with a cute label. (Dear flickr users: why do you take unoriginal photos of wine labels and reserve all rights? I already threw away my bottle.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Italianish Pasta at Home

For dinner, I made some pasta with rapini, with white wine to drink.

I'd never had rapini, aka "broccoli rabe" before. I'm going to stick with rapini here, because it's not broccoli, and is actually related to the turnip. In any case, a quick search of the internet reveals disdain and loathing for rapini. People complain that it's bitter and awful-tasting. I, however, found it extremely tasty. And pretty.

I prepared it with a quick blanching, then sauteed with aleppo pepper, garlic, and olive oil, before mixing in the cooked penne and adding grated Pecorino Romano. It had a mellow, buttery flavor that reminded me a bit of asparagus. Here and there, I got a slightly bitter leaf, but the overall effect was delicious.

I ate it with a glass of the leftover Chardonnay/Macabeo, which paired nicely with the rich pasta.

Gorditas at Home

For lunch, I had a gordita, with a glass of pineapple-coconut juice.

The gorditas are from TJ's frozen section. I heated mine in a cast-iron skillet, per package directions, to get a crispy exterior.

The result was on the slightly questionable side of passable. I guess if you're a fan of Doritos, you might enjoy them, as the effect of the skillet was to turn the outer layer into a massive corn chip. I, alas, am not. The filling- cheese, beans, and roasted chile- should've been tasty, but was not. There were only two bites in which I could distinguish some mild chile flavor, and the cheese seemed skimpy for how bad they are for you (very bad). As with the majority of TJ's prepared foods, this one's a definite pass. A similar result could be had for fewer calories and less cost by simply making a quesadilla with corn tortillas.

The juice, however, was very good. We bought TJ's not-from-concentrate pineapple juice to make popsicles with, and I had some extra coconut water in the fridge. I mixed them, 50/50, for a nice tropical drink. Relatedly (dear Blogger, why don't you recognize so many real words as words? Like "relatedly"?), they do also make great popsicles. Next time, due to consistency issues and general adoration for sweetened condensed milk, I'm going to try adding it in 1:3 to make even more awesome popsicles.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Shake Shack in Dupont

For lunch, I had a cheeseburger with onions, and frozen custard. The cheese fries were Jon's, I swear.

It was our first experience at a Shake Shack. Thank god we don't live closer, because I'd get even poorer, and start schlumping around like this, despite our awesome Capital Bikeshare memberships:

(We took a breather at the Natural History Museum before lunch)

Or maybe it's what's really going to bring about Judgment Day.
(The subway still contains these awesome ads)

It's like a yuppie version of This is Why You're Fat. Perhaps most illustrative of this, because I don't think you can see how soaked my cheeseburger bun was with grease(butter? animal fat?), is today's frozen custard flavor.

Coffee. And. Doughnuts.

Yes, really. Completely brilliant, and going to kill us all. It consisted of coffee-flavored frozen custard, studded with large chunks of glazed doughnuts. It was as amazing as it sounds.

The burger was also pretty good. Somehow most of the (copious) grease ended up soaked into the bun, or on the surface of the wax paper baggie that held it, rather than on the burger itself. This made it tasty without being truly disgusting.

Although we didn't sample their beer, wines, or other custard creations (I am SO ordering a Washington Monu-mint next time), I wanted to try basically everything on the menu. Like I said, it's a good thing we don't live in the neighborhood.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kitfo at Meaza

For dinner, I had an Ethiopian food coma. I ordered my standby, kitfo (ie, that disgusting raw crap I love) which came with some housemade cheese, and a side of lentils.

As you can see (bad photo, but that thing's a large platter), portion sizes were huge. This photo is actually from halfway through the meal, after we'd descended upon the huge pile of meat like this:

Meaza was the locale. I really wanted to go to Meskerem, my known known of DC-area Ethiopian. But the vagaries of living in a large urban area interceded- we figured a 20-minute walk to the metro, 20 minutes on the metro, a 10-minute walk on the other end, and god knows what kind of wait. So we were lazy Americans and drove five miles instead.

The kitfo was ok. I was excited to discover it was appropriately spicy, because it usually isn't spicy enough. And they included extra berbere and spicy sauce if I wanted more. But three bites later, I was depressed at the cloying seasonings. It was a heady mix of the usual berbere, a huge punch in the mouth of cardamom, and maybe even some pepper. Really intense. It had a pleasant burn, without being overwhelming, but the actual flavors were quite overwhelming. I especially like kitfo for the musty, green undertones (no clue which particular spice it is), but this stuff was cardamom-heavy and lacked balance. The restaurant was convenient and cute, and I'd go back, but would probably order something else. Jon's meal, some kind of beef-with-injera-tidbits thing, was delicious.

Clearly the food was pretty decent. I also brought home leftovers...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chinese Food at Home

For dinner, I had some sweet-and-sour chicken, with brown rice and a glass of white (gasp!) wine.

It all came from Trader Joe's (hello again, delicious corporate overlords). The chicken is from their freezer section. Made with thigh meat, it comes breaded and fried, with a side of peculiar sauce. The first time I tried it, I hesitantly sampled a few drops of the sauce alone. It was awful- vinegary and acrid. But somehow it magically turns gingery and fragrant when tossed with the chicken. It's not the best thing in the world, but it's about as good as decent Chinese takeout, and less trouble.

We made a side of brown rice to go with it, in our new rice cooker. Sadly, the old one died a few months back. I made the mistake of replacing it with a smaller one, thinking it would take up less space. It does, but it also completely sucks. I failed to account for the surface area issue, so it takes FOR.EV.ER. to heat up. Other lesson learned? Don't overfill it. Especially not with sticky things that stain. Yes, it's still covered with blobs of fuchsia from the time I tried to make cranberry sauce and it exploded everywhere. In any case, the rice turned out nicely nutty and chewy.

The big surprise tonight was the wine. It's Terrenal label from Spain, made with an equal mix of Chardonnay and Macabeo grapes. It's also kosher, and $4.99. I bought it because I'm always curious to try unusual grapes, especially ones from Spain. The TJ's wine guy gave me a dubious look and warned me to "chill it...a lot!", even though he'd never actually tried it. Duly warned, I was surprised to discover how interesting it is.

The caveat is that I never drink white wines, and never Chardonnay. So maybe I've just forgotten what they're like. But this one is fascinating- it has sort of a ripe-nearly-to-rotting cantaloupe meets green apple aroma, with licorice, honey, and maybe a little violet as it warms up, plus the richness of Chardonnay. I think the sign said it was unoaked, and I don't taste any. I had another glass before dinner with some aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, and it was equally fabulous; next time, I'd probably pair it with a rich fish, or maybe mac n'cheese, and not funky Chinese food.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Turkey and Arugula- in DC

Ok, so I'm back blogging again. Hopefully permanently. Because I moved to DC, and there's a lot of delicious food here to eat and discuss.

For lunch, I had some arugula and deli turkey, with mint tea. I'm currently jobless, and have found myself grazing rather than eating complete meals. The upside is that I'm not tempted by convenience foods, so things have been relatively healthy during the days. I daresay a little crazy, as well. For example, I had a sweet potato for breakfast, left over from last night. That's just unreasonably healthy.

I also did a little lunchtime cooking by attempting the infamous NYT no-knead bread recipe

(actually, the whole-wheat modification). It turned out puck-like and awful. Exhibit A:

The crumb wasn't much better.

Extremely dense, with a crust that, though quite crispy, is a menace to dental work and unpleasantly dry. Kneading isn't that big of a deal; I'll keep looking for a whole-wheat standby, because this is definitely not it.