Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eastern Market

I'm something of a market junkie. I enjoy wandering around and looking at the stalls because you never know what you will find, be it food or craft items. I also enjoy the chaos of it all, everything mixed around.

Each market has it's own feel. Eastern market is fairly upscale. It features hard to find food items, hand made jewelry and unique furniture. It's in a cute neighborhood filled with old town houses, just south of the Capitol complex. The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants packed with brunchers eating eggs and sipping mimosas on the weekends.

The Open Market in The Hague was a completely different story. It was crowded, unorganized and a little bit dirty. I kinda loved it - you could buy anything and everything, from apples to a cell phone. Not that I'm recommending you to get a cell phone there...alright I did get a replacement charger there on my last trip to the Netherlands because I lost my cell charger in Paris. This place was an experience and completely unexpected in the tidy and posh streets of Den Haag. When people would visit me in NL, I'd always try to take them to the market, such a non-American way to shop.

I tried to go to Eastern Market on January 3rd but it was closed! Do you believe that? Apparently the 3rd is now a holiday.

I finally made it back this past weekend and the streets were full of merchants. There were lots of places selling jewelry and small homemade housewares. The fresh produce was somewhat limited, I'm hoping that when spring rolls around there will be more local and seasonal items available because things will be, you know in season. At the moment, the market looks a bit like a grocery store only featuring fresh salsa, hummus and some specialty meats, like my chorizo.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Slow cooker chicken & rice - double fail!

Right about now I'm thinking why did I get a crock pot because clearly I have no idea how to use it. Or maybe I should follow the recipes more closely until I figure out what I'm doing.

So when I first got my crock pot, I was browsing around for some recipes to try it out and on I saw a recipe for lemon chicken. Looks yummy right? Well somewhere I went awry. I did not use bone-in chicken breasts but boneless, however, the chicken wasn't dry at all so I don't see why that would be an issue. I did not like flavor the rice had, it was sort of like chewing wine. It could be the wine I used, maybe I just did not like the flavor it had and reducing it in the crock pot would have concentrated the flavor in the rice.

The taste of the chicken was also a little bland. I would have expected, it to be flavorful with the lemon, wine and spices being slow cooked into it but it definitely wasn't. I also found the cooking time to be challenging - not quite long enough to be made while I'm at work!

Despite this I persevered! I tried to make chicken and rice in the same spirit of this recipe but with different flavors, that I might like more because I like chicken and rice when other people make it! A friend of mine used to make a Latin American style of chicken and rice where she would cook the rice in the stock created by cooking the chicken. So I used all the same spices but instead of wine, lemon juice and water; I used chicken broth and a bit of water. I also switched to chicken on the bone, mostly because it's what I had around.

This was if possible a larger failure! Yes, I know it looks tasty in the photo, looking at it now kinda makes me want to eat it, but trust me it was not good. Despite being cooked for 8+ hours when I got home the chicken wasn't done! Seriously? Seriously. I took the half-cooked chicken out and pan fried it for what seemed like forever before I could finally eat it and still the rice and chicken were sort of blah.

I will find a recipe for chicken and rice that works. I will successfully make dinner with my crock pot while I'm at work. I will.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spanish Chorizo in DC!

This weekend I went to Eastern Market near my new place in DC and what did I find? But a large selection of Chorizo, including the Spanish variety.

It was $9.99/lb. I got two fairly decent size links for $3.50. I also asked if they had any Fuet, but they don't carry it. Too bad. I suppose I will have to be happy with what I found.

The Chorizo seems to be off good quality and prepared fresh. I'm not sure if it's local or imported but I have a hunch that it was made in the US in the "Spanish style." Next time, I will ask. There were actually two meat sellers that had Chorizo at the market, I might try the other one the next but honestly, the product looked the same. One of them was also selling Lomo, another delicious Spanish pork product.

And the taste? I had one quick slice last night and it was pretty tasty. I'm going to reserve judgment until I have sampled it thoroughly.

Look for my full write-up on Eastern Market later this week (I hope).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Scallops tartare

Did you know you can eat scallops raw? I had no idea! My other big food-related adventure in Normandy was a cooking demonstration on several different ways to prepare the local scallops, one of which was scallops tartare. While I had some initial reservations about eating a raw scallop, I then thought, "what the hell, I'm in France and if anyone knows food, it's the French."

***Keep in mind I was in a scallop fishing region, during the scallop fishing season and these were very fresh scallops. Use caution should you decide to prepare scallops tartare.

Scallops Tartare

Fresh scallops
Soy sauce
Cider vinegar*
Lemmon zest

*I'm assuming that this is produced with the regional cider, but I believe I've seen in it in grocery stores in the US also. I haven't checked yet.

Finely dice fresh scallops. Toss with 1 part soy sauce to 2 parts cider vinegar and lemon zest and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Garnish with chives and serve as an appetizer.

I enjoyed the raw scallops a lot but I think if I try to make them at home (I think I can get fresh scallops from the Maryland coast) I might try orange zest instead of lemon. I have notes on a few other scallop recipes that the chef showed us but to be honest, they don't make a whole lot of sense, if I can figure it out I will post on them later. You'll notice the photo is obviously of another one of the recipes and not the scallops tartare. It's also blurry because I took it on my camera phone. I will try to get it together should I be in France at a cooking demonstration again.

Monday, February 15, 2010

French food regulation

One of the things I did while visiting France was to take a trip to Normandy and watch a presentation about the regional products including camembert cheese and apple cider. I was struck by organized the French are regarding food production! Are you familiar with Geographic Indicators? Internationally, these are applied by the WTO to protect the integrity of food products particular to a specific regional tradition, ie Champagne only comes from Champagne and everything else is a "sparkling wine." In France, there are regulations about where a cow can eat if it's milk will be used to make camembert. If some renegade cow should escape and start eating grass from an area outside the cambembert region, its milk cannot be used to produce this particular cheese because that grass is different, so the milk will be different and change the taste of the cheese. Interesting huh? Camembert cheese is just an example, the same is true for wines, cider and a whole host of other French food products.

While listening to this presentation I was struck by how unorganized US food production seems in comparison, when it comes to producing quality products at least. At the same time, I'm not entirely sure that a cow eating grass a few miles away will really change the taste of the cheese all that much. However, at least you know what you are buying and where it came from. While this would limit the quantity that can be produced, after all only so many grapes can be grown in a season in Champagne, it would ensure that everything was produced at top quality.

Other interesting info on Camembert
*It takes 15 days to produce the cheese, mostly to let it dry.
*It is NOT pasteurized. The presenter took real issue with US food regulations requiring cheese to be pasteurized and in his opinion this is the reason for the lack of quality cheese in the US. I'm not sure this is the reason, but I can't deny that France has way better cheese.
*It takes 2.5 Liters (about 2.5 quarts) of milk to make 1 round of camembert cheese.
*Each ball of cheese must be put into a container individually to drain. Traditionally this was all done by hand but now it is sometimes mechanized.

Interesting notes on Cider ("cidre" in French) from Normandy
*Production is also governed by geographic identifiers and food regulation boards.
*There are 1000 different varieties of apple grown in the region and all can be used for cider.
* The cider is not distilled and about 5% alcohol.
* Distilling the cider once will make Portos (sp?) which is more alcoholic and the one I tried was also sweeter.
* Distilling the cider a second time will make calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region. The calvados was very sweet and much more alcoholic than either the cider or Portos. Aged calvados (10, 20, 40 years) is considered to be better but is much more expensive because as it ages it evaporates and you have less and less calvados in the barrel. You can mix two aging calvados' together but if they are not the same age, the final product is all the young age. For example, if you mix a 40 year calvados and a 10 year the final product is all a 10 year calvados.

My favorite was by far the cider. All the different kinds of cider I sampled were good but the best was a blackberry-apple blend.

It would be nice to see the quality artisan producers in the United States to become more organized, like those in France, and promote their products as regional specialties not just nationally, but internationally. While there are brands that do this now, it would nice to see more regulation regarding the quality of production in the US and less that encourages quantity (and overeating).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More culinary delights in Spain

I LOVE Spain. And yes, mostly for the food. What can I say, I'm a woman with limited interests. While in Paris, I was attending a conference for work but now I'm on holiday - a cheap one because work paid for the pricey flight, can you say bonus?

So I'm staying with a friend in Barcelona, whose flatmate is apparently an amature chef and made us an amazing dinner that I can't even begin to explain...if he spoke English or I Spanish, I'd ask him to explain. Tomorrow, I'm going to cook for them and after the fantastic dinner tonight, I'm a bit concerned. Will let you know how it goes...not even sure what I'm going to make....

Tonight, I was also treated to one of my favorite Spanish foods - chorizo. Chorizo is a Spanish type of sausage that isn't spicy but has something of a zip to it and can be sliced and eaten as an appetizer or cooked lightly as part of a main dish. It's tasty in omelets, pasta dishes and as a starter. Chorizo is just one of the many delightful pork products in Spain. Actually, if you aren't a pork-eater, probably not the best place for you to visit.

The flatmate of my friend is actually Catalan (Barcelona is in Catalonia) and when he heard me expounding on the delights of chorizo after my friend and I came back from the grocery story, promptly produced not only a Spanish chorizo but the regional Catalan version called fuet. I think I actually like the fuet better! If that's possible.

It is possible to purchase chorizo in the United States also, though it's much more expensive. I purchased a "good" (according to my friend) one at a local store in Barcelona for about 2 Euro ($3), which is significantly less that what I'd pay in the US for one of similar quality. Additionally, the ones in the US tend to taste a bit different because the regulations on processing meats are different and don't always allow for some of the traditional methods used for certain foods in Europe. (Look for an upcoming post on cheeses in France.)

There is also a wide range of Latin American varieties of chorizo available in the US at ethnic markets, though to be honest I haven't tried any of them. Anyone have any recommendations there? I imagine they are more economical. The Washington Post food section recently had an article on chorizo, see it here. It doesn't even mention chorizo from Spain really, something I considered to be an oversight considering Spain is the origin of chorizo, and focuses on Latin American varieties.

Ok, I'm off to bed, I have eating to do tomorrow.