Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gawd It's Hot Out: Eat Summer Rolls

This week has been awful with the soaring temperatures and ridiculous humidity. DC is, after all, a swamp. On days like these, you don't want to really eat--at least nothing heavy. If you're sick of salads, smoothies, or gazpacho, you should try what the Vietnamese enjoy on sweltering days: summer rolls. How aptly named. They're great when you don't want to do a lot of cooking and want something light (but not boring). Here's the recipe from Joy of Cooking:

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings
If the rice paper you are using is especially fragile and is tearing, use 2 sheets far each summer roll. Immerse them as directed, then overlap 2 sheets in the middle by 4 inches. Bring to a rapid boil in a medium saucepan:
4 cups water
1 bundle Japanese somen noodles (about 2 1/2 ounces), broken in half
Boil until the noodles are just firm to the bite, about 2 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the noodles to a colander; rinse with cold water.Add to the still-boiling water:
16 medium shrimp, in their shells
Boil until they turn pink and float to the surface, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander, refresh with cold water, then peel and cut lengthwise in half. Rinse with cold water to remove the veins and drain on paper towels.Place the noodles and shrimp on a small baking sheet along with:
4 large leaves red-leaf or Boston lettuce, torn lengthwise in half and central ribs removed
1 large carrot, shredded
1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
16 chives
Layout and cover with a damp dish towel:
Eight 12-inch round sheets rice paper
Lay a damp dish towel in front of you and have a large bowl of hot water (115 to 120 degrees F) at hand. Dip 1 sheet of rice paper into the hot water, being sure to immerse it completely. It will immediately become pliable. Quickly remove it and place on the towel.

Place a piece of lettuce along the bottom edge of the rice sheet about 2 inches from the edge. Top the lettuce with one-eighth of the cooked noodles, carrots, sprouts, mint, cilantro, and chives, then with 4 shrimp halves.

Fold the sides of the rice paper over the filling, and then roll up tightly into a neat cylinder. Set seam side down on a large platter and cover with a damp towel to keep moist. Repeat with the remaining rice paper and filling ingredients.
To serve, cut each roll crosswise into 4 even pieces. Serve immediately or the rice paper will toughen up.
A simple spicy sauce.Makes about 1 2/3 cups
Heat in a small saucepan over medium heat:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Add and cool, stirring, for 5 seconds:
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small fresh chili pepper, seeded and minced
Add and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 4 minutes:
1 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup chunky peanut butter, preferably unsweetened
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar, or to taste
3 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)
Remove from the heat and stir in, if desired:
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves
Serve warm or at room temperature.
This sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

*It's too hot and I was too lazy to do the usual "Wednesdays" entry. Come back next week.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: Alberto Gonzalez

Though Al was spared a final no-confidence vote in the Senate a couple days ago, there is hardly relief in sight for the Attorney General. The Justice Department today announced an internal investigation into his politicization of the department, including his role in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. Forget about food. I don’t think Al has eaten in a while. His nourishment most likely comes in liquid form. What would this Harvard Law-educated grandson of illegal immigrants drink? Something stiff, yet classic. Perhaps a GIN martini (see recipe below). (Vodka is for green apple martini’s and glow sticks.)

Gin is basically refined vodka. They start the same way: by distilling grain. But gin has the added benefit of juniper berries, which impart an aromatic flavor. Forget the Beefeaters. The AG needs to take it up a notch with some artisanal

-No. 209 (San Francisco). Gentle with bergomot peel and citrus.
-Plymouth (England). First recorded martini recipe was made with this brand.
-Hendricks (Scotland) Exotic. Infused with cucumber and flavored with rose petals.
-Citadelle (France). Only gin distilled with 19 botanicals. Handcrafted one cask at a time.

Gin Martini Recipe:

6 ounces of freezing gin.
5 drops of dry vermouth.
2 small twists of lemon rind.
2 Picholine olives.
The mix
Fill a glass martini shaker about 3/4 full of cracked, clean ice.
Pour your gin into the shaker and let stand for sixty seconds. Count down from sixty to zero.
Approach your shaker with caution, and lovingly apply the lid.
Shake, shake, shake. About fifteen, vigorous, diagonal shakes should do the trick.
Put that shaker down and get two well chilled martini glasses from the fridge or freezer. Allow the shaker to rest for about another sixty seconds.
Into each glass drop two drops of vermouth (the fifth drop is just for good luck).
Each glass gets a twist and an olive (the olive is optional--though we love em).
Strain your very chilly gin into each glass.
*This Wednesday series is dedicated to what (in)famous Washingtonians eat.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Brasserie Beck: Bill Knows Beer!

At the newly opened Brasserie Beck on 11th and K, you’ll find (quite possibly) the most knowledgeable and gregarious beer barista this side of Belgium. His name is Bill Catron and his level of expertise and knowledge of the drink is like nothing I’ve ever seen, save for wine sommeliers. In fact, he’s something of a beer sommelier (Bill, if you’re reading this, instead of “beer specialist” your card should read “beer sommelier” or “beer maestro”).

Brasserie Beck is Chef Robert Weidmaier’s (of elegant Marcel’s in the West End) down-market answer to good Belgian eats. There are the moules frites and l’onglet…all that good stuff. It’s casual and airy and styled like a big train station. But let’s focus on the beer. There are 50 choices, all Belgian and as nuanced and sophisticated as any wine.

Bill explained and had us taste (in specialty glasses specific to each beer) everything from the rare-in-America, rich and and slightly acidic Duchesse De Bourgogne---which, as he puts it, "doesn't suck," to the light Delirium Tremens (my favorite beer) and educated us on everything in between. He talked about the triple fermentation, the difference between white beers and wheat beers, had us taste an apple beer, and so on. Honestly, it's all a little fuzzy now, if ya know what I mean, but one thing is clear: Bill knows beer.

Questions? He’s got answers. Write him at

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What-Washington-Eats Wednesdays: I. Scooter Libby

The “I” in “I. Scooter Libby” stands for Irving, or Irv. The former chief of staff to Vice President, Dick Cheney, is yet another Bush administration casualty. He resigned from his senior White House position in 2005 after being indicted on five felony counts and was subsequently convicted in March 2007 and sentenced yesterday on four of the counts relating to the Plame affair; he received a 30 month prison sentence and $250,000. Last week, we highlighted Paul Wolfowitz after his replacement was announced for World Bank president…Wolfie was also Scooter’s political science professor in college, and, perhaps, one of the most influential people in Scooter’s political thinking.

Libby oozes (for better or worse) East Coast elite. The son of an investment banker, he was born in New Haven, Connecticut, prepped at Phillips, went to college at Yale, and studied law at Columbia. He’s had an accomplished career that spans private law practice, government consulting, public service…and even creative writing. Entitled The Apprentice, the novel he started as a college project and published in 1996, was described by the publisher as "an everyday tale of beastiality and paedophilia in 1903 Japan...[and] packed with sexual perversion, dwelling on prepubescent girls and their training as prostitutes…" Umm…WHAT?! Interesting (but not too surprising) irony.

Given his pedigree (and close proximity to Great Falls—he lives in Mclean), I’d venture to say that the Libbys have enjoyed many a meal at L’Auberge Chez Francois , where hearty Alsatian-French cuisine comes in generous portions in a country-inn setting (and you have to make reservations a month in advance). And given his "interest" in asia (i.e. before his japanese erotica, he served in the United States Department of State as Director of Special Projects in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1982 to 1985), I’m guessing he enjoys the occasional lone escape for some cheap, eh hem, sushi at Sushi Sushi.
*This Wednesday series is dedicated to what (in)famous Washingtonians eat.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

(Re)Introduction to Pizza: A Journalist, 2 Amy's, and Some Anchovies

My journalist friend, Lee, and I went to 2 Amy’s (in the Cathedral area on Macomb street) the other night. He had been away working freelance in the Middle East and had recently returned to DC after some years away. He also had not eaten pizza in twenty some years, apparently. A native of Manhattan, he took it for granted, I suppose. So I thought pizza at the alleged best pizza place in DC was in order. But 2 Amy’s is no New York Style Pizza. It’s better.

They specialize in a very serious Neopolitan style pizza (read about authenticity and codes here and here), cooked in a wood-fired oven, with a thin but yeasty crust. It was at once chewy, crispy, and tender. I could eat the crust alone. But then there were the toppings. NO, they don’t have pepperoni. Yes, the do have anchovies. Don’t cringe. Anchovies are delicious. They impart a salty earthiness to everything from Cesar salads to my pizza Puttanesca (rapini, fresh mozzarella, garlic, anchovy, hot pepper). Gawd, it was amazing. The flavors all married together so well. All ingredients fresh. Everything simple. Lee had a special pizza of bufala mozzarella, grilled shrimp, and arugala. Equally awesome.
But pizza isn't the only thing Amy's does well and with authenticity. I had been looking for some time for a sort of neighborhood Italian restaurant--like the ones in my sister's neighborhood in Manhattan--to get simple little dishes like fried rice balls and grilled vegetables. I found them here: arancini (risotto croquettes) were hot and crispy and not at all greasy. And then there were the asparagus spears, grilled and dressed lightly with the sweetest balsamic. Everything was wonderful. Especially fun was the Gragnano wine, a sparkling red that they served room temperature. They call it their “fizzy” wine. It went perfectly with the pizza and everything else for that matter. But especially the pizza. They used the same wine to soak strawberries for our yummy custard dessert.

Welcome back to Washington (and pizza), Lee.
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