Monthly Archives: October 2018

2018 Cookery Project — French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

This was a first attempt at making French Onion Soup, one of my favourite things, right up there with raindrops on kittens and whiskers on roses.

And it worked! I knew I’d succeeded from my first sip, because It tasted unmistakably French.

I’ve been building up to this for a long time, comparing a number of recipes and finally settled on this one from Epicurious. I even bought a special set of ramekins and soup spoons, for authenticity and because I liked saying “ramekins”.

I started by slow-cooking four sliced Vidalia onions in butter. It took about an hour to get them to the perfect state—soft, and golden brown. Then I added white wine and beef broth, thyme and bay leaves, and simmered to reduce.

To finish, I poured a bit of sherry into each ramekin, filled them with the onions and broth, added lightly-toasted baguette slices, and covered the whole thing with Gruyère cheese.

Five minutes in the broiler gave me the delicious result you see above.

Bon appétit!


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

Boy Erased — Official Trailer, and a Song from the Film

Boy Erased is a film based on Garrard Conley’s memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Arkansas family, and about the parents who shipped him off to “conversion therapy” in a futile attempt to change his sexual orientation. Lucas Hedges, at the start of what seems likely to be a brilliant career—At 20, he got an Academy Award nomination for Manchester by the Sea, and followed that with supporting roles in Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—stars as Conley.

Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, never less than brilliant, play his parents.

Boy Erased opens on 4 November 2018


Here’s an audio-only song from the movie. It’s by Troye Sivan, who has a role in the film, and by Jónsi, from Sigur Rós. It’s called “Revelation”.

2018 Cookery Project — Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken

Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken

Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken

The description of this Creamy Tuscan Garlic Chicken, from a website called The Recipe Critic, says, “This meal tastes like it is straight from a restaurant.  I couldn’t even get over how amazing the creamy sauce was!  It has such a delicious creamy garlic taste with spinach and sun dried tomatoes.”

All of which is totally accurate. It was like something I’d be happy to find on the menu of a good restaurant, and after tasting it, I’d make a note to order it again next time I visited.

The chicken was boneless, skinless breast, sliced and then cooked in batches in a skillet. When it was done, I moved the chicken to a plate, deglazed the pan, and added heavy cream, chicken broth, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes.

While the sauce was thickening, I cooked the pasta, which turned out to be the killer secret ingredient. On a whim, I’d picked up a small package of Pasta Valente’s Garlic Parsley Fettuccine at Giant. I hadn’t heard of it before I bought it, but I now think it’s the best packaged pasta I’ve ever eaten.

The chicken went back into the skillet to reheat, and a few minutes later, it was ready to serve.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

2018 Cookery Project — Smoky Oven Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce

Smoky Oven Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce

Smoky Oven Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce

I have my defaults.

My default Breakfast Cereal is Open Nature Naturally Flavored Granola with one or more servings of fresh fruit (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and/or bananas), Golden Raisins, and heavy cream.

My default Ham Sandwich is Black Forest ham on hand-cut slices of sourdough bread, with my own honey-mustard spread, some cress, and a sprinkling of bleu cheese.

And now I have a default recipe for salmon.

The recipe for Smoky Oven Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce that I found on a website called A Spicy Perspective turned out so well that I’m sure I’ll be using it over and over.

Here’s how it works: You spread brown sugar over the salmon, then add liquid smoke to the sugar and rub the mixture to coat the entire fillet. Bake it on parchment paper for 15 minutes. The liquid smoke and brown sugar blend give the fish a wonderful, shiny glaze.

The Horseradish Sauce is a mixture of grated shallot, sour cream, milk, mustard, and, uh, horseradish.

Add some capers and parsley, and you’re ready to go.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

Burning Man at the Renwick (2)

My earlier post about Burning Man at the Renwick took a look at the first floor of the museum and focused on artifacts. That part of the exhibition has now closed. The second floor, which will be open until 21 January 2019, is about environments.

These, uh, “things” are identified as “steel polyhedral sculptures” that “generate tension between hard geometric surfaces and soft interior illumination, promoting a sense of contemplation and awe of the inherent beauty of universal forms.”

(I made a note of the name and the description, because that’s the kind of stuff that comes up a lot in casual conversations.)

What fascinated me was the use of light and the everchanging colours. One of the “steel polyhedral sculptures” was large enough to hold several people inside.


The Grand Salon

The largest room in the Renwick is called the Grand Salon, and until the building’s most recent renovation, that was a perfectly descriptive name—it was heavy on the damask, and the walls were full of (mainly) 19th- and early 20th-century paintings by American artists.

That’s all gone now. For the Burning Man exhibition, the space was given over to David Best, the designer of many of the Burning Man “temples”.

The structure in the above picture hangs from the room’s ceiling. The photograph below, from the Renwick’s website, is a look at the full room.

At Burning Man in Nevada, these temples are among the things burned at the end of the festival.  That won’t happen to this one. The Renwick says it will be “on view indefinitely.”

David Best Temple, 2018, Rernwick Gallery, photo by Ron Blunt

David Best Temple, 2018, Renwick Gallery, photo by Ron Blunt


The Mushroom Room

Oh, this was fun!

The giant “mushrooms” changed colour and seemed to breathe and grow when someone activated them by standing of the red-circled control panel on the floor.


The “Before I Die” Room


Last stop before the exit.

The Renwick set up a room, painted black and stocked with of coloured chalk, at the end of the Burning Man exhibition. Visitors were invited to write or draw a message about what they hope to see or do before they die.

Love, travel, drugs, self-fulfillment, and the future of Donald Trump were frequently mentioned.


The Burning Man exhibition has been wildly popular. Great show!

2018 Cookery Project — Parmesan Chicken with Mushroom Rice

Parmesan Chicken with Mushroom Rice

Parmesan Chicken with Mushroom Rice

Late summer this year was not a good time to be me. What at first seemed like a minor medical issue turned out to be both more serious and much more expensive than I was prepared for. That double whammy depressed me to the point where I wasn’t much good for anything more challenging than lying in bed, eating Dark Chocolate Klondike Bars, and watching British “cozy” mysteries on Acorn and Britbox. (If you want to know anything—anything—about Miss Marple or Father Brown, Miss Fisher or M. Poirot, or the innumerable homicidal residents of Midsomer county, I’m your guy.)

I let a lot of things lapse, including this blog.

But now I’m back in action, and caught up with my Summer Restaurant Week adventures—a mere two months after they took place—so it’s time to start updating the 2018 Cookery Project. First off: Parmesan Chicken with Mushroom Rice.

I stumbled across this recipe on a website called The Recipe Critic. It looked delectable, the instructions consisted of only three steps, and the whole meal could be made in a single skillet. The neat time-and-effort saver was that the uncooked rice was added to the same pot as the chicken and mushrooms, instead of being made separately. Once the rice was done, I only had to add heavy cream and parmesan cheese to finish the dish.


Rating

★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.


*Midsomer has the third highest homicide rate per capita in the world, exceeded only by Chicago, Illinois, and Cabot Cove, Maine.

Burning Man at the Renwick (1)

The Renwick Gallery, the branch of the Smithsonian Institution dedicated to American crafts and decorative arts, is currently presenting a knockout of an exhibition called “No Spectators: The Art Of Burning Man”.

Finally made my first visit a few weeks ago.

Entrance

“Abandon All Inhibitions, Ye Who Enter Here.”

Admission to the Renwick is free. Tickets for this year’s Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, ranged from $190 to $1,200.


Burning Man Haute Couture


Last year, a group called Catharsis on the Mall asked for approval to install a 45-foot-tall sculpture of a nude woman on the National Mall, near the Washington Monument. For some reason, the National Park Service rejected the application.

What we did get was this artifact at the Renwick. She’s not 45-feet-tall, but she gradually changes colour.


The Dragonmobile


The Inevitability of VR


No contemporary art installation is complete without a sampling of Virtual Reality. The monitor at the top of the picture shows a flat-screen version of what the user is experiencing in VR.

We’ve been hearing that the big VR breakthrough is just around the corner since—Let’s see now, Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash in 1992, and 2018 minus 1992 equals 26—more than a quarter-century ago. Gotta say, Oculus Rift is looking really tempting these days.

Lunch at Ambar — 23 August 2018

Ambar

Ambar

My last stop on Summer Binge 2018 was at Ambar Capitol Hill, near DC’s Eastern Market. In addition to the Capitol Hill location, Ambar has a branch in Clarendon, Virginia, and one in Belgrade, Serbia.

The food at Ambar has gotten a lot of online praise, and it’s well-deserved. What isn’t often noted is that the restaurant is one of the best bargains in Washington. It’s a small-plates restaurant, with about 50 offerings. The prix fixe menu at lunch includes an unlimited selection of those dishes for only $22. There are restaurants in DC—not many, fortunately, but some— that charge more than that for a  hamburger.

Here’s what I had:

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts, with lemon and garlic yogurt, dusted with bacon.

Grilled Calamari

Grilled Calamari

The calamari was grilled, and served with fennel and a tapenade. For some reason lost to history, I avoided olives for years, picking them out of salads and setting them aside. Now I’m making up for lost time and missed opportunities. I have yet to put a tapenade on a serving of ice cream, but at this point, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Sliders

On the right. a house-ground Lamb Slider with herb sour cream and pomegranate syrup. On the left, a Beef and Veal Slider with Boston lettuce, smoked mayonnaise, and tomato.

Ambar Fries

Ambar Fries

The fries were in a pool of aged kajmak, which is a Balkan cheese made from unpasteurized milk. This sounded more interesting than it turned out to be, probably because the fries were only slightly warm. This was the kitchen’s only real misstep during the meal.

Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin

Best dish of the day, by a mile. Peanut-crusted Pork Tenderloin on mashed potatoes and bacon, with a miso mustard sauce. If there weren’t so many other menu items to explore, I might have ordered seconds of this one.

Lamb & Veal Sausages

Lamb and Veal Sausages

Lamb and Veal Sausages, made with bell peppers, onions, garlic, chili flakes, and tomato.


Raspberry Sorbet

Raspberry Sorbet

Dessert was a light and simple Raspberry Sorbet…

♫ She wore a
Raspberry Sorbet
The kind you find in a second-hand store. ♫

…with some nice juicy strawberries.

♫ She wore a
Raspberry Toupée
The kind you find in a second-hand store. ♫

[Sorry, Prince. But I was dining like it’s 1999, and I got a little carried away.]


Update

The 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide for Washington was released a few weeks ago. Ambar is now recognized on the Guide’s Bib Gourmand list, as one of the DC restaurants “that offer excellent food at a reasonable price.”