Pea Butter

5 06 2010

Now that it’s pea season, I thought I’d share my favorite way to use up lots of fresh peas. I’ve actually never tried this with frozen peas but I bet it would be pretty good with those too. It’s one of my absolute favorite things to spread on a nice piece of toast and it’s so simple to make.

 

1. Shuck your peas
2. Blanch them in well-salted water* for a minute or two until they’re softened but not mush
3. Shock the peas in a colander or strainer floating in a bath of ice water – this helps stop the cooking so they don’t get mushy and stay nice and bright green
4. Put the peas in a food processor with a nice fistful of pecorino cheese, some salt, pepper and olive oil. Puree.
5. Spread on toasted bread

 

 

*When you blanch vegetables there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

  • First – the water should be well-salted. If you taste your salted water it should taste almost sea-water-salty. Don’t worry about your veggies being too salty afterwards because you’re going to rinse most of it off when you shock them in the water bath. The extra salt in the water will really bring out the color in your vegetables – especially the green ones. They’ll be more bright green than you even thought was possible.
  • Second – the water should be at a rolling boil at all times. This means you’ll need to use a pot of water much larger than would seem necessary for the amount you’re blanching and you’ll almost always want to work in batches so you don’t cool the water down too much when you add your vegetables (it also helps to have them at room temperature when you do the blanching).

 

 
Pea Butter

Peas
Pecorino Romano (or another nice hard cheese)
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper





Burger Quest Part 1: Good Stuff

29 05 2010

Quest for the best burger part I – Washington, DC – Good Stuff Eatery

I’ve decided it’s time to start talking restaurants on here. If i’m opinionated and critical, forgive me for insulting your favorite restaurant along the way… but it probably sucks anyway.

I’m on a quest to determine what makes the ultimate burger. I know – everyone has their own (strong) opinions about what makes a good burger – but these are just mine. I suspect this search is going to go on for a while but so far I have some findings…

I got into an argument with my friend Nick the last time I was in Washington visiting Stef. We were sitting around talking and I hadn’t seen him in months, maybe years, and we got into an argument about what has become my favorite restaurant in Washington – Good Stuff Eatery. It’s in Capitol Hill and is owned/run by one of the former Top Chef competitors – Spike Mendelsohn.

I was fully prepared for Good Stuff to suck the first time I went to check it out. Walking in it looked more like a Chipotle serving burgers than a gourmet burger joint. Little did I know, this was just your typical nod to Washingtonian corporatized restaurant identity that apparently sells much more product than individual, quirky style like you’ll find more of in New York or San Francisco.

The good news about Good Stuff for me (and for Spike) is that the product they’re slangin’ is top notch. It far exceeded the expectations I had based on the corporate identity they’re repping. At the rate those bugers are rolling out of that place, I’d wager they have good reason to keep that corporate identity around too because I think it’s likely they could go running with that brand, the gourmet burger and the shake assembly line they’ve got set up.

As far as the food – the menu is simple enough… actually the perfect size for me. Just enough variety but not so much that it’s overwhelming. And, while the prices may seem steep for the size of the burgers, in my opinion the quality of the product that goes into them and the flavor that comes out is definitely worth it.

I have to put this out there – I’m a total sucker when it comes to burgers with eggs on them. That said, I liked these burgers before I even tasted the egg burger… that one just took it to the next level. My three favorites in order are Spike’s Sunny Side (which I think they used to call the 5 Napkin), the Prez Obama and the Blazin Barn. The Obama totes Roquefort (I think?) cheese and caramelized onions, the Sunny Side is one of my all-time favorite combos (bacon, egg and cheese) done the best I’ve ever had on on a ridiculously good sweet roll and the Barn is pretty obviously Spike’s nod to his time in Vietnam – basically a banh mi burger. I was worried about the Barn not coming with cheese because I have to have cheese on a burger but he proved me wrong there too. The pickled carrots and daikon combined with the sriracha mayo bring plenty of flavor and creaminess to keep me satisfied. The burgers themselves – perfectly cooked, perfect texture, nice and fat and super juicy. Quality. And they’re cooked on a flattop griddle, which I’m beginning to realize is one of the keys to the perfect burger. Another key to the perfect burger is the bun – and they have the perfect buns at Good Stuff as well – sweet and soft.

And the fries… the fries are cooked until they’re nice and crispy but they’re still just thick enough to be a little soft in the middle, which I like – but my favorite part is that you can get them tossed with a pretty healthy pinch of fresh thyme, rosemary and pepper.

Oh and the price – the first time I thought the burgers were a little bit small but every time I go I’m totally satisfied with a burger and half a small order of fries so i’m beginning to think it may be just right. They’re around $7 a piece… pretty standard for a burger like that. The quality of ingredients and the taste make that thing well worth the 7 bucks to me.

I was in Washington a couple weeks ago and we had plans to check out Ray’s Hellburger in Virginia but somehow we found ourselves in Capitol Hill and just couldn’t resist Good Stuff. The famous Hellburger will have to wait for another visit. As expected, Good Stuff delivered again and every time it leaves me wanting more. I’m still having dreams about that egg burger. Either way I’ll have more burger news soon as the search continues.

****
Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

Hours: M-Sat. 11:30am-11:00pm, Closed Sundays





Smooth Operator

18 05 2010

For a long time I refused to even attempt to make smoothies at home because after a few terribly watered down and flavorless attempts I decided it was best left to the masters at Jamba Juice. But, recently I decided that it was actually something I could conquer. I realized that there are really only a couple of key elements to making an awesome smoothie at home:

1. One of the fruits must be frozen
2. One of the fruits must not be frozen
3. A decent blender (you don’t have to spend a ton, it just needs a powerful motor)

At the heart of it that’s the real key because it allows you skip the ice so you don’t have to thin the flavor just to get it cold. No one likes a warm smoothie so just blending warm fruit is no good either. Having the fresh fruit is also essential because you need something that liquefies easily so the blender can do its work. The fresh fruit is the catalyst to get the whole thing churning. A lot of the time you won’t even need juice to thin it out but if you do, add it a bit at a time and only as much as you need so you don’t end up with a thin liquid smoothie.

Now come the other steps that aren’t as key but in my opinion are pretty essential. For starters, I almost always have a banana in the mix. Banana just adds a perfect creamyness and really binds everything together in the perfect texture. When I buy bananas I almost never make it through the entire bunch before they go bad. So when it gets to the point where they’re almost starting to turn brown (because the longer they ripen, the sweeter they get) I slice them up and freeze them in a tupperware tub. Then when I’m ready to make my smoothie I just grab that, a little bit of fresh fruit, some yogurt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice and I’m ready to go. Honestly I usually don’t even use more than two fruits, one of which is almost always a banana.

The other option I’ve been using lately that allows me to use the fresh bananas too is using frozen chunks of fruit from Trader Joe’s. Some of my favorite combos are below.

Frozen banana + frozen blueberry + fresh strawberry + plain yogurt + lemon juice

Frozen mango chunks + fresh banana + plain yogurt

Frozen banana + peanut butter + chocolate syrup + milk or vanilla yogurt (trust me, it’s awesome)

Useful ingredients are…

Fruit (fresh and frozen)
Yogurt (plain or flavored)
Honey
Lemon juice
Juice – orange, pineapple, carrot… whatever
Peanut butter

The trick is when fruit is in season and it’s cheap, buy a bunch and freeze what you can’t eat when it’s at the peak of its ripeness or even a bit past.

A word on blenders – I’ve tried making smoothies with shitty blenders in the past and it just discouraged me from wanting to make them at home. I’ve found two options that are affordable (compared to restaurant grade blenders) and work great. One is the super simple old-school clover shaped blender. The shape of that thing was apparently designed perfectly to encourage mixing and it does an amazing job of getting stuff mixed without needing to stir or beat the hell out of the side. The second is what I use now, an Oster Beehive. It’s relatively cheap and has an amazingly powerful motor for its price.





Cobb Salad

17 05 2010

Here come the posts. They’ve been piling up for weeks now and I’m just getting around to sorting things out so bear with me. I made this cobb salad a couple weeks ago and it was pretty awesome. The whole operation takes a fair amount of prep but once you have everything ready it’s easy to throw together another one the next day or every day following until you run out of ingredients.

Key ingredients – some mixture of salad greens, bacon, chicken, avocado, blue cheese, tomato and hard-boiled egg.

I used these nice mixed cherry tomatoes just sliced in half.

A nice ripe avocado.

Some homemade bacon.

Some Maytag blue cheese – one of my favorites.

Some of my standard vinaigrette that was a little heavier on the mustard and had a little bit of honey in there to sweeten it up.

And some hard-boiled eggs.

And there you have the healthiest salad of all time. Ok, so maybe not quite… but it’s damn tasty.





Arugula Pesto

16 05 2010

Ok so, sorry but I’ve been on a little bit of hiatus. Believe it or not it’s because I’ve actually been cooking more than usual. Because of that, most of what I’ve been cooking is pretty boring so I haven’t really been motivated to post any of it… but I was thinking that some of it may actually be more useful than any of the other stuff I post because most of it is easy, cheap and functional. Starting out with something super simple, adaptable and good for some nice lite fresh summer dishes. Pesto.

The best thing about pesto is that it’s so versatile and adabltable. You can make it out of so many different combinations of ingredients and there really are very few limits. The easiest way to success but by no means the only is some combination of 1) green leafy herb, 2) some kind of nut or legume, 3) garlic, 4) hard cheese, 5) olive oil and 6) salt+pepper. The classic combination is basil + pine nuts +raw garlic + parmesan + olive oil + salt and pepper. Swap out any or all of those for variations.

It’s so simple. The only thing you need really is a food processor but depending on your blender you could even do it in there… just might require a little bit of shaking around and you may have to thin it out a bit more to get things moving.

For this batch I had a bunch of extra arugula around that I knew I wasn’t going to get to before it went bad so I decided to prolong its life as pesto. I didn’t have any pine nuts but cashews are just as good and sometimes even better. The rich buttery nuttiness cuts nicely through the peppery arugula.

A nice fistful of grated pecorino romano, a few glugs of olive oil, some salt, some pepper and a few whacks from the food processor and it’s ready to go.

And the first application – chef Stef making a pesto pizza!

I’m back baby!





Tomato-Butter Pasta Sauce

10 04 2010

I decided to get on the boat. This seems to be the food-blogger trendy dish of the year… super simple tomato sauce with spaghetti that’s just canned tomatoes stewed with a whole onion and some butter. Does it live up to the hype? Yes.

There’s a lot of talk going around about this super simple tomato sauce and I felt like I had to give it a shot because there was just no way it could be as good as they said. But damn, it is. I had a bunch of roasted garlic around so I tossed a head of it in to add a little bit more flavor.

The sauce is literally – canned whole tomatoes (San Marzano if you have em), unsalted butter, a whole onion and some salt to taste. Despite the fact that I will literally eat straight hog fat cured and sliced by itself, I still for some reason have this weird aversion to using too much butter… I’m all “oh but too much butter seems so excessive and fatty”… dude, you eat straight pig fat! Shut up and use it! Trust me, it’s worth it. This is like some grown up fancy Chef Boyardee shit. It’s good.

I also busted out some super easy super quick fresh spaghetti the other night so if you really want to impress your date, break out the food processor and let it rip. Once you’ve done it a few times it’s really so easy and so much better that it’s kindof stupid to ever buy noodles again.

 
Tomato Butter and Onion Pasta Sauce
Adapted from the inter web.

This is like some voodoo magic type shit. It’s so easy and so good it just doesn’t seem right…

1 large can San Marzano whole tomatoes (if you can’t find those just use whatever you can get your hands on)
1 whole onion – yellow, red, white, whatever… I use yellow for just about everything
3-5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, depending on how rich you want it
Salt to taste
I whole head of roasted garlic if you so desire

Slice the onion in half, toss it all in a sauce pan and simmer it for about 40 minutes or so until the tomatoes have broken down. Smash them up with a wooden spoon as you stir it up throughout the cooking. When it’s finished just pull out the onion and it’s ready to go.

 
The amount of time that it takes for that sauce to simmer is more than enough to make some fresh pasta to pour it over. You’re saving so much work with this sauce, why not give it a worthy base?

My laziness works in funny ways… I was feeling too lazy to bring myself to take a book from the shelf and look up a pasta dough recipe so I just googled for the easiest recipe to divide down to get an egg to flour ratio and then adapted that ratio to what I know works well in dough… the ratio is basically 1 egg per 100 grams of flour – that’s all that is absolutely necessary. The oil makes it easier to work with and the salt helps the flavor.

I use Tipo ’00’ Italian pasta flour but you can just use regular all-purpose flour too or a mixture of that and cake flour. People always claim it makes a big difference but so far I’ve never had anyone spit out their pasta because the flour wasn’t fine enough.

 
Fresh Basic Pasta Dough

This is a small batch – (about 4 servings) but you can just scale it up as necessary – the beauty of fresh pasta dough is that it’s so flexible and adaptable. Similarly, if you want it richer you can just substitute more egg yolks for some of the whites.

200 grams tipo “00” flour or all-purpose or a mix of all-purpose and cake flour
2 large eggs
About a teaspoon of olive oil
A pinch of salt

Toss the flour in the food processor and then everything else on top. Pulse it until you have crumbles and then dump them onto your counter and knead it into a nice smooth mass. If you don’t have a food processor, make a pile of flour on the counter, make a well in the center and mix the eggs, salt and oil in with a fork. Knead for a couple of minutes to get it all mixed and smooth and then wrap it in plastic and throw it in the fridge for a bit to chill out and stiffen up.

Roll it out with a pasta machine or a rolling pin or a wine bottle or baseball bat… whatever you have. Make sure you flour it well before you start rolling though.

Cut it up with the cutter on your machine or roll the sheets long ways and slice it into noodles.

This whole process can literally be done in a matter of minutes. This pasta, start-to-finish took me about 15 minutes. That’s barely more than it takes to boil dry noodles! You can make the dough while you’re waiting for the water to boil.

 
Spoon that sauce over your spaghetti and get busy. You can toss on some parm if you want but it really is fine just the way it is. I threw a little pecorino and some black pepper on top.





Fried Tilapia Banh Mi/Torta

10 04 2010

Sandwiches really are a beautiful thing… and when they’re done right they really are perfect in so many ways. I’ve realized that try as I may, I just can’t deny the fact that I love bread – it’s really not possible to make a good sandwich with bad bread… it just isn’t. And similarly, good bread makes a sandwich.

Recently I discovered that the market by my house which carries a large amount of Vietnamese ingredients, happens to sell amazing French rolls that are perfect for banh mi. I’ve always just walked right past them but lately I’ve started taking them up on the too-good-to-be-true seeming 3 for a dollar price.

They also carry lots of fresh fish that usually doesn’t look particularly fresh but on the day I made this sandwich there must have been a good haul because the whole fish were looking particularly clear-eyed. So I grabbed a tilapia – I was making a quick lunch so I didn’t have time to go catch it myself, you know… sorry, Alice!

This sandwich was really more like a banh mi meets torta. Imagine the first interlude on Ms Pacman but with two sandwiches bouncing toward each other… “they meet! <3". Two of my favorite sandwiches, squeezed into one roll. The thing that distinguishes the banh mi from other sandwiches though, is the pickled carrot, daikon and fresh cilantro. Vietnamese and Mexican flavors play really well together… lots of cilantro, lime and heavy heat in both. So I figured I might as well throw some avocado, mayo and lime in there, as if I was making a torta. And I smashed and toasted the bread a little bit too.

But I digress – back to those pickles… the pickled carrots and daikon are what really sets banh mi apart and they are so quick and easy to make it’s crazy. You can use them for so much more than just sandwiches, too. For these I just used the basic sweet vinegar mix I’ve been using that I adapted from D Chang’s Momofuku book. You just julienne the carrots and daikon and toss them in the vinegar mix before you do anything else. By the time you’re ready to put them on the sandwich they’ll have soaked up plenty of flavor and they’ll only get better the longer they sit (within reason… at least a week or so in the fridge).

So after filleting the fish, dredging the fillets in flour and pan frying them, I assembled my masterpiece…

Good slather of mayo on the bread, smashed and toasted for a few minutes in the oven. Sliced avocado spread across the top half, topped with the pickled carrots and daikon. Tilapia fillet on the bottom half topped with fresh cilantro and then all doused with lime juice. Smash together, slice and eat.

The only thing missing was the sliced fresh jalapenos…