Archive for January, 2009
Usually when I threaten to order half the menu at a restaurant, I’m joking. But at Lark, I was quite serious. Located on an easy-to-miss block of Capitol Hill, this gem specializes in intricate, small plates with bold flavors and surprising combinations. For example, the roasted eel with saba and new potato salad ($12, pictured above, left) paired a predictably sweet and sticky eel fillet with a most unlikely and delicate (you guessed it) potato salad. This was one of my favorite dishes – my only regret was sharing it with three other people.
Lark’s menu is designed for family-style ordering, but with more than 2 people at your table, each plate portions out to an amuse-bouche or so. As a result, we nearly ended up ordering most of the menu! Every dish was delectable and I appreciated the variety of our dinner, but I couldn’t help feeling unsatiated. I respect the “small bites” philosophy and I enjoy that manner of eating, but with flavors so compelling, there was a discord between my stomach and my wallet.
Even so, I would recommend Lark for foodies and adventurous eaters. Of particular note were the Carpaccio of Yellowtail with preserved lemons and green olives ($15, pictured top right), the Crispy Liberty Farm duck leg with watercress and pomegranate salad ($11, pictured middle right), and the Valrhona chocolate hazelnut mousse with cocoa ladyfingers and candied hazelnut ($8, pictured bottom right). You may want to consider ordering two of each!
This is one of the first things I learned to make when I started cooking on my own. It’s simple, hard to mess up, and delicious. Plus, its a pretty cheap way to dress up plain chicken.
Makes: 4 servings
Total kitchen time: 25 minutes
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 cup red wine (use a bottle you’d actually drink)
- 4 cups (about 2 packages) crimini or white mushrooms, sliced
- 1 tbsp. Herbs de Provençe (seasoning blend)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat the butter an oil together in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the shallot and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.
- Add the red wine and stir to deglaze the pan. The shallots will have started to brown just slightly, leaving wonderful sticky stuff on the bottom of the pan. The acid from the wine will cause those brown bits to release and get reincorporated into the liquid. That’s called deglazing.
- Bring the wine to a boil and let it reduce for about 1 minute.
- Add the mushrooms, stirring to mix everything together. Add the salt, pepper and herbs de Provençe. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft and tender.
- To serve, spoon the mushrooms over chicken, pasta, steak, or whatever else your heart desires.
Pictured above, I’ve topped some Hens Provençal with a generous helping of the mushrooms. I also added some butternut squash, sweet potatoes and turnips to the roasting pan for a bit of extra color and flavor.
If you love to entertain, but your wallet is still sore from Christmas shopping, try a few of surprise bargains. Just because your stocks tanked doesn’t mean its time for canned cheese.
Oysters Rockefeller (pictured above)
Nothing says “classy party” quite like a plate of oysters. However, not everyone enjoys the slimy, raw mollusks as much as you do. This classic recipe adds chopped greens, bacon and bread crumbs, then bakes the whole shebang for delicious, elegant bite. If you shop with a keen eye, you can get 1-2 oysters for a buck, making them a reasonably priced treat after all.
Serving beef doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank. Rather than serving this rich entree, try my bite-size version. I ended up paying less than $1 per piece, but all the guests just remembered getting to eat great beef!
A lot of chocolate and a little rosemary goes a long way to producing memorable dessert bites. Rather than splurge for artisanal bonbons, try this bulk-batch recipe. Your guests will ooh and aah at the sophistication of what would otherwise be regular fudge.
If you’re not an expert baker (I’m certainly not), but you’re somehow in charge of dessert, try this easy chocolate tart with a kick of ginger. Thinly sliced candied ginger says “Celebration!” and the richness of this tart means you can serve small slices, stretching your dollar all that much further.
I love the richness and elegance of beef wellington, particularly for fancy winter dinners. Beef wellington, if you haven’t had it before, is a medium rare slab of steak, topped with fois gras and mushrooms, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. The dish can be an expensive proposition, so I’ve transformed it into economical hors d’oeuvres.
Makes: about 30 bites
Total kitchen time: 25 minutes (longer if starting with rare tenderloin)
- 2 1 lb. fully cooked beef tenderloins (available at Trader Joe’s seasonally)
- 4 Oz. pâté (chicken or duck will work fine)
- 2 12” square sheets of puff pastry, thawed but still cold
- Toothpicks, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the top rack in the middle of the oven.
- If you are starting with an uncooked beef tenderloin, season it to taste and cook until rare. Allow the tenderloin to come to room temperature before carving, at least 30 minutes. If using pre-cooked tenderloin, remove from the packaging and wipe all sides dry with paper towels. Cut the tenderloin into long, 1” square strips. You should get about 3 good strips per tenderloin; the rest can be saved for excellent next-day sandwiches!
- Line a baking sheet with parchment or a non-stick mat. Lay out one sheet of puff pastry and place the cut tenderloin about 1/2” from the top edge. Spread a little of the pâté on top of the tenderloin. Then, carefully fold the puff pastry over the tenderloin, rolling the meat and the dough until you’ve completely encased the tenderloin. Press the dough down at the seam to seal it. Using a sharp knife, cut the sealed portion of dough away and place on the baking sheet. Repeat for a total of three “logs” per sheet of puff pastry.
- Bake until the puff pastry is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes before cutting. Slice each “log” into 1” pieces, skewer with a toothpick, and serve!
We were able to save a little cash by using chicken pâté instead of expensive (and rare) fois gras. We also left out the mushroom mixture you usually find in beef wellington – for our purposes, the mushrooms would be a little messy since they’d fall out the sides of the cut pieces. Trust me, your guests won’t miss them.
When I attended the Seattle Chocolate Festival last year, my eyes were opened to a whole world of savory chocolates. I tried basil, lavender, cayenne… even tequilla-flavored chocolate. This rosemary fudge is surprisingly quick and simple to make, and is a wonderful twist on a bake sale favorite.
Makes: about 2 lbs.
Total kitchen time: 30 minutes
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 2 tea bags, a tea infuser, or cheesecloth
- 12 Oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 Oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. gray salt, sea salt, or black salt (don’t substitute table salt)
- Strip the rosemary needles off of the twig and pulverize them in a mortar and pestle to release their inner oils. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, put the rosemary in a plastic bag and rough it up with a rolling pin.
- Divide the rosemary between the two tea bags. Pour the condensed milk into a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the tea bags and submerge, being careful not to let the rosemary spill out. Bring the condensed milk to a simmer (you’ll see wisps of steam) then remove from the heat and let the rosemary steep in the milk for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line the inside of a shallow 8”x8” baking dish with parchment or aluminum foil. Try to get the foil as smooth as possible, so it doesn’t leave wrinkles in the finished fudge.
- Remove the tea bags from the saucepan, pressing them against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon to release as much flavor as possible back into the condensed milk.
- Add the chocolates and baking soda to a large glass or metal bowl and stir until the baking soda is evenly distributed. Add the condensed milk and place the bowl on top of a pot of boiling water to form a double boiler. Gently stir until the chocolate is almost fully melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue stirring until the chocolate mixture is smooth.
- Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the salt evenly across the surface of the chocolate. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. To serve, remove the block of fudge from the baking dish and cut into 1” pieces.
You can also try this recipe with sage, basil, or anything else that sounds good to you.