Category Archives: Home Cookin'

Happy Independence Day

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re back.

Official July 4, 2014 Potato Salad

Official July 4, 2014 Potato Salad

“Coming soon”: reviews of Range (great), Potowmack Farm (awesome), Woodberry Kitchen (finally), probably a few others I can still dredge out from the old notes.  Also spam spam spam spam spam eggs and spam.

Wheaton’s newest restaurant El Catrachito got a rave review in the Post a couple of weeks ago, although they manage to avoid using the term “Wheaton” (other than being the nearest Metro stop), instead locating it in Silver Spring, which is technically true but totally misleading.  Anyway, I guess I need to try it — I like the Honduran aspect of it, something new around here.  2408 University, in the old Irene’s III hole in the wall just down from New Kam Fong.

For me, July 4 is memories of cherry pie, potato salad, and croquet at my grandmother’s house in Tacoma.  Those things all did happen, sometimes together, maybe not actually on July 4 but at other times in summer…whatever.  Also fireworks over Lake Washington at Sheridan Beach, which clearly did not coincide with Tacoma-based activities.

Mrs. Senior Me taught me how to make potato salad, when I was wee, and while I am always tweaking the recipe — because I am always tweaking all recipes, otherwise I get bored, plus I still haven’t quite achieved the Platonic ideal of potato salad — I still make it more or less the way she taught. Sometimes there is bacon, but not in the original, and not this year. I have always loved potato salad, and even some people who don’t normally like potato salad like this (mayo-free) version.  Thanks Mom! Happy 4th!

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We Can Haz All The Salmons

Quenelles of Salmon in Savory Sauce

Quenelles of Salmon in Savory Sauce

Hey looky, it’s April.  The snows have melted (FINALLY!!!), the grasses are sprouting, the birds are chirping and we can’t stand it BRING US THE BIRDS BRING US THE BIRDS come closer birdies we will have our way with you — yeah, you better fly away.  Cowards.

Anyway, here’s a restaurant most of you will probably never get to visit, and we have to say, you’re really missing out, because most of the meals around here are pretty great. And we live in the restaurant, how cool is that? We have all the fishez all the time.  Eat, sleep, eat, sleep.  Winning.

We would describe the decor, but we can’t really be bothered; there are plenty of soft places to sit (and nap), and windows to gaze out of, and that’s about it.

Ah, but the food, the food.  For starters, there’s a 24-hour buffet in one of the cozy corner rooms, featuring tiny crunchy dark brown balls of salmony stuff.  Not our favorite edible, maybe, but it’s nice to be able to graze whenever, and we have built trust with the Staff by not constantly gobbling it all up.  That trust will come in handy later once the blueprints are finished and the Device is ready for total global domination.

Bonito Bowl

Bonito Bowl

Then we get big soft serve main dish portions for breakfast and dinner, plus sometimes for snacks during the day, at least on those days when the Staff don’t maddeningly disappear through the giant portal for most of the daylight hours.  Sometimes we have to remind them about the snacks — we are not shy about reminding.  Sometimes we even have to remind them about breakfast, especially when they sometimes do not arise to feed us as soon as the first rays of sun bless our bedroom windows.  Really, service is our biggest complaint — it’s friendly enough, but the pacing can be really slow and inconsistent.  Should we really have to ask for seconds EVERY NIGHT?  No, we are NOT finished, you may NOT take the plate away! Get it together, people.

Back to the food.  The soft serve is great, especially the salmon, which we get nearly every day and of which we will never tire; we also like the beef and sometimes the shredded chicken/beef combo.  The crucial element is the sauce: we like lots of juicy sauce, and the meats must be cubed (or sometimes shredded) — once in a while the Staff try to give us pâté and we HATE pâté. Gross. The kitchen can be kind of dictatorial, my pâté or the highway, but luckily they mostly give us what we want.

Usually the soft food is accompanied by a side of dried shaved bonito (hanakatsuo) flakes, imported from Japan, a deliciously salty counterpoint to the savory main course.  There’s nothing like a tuna-salmon combo, tell you what. Sometimes we even get a big fluffy bowl full of nothing but bonito.  Love that stuff.  We don’t think there’s MSG or heroin in it, but who knows.

Our preferred brand of freeze-dried salmon

Our preferred brand of freeze-dried salmon

Best of all is our nightly Salmon Time.  This is when we parade into the sunroom singing the Salmon Time song (“Salmon Time/oh, it’s Salmon Time/Salmon Time/Hooray for Salmon Time”), and one of the Staff doles out chunks of freeze-dried wild-caught Alaskan salmon.  “Dried to a delicate purrfection” says the package label, and while we do not appreciate puns, we do appreciate these nightly chunks of crunchy fishy goodness.

Once in a  while, for dessert, we might get to lick the back of someone’s ice cream spoon, or more likely we’ll just get leftovers.  The Staff also brings us “room service” to the bedroom in case we get the midnight munchies — and let’s be honest, we get the midnight munchies EVERY NIGHT.  In the end, while the service around here isn’t perfect, the Staff do try hard, and sometimes are able to learn from their mistakes, and ultimately we’re pretty well fed.

Which is lucky for those birdies out there, because if we were hungrier we would have to go hunt them down.  Instead we just hang out indoors, eating the foods and developing the blueprints and OWNING THE INTERNETS.  Perhaps you were already aware that the internet is for cats?

All your internets (and fishez) are belong to us.

Bring Us All The Fishes

Bring Us All The Fishes

Römertopf Meatballs

The Family Clay Pot

“Terracotta,” the Family Clay Pet Pot

Here at Chez Me, I do a majority of the cooking, but Mrs. Me has several specialties. A non-exhaustive list of highlights includes brisket (braised, not smoked), a recently mastered potato-leek soup, popovers.  She is in charge of most of the baking, at which she excels (like father, like daughter).

And Römertopf meatballs.  The Römertopf (“Roman pot”) is a German brand of clay pot, one of which Mrs. Me has owned for many moons.  First you have to soak it in water for a while.  Then you load it up with whatever you’re making, slap in in the oven for a while, and coming soon dinner.

The Family Clay Cookery Book

The Family Clay Cookery Book

I shouldn’t make fun of clay pot cooking, it’s been a thing for ages (literally — pre-Iron Age) and results are often delicious.  I think it is the cookbook we use, Clay Cookery, that makes me want to be listening to Hooked on a Feeling and guzzling Reunite, or maybe something from a box, while I’m whipping up my afternoon clay pot delight.  I was shocked to discover the book was published in 1990.  Its dated style and overexposed photography suggest early 70s.  Millennials may think there is no difference between the early 70s and 1990, but I assure you, the times in between, they were a-changin’.

Back to the meatballs.  They’re a mixture of ground beef and rice, doused in V-8 juice, topped with garlic, onions, and green peppers.*  That’s about it, but the trick is to use enough V-8 to keep it all moist but not so much that it turns into meatball soup.  Mrs. Me has mastered the V-8 apportioning.

* Normally green peppers are on the nasty/banned list, but once in a while they are crucial to the overall flavor of a dish, as in this case.

Last week’s batch was excellent as always, the rice fully cooked, interspersed throughout each moist tomatoey meatball.  Before and after shots are below.

Meatballs, pre-cooking

Meatballs, pre-cooking

Meatballs, post-cooking

Meatballs, post-cooking

Meatballs, plated with roasted broccoli

Meatballs, plated with roasted broccoli

Not a Hiatus

So hey.  Apparently it has been a few weeks.  Work has taken all my mental energy lately, leaving none for blogging, but I might finally be over it.  This has not been a hiatus — although you can’t have “hiatus” without “I ate” and I have certainly continued to eat throughout the past month.  And, pace Steve Martin, I have been blogging in my mind.

I will now blog in my blog.

We had friends over for dinner last night and I made lasagna, which I used to base on the Barilla box recipe.  No-boil lasagna noodles are one of the great technological innovations of the 20th century.  I hadn’t made lasagna for months, maybe close to a year — and hey looky Barilla changed its recipe!  Not drastically, but they used to include a couple of eggs in the ricotta-mozzarella mixture, and the eggs have been eliminated.  Okay, fine, less cholesterol is good.  But somehow that send me spinning totally off-recipe.

Not that the recipe is complicated: layers of (no-boil!) noodles, sauce, and cheese.  The box recipe calls for bottled Barilla sauce, surprise surprise, but I made mine from scratch.  Brown a pound of ground beef, add minced onion and garlic, salt and oregano, scoop in a tablespoon of tomato paste and cook for a while to mellow the harsh paste, pour in some red wine, reduce, add a big can of San Marzano tomatoes and some chicken stock, break up the tomatoes, and let it simmer for a while.  Simmer down, saucy.

Don’t get saucy with me, Béarnaise.

Also, instead of mixing together shredded mozza with ricotta (and, previously, eggs), I just spread a couple of ricotta layers by itself, and added mozzarella only on the very top, as the final act.  350 degrees for 30 minutes covered, then 5-10 minutes uncovered to melt/brown cheese.  That last bit was the only misstep, as the cheese didn’t acquire any color; next time I will broil it for a few minutes at the end.

Turned out great!  Garlic bread, salad, red wine, nice dinner.

Coming soon, the usual parade of restaurants both Wheatonian and not, other food ramblings, and another thrilling installment of “It Came From H Mart.”

Mi Actual Cocina: Tortilla Soup Edition

Homemade tortilla soup

Homemade tortilla soup

Inspired by Mrs. Me’s ongoing quest for the perfect tortilla soup, and by the high-quality version produced by Mi Cocina (the recently opened in Chevy Chase and recently reviewed here restaurant), I decided to see what I could whip up on my own in mi cocina.

I used a recipe from the illustrious J. Kenji López-Alt, but made a couple of small adjustments.  Uno, I cut the recipe in half — in case it turned out poorly, I didn’t want to have extra wasteful servings. Dos, H Mart didn’t have any poblano peppers this week — they always have poblanos! Que pasa, H Mart?  So I substituted a bit of jalapeño, after testing to make sure it wasn’t too fiery.  But still less than I would have used of a poblano.  Y tres, I didn’t feel like buying corn flour just for this recipe, so I raided my stash of rice flour instead.

Otherwise, I stuck to the recipe.  I tend not to broil anything because I have never had an oven capable of doing it well, but I tried our Breville toaster oven on the tomatoes and they charred like a charm, so that was a happy experiment.  And I had a small blender incident — it was too full and the top blew off and there was a certain percentage of kitchen drenched in tomato-ancho splooge, but that’s what paper towels are for?  And everything else went smoothly.

In particular, I don’t think the substitutions made any difference, although I’d like to use poblano next time.  And next time I will make the full recipe — I may double the recipe!  Although I’ll be blending for days if I try a double recipe (or else the kitchen will flood).  I also tried frying my own tortilla strips for garnish, and that worked great, a little corn oil and cut-up corn tortillas and in just a few minutes I had golden brown, crisp shards for added texture and presentation.

There will be a next time.

End result: a tasty tortilla soup that I don’t think was quite as good as the one at Mi Cocina, and much more labor-intensive (for me, anyway), but it was fun to try and Mrs. Me liked it a lot, and that’s what really matters, right?

Welcome to the Jungle

One possible excuse for my lack of blogging for more than a month could have been that I was being held hostage by my backyard. It isn’t technically true, but it could have been true if I weren’t so agile.

Normally I have whatever is the opposite of a green thumb. I have attempted gardens in the past, but they never survive to fruition.  Supposedly foolproof indoor spices fail to grow, or die as soon as they are transplanted outdoors.  I kill plastic houseplants.  Not on purpose! It just happens.

sawadee!

Thai Basil

Until this year, when evidently the record-breaking heat and humidity overcame my natural herbicidal Kevorkianism. I planted one teeny little cucumber plant, one teeny little pumpkin plant, one teeny little chili pepper plant, two teeny little basil plants, and a slightly less teeny cherry tomato plant.  They didn’t stay teeny. We came very close to Little Shop of Horrors territory in late July.  Feed me, Seymour!

welcome to the jungle

My garden...it's ALIVE...

The cucumber plant in particular is so out of control it is growing up nearby trees, and bearing fruit there.  Yes Virginia, cucumbers DO grow in trees.

The cucumbers have tailed off, finally, but at least eight pumpkins are slowly growing on the opposite corner of our little plot and in the grass near the corner.  Meanwhile, the Thai basil is irrepressible, I keep harvesting huge bunches and it keeps growing. And in addition to the cherry tomatoes, the remnants of last year’s regular tomato plant (all of which rotted on the vine last year) somehow regenerated this year and has taken over its corner of the plot (the plot has thickened?) (sorry).

treecukes
Los Pepinos Estan En Los Arboles

And, tomatoes aside, the quality has been great, especially the basil.  I’ve been warned that the pumpkins may be assaulted by squirrels just before they’re ready for harvest.  I long ago achieved detente with the local squirrels, so we’ll see how that goes this fall.  George Costanza famously had a deal with the pigeons but not the squirrels, but I have always had a pretty good relationship with the little rodents (closely related to the mountain beavers, notes Wikipedia). I’m optimistic. It’s just one of those years.

Arugula! Arugula!

Fresh!

My occasional attempts to grow vegetables and spices, over the years, have nearly always failed, usually quickly, in part due to inattention and underwatering and in part because I think plants are genetically predisposed to fear me and wither as soon as my back is turned. Unusually, last summer’s banana peppers grew like the national debt, but they weren’t the highest quality.  So what to make of the arugula bonanza out back? Maybe I am the Arugula Whisperer?  More likely arugula is easy to grow and impossible to kill.  That’s okay, I’ll take it. It has that fresh, peppery snap that arugula is supposed to have, and maybe it only tastes like the best arugula ever because I am fooling myself, but it is pretty sweet to take a bunch from the garden and be eating it in a salad a few minutes later.  Do people who garden all the time feel that way all the time?  Happy. And amazed the feral bunnies (one of whom spent much of last fall huddled inside the tangled nasty mass of our failed tomato plants) haven’t hit our buffet yet. Although I saw a baby bunny scamper into the hostas across the yard this morning, so maybe they are just discovering this year’s crops.