Tag Archives: Dinner

Kanlaya Reax

As promised, below is the rundown of my dining “experience” at Kanlaya last night. In both both the technical and taste categories, I would say there were some significant hitches. First of all, I posted three or four notes to the Twitter feed of my work blog, SCOTUSblog. Considering that site works primarily in Supreme Court reporting, maybe descriptions of the beer service at local Thai restaurants is not exactly germane. Oh well.

On the taste front, I guess there was nothing particularly wrong with Kanlaya. Often I judge restaurants like this by their vegetarian menus. It isn’t that hard to pump out chicken pad thai, or pad see yew, or any number of other meat dishes (of course, really good meat entrees aren’t that easy). But is the vegetarian food anything more than sad bits of fried tofu with veggies and sauce?

Kanlaya has a large veggie menu, which means maybe I just picked the wrong thing: my Pad Prik was tasty, but the beans (which were advertised as “Fresh String Beans”) looked like the frozen cut beans you can get at Giant, and the sauce was watery, and not particularly spicy (for its rating of two peppers on the menu, the highest they gave).

Evidently this is a problem that others have had:

Some like it hot, and diners who do had better make that point clear to the staff. This is a kitchen that pulls its punches if you aren’t insistent; shaved beef with bamboo shoots in a supposedly spicy red curry didn’t sound a single fire alarm.

Everyone else seemed to enjoy their food however, even a friend who had chicken satay, and was alarmed to see two pieces of toasted Wonderbread swimming in the sauce. So maybe I just picked wrong.

The final verdict: the food was fine, and if I had something going on in Chinatown and I was jonesing for a little Thai, I would go back again. But now I really, really, REALLY need to go to Thai X-ing. You can see my Twitter feed, admittedly short because of the tweets sent to the SCOTUSblog feed, after the jump.

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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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A week without cooking

Sorry there hasn’t been much in the way of bloggy goodness this week; real life has actually intruded on this little internet project. But I’m back now, and ready to bring you the regular dose of insight, wit and pure culinary genius.

Also, this has been a strange week for me – I haven’t cooked a single time. Not for others, not for myself. It’s been a little weird. In fact, not only haven’t I cooked, but other people have cooked for me. On Sunday, a friend had a “house-cooling” party: she’s leaving her place in Shaw for the wilds of Friendship Heights. In a meal that was explicitly explained to us as “cleaning out the fridge” we had lemon caper chicken, vegetable quiche, and a pear-almond-Gorgonzola salad with homemade vinaigrette. It was nice; really tasty – though for me the nicest thing was being able to enjoy a meal without having to worry about what still needed to be cooked, or cleaning up afterward!

And check out this chicken:

Lemon Caper Chicken

After the jump: more food pictures, and pictures from the other reason I haven’t been cooking this week.

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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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Grocery List: Logan Circle Whole Foods

Eating on the cheap can be difficult: sometimes you have to forgo interesting meals and top-flight ingredients, skip trendy or well regarded restaurants or limit where you shop. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. I’ve found that a little ingenuity, flexibility and investigative shopping can help you limit the hurt and keep you eating organic produce and Whole Foods cheese (at least the mid-grade stuff).

Of course, what I’m talking right now is coupon clipping. Hey, it worked for your Grandmother; it can work for you too. And coupon clipping is slowly becoming a movement: even the young can get behind something like this in a … whatever we’re calling the economy right now.

With that, your editors introduce what we decided to call the Grocery List (a hopefully recurring feature), where we find the deals at local grocery stores so you don’t have to. We’ll even suggest recipes. First up, that well-known bastion of savings, the Logan Circle Whole Foods.

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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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