Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past."
Old Dutch proverb

I love butter. I love cream. I love wine, garlic and everything in between. From pepper to salt and veggies to meat, enjoy my ramblings on everything I eat!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Always Better with Bacon???

Bacon’s been a superstar in the foodie world for a while now (as it should be). Everything is better with bacon seems to be the general sentiment among carnivores. I subscribed to this belief fully and never thought I would ever see the day when I wouldn’t want bacon in my food. But this week, my foodie foundations were rocked when I realized that maybe, just maybe, not EVERYTHING is better with bacon.

It’s undeniable that scallops wrapped in bacon are better than nude scallops; bacon cheeseburgers are better than plain; a BLT is way better than an LT (who the hell would want a lettuce and tomato sandwich?). But when it comes to sweet dishes and confections, I’ve begun to have doubts.

Earlier this week, I ate an “Elvis” cupcake from Georgetown’s Baked and Wired (picture above, sorry so blurry!) in celebration of The King’s birthday. The cupcake itself was banana flavored and topped with peanut butter frosting and candied bacon. I made sure the three main components made it into my mouth simultaneously for the first bite. On initial tasting, the combination didn’t sit quite right on my tongue. The banana flavor of the cake was too delicate for the peanut butter frosting and smokiness of the bacon. However, being the dedicated eater I am, I kept going and, to my surprise, liked it more and more with each bite. Why was this? After an extensive analysis of the situation, I concluded that I’d consumed the majority of the bacon bits in my first couple bites, leaving the remaining bites bacon-free. The cupcake’s core flavors of banana and peanut were far better sans pork.

This made me think back to the other sweet foods with bacon I’ve eaten over the years. Bacon chocolate bars, bacon brownies, candy bacon… and I realized that I really only ate them for the novelty. Does this mean I will stop eating bacon in desserts? Of course not! I’m all about novelty, but now I’m inspired to bake a baconized cupcake that I like. I will start tomorrow with Beer-Cheese Cupcakes with Bacon Cheddar Cream Cheese Frosting. Check back to see how they turn out!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lactart: An odd little drink

As with many beverages and dishes, I chose Lactart off the America Eats Tavern drink menu because of the name. It sounded kind of gross, it rhymed with fart... I couldn't NOT get it.

"What is it?" I asked my not-all-home server.

"It comes in blackberry and apple."

Very helpful...

I went with blackberry, despite having no idea what I was about to ingest. It arrived in a tall glass, Pepto-Bismol in hue, and topped with two inches of foam. The taste? Like a berry Activia with carbonation. It wasn't bad, but not particularly good either.

The woman sitting next to me had ordered an Allagash White (on my recommendation) and was enjoying it immensely.

"This beer sure seems better than what you're drinking," as she took a slug of her delicious brew.

I smiled at her wanly, but she was right. My pink drink was not stellar by any stretch. But what was this mysterious concoction?

It turns out Lactart used to be quite the non-alcoholic libation back in the day (roundabouts World War I and II because acids were hard to come by due to the war effort). The Avery Chemical Company created the Lactart formula in the early 1880s using dilute lactic acid, and intended it to be a healthy natural acid for flavoring beverages. It followed in the footsteps of Acid Phosphate, a very en vogue acidulent, but was competitive enough to become "popular enough that it became of class of drink at the soda counter."

Unlike the sharp taste of citric acid from conventional drink ingredients such as lemons and limes, Lactart has a much more subdued tang. It does not have a dairy taste on its own, but it works will in dairy products (I might have to disagree...).

I could buy Lactart online if I wanted to recreate this "acidulent," but I'm going to stick with Rose's Lime Juice. I tend to think that Lactart went out of style for a reason.

And while I appreciated the piece of history I was drinking, I kept eyeing my neighbor's beer. The word "Allagash"may not make me giggle the same way "Lactart" does, but an Allagash White definitely tastes better.

Should you want to try a Lactart recipe, here is one from the 1897 Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages: A Treatise Adapted to the Requirements of Druggists and Confectioners:
Cream Lactarta
Cream Lactarta is a drink served in 12-ounce glasses with foam like the "sodas," using 1.5 fluidounces of the respective syrup, 1 fluidounce of cream, 1 fluidram of lactart and carbonated water, course and fine streams to fill the glass. "Cream vanilla lactart," for example, would be made from 1.5 fluidounces of vanilla syrup, etc. as described above.

Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages: A Treatise Adapted to the Requirements of Druggists and Confectioners (available on Google Books)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Devastating but Delicious

The first time I made a cake from scratch, I cried. They were not tears of happiness, but from pure and utter defeat.

At age ten, I was a die-hard Roald Dahl fan. I mean, who can resist books about chocolate rivers and farting (or whizpopping, to use the correct vocabulary) giants? I was overjoyed to receive Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes cookbook for Christmas. The first culinary challenge I wanted to tackle was Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake from Matilda.

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you know the story behind this cake: Bruce Bogtrotter, “an eleven-year-old boy who was decidedly large and round,” stole a piece of his headmaster’s decadent chocolate cake. As punishment, he is forced to the eat more of the cake, but not just a slice. He has to eat an entire cake, 18 inches in diameter!

My cook book only called for an 8 ½ - inch round cake pan, but I was still excited to transform this literary confection into a scrumptious reality.

From years of watching my dad bake fresh bread, I knew how important exact measurements are in baking.

Ingredients: 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, 1 ½ sticks of butter (o.m.g.), 1 cup sugar, ¼ cups all-purpose flour and six eggs separated.

Not to many ingredients, not too much chance of error … or so I thought. I was a bit nervous about folding the stiff, whipped egg whites into the chocolate batter, but it was no prob. Into the oven went the cake, and I started cleaning up. That’s when I saw it: my premeasured ¼ cup of flour. I looked at the oven, then back at the flour. I don’t think I cursed as a fifth grader, but I think my inner monologue went something like, “Shiiiiiiiit!”

The cake had already baked for about ten minutes at that point, but I still yanked it out of the oven, dumped in the flour, mixed it quickly and put it back in for the rest of its baking time.

Twenty anxiety-ridden minutes late, I opened the oven and there it was. A crater cake; a sad, concave baked good. Tears ensued.

My dad walked through the kitchen at that moment, comforted me and then pondered the situation.

“The sides still look good…” he said.

I sniffed and nodded, as he produced two spoons. We both sampled the outer edges of the collapsed cake straight from the pan. It was DELICIOUS. Bruce Bogtrotter would have devoured it. Fifteen minutes later, all that was left was the sunken center and chocolatey smiles on our faces.

Who knew failure could taste so good?

Sidenote: We never told my mom how much cake we ate J

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Papa John's Pizza: A Reflective Essay

When it comes to delivery pizza, there is only one man for me: Papa John. I think it has to do with my memories of lonely Friday evenings in middle school. My parents worked late and all my friends lived far away. The only things that cheered me up were the soft glow of “Keenan & Kel” and TGIF on TV and a fresh hot pizza I’d ordered from my local Papa John’s franchise. Much in the style of Kevin McAllister on Home Alone, I would open the box thinking, “One large cheese pizza just for me!” Of course, being a chunky, self-conscious pre-teen, I would never allow myself to eat the whole thing, but the initial opening of the box and the release of fragrant steam made a girl dream.

I wonder how many other people have similar fond memories of a particular pizza company. Does Papa himself, John Schnatter, get fan mail reminiscing about how his pizza was a dependable beacon of light in the dark, tumultuous years of puberty?

Although the company didn’t offer nationwide online ordering until 2002, I swear I ordered from the Web in the late 90s thinking how incredibly cool it was that I could click a button and a pizza would appear. (There was time, however, that the pizza dude never showed up and I was a. too shy to call the Papa John’s store, b. depressed and anxious about the situation, and c. too hungry to wait any longer and made spaghetti instead.) Some pizza-party-poopers have complained that the Papa John’s new Web site, which launched last fall, is over complicated and flashy, but I thoroughly enjoy it. I get great satisfaction from choosing my topping and watching an animation of said topping falling gracefully on to my digital pizza.

I don’t know what makes Papa John’s stand out in my memories so much more than the other major chains. Eight grade: Dean Matthis was dared to drink an entire tub of the garlic sauce, and he took on the challenge with gusto. High school: I endured Catholic Youth Organization meetings just for the free Papa John’s at the end. I even distinctly remember sitting in nosebleed seats at a Caps game when I was home from college demolishing an entire cheese pizza myself. The sauce was magma hot and the cheese pulled to extraordinary length – pure bliss. Pizza Hut, Dominos…I have no such vividly delectable memories.

Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m a Papa John’s purist. I have enjoyed many a pizza pie, from the light pizza al funghi I had on a blistering hot day in August (which probably tasted extra magical because we’d been lost and I’d been so hungry that I’d started to cry…yes, I was 23 years old) to the hefty and satisfying slices of deep dish from Pizzeria Uno and Due in Chicago.

There’s just something about Papa John’s that gives me comfort, and despite all my rhapsodizing, I think it boils down to one thing: the special garlic sauce. At a 150 calories and 17g of fat (more than a third of your recommended daily intake) per tub – and probably infused with some sort of addictive narcotic – it brings each pizza night at home to a level that no other delivery company can beat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Bringing Home the Butt

Hello all! Yes it has been a good long time since I've written and that's because I got a full time job that takes 40 hours of my week plus my sanity. So, here I am at spring break and finally able to write again. So, here we go...

"You can just put it in the oven while you sleep and when you wake up, your BBQ pork will be done!"

These were the words of my cooking teacher at L'Academie de Cuisine when I was taking intensive recreational classes (oxymoron, yes, I know) a couple years ago. It was pork week, and the dish in question was BBQ pulled pork. The idea of the aroma of roasting meat wafting towards my bed and infiltrating my dreams was delicious, but, knowing myself, it probably wasn't the best course of action. With my luck, Evan, the cats and I could be served at a B-Dubs happy hour if I didn't monitor the oven like a Nazi.

I always complain about not having enough time for anything: doing my nails, reading classic literature, paying bills... but now that it's spring break, I decided it was the perfect time to devote eight hours of my life to nurturing a piece of a meat from coarse rawness to a refined roast. Little did I know that eight hours of roasting time was a mere fraction of the multi-day adventure on which I was about to embark.

How did the adventure begin? With step one, of course.

Step One: Find the perfect recipe.

I used to think Bobby Flay was an arrogant bastard, but he has won me over with his Throwdown show. The fact he's lost so many battles leads me to believe his balls are probably normal or smaller-than-average sized. I was ecstatic to receive the Throwdown cookbook for Christmas, but between holiday break and this current spring break, I haven't the chance to try any recipes. Now that I had a full week of vacation stretching before me, I leaped at the culinary opportunity and decided to try cooking "Wood Child's BBQ Award-Winning Smoked Pork" from the Throwdown cookbook.

The recipe called for six pounds of Boston Butt pork, and despite being in my mid- to late- twenties (I prefer mid), I still giggle at this cut of meat. What is Boston Butt some of you might ask? Well, according to the wise folks of Wikipedia, it is " a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone." And for the history buffs out there: "In pre-Revolutionary New England and into the Revolution, some pork cuts (not highly valued) were packed into casks or barrels (also known as "butts") for storage and shipment. The way the hog shoulder was cut in the Boston area became known in other regions as 'Boston Butt.'"

I'm glad I had a full tank of gas when I left home because no Boston butt was to be found at the local Trader Joe's, none at Safeway, and zero at Balducci's. A couple hours after initial take-off, I met my beautiful butt at Giant on Duke Street. I had to pass my high school to get it, but these were the sacrifices I was willing to take. The humble hog I found was only 4.5 lbs. and the cashier quizzed me in Chinese, but I still bought the runt with my half-Asian head held high.

I realize this is a long entry, but I want you to realize the epic-ocity-ness of this porcine project.

With hog in hand, I headed home and made the rub. It had everything in it you could imagine: chili pepper, taco seasoning, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocaine...
I massaged the rub into the meat sensually (it was very personal -- don't make me elaborate) and then plunked it into the fridge to marinate overnight.
***Sleepy time****
Alarm goes off and the first though that races through my mind is: How is my butt????

It was fine. However, I realized I'd woken up a little late. I had to get that baby in the oven if I wanted it to be done for dinner. So, in it went in its bath of apple juice -- I could almost hear it oinking in pleasure. It was in there for for four hours with the periodic apple-juice spray down from yours truly. After the first four hours, my little piggy pie got wrapped in foil with more apple juice and roasted for another four hours.

Fast forward -- Mr. Pig finally has an internal temperature of 190 degrees and it's time for action (and yes, it's after 8 p.m. somehow).

I unwrap the butt gently and look at it unsure how to proceed. But then I just grab a knife and hack at it, burning my fingers pulling it apart, until we were finally ready to make the elusive PULLED PORK SANDWiCH! In the many roasting hours of the pork, I'd also baked some bread an tried a home-made coleslaw recipe. These ingredients plus my sweet swine made up the sandwich along with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce on top.



You'd think that's it but now it's Friday,and there's still lots of meat to be eaten. We've had more BBQ sandwiches, pulled-pork tacos, roasted pork breakfast burritos, Cuban sandwiches...
It's the goddamn gift that keeps on giving. When it runs out, I'll feel like I've lost a little part of myself, but at least I have my own butt (probably a lot larger after this whole ordeal), and that's not going anywhere soon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Patron Saints and Shellfish

Religion class, eighth-grade. Confirmation was just a couple months down the road and Ms. Magruder, our masculine homeroom teacher, informed us that we would soon be seen as adults in the Catholic church (scary) and had to pick a saint meaningful to us for the occasion. As a burgeoning classical clarinetist, I was a bit predictable and chose St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. I wish I could remember the names my classmates picked, because I'd be curious to know if any picked St. James the Greater, the patron saint of shellfish. His emblem is the scallop shell and he is now my favorite saint. I wonder if there is a patron saint of butter (and no, not St. Pat of Butter), because if so, the two of them may have blessed the meal I made the other night.

I actually had the evening off from working at the restaurant, and after days of diner food followed by boring health food, I was ready for some homemade fine dining. Seared Scallops with Pinot Gris Butter Sauce seemed like it would fit the bill. The last time I went to Trader Joe's I decided to buy a bag of frozen New England Bay Scallops as an experiment. I know I know... after watching many an episode of Top Chef where the chefs are chastised for using frozen proteins, I know it's probably not the way to go, but I felt rebellious and wanted to defy the judges. Of course I forgot to take them out early and had to speed-thaw them (speed would suggest that the thawing would be a quick process, but it still took an hour). In the meantime, I decided to learn a little bit about my delicious friends. These many-eyed mollusks (they have 30 to 40 blue eyes along the edge of their bottom shell) are the only of their bivalve counterparts who can jump and swim. Bay scallops are usually no more than 2 inches across, and mine were a little smaller. Despite their slightly diminutive stature, they were simply delectable when drizzled -- ok, more like drowned -- with butter.

I admit, it's a little silly that the sauce for this dish had an entire of stick of butter in it, but that's why it tasted so damn good. Whisked into a base of shallots, thyme, Pinot Gris, chicken stock and heavy cream, the butter finished off this opulent sauce. I seared the scallops lightly, and managed to get some stuck to the pan, but got them out mostly in tact. Fast forward to plating: a bed of spinach lightly sauteed with lemon juice was topped with the scallops, the pinot gris butter sauce and toasted and slightly crushed pine nuts. I was hoping to make a magazine-quality dish, and I don't think I reached that goal aesthetically. By the time I was done, I was hungry, I kind of just slapped everything on the plate, but the flavor was definitely there. They may have been frozen, but the scallops were sweet and had a buoyant texture. Take that Tom and Padma!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Diner #5: O'Rourke's Diner

Our final destination was O'Rourke's Diner, a cozy diner with and Irish flare in Middletown, Ct. The menu offered a plethora of options, but we knew what we'd come for: steamed cheeseburgers (an O'Rourke's tradition since 1941). Some of you may be skeptical of steamed meat, but the burgers cooked in this diner's special burger steamer stand up to any traditional patties. These unseasoned burgers pack a punch with their pure and unadulterated beefy flavor. Served on fresh buns, they were smothered with melted white cheddar. Drool...

As the burgers' partner in crime, we ordered sweet potato fries, and hands-down, these crispy, crunch, fresh-cut fries were the best we'd ever had. We'd hoped to top the meal off with O'Rourke's famous banana bread French toast. Sadly, it's popularity was proven because by the time we arrived, the diner was out of banana bread. We still had to satisfy our sweet tooths (sweet teeth?), so mini raspberry pancakes it was (side note: whoever decided to call them "mini" must have been a giant). We inhaled those raspberry-preserve covered pancakes like it was our last meal, stopping briefly every so often to shovel fresh clotted cream in our greedy little mouths.

By the end of our dining experience, the morning drizzle had escalated to a torrential downpour. But as we got up to brave the storm, customers were still streaming in. Nothing was keeping them from a meal at O'Rourke's, and rightly so.