Thursday, April 17, 2008

Slim Coq Au Vin

I love Coq Au Vin (Chicken with Wine), but when you're trying to watch your calories, all that butter and chicken fat in a tradtional Coq Au Vin can add up quick. Here is my recipe for Coq Au Vin that misses none of the lusciousness of the traditional recipe but with a fraction of the fat and calories. For those of you keeping track, this recipe is 6 Weight Watchers points per serving*.

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup red wine
1 cup frozen pearl onions
1 cup mushroom(s), cut in half
4 cooked skinless, boneless chicken thigh
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 tsp thyme
1 leaf bay leaf
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp black pepper, to taste
1 tsp table salt, to taste

Instructions: Place flour in a plastic bag. Put the chicken in the bag and shake to coat the chicken with the flour. In a dutch oven, place the olive oil and heat until small wisps of smoke appear. Add the garlic and chicken. Salt and Pepper the chicken. Brown the chicken on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Add the wine and chicken broth along with the herbs and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the broth and add the onions and mushrooms. Let the sauce reduce by three fourths and then return the chicken to the sauce. The sauce should have body but not too thick. Create a slurry with 1 Tbsp of flour and a small amount of water and add to the sauce to thicken if desired. Serve immediately with noodles or mashed potatoes.

Serves 4*

*special note to my weight watcher friends, if you turn this into 2 servings (as we would at our house) then this has a point value of 9.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

La Limeña: A Peruvian Discovery

A couple of weeks ago, Steve, Carlos and I met our good friends Larry and Joe at El Mariachi Mexican Restaurant in Rockville. Larry mentioned that restaurant next to El Mariachi, La Limeña is also very good and definitely worth a visit. Larry’s going to kill me for going without him, but last night, Steve and I decided to make a stop on a whim.

It is essentially a Peruvian restaurant with some Cuban dishes thrown in for good measure. Not long on atmosphere, the restaurant is cozy, bright and clean with a large open counter that looks in on the kitchen. They only use plastic-ware, plastic forks, plastic plates et al.. but what they lack in style they more than make up for in substance. Service is incredibly friendly and helpful and the food is DIVINE.

We started with the Ceviche Mixtos. White fish, squid and shrimp are marinated in citrus with herbs and peppers. Here it is served with a chunk of sweet potato, a small ear of corn and homemade corn nuts. It is without a doubt the best ceviche I have ever tasted. Perfectly balanced, spicy, tart and refreshing. I would have the stuff for breakfast.

The Pollo a la Brasa (Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken) is good but certainly not the best Peruvian chicken around. However, the sides are incredible. Try the Cuban black beans; A revelation of creamy and whole black beans with bits of pork. They are soul satisfying and a heaping portion to boot. French fries here are extraordinary. Essentially steak fries, they are greaseless and full of great "potato-ness". Great when dipped in the complimentary sauces which are brought out. Both are mayonnaise based, one mild and the other quite snappy and spicy. La Limena is known for its Anticuchos (Beef Heart) We did not try them on this trip but will the next time we go in.

The star of the show for us was the Pollo ala Parilla. A marinated half a boneless chicken is pounded flat and grilled skin side down over a charcoal grill. It was crisp and moist and utterly delicious.

Everything here is made to order so you may have a small wait for your food. All of the ingredients are fresh. They do not employ the use of freezers so you know you are getting the best possible meal at that time.

Save room for dessert. We had the Alfajores, which are two anise flavored shortbread cookies with a thick layer of caramel sauce in between. Truly unbelievable. Other items in the dessert case looked equally enticing and when you consider that the owner provides the desserts to all the other Peruvian restaurants in town, you can rest assured that no matter what you choose it's going to be good. I'm already looking forward to my next visit.

La Limeña
La Limeña 765-B Rockville Pike (in Ritchie Center), Rockville
Kitchen hours: Open Monday-Thursday, 11-9, Fridays and Saturdays 11-10, Sundays 10-9

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Penzey's Spices

Have you discovered Penzey’s Spices yet? If you are not within driving distance of one of their outposts, I can only offer my condolences. The first time I stepped into Penzey’s I felt like Augustus Gloop facing Willy Wonka’s Room of Edible Everything. Penzey’s features over 250 herbs, spices and spice blends. All of their product is ground fresh in Wisconsin and is not allowed to remain on the shelf for more than 3 weeks.

Fear not, ye geographically challenged readers of mine! Penzey’s entire stock is available on line, direct from Wisconsin at

There are two locations in the Washington DC Metro Area

Rockville, MD
1048 Rockville Pike
(301) 738-8707
Mon-Sat: 10:00AM - 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM - 5:00PM

Falls Church, VA
513 W. Broad Street
(703) 534-7770
Mon-Sat: 10:00AM - 6:00PM
Sun: 11:00AM - 5:00PM

Mandalay Cafe and Restaurant: Lost Gem Found Again

The country of Burma (Myanmar) borders India on one side and Thailand on the other. It’s interesting to see how these two titans have found common ground in the country of Burma which truly seems to be a culinary segue between the two lands.

Some years ago, Steven and I made a few visits to a College Park, MD restaurant called Mandalay, which featured Malaysian, or more specifically, Burmese cuisine. It was basically a “divey” hole-in-the-wall joint in an off-beat locale but with really good food. Alas, we discovered it too late as the restaurant was slated for demolition, it’s location to be turned into condos or townhouses or something. Furthermore, shortly thereafter we moved to Crofton and soon forgot all about this little gem.

As luck would have it, just the other day Steven eyed a short article in the Washington Post heralding the Ginger Salad at Mandalay in Silver Spring, MD. Eureka! We found them again!

We have a couple of regular dine out nights so this past Monday, when Steven asked me what I was thinking for dinner, I gave him a few ho-hum options then added, “but I would really like to go to Mandalay.” In a flash we were off.

The once “divey” hole-in-the-wall joint, has blossomed into a great big “divey” joint. Let’s just say the place is not long on atmosphere. Not to say anything unpleasant, it’s clean, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, but it’s certainly not going to win any prizes for décor… but with food this good, they could serve it out of the back of a pickup truck at the entrance to a dump and I would line up for it.

We started with the Ginger Salad, which is very similar to a Thai Green Papaya Salad. Shredded cabbage is topped with a spicy lime, fish sauce and peanut dressing with shredded ginger and fried garlic chips. You can ask for this dish “vegetarian” which means they will leave off the fish sauce. You can also ask for it “College Park” style, which means it will be really spicy. Apparently, they got complaints that the salad was too intense so they toned down the ginger. We ordered it “College Park” style and didn’t find it overwhelming at all. In fact it was absolutely addictive. As you sit in Mandalay, you will notice that the Ginger salad goes out to almost every table and I understand why, it is simply delicious.

We also ordered the Burmese Samosas, which are smaller than a traditional Indian Samosa with a thinner and crisper shell. They look like Spanakopita triangles filled with well seasoned mashed potatoes and peas and served with a snappy chili sauce that is slightly sweet and really spicy.

For entrees, I chose Mandalay KyetThar which is served room temperature. It’s described as “White meat chicken strips boiled, and served with lemon-soy, crushed peanuts, and sesame seed sauce”. Sounds pleasant enough… but they forget to mention that it’s spicy. The waitress advised that the sauce could only be served very spicy or moderately spicy. Mild was not an option. I like spicy, but I know better than to order something very spicy until I understand exactly what that means to a specific restaurant or cuisine. Steven ordered the Shrimp in Tomato Onion Curry, also ordered moderately spicy. We decided to split everything.

Thank God we ordered them moderately spicy. Both dishes had that sneaky burn that you don’t notice at first, but which continues to get spicier and spicier the more you eat, until your lips are tingling and your mouth is quite literally on fire. Water won’t help you, the rice is little comfort, and it tastes so damn good that you just keep eating making matters worse.

As an added bonus I unwittingly ordered a small bowl of the AChin Yay “Lemon and garlic with hot chili sauce”.

“It makes things a little hotter” said our lovely waitress.

I didn’t realize that Satan made a hot sauce, but apparently he does. It’s called A Chin Yay, and it comes from Burma. It definitely makes things a little hotter. I put some on the Shrimp Curry and the first bite actually made me cough. I am also smart enough to know not to douse my food with an unknown hot sauce until I have gauged the intensity of what I am about to eat. Needless to say, the AChin Yay was used only sparingly after that.

Despite the intensity of the heat, this is really fantastic food. Everything is fresh and tasty, with simple presentations that highlight the direct flavors of the dish. Service was incredibly attentive and friendly. Our waitress gave us many suggestions and we felt like she helped us to choose wisely.

We both had a dessert. In hind sight I would skip it next time around. Steven ordered the ShweJi “cream of wheat, coconut cream, sugar, raisins, and milk, topped with poppy seeds, then baked until light golden brown” and I ordered the Sticky Rice with brown Sugar & Coconut. Stevens’ dessert was the better of the two, mine having been overheated in a microwave. The ShweJi, however was unique and flavorsome, but I have some sugar free fudge bars at home that I would have liked more.

We are delighted to have found this little gem again, and I have the feeling this will be the first of many visits to Mandalay.

Mandalay Cafe and Restaurant
930 Bonifant Street
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Skinny Turkey Piccata

O.k. so this isn’t really a true Piccata, but it’s a great little weeknight dinner for two. I’ve added some things here to make the dish a little more interesting and I’ve replaced the oil and butter with chicken stock to make this “health-friendly”. It’s loaded with flavor, so you won’t miss the extra calories.

Turkey Piccata

4 Turkey Cutlets
¼ cup and 1 Tsp All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Sliced Mushrooms
½ cup Cherry Tomatoes, halved
Juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Pinch of Salt
2 Tbsp Capers

In a wide bowl place the ¼ cup of all purpose flour. Dredge the turkey cutlets in the flour, making sure to shake off any excess, and set aside.
Over medium heat spray a large nonstick sauté pan with Pam (or any other such product) and add the turkey. Cook on one side until almost done and turn over, approximately 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and set aside. To the pan add the mushrooms. Make sure all of the mushrooms have contact with the pan and do not stir them. Let them brown a little before turning. Once the mushrooms have browned add the chicken stock and lemon juice and deglaze the pan. Let the sauce reduce by half and return the turkey cutlets to the pan. Add the cherry tomatoes. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of flour to thicken the sauce. Be careful here, you want a light sauce, nothing too thick. Use less flour, or none at all if your sauce has already thickened. Add the capers. Taste the sauce, and add salt if desired.

Serve immediately over Whole Wheat Penne Rigate. In my opinion, Ronzoni makes the best whole wheat pasta.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Playing with your Food

My old boss and good friend Peter sent these amazing photos. Look carefully, everything in these photos is composed entirely out of food.

Click on the photo to view larger.