Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Fun

Things have been busy lately. It's that time of year, I guess. We went to a great holiday cheese party, and a typical office party. I made these for the latter:

They're the super-simple cheesecake cupcakes I recommended for Thanksgiving. Pomegranates happen to be in season, and are gorgeous and delicious, so I added pomegranate seeds to half of the batch for color and excitement.

The cupcakes turned out deliciously. Unfortunately, I made way too many, so we are still trying to eat them all. Cupcake overload is awesome, but not during the holidays when everyone is already plying us with delicious food.

Anyone need some cupcakes?

In other news, we finally checked out the local kosher grocery today. We'd heard tantalizing tales of lamb bacon from friends, and had to investigate. We haven't sampled the bacon yet, but the experience was fun. We saw a congressman stocking up on ridiculous quantities of gefilte fish, and saw this sign on their canned fish aisle:

Seriously, you want to read that. Kind of gross, but great. One of the things I find fascinating about kosher food rules is how detailed they can be. Very, very detailed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pesto, deconstructed...

...figuratively, of course. I try not to be pretentious like that.

For dinner tonight, I decided to make a quick pesto and some more onion confit, and alternately spread them on slices of bread.

The pesto I made is non-traditional, and it caused me to think about what makes a good pesto. I generally make non-traditional pestos, and they always turn out great, with a minimum of measuring or fussiness.

If you think about it, all you really need is something leafy, something crunchy, something fatty, and salt. I usually add something acidic and something aromatic for a little excitement, but it's not always necessary.

Tonight's is arugula, pistachios, olive oil, lemon juice, and shallot. I just tossed alternating handfuls of everything into the food processor, and voila. Another of my favorites is spinach, walnuts, goat feta, and garlic.

Easy and delicious. Though it does kind of look out of place on our plastic plates (did I mention we're moving?!)

Odd Ingredient du Jour: Rennet

I am fascinated by rennet. I was first intrigued by its presence in my favorite vintage cookbook (of which I actually have two copies- 1943 and 1953).

The '53 version has the prettier cover.

I love Meta Given's voice. The cookbook has a ton of personality, heavily influenced by the early/mid twentieth century research on the new science of nutrition, Home Economics, and yes, the U.S. Government's recommendations, with a surprising dose of feminism. If you can't make it to What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?, this book pretty much captures everything you'd see there.

By the way, what is rennet ? It's a collection of enzymes used to coagulate milk proteins. The sources are unappealing- either derived from the lining of a calf's stomach, from microbial sources (mostly molds), or from bacteria genetically modified to produce the proper enzymes. Frankly, given those choices, I'll stick with baby cow stomach (sorry, cows).

Most people think of rennet as cheese-related, because that's primarily what we use it for today. The Modern Family Cookbook, on the other hand, mentions rennet primarily in the context of puddings. I found it intriguing, and a little odd. But, being an inveterate pudding-lover, I had to try it.

(Those are vanilla beans. Yes they look icky.)

Rennet puddings are super-easy to make. We all know I'm pudding-impaired, so that's saying something. This is a vanilla pudding I made last night, following a recipe that came with the rennet tablets. It was written by the homemade cheese guru Dr. Fankhauser. Interesting that the pudding recipes aren't even on his recipe page online.

Perhaps this is why.

The texture is not very appealing. It's somewhere between soft-boiled egg whites and yogurt, and rather confusing to eat. The above photo was taken after chilling the custard for two or three hours. After five hours, it had firmed up somewhat, holding its shape about as well as an egg custard:

I'm curious to try more rennet pudding recipes. Maybe next time with whole milk for better flavor. I'd definitely recommend using rennet if you're going for an egg custard feel, but can't use eggs. It's also way, way, way simpler to make than an egg custard- for this recipe, I heated milk, sugar, and a vanilla bean to lukewarm; added a dissolved rennet tablet, and chilled. That's all.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

DC Beer Roundup

After all that food rounding up, I think it's time to talk about the great DC beers I've had lately.

The collaboration between DC Brau and Epic Brewing, "Fermentation Without Representation" was much-anticipated at our house. Unfortunately, not so anticipated so that we were able to score any on tap. The tap version was actually brewed locally at DC Brau, while the bottled version was made by Epic, in Utah.

The beer itself is an imperial pumpkin porter. Pretty unusual for a pumpkin beer. It's not too sweet, and pretty intense, as might be expected from an imperial porter. Honestly, it smells and tastes mostly like tobacco to me. Also molasses, a little cola, and winter spices.

Then there's Chocolate City, one of the newer local breweries. This was actually the second week ever they're doing growler fills, so we headed to their facility by Catholic University.

Alas, I had our slightly crazy rescue dog in tow, so I was unable to take any photos of the inside. But the owners/brewers were extremely nice, and the brew facility looked good. The location and building (an old railroad depot?) has great potential as they ramp up production to become a weekend destination.

We got a growler of the Copper Ale, which is pretty nice. It's well-balanced, a little bitter, with pronounced malt and honeyed/wheaty/grassy flavors.

It should be noted that Chocolate City is still quite new. Maybe that explains the less-than-perfect reviews. I'd disagree with the vitriol- it's a very good everyday, medium-heavy sort of session beer

Then tonight, I had a drink that wasn't local, but still very interesting. We headed to the Queen Vic, on H Street, for drinks and snacks. They have a fascinating list of "cocktails", mostly consisting of beer/cider+liqueur. I had a hard cider with Becherovka, aka the "Harvest Apple". It was a nice break from beer, and not too sweet.

I also had marrow.

It was quite tasty and kind of disgusting, all at the same time. I hadn't had marrow in forever, and I think before when I've had it, it consisted of split, then roasted, bones. These were roasted whole, resulting in an off-putting texture. The marrow was fatty and gelatinous; some parts were whitish and greasy, while others were pink or red, with a more solid consistency. The dish came with bread, a side of flake salt, and a little parsley and onion salad to clear the palate. Delicious, but unappealing to look at.

Finally, on the beer side of things, there's Port City's seasonal winter offering, "Tidings". I have yet to try it, but am really excited to do so. I like that they utilized local ingredients, and that they chose to do something different- they went light, with a Belgian style blond ale, rather than dark like everyone else. I guess with such a tasty porter, there's no pressure to go dark.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Food Roundup, Road Trip Edition

We've finally gotten out and about a bit on the East Coast. So I figured it was time for another exciting food roundup.

First, we headed to Philly a few weeks ago so Jon could run the Philadelphia Marathon. Before we left, Jon noticed a "Pancake Breakfast!" sign at a local church while jogging. It's incredible how every church basement in the U.S. pretty much looks and smells exactly the same, and I was reminded of my own many "cooking in church basements" experiences. It was kind of odd. But everyone was extremely nice, the food was good, they had real butter, and it was $6 all you can eat, including pretty decent coffee. And their china was adorable:

I'd go back. It sponsors the men's ministry, and I think they do it once a month. Regrettably, their website doesn't appear to have information about it at all, much less when the next one is.

In any case, we next headed to Philly. The city's gorgeous. The city center is actually inhabited. I visited a bodega for the first time, ever. And we had some awesome food:

We had dinner at Zavino, a few blocks from our hotel. It was a happy accident, as we'd intended to carb up at the pasta place next door. Their wait was insane, so we popped in to Zavino and sat at the bar. Pretty much everything on their menu looked fabulous; I ended up eating a sunchoke soup from their specials board, topped with truffle oil, crisp prosciutto bits, lemon, and garlic (a "proscuitto gremolata", as they called it), with a side of their roasted sherry Brussels sprouts, and a Victory Yakima Glory to drink. Apparently, I didn't photograph any of this (I really thought I had!), but it was all extremely tasty. I appreciated that the sunchoke soup wasn't overloaded with toppings, and still tasted quite vegetal, rustic, and filling.

The next day, post-marathon, we hit Tony Luke's on the way out of town. We'd wanted to hit up one of the more traditional cheesesteak places, but every other marathoner in town had the same idea. I had the roast beef Italian- beef on bread, with sauteed broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. I know it's anathema to the concept, but dipping the bread, Chicago-style would've made it great. And the rabe was delicious, but could've been better with more garlic. Also no photos. Also no clue why not.

The following weekend, we went on a daytrip to the Shenendoah Valley. It was surprisingly pretty- I forgot Virginia looked like that. Nearly mountainous. I had some dutch apple doughnuts from a gas station that were pretty decent.

Then last weekend, we went to Los Tios for brunch with friends. I had this delicious craziness: skirt steak with eggs, sauce, plantains, breakfast potatoes, rice, and crema. It was as tasty as it sounds.

Finally, I made another round of the lemon thyme chicken a few days back. This time with more thyme, as we had a ton left over from Thanksgiving. I tried to use less oil and butter, which worked out well, but the thyme was awful. I'm not a huge fan anyway, but it added this weird bitter off-flavor that crushed the lemony flavors.

Jon noted that it had a marsala thing going on when it was done. I think the fat levels were calibrated better this time to create that nice consistency without reducing the sauce. But the thyme? Never again.