Tarasca... Kinda...

So, a while back, one of my favourite chef's 86'd one of my favourite soups from one of my favourite spots.

Yes, Jose, I'm looking at you.

When I was biding my time at the Smithsonian, I would make it a weekly occurance to visit those kids at Oyamel on 7th in Penn Quarter.  Four dollar tacos and I only need three.  Jay-Z, use that and rap something fierce.

Well, when I was feeling extra decadent, I'd pre-empt with the black bean soup.  It's fucking amazing.  They serve it with some rich cream drizzled atop with accoutrement. Charred peppers, avocado and tortilla strips.  It was the single dish that convinced me that I really might like avocado.  Aside from guacamole.  

It got to the point where I would actually crave the soup.  On this particular day, it was all I could think about.  I'd psyched myself up, thinking about all the good fat I was going to get from the avocado, crunching up more chips to add when the strips ran out, and the sheer fun of scraping the charred pepper into the bowl.

You can imagine my sincere disappointment when I was told it was no longer on the menu.  I think I may have gone into shock.  I sat, dumbfounded, for more than a few seconds.  That childhood disappointment when no alternative will do.  No matter what it is.  I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure I had a taco for show and wiped away a tear as I finished my glass of wine too quickly and slinked out of the restaurant. Favourite dish deprivation is serious, y'all.  It's SERIOUS. 

So I tried to recreate it on my own.  Spontaneously. Due to the sale Giant was having on Haas avocados.  Just like that, BAM!  I had a hankering.  I wanted black bean soup and I wanted it NOW! I would usually soak my black beans, but hell to the no, that would take far too long, so Goya stepped in. Once the shortcuts* started, they just kept coming.  Jose might give me the stink eye, but Sandra Lee would clap gleefully and ask me about cocktail time.  

1 large can Goya black beans
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 medium onion, chopped
taco seasoning* 
leftover ham hock
bacon fat (sorry... use olive oil if you don't want to go here)


Add bacon fat to dutch oven to melt then add chopped onions.  Sweat until translucent then add ham hock (mine was leftover from collards I made earlier that day.... yeah it was a party up in hurrrr).  Add black beans (sauce in can and all), chicken stock and seasoning and simmer for about an hour.  Remove ham hock and roughly blend.  Add back to dutch oven and taste to make sure seasoning is just right.

Serve with sliced avocado, tortilla strips and a bit of plain greek yogurt.


p.s. I heard the soup is back on the menu.  Thanks, Jose!


Les Halles

So. I have this test. A very simple and easy way of weeding out a mediocre French brasserie.  

 It's pretty straightforward and pretty much tells me all I need to know in about 5 minutes and honestly determines whether or not I'll return. 

I order the French Onion Soup.  

You can pretty much tell the authenticity of the establishment with one bowl.  About a year ago, I was all jazzed about a new spot opening up on what is now called "Restaurant Row" here in D.C. Funny, because when I was growing up, it was more like "Hooker Highway" or "Prostitute Promenade".  But, you know how it goes.  The G word.  Anyway, this big deal from Philly was coming down, importing his staff and opening a significantly large brasserie on 14th Street.  I was so excited, I had such high hopes of having my Les Halles back. 

Les Halles.  The teeny tiny restaurant on Park Avenue South in New York City that served as my home away from alcove studio home when I lived on 29th and 3rd. I was desperate for a substitute and just couldn't find one that was just right.  It was like Cinderella's sisters and that damn shoe.  Either it was too far away (too big) or simply not up to snuff (too small). No perfect fit.

Let me give you some background... Back when Les Halles on Park Avenue South was small and hadn't yet expanded into the bodega next door, I was a regular 3 times a week.  My psuedo-boyfriend Nate and I had a routine.  We'd go spontaneously, never making a reservation.  He'd usually arrive a bit before me, so would put his name down with the hostess (she never seemed to remember us or at least never let on) and then head to the bar.  He'd have a beer from the tap and order a Cote du Rhone for me where we'd wait on our table over our chosen aperitif, usually no more than 20 minutes.  We systematically made our way around the menu until it had been sampled several times over.  There was never a bad meal.  We'd managed to win over Tim, the waiter who likes no one and I'm still friends with Carlos, the executive chef who took over after Anthony Bourdain threw open the doors of culinary fame.  This went on for years until my pseudo moved to Los Angeles. On his last night in NYC, we decided to head to Les Halles.  The bodega next door was boarded up and contractor work licenses decorated the door.  I scanned the packed restaurant for Nate, didn't see him so went to put our name down with the hostess.  "Oh, hello!  He's already at the bar".  

Look at that, she remembered us.   

Well, after he left, I kept up my visits, though mainly for brunch.  I'd have a full out breakfast or simply the onion soup.  Carlos offered to teach me how to make it one afternoon after a particularly long Sunday afternoon at the bar. "Come in tomorrow morning, we'll make it together".  It was one of the best days of my life culminating in a random run-in with Anthony Bourdain, but that's another blog post.  That story deserves it's own.  But one extremely important detail I took away from that magical day in the Les Halles kitchen with Carlos was the simple knowledge that the soup I'd prepared that day would not be served that night.  It had to wait.  About 2 days.  You know, for all the flavours to get to know each other.  To fall in love. 

So when I strolled into this new super trendy, super hyped, spot across from Pearl Dive, I gave them the test. 

I ordered a simple bowl of onion soup.  One bite in..... *side eye*

"Was this made today?" 

"Hold on, let me check...." *2 minutes pass* "OF COURSE!!  Of course, I was assured by the chef that it was made today"


Let's go back to the original.



Chicken Fried Mellie

I can't even lie. I've been secretly making my way through D.C. making a self certified list of the best fried chicken this city has to offer.  I have yet to branch out beyond the comforts of the DMV (with the exception of Roscoe's and my Aunt Sanny's kitchen), but I'm sure I'll get there. Persevere! My father always said. I'm going to go ahead and state this disclaimer right now. These tastings and evaluations omit the fried chicken recipe of a Ms. Saundra Jean.  I repeat, THESE TASTINGS AND EVALUATIONS OMIT THE FRIED CHICKEN RECIPE OF A MS. SAUNDRA JEAN.  Known to me as Aunt Sanny.  Aunt Sanny makes the best fried chicken IN THE WORLD you will want to kill yourself after eating it because nothing in your future will ever compare to the Godliness that is her chicken.  That is all.

So, in this post, I'm highlighting two exceptional contenders.  Should we have a cook off??  Should I ask your opinions???  First up, the Hitching Post.  It's a little neighborhood establishment that's been around for some time.  Barry runs the place now and has kept the good Southern recipes that made the joint so enamoured in the first place.  All for a bang of the buck.  The chicken reminds me of that casual Sunday after church.  For some reason, a little sermon before your wings and thighs makes it taste that much better. Hitching Post's chicken is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside as it should be with just the right basic seasonings.  There is a hint of heat and smokiness that I can't quite put my finger on, but it gives the bird some depth.  Definitely a recipe that holds well in the fridge and is a delight served cold.  Pack a picnic of cold fried chicken, lemon cookies and plums.. I've always wanted to do this.  Ever since I jacked the idea from Cara Walker.  She packed that very same picnic to woo Steven Wakefield.  And the shit worked.

Second up, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace.  You heard right.  What does an oyster palace know about fried chicken?  Oh, Lawd, everything.  Everything.  I'm dreaming about it right now.  It's super super crispy and is heaven on first bite.  Good for us, they damn near give you a whole chicken to enjoy.  The Pennsylvania Amish Chicken Dinner.  I can't order it without screeching, "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!".  It's gotten a few side eyes as of late.  I admit it.  This chicken is cooked twice, as we all saw the process on Eat the Street with Chuck Whatshisface.  There are no surprises here, no inventive additions, no odd seasonings, just classic goodness.  I can't wait until I'm able to order it again.  My jeans won't let me this week.

So instead, (because the more I eat it, the more I crave it) I'm going to go a semi healthy route and try a recipe I came across online.  I have no idea where I found it, but pretty sure I tweaked it along the way, so no coming after me for infringement.  Yet another "oven fried chicken".

Place some chicken breasts (I'm using tenders) in a shallow glass container of milk and refrigerate overnight. About half a pound? I guess? Presumably one cup? I'm pretty positive that's what I used... check out the photo.. Oh Goodness....

8oz chicken tenders
1/3 cup of panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
salt, pepper, cayenne.. to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Toast panko until golden brown in a heated skillet.  Add panko, finely chopped walnuts, parmesan, dry mustard, chopped rosemary, salt, pepper and cayenne to bowl and whisk together.

Remove chicken from milk and dredge in panko/walnut mixture and place on a wire or mesh rack on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.


The Deal:
Calories: 309; Fat:15g; Protein:32g; Carbohydrates:11g
per serving; serves 2


Booty Call

I got stood up! OK. Not really.

Lily and I were going to get together for some girl time. Complete with howling, cackling laughter, swirly swishy cocktails inspired by girlie cable shows, and whispers of scandalous secrets in a loud ass bar even though no one is listening and no one cares.

But the evilennes of the work world kept her hostage this eve, so the Carrie Chronicles were postponed for later this week.

In the meantime, my fridge sparse, Mama was getting noshy (don't bother looking this up on urban dictionary, the definition is wrong). As much as I hadn't wanted to, I was relying on the flatbreads and apps on which I was inevitably going to indulge at said loud bar to nourish me for the eve.  I needed something easy; complete with ingredients already in my arsenal, preferably without need for a deep defrost.

Kale and Onion Quiche it is. Why? It just worked, alright? Everything was there. Just staring me in the face.

I had about 3/4 of a sheet of puff pastry, basically not enough to make a proper 8"pie base. So a rustic interpretation it was, and honestly I kind of fell in love.  It had this Medieval, Tudor, Should Totally Be Filled With Quail Or Some Weird Shit Like That look about it.  Well, Babette isn't in my kitchen tonight, so this won out:

2 squares Dufour pastry sheets (1/2 package)
1/4 medium onion
1 cup of kale
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup jarlsberg cheese (I would have used a gruyere, but jarlsberg was what graced the commissary and gruyere is expensive!  ahh, the good ole days)

slowly melt butter in a skillet until lovely, melted, and bubbling.  Add onion... sautee until transluscent.  Add kale and season with salt, pepper, cayenne and a dash of nutmeg.  Let cool.

Whisk together eggs and milk.

In the meantime, arrange pastry sheets in a shallow baking dish with edges hanging over the edge.  Line with aluminum foil and fill with beans for pre-baking.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350F, then remove from oven and let cool.

Combine the kale and onions to the egg mixture (all should be cool by now) and mix evenly.  Fill the pastry with  mixture and top with jarlsberg (or gruyere if you're flossing) and bake until quiche is firm and top is golden brown.


Serves 6 modestly.

The Deal:
Calories: 256; Fat: 19g; Protein: 7g; Carbohydrates: 12g
per serving


Guilty Remnants

Sadly, there are few things that delight me more than a food leftover challenge. Seriously, I strive to keep my freezer full of options and my refrigerator void of all sense whatsoever. It's the best ever... when you find yourself in a situation where dinner is to be crafted from herb pate, sardines, potato chips and seaweed salad.  Not all together, of course.  THAT'S the challenge.  My very own episode of Chopped.  Every dang night!  It's either exhausting or exhilarating, depending what side of the street you're on.  I'm a glass half full kind of gal.  

So tonight was a menagerie of random items from the last week plus selections from the pantry and the "garden" (read: herbs I've managed to keep alive in pots on my patio).  Half a roasted spaghetti squash, prepared bacon, walnuts, sage, parmesan and a hunk of butter.  More specifically:

2 cups spaghetti squash, shredded
1 slice bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon of grated parmigiano reggiano
1 tablespoon of butter
3-4 chopped sage leaves

Melt the butter in a saute pan and allow to brown slightly.  Add walnuts, and sage.  When the sage starts to smell all yummy, add the bacon and let them all meet and get to know one another.  When they've officially fallen in love, add the spaghetti squash and give a good toss with tongs. Top with parmesan and eat up. 

The Deal:
Calories: 349; Fat: 26g; Protein: 10g; Carbs: 20g

*just a reminder, fat doesn't make you fat, sugar makes you fat... this is all natural fat your body can recognize. Walnuts are amazing for brain health and butter... well, is butter. It makes everything OK.