Tuesday, November 29, 2016

#11: Friday Night in Tunisia

Honeyed almond and orange cake for dessert.
Wow, I am REALLY behind on this one. It’s been a busy year and I am really happy to finally have some time to come back to this blog and to the food and people that make it meaningful to me. We kicked off the 2016 You Pick Two season in style with our event in February. As I have said previously, these events and this blog are all about bringing back the dinner party, but they are also exploring varied tastes and cuisines from around the world.  I used to watch a lot of shows dedicated to cooking and entertaining and while they seem to be in a state of retreat (does everything have to be a battle/throwdown/competition???), I still watch a few of them. And you can't talk dinner party and entertaining without mentioning Ina Garten.  One rule for entertaining she states over and over is that you should never try something new when hosting a dinner party. I hear that bit of advice from a lot of people actually. You Pick Two ignores that piece of advice. I cook a ton of food at these events that I have never done before - most work out great. I understand it can make people nervous, but there isn’t time to test out the dishes, so if something goes south then it makes a great story and I learned something. I also find that the recipes I get from the internet and from my collection of cookbooks have been pretty well tested and come together just fine.  Then again, I have been at this for a while.

Ground lamb and beef meatballs over stewed root vegetables.
For this event I turned to my favorite food writer, Nigella Lawson. Her book “Feast” focuses on just the kind of dinner parties that You Pick Two is all about. She includes starters, main courses, desserts, etc. with each one. It’s basically a cooking blueprint for the night. One feast that I always wanted to try was this Night in Tunisia one – partially because I loved the exoticism of it, but partially because I probably won’t ever make it to Tunisia and this is my attempt at understanding the country and its food history. So who did we invite?

We started with some new friends: Aaron and Youngkey. We are attending their wedding in early 2017 and I learned very early on that Aaron is a huge foodie. Not only does he know a lot about what is going on in the restaurant/chef scene, but he’s an excellent cook in his own right. He had us over for brunch where he whipped up homemade gravlax, assembled a waffle station, and made three kinds of quiche. He knows what he is doing, so to me it was an obvious choice to invite them. I also knew that I had to challenge myself and try something new – so the Tunisian feast idea made a lot of sense. Youngkey, or Yk, is his partner (fiance) and is currently a medical resident and works crazy hours. But I knew he had an adventurous palate and is willing to try different types of food.  Moreover, he is a fantastic planner and did what he had to do get them (and their Pick Two) set up and over for dinner. Like I said, they are relatively new friends of ours so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were really happy with who they brought.

The You Pick Two crew, selfie courtesy of Megan.
Megan and Philip are married with two kids and are long-standing friends of theirs, Aaron and Megan used to work together at a law firm (they are both attorneys by training, with Megan still practicing law). Kevin is also an attorney but we were thankful that the night’s conversation didn’t involve the law. Megan also has a really interesting second career in voiceovers/narration. She is the announcer for both the Webby awards and the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

One of the most interesting parts of the night was learning that not only is Philip a producer of TV and film, but he used to work on a lot of food shows while living in NYC – especially Bobby Flay shows. We talked a lot about current food programming and I was able to confirm something I always thought was true: on Iron Chef they know the ingredient ahead of time! However, they do actually make all those dishes in real time – something I didn’t know. I have also always been concerned what happens on these food competition shows in terms of waste, like what happens to all this stuff that is cooked? Philip assured me that all the food does in fact get eaten (there are enormous crews that film and make these shows). Philip left NYC to pursue his own film production business here in DC, which he says is a completely different market. I have no doubt he will succeed.

Harissa paste figured prominently in the cooking.
The food turned out great – everyone enjoyed it and, more importantly, the company and conversation. The brik appetizer was a revelation to me, I have never had that before. I used filo dough (which isn’t necessarily traditional) but what I found interesting is that you squeeze lemon over it after you bake it. Quite good. The brik recipe, from Jamie Oliver, can be found here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/tunisian-brik/

The rest can be found in Nigella’s book, “Feast”. Enjoy!


Friday Night in Tunisia

February 6, 2016

Gentleman’s Fig
Fig infused vodka, bourbon, muddled blueberries, ginger ale

Tunisian Brik
Filo dough with mashed sweet potato, chile,
and spiced filling

Aromatic meatballs
Ground lamb and beef, onion, cinnamon, allspice

Root vegetable stew
Rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, tomato, rose harissa

Vegetable stock, cumin, coriander

Green lettuce and herb salad
Green leaf lettuce, flat leaf parsley,
lemon cumin vinaigrette

Honeyed almond and orange cake
Ground almond and poached orange cake,
honeyed fig topping

Aaron Schwid and Youngkey Chung
Megan Mann and Philip Operé

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

#10: A Stroll Through Koreatown

Our Korean(ish) dinner table.
Wow, it's been a while hasn't it?  I think a lot of people thought the You Pick Two dinners stopped.  Truth is, they did for a bit.  Part of it was life getting in the way, part of it was my spare time increasingly being taken up by the food and drink photography I do for local restaurants and publications (which is great), but part of it was also the unexpected difficulty in getting the next one scheduled.  The idea behind starting this blog was to bring back the dinner party here in DC... not that it was dead universally, but it was nonexistent in our lives.  While we enjoy going out to eat once in a while and meeting people only for drinks or happy hour, I am most happy in either my home or at the home of a friend, having dinner, drinks, and talking about whatever is on our minds.  A few of our friends do that, but I think for a lot of people a scheduled dinner on a Saturday night with several courses that requires them to bring strangers seemed daunting or difficult... and I totally get that.

But to me, those difficulties are kind of the fun thing about this right?  It's new and adventurous and out of the ordinary, but that's exciting.  And I have to confess, beyond having great food, wine, and cocktails, these dinners have become a way for us to get insights into our friends more than anything.  The people they bring tell a lot about how they feel about a dinner party and, most importantly, what they value in a person.  It is an unexpected and welcome result I wasn't expecting but find fascinating.

So when those scheduling conflicts and snafus started to build up, I got a little disillusioned and fell out of my groove for a bit, but, thankfully I am thrilled that we found some new people to come and are anxious for new experiences to be had.  So with that, let's get to this dinner which took place in the waning part of last summer.  Our tenth dinner featured a Korean menu and we invited our two friends Jim and Don.  We met them several years ago through some other folks that Kevin had worked with back in the day, but at the time they were living in Kansas City.  We hit it off with them during visit here but only got to see them a handful times while they lived there.  Well, several years ago they left Kansas City, moved to DC, and landed in their own row house in Petworth.  Jim and Don were an easy fit for these dinners and although we haven't known them as long as some of our other friends, we explained the concept and they were on board immediately.  Jim works at a healthcare consulting firm and his job is what brought them here to DC.  Don left his job in Kansas City in human resources but has since found a similar position here at a real estate research firm.

They brought their new friends and neighbors Lylie (prounced Lilly) and Nick.  Lylie marks the first Australian we have ever had and it was awesome.  She is a foodie with an adventurous palate and she and Nick both love to travel.  Our dinner conversations touched a lot on how the United States is seen in the rest of the world and the places they had visited (which were many).  In those conversations, and from my limited travels abroad, you realize how staid and conservative our country can be on so many issues.  In particular I remember discussing Bondi Beach, which is this amazing popular beach spot right in Sydney.  There are several parts to it, a gay beach, nude beach, etc.  Australians have a more relaxed take on life and I am envious of it.  When our conversation turned to the mundane, in this case iPhone problems, Nick (an attorney for Pew Charitable Trust) thoughtfully steered us back on course.

Preparing the bibimbap.
Kevin took a trip to Seoul about 10 years ago for work and learned a lot of Korean cuisine, which was non-existent where I grew up.  We used to have this little mom and pop place in our neighborhood called Adam Express where Kevin would pick up dinner for us sometimes.  In particular, Kev would get bibimbap - which he had in Korea and loved.  A couple years ago I also started watching Korean Food Made Easy by Judy Joo, who is a very accomplished chef and a regular judge on Iron Chef.  Her approach was laid back and easy to follow.  So a lot of the inspiration and a couple recipes for the meal came from her website.  That bibimbap recipe was a huge hit and a lot of fun to make; branch out and give it a shot.  It's an easy process: you chop up the vegetables, make a seasoning sauce, then saute each vegetable separately in a hot pan with a little of the sauce.  At the table you mix all the vegetables together in your bowl with rice, grilled beef (traditionally), and a sauce made from gochujang paste.

The cocktail was a recipe we found on the internet.  I had a leftover watermelon lying around and Kevin wanted to use the traditional Korean spirit called soju.  Some google searches later, we came across it and are so happy we did.  It was refreshing and delicious.  A little effort to make, but well worth it.  Our touch was adding some sparkling wine to the drink (which is our hallmark) and I recommend doing the same.

One special note here, Jim is gluten intolerant and I had no idea how many Asian ingredients either have soy or some added component or chemical that contains gluten.  Thankfully there are lots of gluten-free products now on the market that taste great - but be aware if that's an issue for you.

Fried mandu.
The revelation from this menu was the mandu.  We have made them a few times since then.  Couple tips, don't overfill and make sure you seal them tightly.  Once you have done a few, you start to get the knack and you can pump out a bunch in no time.  You will need eggless wonton wrappers, but they have them at every Asian Market (Kev got them at Super H Mart).  Lastly, here are the recipes for the grilled Korean style beef, the quick kimchi, and the dessert.  I am not a huge fan of kimchi but this was a mild and tasty one.

My husband thoughtfully assembling the mandu.


A Stroll through Koreatown

August 29, 2015

Watermelon-Soju Sparkler
Fresh watermelon, soju, ginger liqueur, sparkling wine

Pork/beef/tofu dumplings, chile-soy dipping sauce

Sauteed and seasoned vegetables, gochujang sauce,
sticky rice

Korean-style grilled beef
Grilled skirt steak
(ginger, garlic, scallion, gochujang marinade)

Quick kimchi
Sauteed savoy cabbage, sweet/spicy Korean sauce

Baked sweet Korean pastries with sesame seeds

Jim Harlow
Don Maish
Lylie Fisher
Nick Bourke