Thursday, December 23, 2010

De la Casa Cuisine - Potato Leek Soup

Everyone has one dish that they can cook the shit out of. It's their best dish and whenever they are asked to bring something to a party or potluck it's that go to that always wows a crowd. This is my wow the crowd dish. I fumbled the recipe together after receiving some uber fresh leeks from a local farm in Maryland that guaranteed they had been picked that day. I have never been ever to make it as delicious as I did that first time, so if you can get your hands on fresh out of the ground leeks, make this soup asap! Full disclosure, this is my own spin on Alton Brown's potato leek soup recipe that can be found here. The key difference is I added lemon juice, used black pepper, and doubled the buttermilk because I like a tangy punch to the back of my throat.

Ingredients:
2 large or 3 medium size leeks
3 small yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon salt
1 quart vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup cream
2 cups buttermilk
By the by if you don't want to buy buttermilk because inevitably what you won't use in this recipe is going to get thrown out, you can get whole milk and add lemon juice to it to make your own.

Ok onto the fun! Start by washing your leeks, which I like to do by cutting in half and then rinsing thoroughly, those suckers are full of dirt when you get them from the farmer's market. Once they're clean, dice them up and don't worry about making them pretty because you're going to cook them into oblivion. Bust out a dutch oven and heat up the two tablespoons of butter, toss in the leeks, add a pinch of your salt and c
over it all up. A word of advice, keep the heat nice and low because if those bad boys start to caramelize the whole thing will be ruined (yes I am speaking from experience). Set the timer for 25 minutes and turn to the potatoes.

Start by peeling them and then dice them into small (1/2 - 1 inch cubes) pieces. Back before I had an emulsion blender I aired on the side of small so that I wouldn't have to spend as much time mashing them up later. Now that I have my dreamboat cuisinart, I'm less concerned. Once your potatoes are chopped sprinkle another pinch of salt over them.Stir those leeks periodically while your dicing the potatoes, did I mention you have got to make sure they don't caramelize? DON'T LET THEM CARAMELIZE! Once the timer has beeped and the leeks are nice and soft (taste one to make sure it's nice and mushy, butter sauted leeks are delicious all on their own!).

If they melt in your mouth, add the vegetable broth and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once it's boiling, throw in the bay leaf before you cover it up and set the timer for 45 minutes. The good news is you can go do something elsle for that 45 minutes because this isn't too sensitive and doesn't need to be stirred much. After you hear the timer go off, the potatoes should be fall-apart soft. If they are nice and tender, you are ready to remove the bay leaf and blend this into a soup. The softness of the potatoes is key if you're going to be making this without any kind of blender. Whip out your largest wooden spoon and start stirring that mixture vigorously. If you are blessed with an immersion blender, move your pot close to the outlet and blend away. Don't feel the need to make it 100% smooth. I find that chewing into the occasional bit of potato is pleasant when you're enjoying this comforting delight.

I've only had my immersion blender for three and a half months and I still get nerdily excited every time I get to use it. After you've enjoyed blending the soup up, grind in a couple clicks worth of pepper and let everything cool before adding any of the dairy ingredients. If you need to make buttermilk out of lemon juice and milk, this is a good time to put it together. After about 10 minutes, it should be cool enough.
Measure out the cream and stir it in slowly making sure not to get any curdled bits. Do the same with the buttermilk and lemon juice. Last, sprinkle in another touch of salt and few more clicks of pepper to taste. If you're still craving tang, add a bit more lemon juice. I know there are lots of fattening components here that you might be tempted to substitute, but I highly recommend preparing it this way and enjoying it in reasonable portions to keep the calorie count under control. A small bowl of soup will keep you full, scout's honor! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Two Cents: Agora

There is a relatively new restaurant on 17th st that replaced the defunct Jack's. The re-model of the space is impressive, and Agora presents a nice ambiance of industrial chic with exposed brick and dark wood booths as well as a large patio. The wine selection is pretty good, although the pinot gris we got for the table was nothing to write home about. All of the mediocre vibe I got from the medium priced restaurant was completely blown away once the food started to arrive. It's done in small plates tapas style and 1.5 dishes per person was the perfect amount of food. Baskets of big puffy "pide" bread was brought consistently to the table with an olive oil tapanade that was delicious. (photo source)
We added one of their spreads made with roasted red peppers, parsley, and feta cheese that was served in a less than aesthetically pleasing ice-cream scoop shape. I was surprised to find the spread served cold, but it was a tasty contrast to the fresh out of the oven bread. We started with some zucchini pancakes that were fried to perfection and nestled in a bed of the best tatziki I've had outside of Komi. The zuchini pancakes were followed by a truly amazing salad (and rarely are salads amazing) made with simple tomato, cucumbers, bell peppers, very fresh parsley, feta, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. This dish stands out for its balance of simple ingredients, executed to perfection making something extraordinary. Each morsel of feta packed a huge punch of flavor and I could have lapped up the dregs from the bowl once we had finished. Moving onto the meat dishes that were and the star of the show. Do not leave Agora without trying the "cheese stuffed" filet minon. I didn't notice much about the cheese, but the beef was some of best cooked I've ever had. I found a picture of it on yelp (source) :

I barely needed the knife to cut through the tender meat, and the sour cherry sauce was just the hint of tart to balance out the juicy flavor that burst with the first bite. Do you see the juice I mean do you see it spilling to the edges of the plate? That's the best description of how juicy the meat was that I can give. We also had a lamb dish that was served with a potato and gruyere puree that I didn't love half as much as the beef, but was tasty. The meat was obviously cooked all day and it fell apart with a touch of my fork. It was smoky and delightful.
The desserts were tasty and most noteworthy for their lack of overly sweetened or overwrought richness. Simple dried apricots stuffed with pistachios and chilled whip cream with a cinnamon infused caramel, this was my favorite. The crows nest of dough with a sweet cream and apricot sauce had an almost identical flavor profile to the dried apricots, but did not have the same wow factor. Definitely opt for the dried apricot delight! If you are looking for a fun communal and delicious meal to have with friends look no further than Agora.

Friday, December 3, 2010

De la Casa Cuisine

Mushroom Cabbage Soup

No one wants to come home on a cold rainy day and toss some greens in a vinaigrette for dinner. No matter how much I want to shed the weight I gained over Thanksgiving, I just can’t have cold food for dinner. So how else can you have a whole mess of vegetables without a lot of fat? Soup! It’s got to be creative because if you start dipping into the security blanket of butter and cream that always turns into something delicious, you can count on struggling to zip up that dress on New Year’s Eve. The key is good quality olive oil and lots of the freshest vegetables you can get your hands on. For inspiration, I turned to one of my favorite LA restaurants, the all vegetarian Follow your Heart best known for their amazing soups! When I was there last week I had a delectable delight of mushrooms, cabbage, tomatoes, and a ton of flavor. Below is my homage / attempt at their masterpiece:

Ingredients

1 small onion

2 celery stalks

1 carrot

1 box of baby bella mushrooms

1 cup of cabbage

1 garlic clove

1 jar of tomatoes (1 can, if you must!)

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


As with almost all soups, starting with diced onions is clutch. I think the key is to sweat them thoroughly without carmelizing. If they start to brown, throw them out because that sweetness will overpower the whole soup.

Dice ‘em up and toss them in with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt.


Once they have sweat their little hearts out (they should look glassy) you can toss in the 2 celery stalks and 1 carrot you diced up while the onions were sautéing. Add a touch more salt, cover them up, and turn the stove on low. While those are working their magic, Cut up any of your abnormally large baby bellas so they cook evenly, mince your garlic, and slice your cabbage into ½ inch chunks. I’m not the most aesthetically inclined cook, so I just give it a rough chop. For tomatoes, I steer clear of any chemically ripened junk or environmentally negligent hot house grown garbage that you can get in the winter and go straight to my stock of jarred tomatoes I canned over the summer. Toss in that jar with the mushrooms, cabbage, and garlic and let those sauté for a while to mix up all of the flavors for 3 minutes before you pour in the vegetable stock.



Now you need to pour in your best vegetable stock (I like Harris Teeter's organic) sit back, put a lid on it and set your timer for 40 minutes (no one said it was fast food, people).

When that egg timer beeps, serve yourself up a steaming bowl of healthy low fat goodess. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get this Deal! $4 for $25 to Meskerem


I know that we are all bombarded with deals to local restaurants constantly, but this is a legit fantastic deal on one of my favorite restaurants in DC. Ethiopian food is not for the faint of heart, you eat it with your hands, it can look a bit strange, and tends to be on the spicy side. Those who enjoy all of these details, however, love a good Ethiopian meal and DC is probably the best city in the country for a wide variety of options. I highly recommend the vegetarian platter at Meskerem for both the seasoned Ethiopian diner and someone newer to the game. Lucky for the vets and newbies alike, there is a great deal on restaurant.com. The only downside is the coupons from restaurant.com tend to have a lot of fine print, and this is no exception. You have to spend at least $45 and go in a party of two. The upside is that if you use the coupon code: SNOW at checkout, you will get 60% taken off. This results in spending $4 to get a $25 certificate. In the end, if you meet the $45 minimum you will have spent $24 on a $45 meal. Not too shabby! Enjoy!
Details: Meskerem 2434 18th St. NW (middle of Adams Morgan) | (202) 462-4100 | Metro: Dupont Circle (North Side)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

So your farmer's market's closed for winter

As a both socially conscious individual and foodie, I am a huge fan of my local farmer's market. I like to frequent both the Mt. Pleasant Saturday market and the Bloomingdale Sunday market to get all of my fruits, veggies, eggs, meat, and cheese. Beyond the obvious environmental benefits, local produce is the most nutritious as vegetables immediately begin losing their nutrients after being picked. If you've seen Food Inc. (and if you haven't, you should ASAP), you know that the American agricultural system is grossly under-regulated and might be putting us all at risk. The most immediate solution is of course to avoid it as much as possible. Sadly, my two favorite markets are closed for the season. So, if you're like me you are looking for one of the year-round options to get you through until Spring, here are some suggestions:

Dupont Circle
It's got stellar variety and is very centrally located for several DC neighborhoods. It's always crowded so get there early, and don't expect free bike repair or other tidbits that give a farmer's market that community appeal, but it will get the job done. I went today and picked up some beautiful apples from Orchard Valley Farms and amazing feta cheese from Keswick creamery. If you are an all-organic kind of shopper there are plenty of options for you as well. If you have
time, stop by the Dolcezza booth for some out of this world gelatto.


Details: Dupont Circle Metro 20th St. NW between Massachusetts and Q Sundays March - January 9 am - 1 pm, January - March 10 am - 1 pm

Silver Spring
I know it's not technically in DC, but it is accessible by metro and a fantastic market. It's got more of a community building spirit than your other choices and they will double the value of EBT food stamps for those receiving assistance. The produce selection is fantastic and I rarely see items running out. If you are on wheels there's a free parking garage close by that I have never seen completely full. Like every other year-round market it can get very crowded, but I love the vibe and it's probably my favorite of the 3 options.


Details: Silver Spring Metro Ellsworth Dr. between Felton St. and Georgia Ave. Regular season 9 am - 1 pm January - March 10 am - 1 pm

Eastern Market
Sadly a lot of the options at this market are not locally grown so definitely ask a lot of questions! That being said, this market is blissfully convenient as its open almost all day Saturday and Sunday. There are some very quaint stalls inside that have some of the best food I've ever tasted, although on the pricey side. The cheese counter has a selection rivaling whole foods and there are some great options for fresh fish. In a pinch, it's a great market to pop into for some last minute ingredients or to enjoy a day of shopping while browsing the accompanying flea market.

Details: Eastern Market Metro 7th and North Carolina Ave. SE Saturdays and Sundays 7 am - 4 pm

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mexican Joints

As both a native Los Angeleno and snob (is there really a distinction?), I'm often asked if there are any "real" Mexican restaurants worth trying in our delicious district. While this often prompts a diatribe of how rare it is to find authentic Mexican food anywhere on this side of the border (and especially this coast), I'll spare you the puffed cheek anti-tex mex rage and get to the good stuff. There are some excellent Mexican restaurants in DC (also some awful ones, but in the spirit of positivity I will leave those off...until the end when I just have to rant a little).

In no particular order, my favorite authentic (as possible) Mexican restaurants
in DC proper are:

Oyamel

Ok who are we
kidding? I clearly put this first because it is hands-down my favorite. Chef Jose Andres (full disclosure, he's a Spaniard) puts out a menu of stellar antojitos (Mexican tapas) and individually served tacos made with the tenderest of slow cooked meats. The menu is perfect for my favorite kind of communal dining in which everyone gets to taste and discuss the subtle details of each dish.

Not to be missed: Oyamel Margarita made with top shelf tequila and possibly the best invention of our time; SALT FOAM. What is this wonderous creation you ask? Only the solution to the "what do I do when the salt rim of my margarita glass is gone" conundrum. It is a delicate cloud of salt that rests atop the margarita to be lapped up in a perfect ratio with each sip. You will never want to have a margarita the old fashioned way again.

Details: www.oyamel.com | 401 7th Street NW |(202) 628-1005 | Metro: Archives or China
town

Casa Oaxaca

Oaxaca is a college town in Mexico with a cuisine known best for its mole. Now many Mexicans will tell you that no restaurant can make a mole that tastes anywhere near their abuelita's, and I would never dream of arguing the heights of a grandmother's culinary greatness. After having tasted all of Casa Oaxaca's moles and marveled at the complexity of the ingredients, the only logical conclusion is that Casa Oaxaca has an army of Mexican grandmothers in the kitchen every night. Each of the 6 moles are all absolutely to die for!

Not to be missed: Obviously it goes without saying that you need to try a mole, but definitely try the stuffed plantains. Only 3 come with a serving, but it's a delicious addition to any Oaxaceña meal.

Details: www.oaxacaindc.com/ | 2106 18th Street NW | (202) 387-2272 | Metro: At the southern end of Adams Morgan, the Dupont Circle Metro's North exit is a 10 minute walk

Mixtec

I think I have to share that I discovered Mixtec when I was interning at a civil rights law firm and a client, who like many had no home or cellular phone, used to get his phone messages there. We used Mixtec as both a message center and meeting place where I happened upon some of my favorite simple Mexican dishes. I know some people might scoff at this choice because the ambiance is less than elegant...and by elegant I mean even mildly aesthetically pleasing, but Mixtec has some damn good food! It's also non-chain restaurant in DC where I've found baja style fish tacos.

Not to be missed: A good old fashioned tort
a made with beans, avocado, delicious carnitas and all the fixins. It is in no way healthy and will make you fart, but yummmmm.

Details: 1792 Columbia Road | (202) 332-1011 | Metro: Woodley Park Adams Morgan

Taqueria Nacional

Taqueria Nacional is my most recent Mexican discovery! Friends of mine who work on or near the Hill recently got me to broaden my horizons and try this delightful tucked away taqueria near Union Station. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, but the flavors are simple and delicious in that special way that can only come from food made that morning from scratch. They also have an impressive daily selection of aguas frescas (literally fresh water, but better described as Mexican juices) that run out quick during the lunch rush.

Not to be missed: Holy Yucca fries! These nuggets of deliciousness dipped in their spicy salsa may bring tears to your eyes. If you've never had yucca, picture a root vegetable similar to a potato with a slightly sweeter flavor. Then imagine its diced up and fried to perfection and try not to pee your pants with anticipation.

Details: www.taquerianational.com | 400 N Capitol St NW | (202) 737-7070 | Metro: Union Station

Taqueria Distrito Federal

Difficult to find and nestled in a less than savory block to walk alone at night, I would never have tried Taqueria DF were it not for some dedicated and insistent fans. They were so right to insist. These are the best tacos in DC and they are dirt cheap! The restaurant itself is a simple to go place with a few tables you can sit at if you don't mind televisions blaring novelas and/or univision announced soccer games. It's all worth it for the tacos.

Not to be missed: Three words, TACOS AL PASTOR If you are a fan of sweet / savory combinations, you will want to make out with this delight. Spit roasted pork meat shaved into a corn tortilla, topped with diced onions, cilantro, and pineapple , yes I said pineapple. It's not weird; it's incredible. I don't even want to begin to list the things I would do for one of these tacos. Really I should count my blessings Taqueria DF only asks that I pay $2.99 for this slice of greatness.

Details: www.taqueriadf.com 3463 14th Street and 805 Kennedy St. NW | (202) 276-7331 Metro: Columbia Heights or Petworth

I know what you're going to say. Where is Cactus Cantina? What about Guapos? I like the happy hour at Alero! The poorest of lost souls might even ask has she tried Lauriol Plaza? Shame on you! These places are not in anyway authentic, and more importantly they're not good. Pouring Carlo Rossi pre-made sangria out of a jug (I've seen it happen at Guapos, people!) and serving overly salted poor quality meat slathered in low grade cheese, does not a Mexican restaurant make! Get thee to one of these quality establishments and you might think twice about opting for one of these less than options.

Delicious District

Welcome to Delicious District! I will be posting about restaurants / markets / recipes for the greater Washington area. I hope you enjoy!