Category Archives: Home Cookin’

Pesto Couscous Gratin

After a ten-day hiatus from regular cooking, I was back for my traditional “meal + plus Mad Men” last Sunday evening. My return to kitchen time also happened to coincide with a lucky discovery – I finally managed to track down an elusive piece of pasta. Now, maybe that doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to you, but you aren’t scrambling for content for your personal blog. If I can’t squeeze 500 words out of a search for basic grocery items, maybe I just don’t have the narcissism to really make this blog a serious part of my life.

Anyway, you might have noticed that the title of this post mentioned couscous. Couscous is a really interesting food – you might think it’s a grain, but in fact it’s pasta, ranging from the tiny (traditional couscous) to the somewhat less tiny (Israeli, or pearl, couscous). Personally, I dislike traditional couscous, though: it gets mealy, it never hold up on its own. So why am I writing about couscous? Israeli couscous.

Israeli couscous, unlike traditional couscous, is much larger – the size of small peas – and holds up much better to cooking. Even better, when toasted before being cooked, it retains a nutty sweetness that comes from the carmelization of the of the starches in the pasta. Israeli couscous, however, has proven exceedingly difficult to find in this town. Which is exceedingly strange, considering how easy it was to find in Boise Idaho. Yes, people, the state that brought us Larry Craig’s bathroom shenanigans and Bill Sali’s independent discovery oil alternative fuels in our forests also gave me pearl couscous in the bulk food aisle of my local supermarket, something DC’s Whole Foods, Yes Organics and Safeway/Giant pu pu platter haven’t provided.

I was on the verge of taking desperate measures, when I finally found some – yes, Whole Foods had heard my silent prayer. I loaded up; at $2.50 a pound, it’s more expensive than regular pasta, but at this point I was desperate. Since my supply seems to be somewhat intermittent, I’ve come up with a plan to stretch my couscous supply: I’m going to eat so much of it that I get sick of it, and then I don’t want it again for months.

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Pork Tenderloin and the P Street Giant

So starting tomorrow is the long awaited pork tenderloin sale at the P Street Giant ($3/lb).  People will be lining up outside like they did for the 3G iPhone.  Or not.  Regardless, keep reading for a dirt cheap, simple, delicious pork tenderloin recipe.

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Can Indian Survive the Heat of August?

Asian food has always been my favorite family of cuisines. Maybe it’s because the only significant length of time I spent abroad was in Japan. Maybe it’s the direct contrast to the classic flavors I ate as a child. Maybe its just the bright but rich flavors, the beautiful presentations and the facility with vegetarian cooking. And there are just so many ways to manipulate a carbohydrate: Soba and Udon noodles, chow fun, pad see ew, pineapple fried rice and vegetable biryani just to name a few. Delicious.

Of course, there’s an immense amount of variation amongst the various cuisines: like a parent forced to choose their favorite child, my first inclination is to say that each and every one is special and delicious. Though if I really think about it (maybe like a parent as well?) I can make a choice pretty easily: I just love Indian food. It has to be the curry: there’s nothing quite like it. I love the way my kitchen smells after I finish making a saag paneer or masala (of course, when it still smells like that two or three days later, then we have some trouble).

Indian has problems, however; in the heat of August, it’s almost impossible to imagine whipping up a curry: cream, cheese, nuts, potatoes? Way too rich for my already overheated blood. But at the same time, I’m sick of stuffing vegetables with other vegetables. There’s something spiritual about cooking what you absolutely love to cook, not just what you like to cook. But how to make something that won’t turn my dinner table into a sweat lodge?

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Produce * (Local + Organic + Farmers + Market) = Expensive.

I’m on a strict budget for the next few months (years) while I pay off some student loans and save for graduate school.  Obviously, the above equation is a challenge to my somewhat thrifty ways.  But I’m a typical white person so I love farmers markets (side note: not only did I bike to the market, I also brought my canvas bag).  This Sunday I went to the Dupont Farmers Market with a list and did my absolute best to stick to it (one slight deviation – ripe peaches).  Delicious.  The cost?  $3 for two peaches!

Anyway – here are the more economical and better purchases:

1)    Fresh Basil – $3
2)    Two pounds of heirloom tomatoes – $7

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Going Off Recipe: Baked Stuffed Zucchini

Update: Added artistic food close-up photos courtesy of my roommate. See them after the jump!

I love to cook and I love food; obviously, or I wouldn’t be doing this. But this is a relatively recent development – in fact, it wasn’t that long ago that I was frying the living hell out of frozen hamburgers on a George Foreman rip-off. I’ve only been cooking seriously for about a year, and for almost all of that time I cooked almost exclusively for myself.

I mean, I like my cooking, but it is hard to see what others will think of it. And, like all people (at least I hope so) I crave praise. So now that I live in the city and cook regularly for other people, each dinner is an exquisite moment, poised between the excitement of possible praise and the looming specter of undercooked pasta (or overcooked vegetables; god, I get a cold sweat just thinking about it).

That feeling is magnified by the process of going off-recipe. As a chef, I’ve generally hewed close to a few cookbooks: Betty Crocker’s Everyday Vegetarian (don’t laugh), the Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook and most of all, Mark Bittman’s invaluable How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The recipes in these cookbooks are broad ranging and quite tasty; generally I haven’t found the need to anything more than modify them. So there isn’t really a huge push to come up with my own dishes. Also, I have another problem: Imagining a meal has always come relatively easy to me; a dish, on the other hand, is much more difficult. I’ve never had any confirmation of the quality of my palate, and I don’t really have the experience to know exactly how things cook: how much heat, how much time – even what kind of heat doesn’t come completely easy to me.

So long story short: going off-recipe makes me nervous. So, when I was cooking dinner on Sunday, it was with a general sense of unease that I did that. Sort of. I had been giving a general concept; the outlines of an idea. But one has to crawl before one can walk.

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Making the Most of Summer Part Deux: Fresh Corn off the Cob

In our last trip to the farmer’s market, your editor focused his energies mostly on heirloom tomatoes – and what tomatoes they were. This weekend, however, we’re taking a closer look at some of the other bounty of summer: sweet corn.

Corn, in general, has a number of things going for it: it’s colorful, nutritious and simple to prepare in a number of ways ( I prefer roasted or grilled, husk on for straight ears). Of course, what that list lacks, at least for much of the year, is taste. This isn’t a surprise; after all, most of the year we’re talking about corn moving through the agribusiness infrastructure in ways that would make a Slow Food-ite barf up their locally sourced organics. But thankfully, for a few months of late summer, corn becomes a local delight, with multiple delicious varieties available everywhere, from farmer’s markets to Safeway.

I’ve seen a number of different varieties of sweet corn around town in the past two weeks; in fact, I bought some about two weeks ago. Unfortunately it was a mess – mealy, with shriveled kernels. I had to cook the hell out of it, and mix it with store bought corn to get a passable dish. I was surprised, frankly. This weekend’s trip to my local farmer’s market, however, would prove completely different. What a difference a few weeks make. This weekend, I bought beautiful bi-color corn at the U st. farmer’s market. I can’t remember the name of the stand, but in the future, there will be copious shout-outs, I promise.

As I mentioned above, I prefer my corn oven roasted (or grilled) in the husk. But this recipe calls for a slightly different presentation: the corn kernels are cut from the cob, then pan roasted in a cast iron skillet. With fresh corn, it’s truly delicious and a truly simple, yet versatile recipe.

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Home Cookin’: Make the Most of Summer

One of the nicest things about the District is the abundance of neighborhood farmer’s markets. Of course you have the king of the heap – Eastern Market – which still rules the farm fresh scene even in its somewhat diminished post-fire digs. But you also have the Penn Quarter FRESHFARM market on Thursdays (even Anthony Bourdain visited during his recent Washington trip), and its Wednesday-Saturday-Sunday sisters in Dupont, Foggy Bottom and H St./NoMa. Right now, as we enter the height of summer, the markets are overflowing with fresh produce: greens, squash, peppers, peaches, nectarines and the first tomatoes of the season.

Of course, there is a downside to this: in our climate, food seems to rot almost instantly. I’ve grown used to buying bananas at their greenest and still having to cut spots off them a couple of days later. So how do you use up the bounty of a morning at the market?

This Sunday, I spent the morning at the Dupont market, in preparation for a planned premiere dinner for “Mad Men” season two (more on the “planned” later). So I had plenty of produce to use, and not a lot of time to use it. So, after a little Google time (and a fortuitous email from Ma t/e), I came up with a quick menu plan, perfect for summer fresh, light (mostly) and most of all easy. After all, who wants to spend a lot of time in a hot kitchen during a DC July?

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