Friday, May 29, 2009

Fruit and oatmeal

If you are serious about getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, you need to start with breakfast, and it needs to be more than the traditional glass of orange juice.

Oatmeal lends itself to pairing with fruit. Although raisins and apples are the most common, a lot of other fruits work as well. For instance, strawberries. We had some excellent local organic strawberries that we had brought with us on our trip to Washington, but not all of them made it whole, and they messed up the rest enough that it would have been hard to eat them out of hand. So we brought them back home, sorted the good from the bad, cut off their tops and sliced them all in half. I put them in a pot with about a half cup of brown sugar that had hardened in my cupboard, set the heat to low, and let them cook until they were all soft and the sugar was bubbling. I put the syrupy mixture in the fridge overnight, then added it to the oatmeal in the morning. One thing to note, however: The acid in the strawberries will cause whatever milk you add to separate.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Food news roundup

I like this first story because of the puns:

Doing thyme: Inmates grow food to save jail money
Associated Press

FREMONT, Ohio - The sheriff already replaced pancakes and red meat with cereal and turkey to save money.

Now he's come up with another way to cut food costs at the jail.

Inmates are growing their own veggies in an acre and a half garden that sits just inside the fence surrounding the Sandusky County Jail.

"You name it, I think we got it in here," said James Seaman, the jail's work program director.

Three weeks ago, 13 low-risk inmates who are allowed to mow lawns and do other chores around the county planted tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, onions, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage, carrots, cantaloupe and watermelon.

The inmates who take care of the garden have become so interested in its progress that they argue about who gets to go out at night to water the sprouting plants, Seaman said.

Sheriff Kyle Overmyer's idea for a vegetable garden took root after he was forced to reduce his budget by $75,000 this spring.

  • Item: Costco in NYC will start accepting food stamps. Can the rest of the country be far behind?

  • And here's a good use for lottery winnings:

The $100,000 bonus that went to the Southeast Washington supermarket that sold last month's $144 million Powerball ticket will go to charity, the grocery chain said yesterday.

The Capital Area Food Bank will get the money that the Giant Food on Alabama Avenue received as part of the lottery winnings, officials from the store said.

It is traditional for the store that sells the winning ticket to get a bonus. This was the city's largest Powerball win, and as soon as the location of the sale of the winning ticket was announced April 9, store employees wondered whether they would get a cut. A representative of at least one local charity was at the store the morning after the drawing, asking for a donation.

Giant has had a long relationship with the food bank. The donation will go toward construction of a larger distribution center, which will allow twice the amount of food to be distributed throughout the city, said Kim Brown, a vice president with Giant Food.

- Petula Dvorak, Washington Post

And for you back-country enthusiasts:

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Keeping cold ones cold when camping in grizzly bear country may be getting a bit easier.
New coolers from a Florida company and a business in Texas that have passed federal and state tests for resistance to grizzlies are the first to be mass-produced. So, local officials willing, adventurers with a boat or a pack animal hefty enough to carry a cooler no longer must hang it 10 feet off the ground to comply with food-storage rules in the backcountry that grizzlies inhabit.
Wildlife managers have long required that campers in grizzly territory keep food and beverages out of bears' reach — either in a vehicle, building or special locker; or suspended from a tree or pole; or protected by portable electric fencing. The rule, which applies when campsites are unattended and in some places when campers are asleep, is intended to keep humans safe and bears healthy.
But it has frustrated many a camper who found herself repeatedly flinging ropes over branches to get her grub into a tree. Small bear-resistant containers have been around for years, but the appeal of a larger one that also keeps things cold is clear.
Hanging a cooler is an especially "significant project" at the start of a trip, when it's full and can weigh 100 pounds, said outfitter Brett Todd, who puts clients on horses — and their gear on mules — for trips into Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
Five orphaned and nuisance bears who make their home at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone tested the new coolers for a group called the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which includes representatives from U.S. and Canadian wildlife agencies and from the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington.
The bears beat and scratched at each cooler for an hour. Despite smelling the peanut butter and fish stored inside, they failed to break into the boxes, made of the same tough plastic used in kayaks. Even the 100-pound weights that human tormentors dropped on the boxes didn't crack them open.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dinner at Citronelle on May 20 (our 20th)

Citronelle in Washington, D.C.,
May 20, 2009

On a somewhat quiet section of M Street in Georgetown, Citronelle looks like an unassuming little bistro from the curb. Four wooden tables for four are outside near the walkway, three of them with patrons. We ask if we might sit there and enjoy a glass of champagne while we wait for the main dining room to open at 6. “No, we reserve those tables for diners,” says the woman at the bar, which is odd, since none of those at the other three tables are dining, at least not yet. She busies herself with our order, and another couple arrives. The other bar back takes their drink order and asks, “Would you care to sit outside until your table is ready?”

We are not pleased. She apologizes for her assumption when she brings our drinks, but does not alert us when another outdoor table becomes available.

But then it is time to enter the main dining room, and what a fine theater it is, the subtly lighted dining area with a view of the bright, white kitchen. Our waiter, Daniel (I had to ask his name at the end of the meal; he did not introduce himself as he greeted us. That was fine with me. I don’t need a cheerful “friend” to bring me a meal at a restaurant), appeared shortly after the maitre d’ seated us near the balcony rail and got us started on our three courses for $105 per person. (There was also the $190 Promenade Gourmande with nine courses: a starter of crab gratin, chicken “lollipop” and virtual egg; green asparagus vichyssoise; soft shell crab; halibut; lobster burger; short rib; cheese; strawberry cocktail and chocolate bar. Both dinners end with what are termed “petits fours.” More on that later.)

We declined “Michel’s Signature Entrée… short ribs, prime, braised 72 hours, raisin-peppercorn sauce, XXL served for two.” Since Mr. Richard was not on the premises, it was no slight, except perhaps to our palates.

There were plenty of vegetarian options for the first course, and one for the main. An optional cheese course of imported and domestic was available for $18.

Before we had a chance to order, Daniel brought an amuse bouche of tiny tacos of halibut, cucumber and black sesame seeds, a salmon terrine with wasabi sauce, and spinach soufflé. We enjoyed the little bites as we studied the menu and watched the kitchen drama unfold. The kitchen workers were busy but went about their business calmly.

My partner chose the soft shell crab tempura with baba ghanoush, which made me smile, since he would never pick up an eggplant in the store to grill at home. I chose to start with the mosaic, a colorful combination of surf (diver scallops, ahi, salmon, eel) and turf (filet mignon and a swirl of red, yellow and green bell peppers), all sliced to a translucent thinness and displayed, single layer, on a large square white plate. Neither of us was disappointed. The mosaic was sprinkled with Richard’s rice crispies and black beans; given the comparative blandness of the lovely dish, I was hoping they would be fermented black beans, but alas, they too were the bland kind. Yet I couldn’t imagine what spice could be used to enliven such a dish; anything subtle enough not to overwhelm a diver scallop would certainly be lost on beef. So it was best to let each ingredient assert itself au natural. The sweet tenderness of the crab was set off nicely by the light and crisp tempura, and the creamy baba ghanoush was an inspired accompaniment.

For a main course, my husband chose the loup de mer, a fish for which he has been longing since first tasting it at a fine Greek restaurant in Manhattan, and I went with the veal three ways, which Daniel explained contained a braised shank, cheeks cooked for 24 hours to a melting tenderness and, touching his neck, sweetbreads. It was not easy to choose; other entrees included lobster, ivory salmon (an unusual fish which I first had in Seattle more than a decade ago), skate rolled with crab, halibut in a lobster-saffron broth, roasted duck, rack of lamb, chateaubriand, squab and a four vegetable tasting, and the aforementioned short ribs.

The fish and the veal parts couldn’t have been more delightful. Sweetbreads must be done just right or else they are horrid. These were just right, and the sauce over the asparagus and morels was richly divine. The shank was tender, and the cheeks were as meltingly tender as promised. The loup de mer was bright and fresh and the spring vegetables scattered over it were lovely to look at and tasty as well.

A bit of orange mousse topped with black cherry coulis was served as a palate cleanser, just as refreshing and light as any sorbet.

Dessert filled us up. Jim had the crème brulee that was stacked with pastry rounds, and I had a medley of mostly chocolate desserts (see photo). I wish I could tell you more, but I was enjoying myself too much by that time to take notes. The last note I took was that the Ehlers cabernet tasted like it had been aged in whiskey barrels.

The meal ended with “petits fours,” not four little identical cakes with icing surrounding them, but one tiny layer cake and three other delightful little treats: a chocolate truffle that molded around a nice ripe grape, an inch round chocolate cookie with a chocolate drop on top of it, and a spongy little muffin with a candied filling. I couldn’t possibly take another bite. Daniel not only packaged mine up, he added a few more, which I enjoyed with coffee in our room the next morning.

There was no one at the chef’s table the night we were there, perhaps because Chef Michel was away, or perhaps the recession has made some rethink whether that $2100 for a party of six could be better spent elsewhere. As far as performance goes, it’s hard to beat the French Laundry, which is not nearly that expensive (when we were there three years ago, we spent less per person for the nine course tasting menu than we did for the three-course menu at Citronelle, with almost as much wine). The service, although quite good, is matched at other fine establishments around the country, such as Antoine’s in New Orleans and Cyrus in Healdsburg, and there are certainly more cozy and romantic spots around, although I haven’t found one in D.C. yet.

So what did I think? I had a great meal, a bit out of my comfort zone in price, but having tested Michel Richard’s recipes at home, I think they are worth every penny. I would go back, but only for another very special occasion, or perhaps to order from the bar. Then maybe we’d get one of those outside tables, after all.

- Lori Korleski Richardson

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food and kitchen tips

My Uncle Vernon passes along a little something in his e-mails to me each day. A lot of times, it's just a joke or two, but today's offering is worth passing along to you (with a bit of editing to make it more food-oriented and more about healthful eating - but if you really want the Snickers bar and apple dessert recipe, click on the comments section below, leave a message, and I'll post it tomorrow).

  • Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little "stringy things" off of it. That's how the primates do it. 
  • Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they ripen faster. 
  • Store chunk cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresh much longer and not mold.
  • Peppers with 3 bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with 4 bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking. 
  • Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic and at the end of the recipe if your want a stronger taste of garlic. 
  • Heat up leftover pizza in a nonstick skillet on top of the stove, set heat to med-low and heat till warm. This keeps the crust crispy. No soggy micro pizza. 
  • Put cooked egg yolks in a zip-seal bag. Seal, mash till they are all broken up. Add remainder of ingredients, reseal, keep mashing it up mixing thoroughly, cut the tip of the baggy, squeeze mixture into egg. Just throw bag away when done - easy clean up. When you buy a container of cake frosting from the store, whip it with your mixer for a few minutes. You can double it in size. You get to frost more cake/cupcakes with the same amount. You also eat less sugar and calories per serving.
  • (Note from Lori K: If you buy natural peanut butter and can't seem to stir it well enough to mix the oil and the solids, a whirl around in the food processor for a few seconds will keep it mixed and easy to spread once it's in the fridge.)
  • Before you pour sticky substances into a measuring cup, fill with hot water. Dump out the hot water, but don't dry cup. Next, add your ingredient, such as peanut butter, and watch how easily it comes right out. 
  • To get rid of pesky fruit flies, take a small glass, fill it 1/2" with apple cider vinegar and 2 drops of dishwashing liquid; mix well. You will find those flies drawn to the cup and gone forever! 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Floundering no more

Flounder, a flat fish that can hide in the sand almost perfectly, has a delicate, white flesh and is stunningly delectable when cooked just right. But because it's flesh has such a subtle taste, it can use a little help. Many spices can overwhelm it, so that's why it's often stuffed with something good to add flavor. 

Crab is my favorite stuffing for flounder. This weekend, I used a half pound of shelled crab, mixed with an egg, 1 tablespoon of finely minced onion, 2 tablespoons minced red pepper, a half fresh jalapeño, minced, 2 slices of preserved lemon, minced, and freshly ground black pepper, to stuff a pound of flounder fillets. The taste was stupendous, and I even had enough crab left over to make two small crab cakes. I baked them at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. The only thing I would have done differently was add about 1/4 cup of bread crumbs to the mix; the egg leaked out a bit and puddled around the bottom as the dish cooked.