Friday, June 24, 2011

Foodie Girls Lunch Brigade - Special Sister Act Edition

We're in DC on vacation this week, sightseeing and sweating a lot*, but mostly visiting my sister.
My sister, aka FG4.
Love that this runs in the family!

Fresh off a tour of the Capital, we walk a few short blocks 
to Eastern Market,  a 136 year old continuously 
operating public market.  FG4 had unearthed 
this place in her pre-visit research.  She done good.  
After a severe fire in 2007, the market's been restored and 
is now populated by a handful of gourmet food vendors, 
including a butcher with an incredible array of artisan 
sausages and prime beef, a fresh pasta stall with about 10 
different flavors of hand-formed ravioli and fresh sauces, a 
woman selling fruit and  flowers, another with rows of cheeses, 
cured meats, and chocolate...the list goes on.  
It has none of the foodie elites of the Ferry Building or the 
toursits of Faneuil Hall.  Instead, it feels just like a great 
neighborhood gathering place for people who like to eat well. 

Our objective, however, was not fixin's for cooking dinner.  
It's VACATION, for heaven's sake.  No, we were headed to 
the one place in the market that serves hot lunch.  Suitably named: 
The Market Lunch.  Due to an unfortunate encounter with a 
wharf full of live crabs and mediocre dinner yesterday, the kids 
recoiled instantly at the thought of anything from the ocean 
coming within shouting distance of their plates, so they headed 
across the street for burgers while we lucky two lined up 
to place our order.
Famous for their breakfasts (fried green tomatoes, blueberry
 buckwheat pancakes, and crab cake benedict) that reputedly 
draw lines out the doors on Saturdays, they are nearly 
as well known for their lunch menu. 

Upon finding out we are newbies, the chipper guy at the
cash register (later identified online as Tom, the owner),  
advises trying the crab cakes and the soft shell crab.  
My sister orders the cod sandwich.  He's slightly offended, 
until I step up and order the crab/crab cake combo.  "That's a lot 
of food," he says.  We know. We don't care.  We live 3000 miles 
away from each other, and this is a special occasion**.  
Throwing in two sweet tea/lemonades and a Diet Coke, 
we move down to wait at the pick up window.
Everybody here is loud.  
When she hands you the red tray, it comes with a brassy, 
"You want tartar sauce or hot sauce with that?" 
The glorious $7 fish sandwich!
With which we DO want tartar sauce.  
Homemade, creamy, tangy, and fantastic.
The cod was melt-in-your mouth delicious.  So fresh that it was 
practically still swimming, flaky but substantial enough to taste 
each piece of mild, creamy fish within the crispy, well-seasoned 
batter.  The bread was yeasty and just chewy enough 
to contain the ingredients and make each bite better than the last.  
This dish was our favorite.  It was also a total steal, price wise.
Oh my goodness!  This plate of food is testament 
to how well the fryer works at The Market Lunch.  
Not cheap at $20, but the quality of the ingredients is amazing. 
The soft shell crab, in the foreground, was just barely dusted 
with cornmeal, crunchy on the outside and sweet and briny inside.  
A great example of why people wait for these to come into 
season every year. And the fries? Seriously decadent. 
Skin on, hand-cut, cooked to perfection.   Wow!
The true test was, of course, the crab cake.  This one was 
very, very good.  Full of sweet lump Dungeness crab,
 still in chunks, and laced with bay seasoning and perhaps a hint 
of curry. One of the best I've had that I didn't make myself. 
Particularly when paired with their "pink sauce": hot sauce 
mixed with mayo and lemon juice. Mmm, mmm!   
The happy sisters, after the feast!
Lest you worry that all we did was eat, here are a few of my other favorite sights from these past few days in the nation's capital.

Giant panda, on the move
Our old house
Public transportation! What a concept...
Decoding a message during our undercover spy mission
Touching a piece of the moon
Lending support
Although it has stood on its own for quite a while 
Seeing the monuments at night is stunning.  
Plus its much, much cooler out, and the crowds have died down.  
Highly recommended!

Freedom, looking a bit shell-shocked by the 
number of 8th graders thronging 
the visitor's lobby at the Capital
On the steps of the Supreme Court, making a mockery of things
Sunset over the Potomac 
* The weather here is truly awful.  I love LA.
** This was such a special occasion that we also had a lot of dessert its honor:
Peanut butter brownie, from Baked & Wired
Pecan Brown Sugar Brownie, Apricot Crumb
 Bar, and Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies, also from 
Baked &Wired.  We did try their cupcakes,
 but their brownies are what we'd go back for. 
The assortment at the good, but not worth waiting 
more than 5 minutes for, Georgetown Cupcakes   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My daughter's into leather

Fruit leather, that is.  But at close to five bucks a box, it's an expensive habit.   When I saw not one, but two posts on how to make this treat at home, I knew it was a sign* that I should put away my credit card and start chopping berries.

Homemade Strawberry Fruit Leather
Of the two recipes on the web, the one from In Sock Monkey Slippers won me over.  Perhaps it was the addition of basil, or the approach of pureeing the mix before cooking.  Either way, it was a great jumping off point.

Our spin on things was to strain out a good portion of the seeds, increase the sugar just a little, and to add some fresh mint.   The end result is like pure concentrated summer, all rolled up.   Call me kinky, but I can't wait to try this with apricots, cherries, or a wild and crazy mix of fruits, stoned or not!

Guess I'm now into leather, too.

About 2 lbs. of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
3/4 c. sugar
generous handful of fresh basil and/or mint leaves
1 1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Line a large (11x17) baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat oven to 175.

Place berries, sugar, herbs and lemon juice in food processor.  Puree for several minutes, until completely smooth.

Taste the mix (Stop! One spoonful is enough!), and decide if you want more or less of anything.  The flavor will get more intense as it dries, so you are really looking to adjust the sugar/acid balance more than anything.

Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan.  I strained mine to remove a good portion of the gritty seeds, but this is optional.   Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer.  Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until slightly thickened.

Pour mixture into prepared baking sheet

Smoothing out to the edges with a spatula.  Bake for 6-8 hours, or overnight, at 175.

It's done when the leather is slightly less shiny, and not sticky to the touch.

The is the cool part!  Trim the edges of the parchment paper that were hanging over the pan, then just roll the leather up, parchment paper and all.  Presto! Instant fruit roll up!  Cut into desired sized rolls with kitchen shears or a sharp serrated knife.

You can keep them stored in an airtight container, for several weeks.

Unroll, peel off the parchment paper, and enjoy in little chewy bites...

Or, wrap around your finger and enjoy all at once.  Either way, yum!! 

* Yes, Mom, I can still hear you.  Loud and clear.  The strawberries were on special this week.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Liberation Lemon Cake

They got out today.

Packed their bags.
Loaded up the car.
Waved goodbye.
Turned the corner.
Hit the gas.
Didn't look back.

After over two and a half years of living on her own with my niece in the back bedroom and basement of her mother-in-law's house, my sister is headed home.  To her husband.   To a house that they own, with a real bedroom for her daughter.  To books and toys and dishes and favorite blankets that languished in storage until they were nearly forgotten.  To a new job, where they are overjoyed to have her.   To a life that, at long last, has a shot at normalcy.

Not a moment too soon.  She's got house guests coming on Monday!

Cream Cheese Lemon Cake
Move over, Miss Grace.  My sister has made her own amazing pound cake recipe even better, creating the moistest, tangiest version of a lemon cake I've ever tasted.   Great on its own, or even more decadent with fresh berries and a dose of fresh whipped cream.   Let freedom ring!

For cake:
1 1/2 c. butter, softened
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
3 c. sugar
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
zest of 1 lemon
6 eggs
2 c. cake flour
1 c. all purpose flour

For glaze:
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3-1/2 c.)
1 1/2-2 c. powdered sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting

Preheat oven to 325.   Butter a bundt pan and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.   Stir in the lemon juice, vanilla, and almond extract, then add the lemon zest.

Add the flour and the eggs alternately, beginning and ending with flour...first add 1 c. of the cake flour, then 3 eggs, then another 1 c. cake flour, then 3 eggs, then the all purpose flour.  Mix well after each addition, scraping down sides of the bowl to make sure the batter is completely combined and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.   Do not overbake!  Cool in pan for about 5-10 minutes.

While cake is cooling, prepare glaze by whisking together the lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth.  The mixture should be pourable in consistency, as opposed to spreadable.  You will want it to soak into the cake.

Invert cake onto serving platter.  It should still be quite warm.   Carefully spoon the glaze over the cake, scooping up any extra that drips off and re-applying.

Allow to cool for another few minutes, then dust with powdered sugar.  As it cools, this dusting of sugar will enhance the formation of a lemony crust all over the cake.

Cut into wedges and serve!