Cooking With Obama’s Home Brew


A few months ago the White House released the recipe for the President’s home-brewed beer. It’s a honey ale made with honey from the White House’s own hives. Instantly, you could buy kits to make Obama’s beer yourself. While I left the beer making to someone else, I do like to cook with beer, so I headed for my kitchen. (In 2011, Greg Kitsock at the Washington Post had a great piece on the history of presidential beer making. Read it.)

The honey ale is rich, sweet, and malty, so I thought it would hold up well with something salty and smokey. I had also been craving split pea soup for this dreary weather and this was the perfect opportunity for a variation. Chop each of these ingredients, adding them to a hot soup pot as you chop the next item: 4 bratwursts, 1 onion, 2 carrots, 1 heart of celery. After 10-15 minutes on the heat, add one bag of green split peas, a 12-ounce bottle of Obamabeer, or whatever flavorful brew you have on hand, 6 cups of chicken stock, and 3 cups of water. After bringing it to a boil, simmer 40 minutes or until the peas are tender.

The beer does not disappear in the soup and it was a perfect companion to the brats. A bit of the biergarten without the kraut. Oh, and Obama’s there.

This entry was posted in Drinks, Fish Wrap, Media, Recipes, Soups.

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Reading the Fish Wrap: Me and Mister Reuben

Best read of the week in the food sections goes to Bart Barnes in the Washington Post. If you’re familiar with that byline, you must be a regular reader of the Post’s obit page. His charming piece in the food section chronicles his desire to have a sandwich named after him, so for his 75th birthday party, guests were asked to bring their nominations. In the end, the Bart is cut up hot dogs, onion, peppers, cheddar cheese, and hot sauce on cheesy jalapeño bread. Sounds intense.

I’ll digress to mention that one of my late-night kitchen creations once made its way onto the special menu at a restaurant where I was waitressing. It was turkey, pepper jack, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, and mayo on a roll. If I remember correctly, it was a big seller, but didn’t last because it was too messy. Ah well, I’ll always have Emily’s Choice. I know how Bart feels.

Also in the Post, Tom Sietsema’s review of Table in Shaw. I guess I don’t actually want to promote it, because it’s another no-reservations, line-down-the-block-type place. That said, it sure sounds good. I’d enjoy pan-roasted squid, “a tender tube stuffed with spinach, Swiss chard, prosciutto and Manchego cheese.” Sietsema won out this week, beating poor Pete Wells who had to eat “a dot of sea buckthorn jam on a cracker made of dried pig’s blood. Sea buckthorn berries grow wild near the ocean. They look like tiny orange eggs and have an astringent sourness. Their flavor is mildly pleasant, but not pleasant enough to make dried pig’s blood taste like anything other than a healing wound.” Yum!

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Cooking Tip: Rip Off the Right People

Thank you, Pete Wells at the New York Times, for turning me on to a new pizza topping combination. Fennel shines as the star of this bold-flavored pie. Cook it into your sauce along with onion, garlic, and tomatoes. Nice and simple. A little red wine, a little chicken stock, and a healthy dose of sugar to bring out the fennel’s sweet notes. (I based this on a braised fennel fiasco I had years ago at the French Culinary Institute.) Spread the chunky sauce over your dough and cover with crumbled and cooked hot Italian sausage and aged cheddar cheese. The sweet fennel really sings when paired with that heat and that bite. In two weeks, this pizza pie has already had several encores.

I guess it’s time to get started on this week’s good idea from Pete Wells’ review of this new bourbon mecca: “I have seen poached eggs over grits all around town, but I’ve rarely tasted a version as compelling as Maysville’s. The grits are creamier and the egg is softer, just barely set, so it dissolves on your tongue like warm jelly. Then Mr. Knall … takes it deeper, adding sensationally tender duck confit, sautéed trumpet mushrooms and a few rich spoonfuls of smoked duck broth.”

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On These Chilly Nights

Nothing is better than a great pot of soup that can feed you (and any guests) all week. Just heat and supplement with cheese toast or garlic bread or a plate of sliced, salted cucumber spears. But if you’re going to visit the same soup several nights it has to be interesting. This week I wanted something really warming and especially healthy. I made a very special lentil soup.

Saute 4 chopped andouille sausages for a few minutes in a bit of olive oil–no need to brown. Then a series of chopped vegetables, which you can prep and add in succession: 2 onions, 3 garlic cloves, 5 celery stalks. When the celery has had a few minutes, pour in your liquids: a mixture of chicken stock, beef stock, and water. You’ll need a lot of liquid, about 12 cups, for the bag of lentils you pour in now. Let the soup come to a boil while you prep and then add 2 diced sweet potatoes and 1 bunch shredded kale. Once simmering, add cumin and garam masala. Cook 30 minutes and serve.

This soup is very spicy, very warming; the sriracha sat untouched on our table. I particularly like the use of sweet potato instead of carrots, which I often find overpower anything they touch. With soup like this, I can handle a few more winter nights.

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Nobody Tells Corby Kummer What to Eat

In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, the food editor of The Atlantic rants about weighs in on the subject of the rise of the tasting menu and specifically the “tyranny” of tasting-menu-only restaurants. He’s got a nice little history and the piece is a better read than Pete Wells similar grump from last fall. Wells’ gist: “The consumer of such a meal may feel as much like a victim as a guest. The reservation is hard won, the night is exhausting, the food is cold, the interruptions are frequent. The courses blur, the palate flags and the check stings.” That does sound like “a form of torture,” as Corby Kummer mildly puts it.

Kummer traces the emergence of a “new army of fresh-faced Stalins” from high-end French restaurants to Charlie Trotter to Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria to Grant Achatz and Rene Redzepi. Kummer won’t come out and say that giving control to Achatz and Redzepi is an exciting prospect, worth the time and expense, but he hints at it. No, his point is that no diners want to sit for hours eating whatever is put before them, especially from some Joe Chef in Sommerville who runs his dining room like a “petty despot.”

I’d point out here that many diners actually do enjoy freedom from menus for an evening, as well as the experience of many different bites and tastes–and clearly are willing to devote time and funds to the chef’s vision. It’s dinner and a show, guys, and if you’re not into it, don’t partake. It doesn’t surprise me that a critic who doesn’t like eating more than one nibble would feel assaulted by 40 small bites. At French Laundry in 1997, while Ruth Reichl was experiencing “the most exciting place to eat in the United States,” Kummer was “fervently praying” for the epic meal to end.

I’d second one of Kummer’s commenters: “Some of us, however, are enjoying and anticipating the art of the live stage and tasting menus – so, please, be quiet if you do not wish to participate. There is an art to being a thankful spectator, might I add.”

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Reading the Fish Wrap: Food You Can Feel Good About

The pizza coverstory at the Washington Post food section this week is an example of style over substance. The behind-the-scenes narrative of the Tim Carman/Joe Yonan pizza cook-off, which Carman playfully suggests is rigged because Yonan is the boss, is light reading, but the ongoing joke leaves the reader thinking more about what Yonan’s year away from the Post did for his sense of humor than about pizza slinging. However, it did remind me of Pete Wells’ puzzling review of a Brooklyn pizzeria last week–strange in that it warranted a review and that Wells used an ill-concieved metaphor throughout (as in “the pizza version of the sparkly oven” and “the dessert is another of [the] tiled ovens”–editor please!) Anyway, this is the long process which brings me to this suggestion: On your next at-home pizza, try fennel, sausage, cheese, and red pepper flakes.

Perhaps less tasty, but there were two public-service-y pieces in the Post that are worth a read. Jane Black reports on a program to distribute leftover dining hall fare to local soup kitchens started by students at the University of Maryland. The program, called Food Recovery Network, has expanded to twelve campuses in just two years. And over in the Metro section, Darryl Fears writes about how area restaurants and diners need to do their part to help eradicate the snakehead fish, an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, by making it a must-eat. Says Fears, only half a dozen restaurants in the D.C. area currently serve them. Oddly enough, I happened to eat at one of them last night: Little Serow. Served with lime and rice powder, it was a mild dish, and we found the fish firm, yet giving, kind of like eel. I can’t say it was a must-repeat-eat for me, but with a sea of no-no fish out there, it’s nice to have a yes-yes.

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The Spice of Life

In my quest to try new things in the kitchen this year, I have to include variations on my standbys. Think, it’s not a totally new date every night, just the usual main squeeze with a different hairstyle. Still kind of exciting, right? Here’s hoping.

In that spirit, I added kale to my standard sausage tomato pasta sauce. This brought a tangy, lemony bite to an otherwise sweet, spicy sauce. In this case, the three notes were better than two. It was a huge hit. To my usual ham and veg (spinach) and cream pasta sauce, I tried adding tomatoes to create more of a pink sauce. Success again. And later in the week, to a similar cream sauce–that’s what I meant by standby–I added mushrooms, which again was met with raves. Turns out trying new things in the kitchen isn’t just fun, it turns heads.

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So This Is What People in LA Are Like

Bon Appetit has been doing a little feature called the BA Q&A where they talk to stylish people about their eating habits. It reminds me of the New York Eats feature at Grub Street, which nearly always works–basically a celebrity maps out everything they eat in a week. It’s pretty interesting for us voyeurs. But this month’s interview at BA should have made its home on the cutting room floor, not on the pages of the magazine. Someone called Kelly Wearstler would be totally mortified if she ingested enough calories to feel things.

You started out in interior design, but your company has grown in recent years.

Kelly Wearstler: I’m a designer, which includes interiors, architecture, fashion, furniture, and lifestyle. I’m 100 percent involved with 100 percent of my projects. I choose every hinge, every button, each lightbulb.

How do you start the day?
KW: I go to Barry’s Bootcamp at 5:30 a.m., seven days a week. It’s me and a bunch of Hollywood hot-shots. I’ve heard we burn 800 calories per class.

Sounds intense. Do you hydrate?
KW: I drink water mixed with Miracle Reds or Miracle Greens, with drops of plankton. Later in the day, I drink water with lemon, and alkaline water with cayenne extract.

You must be starving after that workout!
KW: Not for a while. After I drop my sons off at school–they still let me walk them into class–I get a double dry nonfat macchiato at Urth Caffé. And for the rest of the day, I juice.

Wow. What’s your juicing ritual?
KW: I get juices at Erewhon. I usually start with a “Superfood” juice. By noon, I get a kale, spinach, lemon, ginger, and E3Live juice. I avoid orange- and pineapple- based juices–too much sugar. A little beet juice is sweet enough for me.

What about real, solid food?
KW: Besides almonds or granola, I don’t eat a lot during the day–juicing is what gives me energy.

Do you cook or bake?
KW: I’m not the bake-sale-mom type–though once in a while, I’ll make challah French toast for my sons.

What about for dinner?
KW: That’s the one meal I sit down to enjoy. Simple things like roast chicken and big salads, and beans, lentils, and hummus.

Do you have a favorite restaurant?
KW: My husband and I go to Il Fico every Friday, and I get the whole-wheat pizza. I won’t eat pizza anywhere else!

Your schedule sounds nuts. Do you sleep like a baby?
KW: Yes! We go to bed early. Last night, I fell asleep with my kids at 8:45.

Do you wear Kelly Wearstler-designed pj’s?
KW: I wear a little bathrobe over a Cosabella thong. When I take off the robe for bed, sometimes my husband is like,”Ooooh.” And I’m like, “Sorrrry!”

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The Season for Treats

This time of year seems to bring a lot of impromptu hosting. With this in mind, I stocked up on some cheese and salami (and olives and crackers) to have on hand for hungry friends. And because many of those friends also arrive chilled this time of year, I make sure to have a pot of soup on hand. This week I did spicy chorizo and greens and chicken and barley soups.

As for those goodies,  for a little decadence I picked up the truffle variety of the Creminelli salami I’ve mentioned before. Then the cheese! Asiago Fresco was my favorite–a baby at two months–the D’Affinois and Port Salut–the standbys–and some blue for those who enjoy it. All from Whole Foods, but also all outshown by a cheese brought by one of those friends–of the soft shell crab dinner party fame. A true splurge, she brought a sottocenere al tartufo, that is a raw cow’s milk semi-soft mixed with sliced truffles and encased in gray Venetian ash. Baked and oozing, it was a revelation.

Speaking of splurging on Italian imports, I recently bought the Italian dried pasta at Whole Foods. It was about 50 cents more than the domestic brands that I usually buy. Used to buy, I should say. No more! The Italian pasta was a different species and well worth the extra change.

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Reading the Fish Wrap: Gifts for Yourself!

When it comes to buying olive oil, like wine, I might as well close my eyes before making my selection. It seems that every store carries whatever random brands they choose and I never see the same bottle twice. However, I do enjoy olive oil and used to work somewhere high quality varieties were sold. Jim Shahin’s Smoke Signals column in the Washington Post caught my attention because he promises that the smoked olive oil from the Smoked Olive will wow your dinner guests served simply with bread for dipping. Add that to your shopping list.

That’s it for the wraps. One note though: I read much of the food sections digitally before the print edition comes out, and it never in a million years occurred to me that the dopey piece about immersion blender mishaps–btw, don’t stick your fingers in the blades when the thing is plugged in–would be the cover story for the New York Times dining section. Along with a picture of a creepy bloody appliance. Seriously.

Also on my list of things you should try as soon as possible: these mint chip malt balls from Sugarfina. My new favorite candies are well worth it for a special occasion. And, finally, for D.C. locals, if you haven’t been to Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in a while, they are now offering a brunch menu for lunch, which includes several terrific egg dishes. Treat yourself to the eggs benedict, which comes with both spinach and ham, a couple of oysters, and a glass of bubbly. The perfect fuel for making lists.

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