All posts by Brian Gray

Po’ Boy? No Mo’ Boy…

There’s nothing quite like discovering one of your favorite places to eat has shut their doors. I mean, we’ve probably all experienced arriving on a day that they happen to be closed for a holiday or simply as part of their normal schedule–that we failed to check, but closed? Forever? Forevah-evah? While not the worst thing to happen in the world, it can certainly throw you for a loop.

DC New Orleans Po Boy Shop (Closed) For me, that moment happened yesterday at DC’s New Orleans Po Boy Shop whose doors have apparently been closed since December. It was not a favorite place for me because of the food–which was excellent, or the location–which was close but not super close, and certainly not for the hours since they weren’t open on weekends. It was mostly a comfortable place that I would visit every time I had blood drawn for lab work related to my cancer.

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I Miss Cooking Shows…

I don’t like reality shows. I really don’t like competition reality shows. I really really don’t like cooking-/food-based competition reality shows.

I realize that the three above statements cancel out a lot of television for me, but I still have hope from time to time. Honest, I do. The reason I peek an eye in on the cooking reality shows because I want shows to get back to not only teaching people how to cook, but also encouraging a love of food. Reality shows, for the most part–it seems, are not that interested in anything but drama. Still, I give things a chance.

Kitchen Casino article from April 7, 2104 Express On the way into work last Monday, the local free paper had an article about “Kitchen Casino”, a gambling-themed cooking competition… yeah, no. Not only is the prize just $30,000–for the final champion, weekly contestants aren’t guaranteed that–but here are two items from the host’s Q&A that really turned me off:

What do cooking and gambling have in common?

They’re like America’s two loves! Americans love to gamble, and they love to eat. On the show, that translates into rounds like a kind of roulette, where chefs might not wind up finishing the dish they start out making.

Do cooking competition shows create better chefs?

I think they do, because the pressure is on. Chefs have like 30 or 40 minutes to create a dish. It teaches them to think on their feet and quickly produce things.

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Roasted Chicken Wings

I’m not sure when I came around on wings. When I was a kid, they were sold as “Drumettes” and my mom might make them if we were camping or at a group picnic, but in general I always thought they were too much work, too little food. And when I’d have them in later years, they were drowned in a sauce that made them soggy and a total mess to eat. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for Pan-Asian take out places that straight up fried the wings with no sauce, I might have given up on them forever.

Roasted Chicken Wings

Unfortunately… the wings were fried. It became a great comfort food for me… and my belly… and my waistline. So I tried doing them myself at home, baking them didn’t have the mojo at all, smoking them was hit or miss and roasting them was good, but the main method I followed–Alton Brown’s–was a little more tedious than I liked. It still became a go-to recipe, however, until a little more browsing around online resulted in my new method.

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False promises and simple cocktails…

I’m fortunate enough to have one telework day during the week and have generally been taking advantage of the opportunity to go out for an early breakfast. As there’s an IHOP right across the way from me, it’s a good bed for someplace open super-early in the morning. So I’d just sat down, ordered some coffee and noticed this on my table…

IHOP - Squeeze more joy into your day.

“Squeeze more joy” into my day, IHOP? Really? When you offer me something called a “mimosa” that is nothing of the kind? (And I suppose the word ‘squeeze’ is meant to make us think the juice is fresh-squeezed, but I’ll let someone else charge that windmill.) There is no joy in a cocktail ordered without alcohol.

Yes, non-alcoholic cocktails–it hurts to even utter the phrase–do exist, often called “kiddie cocktails” which I think shows an extreme lack of responsibility and taste. I mean, who would give a kid a cocktail in the first place? Or even anything resembling one? We don’t want children emulating behavior like smoking, but we’ll mix up a Shirley Temple or a Roy Rogers and serve it to them without thinking twice.

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Friday, I’m in Love: Cupcakes!

Happy New Year!… if a bit late, and happy returns… to blogging? Been a bit of a rough year, but there’s no way to get back to writing than to just do it! And what better way to do that than with a Friday treat? In fact, I plan to try and treat myself every Friday, hence this new “Friday, I’m in Love” series–thank you Robert Smith. It might be going out, staying in, but it will be a nice way to force myself to post something at least weekly, but I digress…

Curbside Cupcakes food truck I had earned a short day at the office today and was planning on a very quick walk to metro to get out of the cold. Since I was passing at lunchtime, the food trucks were out in force at Canal Park. Normally, I don’t bother stopping because of the cold and the lines, but fortune was smiling upon me as Curbside Cupcakes, one of my favorite trucks happened to be out there and how better to treat myself than to a ½ dozen cupcakes paired with some ice cold milk–or hot espresso–at home?

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Sakuramen in Adams Morgan

Sakuramen Menu Mention “ramen” to most people and you’ll get a weird look followed by “you mean the stuff in the cup?” or others might remember the college days when your “pantry” consisted of packets of Kool-Aid and instant ramen noodles since both could be bought in large amounts for not a lot of money. In any case, it’s not likely to evoke a good reaction to anyone that isn’t aware of how ramen noodles are prepared elsewhere in the world. So when a friend suggested Sakuramen in Adams Morgan a few weeks back, I was intrigued but skeptical, after all, even if it isn’t instant, it’s still just noodles and broth, right?

Well that is true, but completely undersells the experience. Since my first visit, I’ve been back twice and it’s a welcome comfort each time. When it’s chilly outside, ramen is warm and filling and with flu season upon us, there’s nothing like a good soup to make you feel better.

Fried Pork Gyoza/Dumplings

Especially if you’re like me and start with Gyoza (or Jiaozi, Dumplings, Potstickers, whatever you like to call them). Dumplings are one of my food addictions, no matter how much I plan to eat, I have to start with them if they’re on the menu. Steamed if I’m trying to be healthy, fried if I just don’t care. You get a nice serving of five which is perfect for sharing… just not with me!

Gojiramen

I went for the Gojiramen: traditional shoyu (soy sauce/chicken stock broth) ramen with chashu (roasted Berkshire pork), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), scallions, nori (seaweed), and sprouts. I’ve had the Shoki bowl before as well and both were delicious and had me tipping the bowl after finishing to slurp up a bit more broth. Speaking of slurping, if you’ve ever seen the Spaghetti scene from Tampopo, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but slurping is definitely not frowned upon here.

A few more pictures are up on flickr, but I didn’t really “chow down” on this visit. A gentleman seated near me made the mistake of ordering too much and had to have his appetizers boxed up to take with him. There are other delights on their menu that I look forward to trying on future visits, but this little out of the way place is enough to get me down to Adams Morgan on a more regular basis and that’s saying something. I certainly won’t look at ramen the same way anymore and no microwaved cup with a seasoning packet will ever cut it again.

Fifty Shades of Chicken

I already feel sadistically naughty enough when I subject a chicken to drowning (brining), bondage (trussing) and an oven (…an oven) to get a lovely roasted bird but this trailer for the book Fifty Shades of Chicken: A Parody in a Cookbook takes it well beyond my imagination to a whole new level!

From now on, I shall always hear Patrick Stewart in my head when preparing a roast chicken.

I don’t normally buy parody or themed books, but this might be perfect to have on the coffee table or prominently displayed on the cookbook shelf.

Cocktails @ Bourbon Steak DC

My love for Bourbon Steak DC is no secret, but we typically go for lunch or dinner, only spending a few minutes at the bar while waiting for our entire party to arrive. Mostly that was tactical since as some of our bunch are lightweights, indulging in a smattering of cocktails before our dinner would have them passing out before the entree arrived. So when a friend suggested heading over there for happy hour to celebrate her late mother’s birthday, it was a great reason to have some cocktails and laughs in the lounge.

I was well aware of the tempting libations from previous visits and the restaurant makes great use of social media, tempting their followers from time to time with food and drink suggestions…

I started things off with an Achilles Heel, hanger one frasier river raspberry, metaxa ouzo, fresh lime and ginger served in a salted glass with cucumber garnish. I’m normally pretty wary of ouzo, but I knew I was in good hands with Duane Sylvestre who made sure I got the most out of the drink by encouraging me to tuck into the garnish after having a sip. Who knew that a little salted cucumber could enhance one’s cocktail experience so well?

The boy prefers his drinks on the sweeter side and cooled off with a classic Planter’s Punch to start while my friend opened with her usual, a Sazerac. It was a good thing we got there fairly early as we were able to chat with the bar staff and I could get out my cocktail nerdity before the lounge got too loud and crowded.

For my second round, I went with the Wooden Chair Rickey, Bourbon Steak’s entry into 2012’s Rickey Month competition.

It had a nice blend of flavors which I confess I can’t recall exactly at the moment–perhaps too much celebrating–garnished with pickled cherries. It satisfied the requirements of the classic Rickey, it was cold, tart and fizzy with more than a hint of sweetness, or as the drink is commonly called, “air conditioning in a glass”. I always try to order a few in the warm months and I’m glad I didn’t pass this one up.

Closing out the night with a delicious burger and a Planter’s Punch of my own, it was a really fun evening with a bit of nerdy celebrity spotting, many laughs and sharing memories and stories. Something I feel you can’t always do with your friends online.

As I’ve said before, unfortunately Bourbon Steak isn’t for the everyday meal or cocktail hour, but as a special treat to yourself every now and then–I think we’re up to once or twice a season, now–you will enjoy a great afternoon or evening with impeccable service, delicious food and as I can now confirm, amazing cocktails.

Fat, Flavor and Cheese

A quote from this articlepointed out by Ellie Krieger on twitter–on American cheese producers and the struggle to slim down their offerings really resonated with me. Most of the article is fairly scientific about cheese production and what the reduction in fats and sodium will do, but anyone who’s tried to eat or cook with reduced-fat or fat-free cheese will probably agree with this sentiment…

I usually try to avoid recipes that call for reduced-fat cheese unless it’s for sprinkling, like over chili. We’re still concerned about our fat/calorie intake, but some sacrifices simply aren’t worth it.

Jacques Pépin: How to Mark a Grilled Steak

One of the many things that apartment-dwelling cooks have to live with is that we often can’t grill whenever we’d like. Some of us may have access to communal grills–as I currently do now. However, ours isn’t always well-maintained so that when I am in the mood to grill, I have to factor in additional time to make sure the grill is as clean as I want before getting started. Or I’m sharing space with someone else and our food is crowding up the grates jockeying for space. Thankfully the trusty grill pan satisfies nearly all needs. There won’t be flames licking at the surface of the food, but it’s a good compromise for achieving the look and cooking method… and you get to do it in air-conditioned comfort!

About the only thing I keep having trouble with is getting that nice cross-hatch grill mark pattern on the food. For some reason, I never turn at quite the right angle, or flip in the right direction and often just settle for the single diagonal stripe approach rather than mess up the look. Sure, the food still tastes great, but sometimes you do want to show off just a little. And last weekend while catching an episode of Essential Pépin devoted to beef, Jacques briefly went through the steps of getting the perfect pattern… in a grill pan!

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