Trouble With Toast

Breakfast of Champions

December 31, 2007
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Just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Food Rockz, who provided the inspiration for this delicious Christmas morning grub:


The recipe for breakfast risotto can be found here–I ended up ditching the poached eggs in favor of over medium (me) and scrambled with cheese (boyfriend), and I went with regular bacon instead of pancetta because my stupid local Safeway is woefully inadequate.  Sure, there were no Italian meats in sight, but there was plenty of Scrapple!

I’ve extolled the virtues of risotto before, and this is a great version to start with if you’re interested in experimenting.  It’s a wonderful palatte for whatever ingredients you have on hand!  Enjoy…


Cheesecake Turf Wars

December 27, 2007

One night, while snuggling with my cat, I watched three consecutive Food Network programs about cheesecake.  After learning all about New York cheesecake, Chicago cheesecake, Italian cheesecake, Pennsylvania Dutch cheesecake, and even cheesecake made and sold by the nuns of New Skete, I was left with a very important question…

Which cheesecake is the best?

After deciding that my lack of a Kitchen-Aid mixer prohibited me from making various cheesecakes in order to determine the winner, I turned to the internet and mail-ordered a host of cheesy, cakey treats.  Specifically, I ordered one plain New York-style cheesecake (from Junior’s), one plain Chicago-style cheesecake (from Eli’s), and one plain Italian-style cheesecake (from Veniero’s).

NY cheesecake

The New York cheesecake (made with the traditional combo of cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs, and sugar) was dense, rich, and crumbly.  I was expecting either a graham cracker crust or no crust at all, but the cake was actually sitting atop a shortbread crust of which I was not a fan.  The flavor of the cream cheese filling was really good, though–not too cheesy, not too eggy, not too sweet.  The texture was a little too thick for my liking (it had a tendency to stick to the roof of my mouth), but it wasn’t grainy.  Overall, Junior’s represents the cornerstone of classic cheesecake.


The Chicago cheesecake (made with cream cheese, sugar, eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and salt) was absolutely delicious–simultaneously sweet and tangy with a surprisingly smooth, silky texture.  This cake sported a shortbread crust as well, but I much prefered it to the New York version.  I also liked the fact that the Chicago cake (which reminded me more of a custard pie) didn’t leave any discernable cheesy aftertaste, which I did get a bit of from the previous specimen.  Overall, Eli’s was my favorite of the bunch–I’ve never had such a light cheesecake with such impressive, deep flavor.


The Italian cheesecake (made with fresh ricotta and whole eggs, among other things) was, in my opinion, the least impressive of the lot.  It looked fantastic, with its wonderfully browned crust and fluffy interior.  However, the cake was incredibly dry and tasted way too heavily of eggs.  My sister posited that perhaps the bakery wasn’t the best, as she remembered having moist, delicious, Italian-style cheesecake in San Francisco.  Whatever the case, Veniero’s was the clear loser in this dessert battle–I don’t think anyone ate more than their first bite or two.

There you have it–at least in my house, the Windy City cheesecake reigned supreme (though the New York cheesecake was a very close second).  T-minus five months until I obtain my very own (pink) Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and attempt to replicate these delicious delicacies!

Wagyu beef tasting

December 27, 2007
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Thanks to some VERY generous folks at, Vidalia, and CityZen, on Monday, December 17, I found myself celebrating the end of a trying workday by attending a Wagyu beef tasting.

For the uninitiated (which I was before this event), Wagyu refers to certain breeds of Japanese cattle. The meat from Wagyu cattle is known for its intense marbling, rich flavor, tenderness, and juiciness. Because of the Wagyu cattle’s genetic predispositions and its special diet (which, I’m told, includes sake and tummy massages), Wagyu beef contains high percentages of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It also has a superior ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats than other beef.

The quality of Wagyu beef is determined by a 12-point marbling-score scale. Using the scale of Wagyu marbling scores, USDA prime beef would have a ranking of about 5 to 6. I believe the beef we were presented with at Vidalia was scored a 10. In other words, it was the good stuff!

After Chef R.J. Cooper showed us the whole, raw slab of beef, we were treated to our first presentation–carpaccio, served with sulfuric salt and an arugula salad (both on the side). The visual was stunning, with alternating stripes of bright red meat and pure white fat. The meat was incredibly tender and rich, though the flavor didn’t blow me away (until I paired a bite with the sulfuric salt, which created a fantastic taste combination reminiscent of steak and eggs).

Next came the real treat–Chef Cooper seared the meat perfectly rare, and it was served with Chef Eric Ziebold’s famous garlic fried rice. The food on that plate was so incredibly delicious, I’m afraid I don’t have the proper words to do it justice. The flavor and texture of the Wagyu was intensified by the heat, and each bite was amazingly buttery and decadent. Imagine the best steak you’ve ever had–moist, juicy, flavorful, impeccably cooked, and infinitely satisfying. If you multiply that sensation by 100, you might approximate the perfection that was contained in those few ounces of beef. Oh, and Chef Ziebold’s fried rice was pretty frickin’ good, too.

I left the restaurant unsure of whether my happily tipsy feeling was being caused by the wine (a fantastic tempranillo recommended by some newfound friends at the bar) or the magnificent meat. Would I shell out the requisite hundreds of dollars per pound to indulge in Wagyu once again? Not at my current pay grade–but I will certainly treasure the opportunity to try such a delicacy, especially when the experience was shepherded by such a gracious culinary community as we have in DC.

Pictures can be found here and here (I was a dunce and forgot my camera).

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Recipe: Bourbon Pecan Tart

December 13, 2007

Pecan tartPecan tart with chocolate

Now that I have mastered chocolate chip banana bread (and, for the past few months, have been baking it for every occasion imaginable), I decided that it was time to tackle another dessert. And by golly, what did I see whilst flipping through my November “Cooking Light” issue? An absolutely gorgeous pecan tart. Correction–BOURBON pecan tart. With chocolate drizzle, no less. Drooooooool.

I put aside any notion of my tart looking as pretty as the one on the magazine stand. I did, however, want to make something yummy for my office’s holiday luncheon. To my surprise, the tart was relatively easy (once I secured a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan). As I do whenever possible, I substituted Egg Beaters for the eggs in the recipe. I did, however, use real sugar and real butter–I didn’t want to tempt the fates by trying to make the tart too healthy. I also upped the pecans to over a cup, which gave the tart a fuller flavor (and balanced the bourbon and molasses a bit) but also caused the filling to billow over the edges of the crust. Hey, like I said, I knew my creation wasn’t going to win any beauty pageants.

All of the taste-testers enjoyed the tart, though we all agreed that the chocolate drizzle was mostly for looks and actually overpowered the flavors of the crust and filling. I had a slice at room temperature and then one hot out of the microwave, and I strongly favored the former. In sum, this is a fairly simple and impressive dessert that you can tweak to fit your own personal preferences. Enjoy!

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
    3/4 cup dark corn syrup
    3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    2 tablespoons bourbon
    2 tablespoons molasses
    1 tablespoon butter, melted
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 large eggs
    1 large egg white
    2/3 cup pecan halves
    1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
    Cooking spray
    1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine first 10 ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in pecans. Roll dough into a 13-inch circle; fit into a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan coated with cooking spray. Trim excess crust using a sharp knife. Spoon sugar mixture into prepared crust. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until center is set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high 1 minute. Stir until smooth. Drizzle chocolate over tart.

Makes about 12 servings–and there are less than 300 calories in each wedge!

Central Michel Richard

December 8, 2007
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My boyfriend and I dined at Central for the first time last night, before a trip to the National Theater (to see “Avenue Q,” which I highly recommend). Our reservation was at 5:30, so I was a little worried about being rushed. However, our server read us very well and paced our meal impeccably; we walked out at 7:30, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

We ordered a bottle of Malbec, which was perfectly acceptable and reasonably priced (translation: the markup wasn’t as ridiculous as it is at other establishments) at $38. For starters, I opted for the mussel chowder–delicious, and I am not even the biggest mussel fan! The broth was creamy without being heavy, and the mussels were plump and flavorful. Yum. Boyfriend had the onion soup, which was decadent to say the least. They certainly don’t skimp on the cheese!

For the main course, I chose the braised rabbit, largely because it came with spaetzle. The meat was very well-cooked, though it was nothing out-of-this-world. The spaetzle, however, and the “glazed” carrots that accompanied the meal? Fan-frickin’-tastic. If we hadn’t been off to the theater, I would have asked for a doggie bag–the food was incredibly delicious, but it was too rich for me to finish. Boyfriend got the fish and chips, and he said that the fish was really good. He was NOT a fan of the frites, though, despite the fact that many DC foodies have been raving about them since the restaurant opened its doors. He also ordered a side of the mac and cheese, which he said was the best he’s ever had. I only tasted a bit, but I agree that it was top-notch.

We split the kit kat bar for dessert, and it lived up to its hype–how can you go wrong with chocolate and hazelnut (in the form of both mousse and ganache) atop a delicious wafery base? The malted vanilla ice cream that accompanied it was also a pleasant surprise. In the end, we left only $155 lighter in the wallet (after two appetizers, two entrees, a side dish, a dessert, a bottle of wine, a glass of some sort of Port-like drink, tax, and tip). For that price, Central offers some of the best food in town without the pretentious price tag. We’ll definitely be back!