31 December 2011

Arrivederci 2011, homemade tortelloni

If the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions, then I was there and back in 2011, relative to keeping my blog up to date. I ended the year with 44 posts, counting this one, which is my last. Better than last year, true. But I started out so well, with 28 posts through May. Then I had a pathetic one post in June, one in August, and only one in October.

And it’s not for lack of material. We had a fun long weekend in San Diego in November. I only did two posts (Searsucker restaurant and Solamar hotel). But I should have done posts on Blue Point, Taka Sushi, The Prado in Balboa Park, Asti, and Croce’s, all of which were great and deserved to be praised in Krik’s Picks.

But for my last post of 2011, instead of trying to reconstruct my impressions of those San Diego eateries, I’m going to post on a new cooking experience instead.

In May, Bon Appetit magazine had an Italian theme issue which included a recipe and instructions for making stuffed pasta. Coincidentally during the year, my daughter and her husband lent me their pasta machine. I’ve always had an inkling to try making fresh pasta but was intimidated by the process. So finally, over the long Christmas weekend, I decided to do it.IMG_5182

First, here’s the link to the recipe from May Bon Appetit for Ricotta Tortelloni.

And here’s the link to their step-by-step instructions.

I also found an online video for using a pasta machine.

And I found a Giada DeLaurentiis video. (She uses a Kitchen Aid attachment rather than a hand crank roller like I got from Tovah and Peter.)

I used the pasta recipe from Bon Appetit, but I modified the filling. Instead of seasoned ricotta, I used some cooked squash, mixed in about an equal amount of ricotta and seasoned it with some dried sage.

It turned out pretty well. I was pleased by how easy it was to shape the tortelloni. I worried that the pockets would open up and the filling would get all watery when I cooked them. But that was not a problem.

The recipe says it makes enough for 12 starter courses or 6 main courses, and that was about right. My wife and I had about a third of the batch along with a green salad. We boiled and drained the tortelloni and sprinkled them with parmesan, a little olive oil, and basil. It was a light meal, but sufficient for the two of us. I froze the rest. My plan is to use the frozen tortelloni whenever I need either a quick meal or a convenient side dish.

Next time I make fresh pasta, I’m going to make fettuccini.

Happy new year. Keep reading Krik’s Picks.

24 December 2011

Grilled cheese: Homemade vs. Caribou

I really like grilled cheese sandwiches. If I don’t see anything else on a lunch menu that looks good, a grilled cheese is a pretty safe bet. (Sometimes it’s worth ordering even if it’s not on the menu. Click here to read about a late night soup/sandwich improv in DC.)

So I was both curious and excited when Caribou Coffee put grilled cheese sandwiches on their food menu. The first time I tried to order one was at an airport location. (Denver, if I remember right.) Too bad. That location didn’t sell sandwiches. Also didn’t have free Wi-Fi.

I did finally have one earlier in December. I finished a workout and instead of having breakfast at the office cafeteria, which I usually do, I stopped at a Caribou near the gym and ordered a coffee (medium dark roast) and a grilled cheese sandwich. They actually have three on the menu. I chose the classic sandwich which features three kinds of cheese on brioche bread. The others are combination sandwiches with cheese and turkey, chicken, or roast beef.

I was unimpressed. There was nothing particularly wrong with the sandwich. It just wasn’t very distinctive.

I didn’t think much about it until yesterday when I made a grilled cheese sandwich for myself at home. I didn’t do anything fancy. I used homemade whole wheat bread, a supermarket aged cheddar (happened to be Bongards Creamery), and butter (Land O Lakes, of course). It was so much better than the Caribou sandwich.

Maybe Caribou doesn’t use real butter when they grill it.

06 December 2011

America Eats Tavern, DC, serves tradition avant-garde

Originally I had mixed feelings about America Eats Tavern in DC. I was excited because Chef Jose Andres was the creative mind behind the project. But I had some concerns.AmericaEats4

First of all, it replaced one of my favorite DC restaurants – Café Atlantico. Second, I was afraid that the concept was kind of gimmicky. It’s a so-called ‘pop-up restaurant,’ a temporary restaurant to test out a particular theme. In this case, the theme is American food prepared with native ingredients and inspired by historical  recipes. The thing I like about Jose Andres is his passion for creating a memorable dining experience, his creativity in ingredients, and the delightful flavors that come out of his kitchens. I didn’t want to be served something just because it’s a ‘native’ food or because it’s historically authentic preparation.

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. For the most part, my two experiences at America Eats have been up to the standards that I expected from Chef Andres. By the way, on my first visit last July, for lunch, I got to meet him! I arrived a little later than the normal lunch crowd. As I was waiting to be seated, I saw him walking toward the front of the restaurant. I didn’t want to seem like a star-struck groupie, but I asked the hostess if I could get a picture with him. He graciously agreed. After the photo, he went on his way, and I was seated.

For that lunch, I had a gazpacho and a lobster roll. Both were fabulous. The gazpacho was served by pouring the cold soup into the bowl around an island of croutons and tomatoes. The lobster roll consisted of large chunks of chopped lobster held together with a light dressing, served on an airy roll that was more like a brioche than a bun.AmericaEats1

I returned for a dinner at the end of November with three colleagues in DC. When our server greeted us, he advised that portions are small, so we should consider ordering something from each section of the menu – oysters, appetizers, soups/salads, and entrées. Seemed like a lot. While I do like oysters, I decided to take a pass this time, and my colleagues followed suit.

For the appetizer round, I had shrimp etouffee. It was delicious. Some of the other apps around the table – an unusual take on macaroni and cheese, this one made with vermicelli noodles, also an order of shrimp and grits that was quite good. And for the table, we split an order of hush puppies; they were excellent.

From the soup/salad section, I ordered the gazpacho again. I liked it just as much as the first time. One of my colleagues ordered the crab cake. The crab cake itself was great. But it was served with a slaw made from shredded Brussels sprouts that was very unusual and delicious. The beet salad, ordered by another of my guests, was a real attention-getter. On the plate were four beautiful, round baby beets and four balls of shredded beets. My guest said it was delicious, but quite a lot of beets for one person to eat. The fourth item we ordered was she crab soup, also very good.AmericaEats7

Finally, for the entrées, here’s what we ordered: bison steak (for two), blackened croaker (a rustic Southern fish), and Eisenhower’s beef stew. I split the bison with one of my guests. It was good, but the meat was a little fatty. I was surprised because I’ve always thought that bison is supposed to be a very lean meat. The croaker was good, but not really much different from any other blackened fish. The stew was very unusual in that it was served ‘deconstructed’ with two generous chunks of stew meat in the middle of the plate and the vegetables arranged around the side. It was not at all stew-like.

So while all of the entrées tasted good, they were the most disappointing part of the meal. If any part of the meal bordered on being gimmicky, it was the entrées. They also were kind of expensive, and, as the server said, the portions were not large. I think I probably would have been happier if I’d ordered one of the oyster courses and skipped the entrée.

The ambiance of America Eats is basically the same as Café Atlantico – rustic and casual. Our server was good. He was attentive, friendly, informative. Coincidentally, we had the same server at dinner as I did for my solo lunch six months before. He told us that America Eats Tavern will remain in operation until July 4, 2012, a one-year run. Then the space will evolve into something new.AmericaEats6

Meanwhile, I got a bit of good news when he told us that Café Atlantico will be reopening nearby, in the space that currently houses Zola. I couldn’t confirm that news. But if it’s true, I’ll be glad to have it back.