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)