Archive for May, 2009

On Vacation

Oberlin - Graduate pre-set up

Oberlin graduation pre-set up.

I had a great time last weekend in Oberlin, but due to the long weekend and a crazy schedule, ModernDomestic will be on a break until next week. So please, make recipes from the archives, email me your questions, and never fear, I’ll be back soon.

Here’s some photos from the weekend in Oberlin to tide you over.

Oberlin - Monument

A monument on the Oberlin campus.

Oberlin - Museum 3

Inside Oberlin's art museum.

Oberlin - Swing

A swing on the Oberlin campus.

Oberlin - The graduate

The graduate.


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Weekly Roundup: Three Day Weekend Edition


A three day weekend couldn't come sooner.

It’s almost memorial day weekend – a four-day weekend for Wonk the Plank and I – and I couldn’t be more excited. We’re driving to Ohio to watch my little brother graduate from Oberlin, and I can’t wait to see my family and get out of the city. Hopefully I’ll be back with a post on Tuesday, but I’m not promising anything.

First off, some thanks. You guys have given me wonderful ideas for next month’s baking project. Really, really wonderful ideas that I never would have thought of myself. If you still want to get your two cents in, just let me know in the comments of the post.

Recipes I want to try:

  • The Bitten Word cooks up arugula and fava bean crostini for a party to say goodbye to the Master Chorale of Washington. Wonk the Plank and I were at the final performance, and it was indeed a sad day.
  • Lemmonex makes black and blue burgers, with beef, sausage, onions, Worcestershire , garlic, balsamic vinegar, and blue cheese. I can’t think of anything better to put on the grill. Now if only we had a grill. Or a backyard.
  • The Tipsy Baker makes an arugula, cherry, goat cheese and bread salad from Molly Wizenberg’s (aka Orangette) A Homemade Life. Lovely, and perfect for your Memorial Day weekend.

And in other news:

  • This video on how a New York Times photographer created a photo of an exploding pie for the Times Magazine is the most fascinating thing I’ve watched all week. No, really.
  • More proof that Top Chef isn’t the best measure of cooking talent: check out the City Paper’s look into the disastrous results of Andy Shallal’s  search for a chef for his new restaurant, Eatonville. The Busboys and Poets owner decided that he would find the chef for the Zora-Neal Hurston-themed restaurant via a Top Chef-style cooking competition. But things didn’t go exactly as planned.
  • Young and Hungry has a follow-up piece on Trent Conry, former executive chef at my beloved Ardeo, who was kicked out of Shallal’s  contest early on, despite his excellent cooking skills.
  • Orangette (aka, Molly Wizenberg of the cherry salad above) is taking some time away from the blog. Sad.
  • Apartment Therapy DC review Sixteen Fifty Nine Mid Century Modern, one of those very intimidating stores in Georgetown. I think I’m still scared to go in there.

Happy Friday!

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Your Tips


A crossroads?

Things have been pretty exhausting around here. Wonk the Plank lost his job and is exploring a lot of options – some of which involve moving away from DC. It’s exciting for him to look for new stuff, and I’m filled with pride to watch him move onward and upward. But some days the stress and uncertainty make me want to crawl under a rock and sleep for the next decade.

Which is why I’m asking for some help. June is nearly upon us and I have no ideas for my June baking/cooking project. Usually at about this time I’m brainstorming away, but this month I don’t have it in me.

I also don’t really know if people find them helpful – does anyone besides me want four recipes for pound cake?

So I want your feedback. Is this interesting to anyone but me? Do you have any ideas for my next baking projects? Is anyone desperate to master, say, macarons, and would like a recipe tester? Is there anyone desperate for recipes that use a specific ingredient, like berries or fresh fruit or chocolate? I’m open to everything and anything.

Depending on what ya’ll say, I’ll be posting a poll to help me narrow down my baking project options next week.

Thanks in advance for you help. But no, really. Thank you.

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Wheat-Free Desserts, Part Three: Gluten-Free Blackberry Ginger Tartlets with Mascarpone Cream

Blackberry Tart 3

These were so easy to make it's a crime. Well, except for getting them out of the tartlet molds.

Tarts are deceptive. They look so beautiful, with their delicate fluted crusts, cream colored filling, and sumptuous fruit toppings, and yet they are ridiculously easy to make. Even if you haven’t yet mastered pie crust – and I count myself among your number – you can cheat and make a crumb crust, like I did. And with all the fresh berries that are making their way into markets nowadays, just hinting at the summer abundance that’s to come, it’s a perfect time to get your tart on.

These blackberry tartlets are actually an attempt to recreate a tart that figures very fondly in my memory. I made it for Wonk the Plank and my parents on the Fourth of July two years ago, on Wonk’s first-ever visit to Oregon, and one of his very few visits to the West Coast ever. The tart had a ginger cookie crumb crust, mascarpone filling, and was topped with fresh nectarines. The slight heat of the ginger against the creamy filing and sweet fruit was absolutely to die for.

I figured that recreating a wheat-free version of the dessert for my May Baking Project would be relatively simple – just swap out the ginger snaps in the crumb crust with a wheat-free version. My only problem – as you can clearly see from the photos – is that I wasn’t able to get the crusts out of their molds in tact. Granted, these are not false-bottomed tartlet molds, and the more I think about it the more I think there was never really a way to get the crusts out without a false bottom. Another thing to add to the shopping list.

But embarrassing crust problems aside, the rest of the tartlets was a snap. The only other thing you have to do is wash the berries and whip together some heavy cream, mascarpone, and a little sugar. And then it’s just a matter of assembling – spooning the cream into the crust and topping with berries. If you want to get fancy you can glaze the berries with some blackberry preserves that you’ve warmed over the stove. But I wasn’t in the mood for being fancy, and left the berries as is.

Considering that this took me such little effort, I’m embarrassed at just how much I loved the finished result. The slightly spicy flavor of the gingersnaps in the crust contrasts with the sweet, creamy filling, which offsets the sweet and tangy flavor of the blackberries.

You could make many variations on this tart – swapping the gingersnaps for graham crackers, swapping the blackberries for strawberries or raspberries. In fact, if you’re in need of a mental break this afternoon, I suggest sitting down and brainstorming your ultimate tart combination. I did this last night, and have already decided that I just have to make one with a chocolate cookie crust, mascarpone filling, and topped with strawberries and chocolate shavings. Maybe next week?

Blackberry Tart 2

So many other tartlet possibilities to consider.

Recipe: Gluten-Free Blackberry Ginger Tartlets with Mascarpone Cream

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Yogi Berry – Cleveland Park Embraces the Fro-Yo Phenomenon

Yogi Berry Yogurt 1

Yogi Berry original with raspberries.

Two of the biggest trends to sweep the DC dining scene last year were cupcakes and high-end frozen yogurt. Thankfully for my waistline, only the yogurt trend has made it to my neighborhood so far. Yogi Berry, a frozen yogurt shop that’s high on style and light on calories, opened up in the Cleveland Park strip mall back in November, 2008. Over the past month, Wonk the Plank and I have visited our resident Yogi Berry three times to see if this frozen yogurt trend has any teeth, and we’re generally pleased with this tasty, if slightly overpriced addition to the neighborhood.

Yogi Berry is one many frozen yogurt shops that popped up after the enormous success of Pinkberry, the LA-based frozen yogurt store that became a trendy must-have after it opened in 2005. Unlike the frozen yogurt of my youth, this new wave of frozen yogurt is supposed to taste like real yogurt, with a tangy flavor that isn’t overly sweet. Pinkberry also serves its yogurt in well-designed spaces, featuring high-end touches like pebbled floors and Philippe Starck’s Victoria Ghost chairs.

Yogi Berry 6

Either these really are Philippe Starck's Victoria Ghost chairs, or they look just like them.

The Ghost chairs – or a reasonable facsimile thereof – has made it to the Yogi Berry in Cleveland Park, but I found that not all the yogurt was as tangy as I expected. Still, tangy or not, almost all of it is pretty delicious.

Yogi Berry 3

The store has nice design touches, like this textured wallpaper.

Yogi Berry serves up four yogurt flavors: original, green tea, berry, and chocolate. The original yogurt, which was my favorite, does indeed have a tangy flavor that predominates, although it’s not quite as sharp as the tang of actual yogurt. The yogurt has a sweet finish, with berry and citrus undertones that round out the flavor. To me, this yogurt is closer to ice cream that in it is to Greek yogurt, with a light, creamy texture that reminds me of soft-serve. I found it delicious enough that I could enjoy it on its own – no topping necessary.

Yogi Berry Yogurt 3

Our selections last Saturday. Note the Wonk's Women's Information Network t-shirt in the background.

The green tea, my second favorite flavor, has a little tang, but is sweeter than the original and tastes mostly of, what else, green tea. But because the green tea is a “specialty” flavor, it also costs an extra dollar per serving. Yogurt prices at Yogi Berry start at $2.95 for five ounces (toppings are an additional $0.95 each), and I’m not sure if the green tea was worth $3.95 for a small.

The other two yogurt flavors, berry and chocolate, taste exactly like conventional frozen yogurt – if there was a tang, then I couldn’t taste it. Still, berry flavor ended up being Wonk the Plank’s favorite, and I thought it was very tasty as well. The berry yogurt tastes strongly of blueberries, with raspberry and vanilla undertones. The chocolate, which was my least favorite, tastes exactly like normal chocolate frozen yogurt. It was fine, but undistinguished.

Yogi Berry Yogurt 2

Wonk's berry yogurt with blueberries.

All four of the yogurt flavors are low calorie – the original yogurt clocks in at approximately 122 calories for a small serving. If you want to up your yogurt’s caloric heft, the store serves an impressive variety of toppings, which run the gamut from the uber-healthy pomegranate seeds to the much more nutritionally dubious Captin Crunch. Wonk and I played it safe on our visits – I got raspberries and he got blueberries – and every time the fruit was fresh and flavorful. The store was much stingier with the raspberries than the blueberries, however.  I only received six raspberries on my last visit, while Wonk’s yogurt was nicely covered in blueberries.

Yogi Berry 5

The topping bar, as you can see, is huge.

Wonk and I had an excellent time each time we visited Yogi Berry, although I do think that the prices are a little high for what it is. At the end of the day, paying four dollars for five ounces of frozen yogurt and some fruit is spendy. But, considering that I’ll happily pay that for a latte at Starbucks and not even blink, Yogi Berry’s pricing isn’t all that outrageous. I’m very pleased that the fro-yo trend has made it to my area, and Yogi Berry has already become one of my regular neighborhood haunts.

At least, that is, until a cupcake shop opens up in Cleveland Park.

Yogi Berry 7 -exterior

Yogi Berry's Cleveland Park shop is one of three stores in the DC area.

Yogi Berry
Sam’s Park and Shop
3515 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 362-9644

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Weekly Roundup: Internet Drama Edition

Picture 029

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday! I’m looking forward to taking care of a pooch this weekend, possibly seeing Carmina Burana, and making spaghetti and meatballs for Wonk the Plank. I hope your weekend promises as much loveliness. Here’s a roundup of this week’s internet news.

Recipes I want to try:

  • Really want to try the goat cheese cheesecake from the Arugula Files.
  • The Bitten Word makes shortcakes topped with balsamic and brown sugar glazed strawberries. Yum.
  • Lemonnex makes roasted chickpeas. Simple, easy, delicious.

And in other news:

  • If you like a nice old-fashioned comment war, check out Ezra Klein’s tepid review of Thomas Keller’s Per Se over at the The Internet Food Association. Klein didn’t think his meal at was worth the $275 price tag, sparking a series of criticism about the “amateur” nature of  IFA’s food criticism. The IFA stepped in today to explain the mission of their blog, which never pretended to be anything more than an amateur’s take on food and dining.
  • Young and Hungry interviews Spike Mendelsohn about his plans for opening a new pizzeria in DC. I’m confused – from the interview it sounds like they’ll be converting the Greek restaurant next to the Good Stuff eatery that Spike recently purchased into a pizzeria. I had thought that Spike was opening both a Greek restaurant and a pizzeria, but apparently they’re one and the same? In any event, in light of my recent visits to the Good Stuff Eatery, my expectations aren’t very high.
  • Carbs really are the new crack, right down to the purchasing experience. Counter Intelligence reports on Metrocurean that as of this morning, you can buy artisan breads out of Rustico’s sidedoor. Each loaf is $3, and you have to pay in exact change, making it something of a “bread speakeasy.”
  • Frank Bruni, the NYTimes food critic, is leaving his post to go write for the Times’ magazine. Does this make me a food geek if I feel that this is really big news? Via Young and Hungry.
  • I’m still not on the bacon cupcake bandwagon, but they’re selling them at Buzz Bakery in Alexandria. Via Top Shelf.

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Wheat Free Desserts, Part Two: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

Wheat free cupcake

Flourless chocolate cupcakes

It’s hard for me to get excited about wheat-free baking, because I’m a flour snob. I know, I know, I don’t like to admit to my faults as much as the next person, but I am. I like to buy nice flours and then read about how the protein contents differ from brand to brand. I like to use old-school bread making methods that require elaborate starters, so that the flavor of the yeast will not mask the flavor of the flour. I have at least six different kinds of flour sitting in our kitchen as I type. I am a flour addict.

So it was with great difficulty that I averted my eyes and picked a wheat-free recipe for part two of the May Baking Project: flourless chocolate cupcakes. I used this Epicurious recipe for flourless chocolate cake, but baked them in muffin tins and topped them with sweetened whipped cream and a strawberry.

The result was about what I expected, given my past experiences with flourless chocolate cakes. The cakes were very, very rich, with an intense chocolate flavor that was almost too much for me. I like chocolate, but I’m actually more a fan of milk chocolate than dark chocolate (foodie sacrilege, I know. But what can I say? It’s my enormous sweet tooth). The cake, flavored with bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, was too dark for me. The texture was dense and fudgy, but the cakes had a thick, tough crust on top, which I wasn’t a huge fan of.

The cupcakes were fine, they were serviceable, and they’ll do in a pinch if you need to whip up some treats for an unexpected gluten-intolerant house guest. But they gave me the feeling that I often have when eating wheat free baked goods – it was a shadow of what I really wanted.

Which brings me to one final request – to my wheat and gluten intolerant readers, do you have  a great wheat-free dessert recipe that you think I should try? I know that there are excellent ones out there, and I would love your help with ferreting out the best of the bunch. Leave your recipes and links in the comments.

Maybe, with your help, I can get over my flour snobbery after all.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

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Kitchen Basics: Caramelizing Onions

Sexy Salad 2

Caramelized onions, as seen in the Sexy Salad.

I feel a bit sheepish writing about caramelizing onions, because I’ve only done it a handful of times. But it was so easy and foolproof and delicious that I absolutely must share my onion caramelizing experiences with the world. If I can do it, you can do it too.

A note to nervous newbie chefs: caramelizing onions sounds intimidating, but it’s really not difficult. The most difficult part, for me at least, is being patient. You must allow yourself to step back and let the low heat do its work.

I’ve made caramelized onions with regular old yellow onions and with red onions, and both times they were amazing. I would hazard that any kind of onion – from vidalia to walla walla – is fair game for the caramelizing process.

To begin, peel your onions and slice off the tips. Then slice the onions as thinly as you can. This may require you to resharpen your knife, but it will be worth it.

Next, melt your butter or olive oil in a saute pan over very low heat. I used a nonstick pan for caramelizing onions because I’m a wuss, but this is not absolutely necessary. The most important thing is to keep the heat very, very low – I had my burner on the absolute lowest flame it can produce. Add your fat to the pan (I recommend being generous with the fat – I would use two or three tablespoons of fat to three medium onions) and allow it to gently heat.

When the fat is warm, add your onion slices and a pinch of salt. Then let it hang out for five minutes. Give it a stir – the onions will still look entirely raw at this point. Wait five minutes, and then give it another stir. Continue this process for around an hour, or until the onions reach your desired consistency. This can be quite a long time – one person on the Chowhound forums cooked her onions for two hours!

If it seems that your onions are beginning to stick, deglaze the pan with a little water, or a little wine (my preference). If they are looking really brown near the end of the hour, stir them a little more vigorously – every two or three minutes – to keep them from burning.

Patience really is key to caramelized onions. You cannot freak out if your onions still look raw after 15 minutes of cooking. You cannot turn up the heat. You simply have to let them chill out and do their thing.

But your patience will be rewarded, because caramelized onions have a deep, sweet, earthy flavor that is a perfect pairing to salads, sandwiches, or meat. If you are making them for guests, they will be amazed at your cooking prowess – you will have changed plain old onions into something truly divine.

For a recipe using caramelized onions, check out this sexy salad.

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Consumer Alert: Do Not Buy These Carrots

Do Not Buy These Carrots

These carrots suck.

Do not buy the five pound bag of organic carrots at Giant.

Repeat: do not buy the five pound bag of organic carrots at Giant.

Do not be tempted by the cheap price.

Do not be tempted by the “organic” label.

If you do not heed this warning, you may end up with carrots that have tough, sharp, hay-like fibers in their centers.

These fibers will not cook away.

Not even if you put them in soup and simmer them for several hours.

These fibers will mean that you will be forced to throw out the entire batch of Moroccan soup that you intended to take for lunch all week.

These carrots will leave you feeling bitter and cheated.

Avoid these carrots at all cost.

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The Good Stuff Eatery Is Merely Okay

Good Stuff - Outside

The Good Stuff Eatery

It’s ironic that the tagline of Spike Mendelsohn’s burger restaurant, Good Stuff Eatery, is “say hello to fresh,” since Spike got kicked off Top Chef for trying to pass off frozen scallops on some of the most sophisticated pallets in the country. Needless to say, the judges noticed something was amiss with the scallops, and promptly sent Spike packing.

It’s because of flubs like that on season four of the famous Bravo reality show that I was wary when Spike Mendelsohn opened up DC’s Good Stuff Eatery back in July 2008. After all, Spike was more famous for his crazy hats on Top Chef than he was for his cooking prowess.

Now that Spike is planning on opening two more restaurants in DC – a Greek restaurant and a pizzeria – I thought it was even more important to take a look at Good Stuff Eatery, to see the kind of restaurant DC can expect from this celebrity chef. And from my dining experiences there, I think we can expect a greasy, crumpled bag of mixed…um…stuff.

The Good Stuff Eatery walks the line between modern chic and American nostalgia. The restaurant space itself, housed in an old row house on Capitol Hill, is a mix of modern design with retro details. The clean and open red and white decor is accented with large blown up photos and vintage-style signs explaining Good Stuff’s philosophy on food, along with a few not-too-subtle reminders of Spike’s supposed “celebrity” status. The space takes the simplicity of the 1950s and repackages it with 21st century savvy.

Good Stuff - Motto

The restaurant's ironic tagline.

The same could be said of the menu, which serves up America’s favorites – burgers, fries, milkshakes, and salads – with a gourmet twist. The “hand cut” fries are topped with sea salt, while the “hand spun” milkshakes come in trendy flavors like toasted marshmallow and dulche de leche. You can’t just order a hamburger – you have to order a “farmhouse” burger. There’s even an Obama burger, served with foodie-friendly toppings like red onion marmalade, horseradish mayo, and blue cheese.

Usually I’m a complete sucker for these types of places. I’m the cash-strapped foodie that is Spike’s ideal target audience. I nodded approvingly when the menu specified that the French fries were “hand cut” and that the milkshakes were “hand spun,” even though I wasn’t really sure what that meant. Just looking at the menu is like a who’s who of trendy gourmet ingredients – burgers are topped with Vermont cheddar cheese, vidalia onion rings, and “dairy fresh” American cheese.

But staring at the menu was by far the highest point in our visit to the Good Stuff Eatery. The food Wonk the Plank and I ate in our two visits there was just okay stuff.

First of all, the restaurant has a problem with the way it serves its food. The place operates fast food style – you order and pick up your food at the counter. This would be fine, but there’s no “dine in” option; even if you’re eating at the restaurant (and there’s ample seating), you can only get your food “to go,” with everything wrapped in paper and placed in a paper bag.

This is a horrible way to serve food. As soon as the “hand cut fries” are placed in a paper bag, they become damp and soggy and stick together in an unappetizing mass. The burgers come out of their wrapping paper with squished, slightly sweaty buns. To make it even more bizarre, there’s a large sign in the restaurant proclaiming its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. So why serve the food in a manner that generates huge amounts of unnecessary waste?

Good Stuff - Enviro Sign

Another ironic sign . . .

Good Stuff - Packaging

. . . in light of all the wasteful packaging.

The packaging would be more forgivable if the food was top quality, but we had an uneven meal both times we visited the Good Stuff Eatery.

I was especially disappointed with “Spike’s Five Napkin,” a burger served on a brioche bun and topped with cheese, bacon, a fried egg, and “Good Stuff Sauce.” The burger was nicely cooked, but the bacon was so salty that it overpowered all the other toppings. I couldn’t even taste the egg and cheese, which might have well been left off entirely. The brioche bun held up better to the packaging and was less squished than Wonk’s burger, but I couldn’t taste it through the salt, so it didn’t end up adding much to the dish. And as far as I could tell, the “Good Stuff Sauce” tasted like mayonnaise.

Good Stuff - Five Napkin

"Spike's Five Napkin" - only one napkin required.

I had a much better experience with the “Colleti’s Smokehouse.” The onions, chipotle BBQ sauce and bacon worked together in a tangy, salty harmony, although the squished and untoasted burger bun didn’t add much to the equation.

Like the burgers, the fries were inconsistent and underwhelming. On both of our visits, the fries were soggy, probably due to their packaging. And on one occasion the fries were incredibly salty, to the point of being inedible. And believe me, I like salty food – usually I’m the person in the group insisting the french fries need more salt.

Good Stuff - Fries

A mass of stuck-together French fries.

The milkshakes were the best part of the visit, although they also had consistency problems. On our first visit, the chocolate shake had a weird, “off” flavor that neither Wonk nor I could place. Thankfully, on the second visit the chocolate shake tasted fine and had a nice, thick consistency. Wonk ordered the Black and White milkshake, which was a hit both times; its rich vanilla flavor amply satisfied my sweet tooth.

Good Stuff - Milkshake

Thankfully, the milkshake was good - the second time, at least.

Given that Spike is slated to open two new restaurants in DC, I think it’s high time to hammer out some of the problems at Good Stuff. Is it so hard to offer a dine-in option for people eating at the restaurant? Could they figure out a way to package the French fries in a cardboard holder? And could they figure out the right level of saltiness? Just a couple of tweaks could make a huge difference in the quality of the food.

The most frustrating thing about my entire Good Stuff experience is that DC needs more places like the Good Stuff Eatery – moderately priced restaurants that care about quality. But the bad thing about catering to cash-strapped foodies is that, even though they’re strapped for cash, they still pay attention to their food. Talking about “dairy fresh cheese” sounds great in theory, but if I can’t taste it because the burger’s too salty, then there’s no point.

Spike needs to take a couple notes from his Top Chef days and start paying better attention to the details of his food. If his food could match the quality of his branding, Spike could take Good Stuff from good to great.

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