Counter Intelligence

Sweet and Salty Cake

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 30, 2008

I can’t get enough of salty caramels. So when I got a copy of Baked (which you can check out here, here and here), I went right to their bestseller: the sweet and salty caramel chocolate cake. 

A few things I learned: Cakes take forever; since I’m such a novice, this one took me about three and a half hours. 2) When the recipe says bake for 35 minutes, that translates to 15 minutes in my crappy electric mini-oven.  3) My candy thermometer is broken, which I learned when I nearly started a fire. It never reached 350 and I ended up having to toss a saucepan because I created black caramel sludge. 4) Wow. There are four sticks of butter in the ganache. I don’t think I’ve ever made anything with so much butter for so few people.

That said, it was worth the work and the five zillion calories for Sunday dinner’s dessert. The book and the tips are terrific, particularly if you have a very sweet tooth.



Post Election Food Read

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 26, 2008

Francis Lam is one of my favorite food writers ever. I can’t get enough of him. I’ve read his memoir on his grandfather in this month’s Gourmet three times now. While online, I stumbled across this post of his on Ben’s Chili Bowl after election day. I’m in love with it: An American Minute, Ben’s Chili Bowl Edition.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 26, 2008

1) The CEO of Thanksgiving Dinner. New York Times. “Do you want to recreate exactly the meals your mother prepared? Or do you want to push through to a new culinary frontier? Do you want a day of reverent gratitude or lazy hedonistic pleasure? The goal is to find what Dr. Friedman calls ‘a compelling image of an achievable Thanksgiving.'”

2) Raise Your Game. Washington Post. I love this article, though I’m not sure if I were the head chef in my house I’d have time to read it the Wednesday before.

3) The Perfect Cheese Platter for Thankgiving. LA Times. Are we already full from all this Thanksgiving reading? I just want oysters or Indian food now.

4) Ten Essentials for Thanksgiving. San Francisco Chronicle. A long run, a bloody mary, a sense of humor, a terrific playlist, fun beers, a mise en place, an appetite, an extra stomach, wine, a nap, patience, a toast, and gratitude. I think that’s more than ten. And none are in the article.

5) Talking Turkey with Local Foodies. Chicago Tribune. Read about trophy turkey.

Easy Cocktail Party Menu Advice

Posted in 1. by melissamccart on November 25, 2008

My friend in Richmond sent me an email asking for an easy, safe menu for a family tree trimming party on Saturday.  She doesn’t cook much, so that’s a factor.  Here’s what I emailed:

1) I’d do swedish meatballs for the kitsch factor and because they’re fun.
2)  Olive tepanade which you can buy, or sautee olives in sambuca in a pan, or use this recipe.
3) Shrimp: something like this is incredibly easy. Just have your fish person clean the shrimp for you.
4) Mushroom crostini is easy. Stray from button mushrooms and go for something more interesting. Also, if you skip the cheese and drizzle truffle oil on them, that’s good.
 5) You could also do mini croque monsieurs, or a mini sandwiches using meats recommended by Belmont Butchery instead of having a charcuterie plate.
 6) Maybe a white bean dip

This went over like a bag of bricks. Basically it’s too fancy for what she wants. And she’d like a one dish wonder, with a side salad and a few things to graze on.  Any suggestions?


Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 24, 2008

I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, however it’s prepared. Aside from the oyster roast, my favorites for Thanksgiving are the sides.  For whatever reason — this is the second year now– i cannot get enough of brussels sprout slaw with walnuts and manchego from Melissa Clark’s The Skinny. I know, bacon is better. But there’s so much richness on the rest of the table I crave this recipe come turkey time:

10 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed-juice of half a lemon-grey salt-3 T good olive oil-1 cup chopped toasted walnuts-3 ounces grated Manchego

Slice brussels sprouts as thinly as possible. Put in a bowl and toss with lemon juice and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Let rest for five minutes.  Add olive oil and toss well.  Add walnuts and cheese and toss gently. It gets better after an hour or so.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 19, 2008

1) With a Family of Friends, We Make Our Own Holiday. Washington Post.  I love Erin’s narrative. It makes me miss her.

2) Four Star Face Off. San Francisco Chronicle. Michael Mina’s and Douglas Keane’s thanksgiving menus.

3) When Picking Wine for the Holiday Menu, One Simply Won’t Do. LA Times. “Here I am in 2008, thinking about wines for turkey day and zeroing in on Riesling for one of the wines. I say “one” because nothing really is a slam-dunk for the Thanksgiving meal. The widely varied flavors — sweet, sour, bland, spicy — make it notoriously difficult for one wine to show well under the onslaught. Any bottle ends up a bit player, outshouted by the divas of cranberry sauce and gravy and sweet potatoes.”

4) Now, the Side Dishes. New York Times.”Quick and simple or a bit more complex.”

5) Mind Over Mouth. Boston Globe. “A paper published last month in the journal Science suggests some people may overeat because their brains simply don’t get as much pleasure out of food – a chocolate milkshake, to be specific – so they keep eating in an attempt to feel satisfied.” What?! That seems absurd.

(photo from the Washington Post)

What’s Your Market Place?

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 17, 2008

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we’re moving into the season for entertaining, which means stocking up specialty foods for feasts and parties. I’ve been missing Sickles and Delicious Orchards— my go-to specialty markets from growing up in Jersey. Chefs have their go-to markets they’re sentimental about, too. Here’s a few to choose from, near and far.

Suburban Trading— Robert Wiedmaier, Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck

Woodland’s Market— Michael Mina, Bourbon Steak

Whole Foods— Ris Lacoste, Ris; Cesare Lanfranconi, Spezie

H Mart/Super H Mart–Matt Hill, Charlie Palmer Steak; Tom Power, Corduroy; Michel Richard, Citronelle and Central; Laurent Lhuillier, Windows Catering; and Jeff Buben, Vidalia and Bistro Bis.

Eddie’s of Roland Park–Cindy Wolf, Charleston

Common Market–Bryan Voltaggio, Volt


Party Fouled

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 14, 2008

“Many years ago, I used to be a caterer with another friend,” says Michel Richard one morning a few weeks ago at the chef’s table in Citronelle’s kitchen. He was telling tales of kitchen disasters. 

“It was Cinco de Mayo. We were preparing for a party for 80 to 100 people, serving steak and salad and all of that. I made a cake. A lovely, lovely cake,” he says. Richard lived in Los Angeles at the time, where he started his career many years ago as a pastry chef and caterer.

Richard and his partner lined up drivers, loaded up a truck and gave them addresses for the party.  “We were still working on a few things and we were going to meet them there,” he says.  “A few hours later, we got a phone call to come over to the house. ‘Hey, have you seen the driver of our car?’ We asked. ‘No, he’s not here yet.’ When we arrived, the drivers were still missing.”

It took awhile for him to admit they’d been robbed. Luckily, Richard and his partner were savvy enough to save the party. “I don’t remember what we made. We went to Giant Food and bought hot dogs,” he quipped. “But can you believe it! The guy took off with all the food! And my beautiful cake.  It was amazing.”

Though the truck was found several weeks later, “The food was gone, of course. We never did find them. Maybe they couldn’t move anymore because they were so fat from eating all of it,” he says. “Who knows? They must have had quite a party.”

(photo from LA Times)


Greens, Eggs and Ham

Posted in District of Columbia by melissamccart on November 13, 2008

Blue Duck Tavern is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Every time I have been has been such a treat. I can’t get enough of the first courses and sides; the last time I went,  I feasted on pumpkin custard, chestnut soup and sunchokes among other things.

I’m a big fan of the frisee- poached egg-lardon classic. Brian McBride’s version is a delicious spin-off which includes roasted beets.

Ingredients: 1 bunch assorted baby beets-2 T extra virgin olive oil-1 t red wine vinegar-salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette: 2 T crushed green peppercorns-1 shallot, brunoise-1/2c chicken jus-1/4 t Dijon mustard-2 T heavy cream-salt and pepper to taste

For the “lardon”: Four slices prosciutto

For the salad: four poached eggs-2 bunches of yellow cleaned frisee-3 T crumbled bleu cheese

Cut the stems off beets and reserve for another use. Take the beets and add oil, vinegar and salt and pepper and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender. Peel when warm and quarter.

Sweat shallot in oil. Add peppercorn, jus, cream, mustard, salt and pepper. Reduce until it has a sauce consistency.

Slice prosciutto thin and put in 250 degree oven until crispy.

Poach four eggs.

To plate, pour sauce in bottom of a bowl. Place the egg in the center. Spoon beets around, dress frisee with vinaigrette and place on top, add lardon on top of frisee, then crumple the bleu cheese on top of lardon.

Five on Food: Articles from the Wednesday Dining Pages

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest, New York City by melissamccart on November 12, 2008

1) Miracle Cure or Just Salt Water? New York Times. To brine or not to brine, according to McGee.

2) Steep, Pour, Sip, Repeat. Washington Post. Tea lovers ogle over oolong.

3) The Bagel: An LA Story. LA Times. I didn’t know people ate carbs in LA.

4) Squash is Posh. San Francisco Chronicle. What to do with all those gourds. One farmer I talked to was giving them away at a farmers market.

5) Cheapsteak. Boston Globe. In lean economic times, learn to love flap and brisket.