Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chocolate Indulgence

There’s great stuff going on in the Chocolate world these days. Artisan chocolate companies are popping up all over the country like mushrooms in spring.

In Columbia, Missouri, Alan McClure is producing an amazing product. Alan is the owner and solitary force behind Patric Chocolates (Yes, there is no “k” at the end. No, I don’t know why). Alan produces micro-batch chocolates from scratch, by hand, doing all the work himself from start to finish. He offers two varieties of chocolate bar. The first is a 70% dark chocolate bar, and the second being a 67% dark chocolate bar, the later slightly mellowed by cacao butter that Alan also makes himself from scratch by hand, culled from raw cacao beans.

The first bar has only two ingredients, chocolate and sugar; the second, chocolate sugar and cacao butter. As quoted in a recent article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch “If you have to add vanilla, the quality of the cacao you're using isn't good enough to begin with."

He has elevated the simple chocolate bar to highest level of culinary delights. The flavor of his product is almost indescribable. It’s as if you are tasting chocolate for the first time. Like a great glass of wine, the experience floods you with the flavors and aromas of citrus, chicory, berries, spice and more. You can purchase his products on the internet and they are well worth the investment.

Mai Thai: Carlos and Steve WERE Impressed

Guest Blogger: Steve Scott

We were impressed!

Confession: I am sick and tired of Thai restaurants. Partly because I am guilty of ordering the same things repeatedly and partly because mediocre Thai restaurants can be found on every corner nowadays.

Mai Thai is completely hidden by construction scaffolding. It is on the first floor of an office building that is undergoing a complete renovation. (I don't know why, it seemed to be a perfectly good building before). I have ignored Mai Thai countless times, even before it was hidden by scaffolding. Carlos and I decided to give them a chance.

Once you brave the scaffolding maze, you are rewarded by entering into a beautiful & peaceful dining room. The hectic street and construction disappear as soon you walk in. Service was perfect, especially for a hurried lunch crowd. How do they train people to be so attentive and competent?

We started with spring rolls. Two long, slendor spring rolls served with standard dipping sauce. OK, but in retrospect, probably not worth the calories.

Now to the good stuff. Carlos, our Pad Thai enthusiast, insisted it was really good and suggested I sample. He was not kidding! It made me love Pad Thai again. Fresh, perfectly balanced ingredients. I ordered the special, therefore, I don't remember the name and can't find it on the regular menu. Four large steamed shrimp in a bed of minced chicken and sprinkled with crabmeat. The minced chicken was slighty sweet and spicy. The shrimp had a perfect texture and the crabmeat was a heavenly treat. It was presented nicely and tasted even better. It was served with a bowl of white rice. My instinct was to skip most of the rice. Until I tasted it - yummy!

Since Mai Thai passed the "Carlos/Steve Pad Thai Test", we decided to give them the "Carlos/Steve Sticky Rice & Mango test". After the sticky rice and mango failure we experienced last week at another restaurant, I was a bit hesitant. Not to worry, it was the real deal. The sticky rice was exactly as you would want it. Just sweet, sticky, & warm enough. True comfort food. The mango was fresh and flavorful. If Patrick was around, we might have ventured into more exotic territory on the menu. But, Carlos and I like the standards. Mai Thai does the standards well. We will be back.

Mai Thai
1200 19th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20036
(Also located at 6 King Street in Oldtown Alexandria)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Butter vs. Margarine

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a poll posing the question “which do you prefer butter vs. margarine?”, and the overwhelming response (from the 10 or 12 of you that voted), was that butter was the spread of choice in your homes. My good friend Lisa sent this email to me, which had been emailed to her from our good friend Michael, which had come to him via email from an unknown source, as so many interesting facts do, emphatically supporting that butter is better.
Here is the email:

Pass the butter. Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys. When it killed the turkeys, the people who had put all the money into the research wanted a payback so they put their heads together to figure out what to do withthis product to get their money back. It was a white substance with no foodappeal so they added the yellow coloring and sold it to people to use inplace of butter. How do you like it? They have come out with some clevernew flavorings. DO YOU KNOW...the difference between margarine and butter? Read on to the end...gets very interesting!

  • Both have the same amount of calories.
  • Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams compared to 5 grams.

  • Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53% over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent Harvard Medical Study.
  • Eating butter increases the absorption of many other nutrients in other foods.

  • Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few only because they are added!

  • Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods.

  • Butter has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years.
And now, for Margarine..!
  • Very high in trans fatty acids.

  • Triple risk of coronary heart disease.

  • Increases total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)

  • Increases the risk of cancers up to five fold.
    Lowers quality of breast milk.

  • Decreases immune response.

  • Decreases insulin response.

And here's the most disturbing fact.... HERE IS THE PART THAT IS VERYINTERESTING. Margarine is but ONE MOLECULE away from being PLASTIC..This fact alone was enough to have me avoiding margarine for life and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added,changing the molecular structure of the substance).You can try this yourself: Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it in your garage or shaded area. Within a couple of days you will note a couple of things: no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something) It does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value; nothing will grow on it. Even those teeny weeny microorganisms will not a find a home to grow. Why? Because it is nearly plastic. Would you melt your Tupperware and spread that on your toast?

Compelling stuff ... except that most of it is not true.

Margarine was not developed as a turkey fattener. Margarine was developed by a French man, Hippolyte Mege-Mouries in 1869 at the request of the King of France (Napolean III), who was looking for a substitute to butter. It does however contain polyunsaturated fat which can reduce both your good and your bad cholesterol and has been linked to colon cancer.

As far as the chemical properties being just one molecule different than plastic, this statement is really inconsequential. “Plastic” does not refer to a specific chemical compound but any number of chemical compounds which may have a myriad of inferences. The definition of “Plastic” simply means a compound which is malleable and can be molded into a shape. Both margarine and butter can do that. In that sense, they are both plastic. Many things are molecularly close to others, but that does not make them the same thing.

So the verdict is this: both butter and margarine are bad for you. Butter is high in saturated fats, which boils down to cholesterol, however, I believe that butter in moderation is better for you than margarine, simply because it is a natural, unprocessed product, and it sure tastes good. However, if you consider products like Benecol, Smart Balance or some the new Olive Oil spreads those are probably better for you in the long run than butter, but given that choice I would simply turn to Olive Oil, a truly good fat that can lower your bad cholesterol and help to raise your good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ode to a Grecian Olive Oil

After seeing my poll on which country produces the best olive oil my good friend John gave me a bottle of home pressed olive oil from his mother-in-law’s own olive tree orchard from the state of Patras in the Katoahaia region, near the Ionian Sea in Greece. The olive oil is fantastic; very fresh, clean and herbaceous with a nice peppery bite. At home we have been concentrating on eating healthy and I find olive oil to be essential in that endeavor. In honor of our new Grecian olive oil, I put together this very quick and easy recipe last night. Thanks to John and Katrin (John’s lovely wife) for the inspiration.

Grecian Lemon-Garlic Chicken

2 Chicken Breasts, sliced thin
4 Cloves of Garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 Tbsp Grecian Olive Oil
½ Tsp Salt
Cracked Pepper
¼ cup Chicken Broth
Juice of One Lemon
1 Tbsp Capers
1 oz Reduced Fat Feta Cheese Crumble
Chopped Parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl and top with the pressed garlic (if you do not have a garlic press, then simply mince the garlic very fine until it makes a paste consistency), 1 Tbsp Olive Oil (reserve 1 Tbsp), salt and pepper. Mix well to coat all the chicken. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, heat the additional olive oil over medium high heat until you see it shimmer across the pan. Add the chicken and sauté until almost done, approximately 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice and continue to sauté until the juice of the lemon has reduced in half. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth. Be sure to scrape up all the bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan to bring up all that luscious flavor. Remove from the heat and add the Capers, Feta Cheese and Chopped Parsley. Stir to warm the remainder of the ingredients and serve immediately over Grecian Bulgur Wheat Pilaf.

Serves 3-4

Grecian Bulgur Wheat Pilaf

2 Cups Chicken Broth
1 tsp Grecian Olive Oil
1 Cup Uncooked Organic Bulgur Wheat
¼ Cup Kalamata Olives, sliced
½ Cup Cherry or Grape Tomatoes cut in half
¼ Cup Sliced Almonds

In a covered pot heat the Chicken Broth and olive oil until it boils. Add the Bulgur Wheat and the remaining ingredients and let the mixture return to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir the mixture well and serve.

Serves 3-4

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Chilean Olive Oil: Who Knew?

Provided by Guest Blogger: Ross Davis

After a recent trip to Chile, Ross and his wife made this great culinary discovery;

"The same reasons that made the country Chile a wine and fruit leader in the world now apply to olive oil.

Elvio Olave is a wine world innovator who's recently turned to olive oil. Best, he's got Chile's magnificent geography on his side. Andes on the east, desert on the north, Antarctica on the south, and the Pacific on the west provide protection from disease and pests, as well as allowing Olave to grow many different olive varieties in the same region. A veritable UN in a bottle, Elvio is cultivating and blending pan-European varietals to produce his oil: Frantoio, Coratina, Arbequina, and Leccino. His oil is fresh, very fruity, and unique, with some high bitter tones in the finish. Very impressive."

Ross adds: "The bottles we brought back were very grassy and had hints of fresh herbs."

Malaysia Kopitiam: Carlos and Steve were not impressed

Written by Guest Blogger: Steve Scott

Many is the occasion that Carlos meets me for lunch since we work close to each other. We typically go the same one or two places, but for a change of pace, we decided to try Malaysia Kopitiam, a restaurant Patrick and I used to go to years ago and really liked.

We were not impressed.

Upon entering the restaurant, one is overwhelmed by the musky, bleachy odor often found in basement restaurants. The smell is blended with a raw chicken smell that I found offensive.

The waitress was friendly and professional, but the service seemed to move a bit slow, especially by the time we got to dessert. Maybe we were just in a hurry.

Like many Asian restaurants, I found it difficult to make a good "health conscious" choice for lunch. I asked the waitress for a recommendation of a popular dish. She suggested Chicken Curry, which is a particular favorite of mine. The Chicken Curry was bland despite being billed as spicy. The chicken was on the bone, which is something I detest. It looked as if they just chopped up part of a whole warm chicken and dropped it in the curry sauce. It was served with white rice.

Carlos ordered a dish he picked out on his own with a name that I cannot remember and cannot pronounce. I tasted it and liked it. He said it was 'ok'. Basically, it was beef chow fun (stir-fried beef and wide band rice noodles) mixed with spinach leaves and bean sprouts. It was not very interesting or inspiring, but, at least it looked and tasted better than mine.

The prices seemed high for a casual, Asian restaurant in a dark musky basement at lunch time. Of course, being downtown raises the price of everything.

For dessert Carlos ordered Mango and Sticky Rice and was really excited about it - until he got it. The mango was hard, not ripe at all. When we complained the staff insisted it was fine. The tiny glob of rice was drenched in a sickening gooey sauce. I had a little taste of the Mango (yuk) and the sticky rice (lame). It didn't really seem like sticky rice, just a glob of rice with a bigger glob of gooey stuff on top.

We both enjoyed going on the adventure, and it was still fun to break out of our routine. I don't know if they have gotten lazy, or we ordered the wrong things, or they simply offer crappy stuff for lunch, but, there is certainly no need to go back.