Archive for February, 2009

Swiss Chard au Gratin

February 16, 2009

It was a cookbook Christmas for me this year, and I’ve been working through some of the recipes.  I’ve been trying to eat a little healthier, and have found some surprisingly good recipes in my Weight Watchers cookbook, including this delicious, decedent, and only 1 POINT side: Swiss Chard au Gratin.

Swiss Chard is the showiest of the greens: bright red stalks that rib the leaves, and beautiful green leaves.  They have great nutritional benefits, and aren’t so scary that a spinach fan will balk at this colorful “green.”  When you buy them fresh (which I think is the only way to buy Swiss chard), the leaves are huge, so be prepared to do a little chopping. 

When I bought them from my local Whole Foods the first time, none of the tags actually said “Swiss chard.”  I think I may have bought red chard, but they’re all similar enough that you shouldn’t pass up one because it isn’t labeled “Swiss.”  Brian brought home a smaller-leaf variety when I made this dish for a dinner party, and it tasted just as delicious.

One large bunch is enough for a side dish of two large portions (Weight Watchers POINTS: 2).  Make sure you wash it well, rubbing the area in the grooves of the ribs.

While you’re preparing the chard, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and set a large pot of salted water to boil.

First, cut the ribs out of the leaves so that you’re left with a pile of leafy parts and ribs:

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Place the chard ribs into the boiling water and boil for about 5 minutes.  The water will turn red too, so don’t be creeped out. 

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While the stalks are boiling, cut down the leaves to more manageable pieces. 

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After the 5 minutes of stalk boiling are up, put the leaves into the same pot.  The chard will cook down fairly quickly, so you can add any overflow to the pot as room becomes available.

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While the chard is cooking, shred 1/3 cup of reduced-fat Jarlsberg cheese.  Jarlsberg basically tastes like a mild Swiss cheese (ooh…Swiss cheese and Swiss chard!  That might be dee-swiss-ious).  If you’re not concerned about POINTS value, add a bit more cheese.

When the Swiss chard is done boiling, drain it over the sink, and press dry with paper towels.  Layer the ingredients Swiss chard (stalks and leaves), 1/2 the Jarlsberg, and 1/2 a tablespoon of grated Parmesan, and sprinkle with ground pepper.  Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese and pepper.  Bake on the top rack in the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly – about 20 minutes.

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This certainly doesn’t feel like diet food, is beautiful, and was a hit at a dinner party with a notoriously picky eater!

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Nutritional content for 1/4 serving of casserole: 50 Calories, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 gram trans fat, 7 mg Cholesterol, 736 mg sodium, 3 grams Carbohydrate, 0 gram Fiber, 5 grams protein, 53 mg Calcium.

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Blue Duck Tavern

February 9, 2009

My dad is hard to please when it comes to food.  Part of the problem is that he (like all of us in my family) finds pleasure in food more than most other activities.  When we talk about travel, we talk about what we ate.  When we talk about what we did for the weekend, we talk about what we ate.  And when Dad comes to visit, we plan where we’re going to eat.  We had a great dinner at Corduroy, a decent dinner at the now defunct 21P, and a bit of a disappointment at Brasserie Beck (which killed me because we had such an incredible meal the time before). 

There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right place, and with his wonderful girlfriend and her parents joining us for a holiday dinner out, we decided on our favorite restaurant in DC: Blue Duck Tavern.

Blue Duck Tavern

The setting:
Blue Duck is connected to the Park Hyatt in the West End, and the restaurant is reached through massive wooden front doors.  The foyer and lounge is sleek marble, with the tables and chairs looking like a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse.

As a party of 8, we were seated in an alcove of a room for privacy, away from the hustle of the open kitchen.  However, you have to walk through the edge of said kitchen to get to the restrooms – a move that’s strategic since they march you right by the heavenly apple pies.

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On this occasion, I asked if I could take a picture of the kitchen, and was jokingly told, “We’re going to have to confiscate your camera.”  Alison believed he server (Alexander – who we’ve had before – he’s fabulous) and protested that I had a little food blog and they couldn’t take my camera.  Instead, Alexander took me over to meet the chef

The service:
Servers at Blue Duck seem to have just the right balance of formality and familiarity.  They were responsive to our needs, and made excellent recommendations (and I should have listened to what our server was suggesting…)   I think the vignette above about taking pictures of the kitchen perfectly illustrates the type of service you’ll get at Blue Duck.

I also have to mention because it was so cool when it happened…when we were served our entrees, multiple servers brought the plates and served us from the right side at the same time – it felt very fancy and old school.

The food:
To me, what’s so great about the food at Blue Duck is that I recognize what it is and where it came from.  The menu lists the farmers who provide the food, and you have the feeling that what you’re eating is seasonal – an old fashioned “new” trend.

Since we were here in winter, it just seemed appropriate to eat meat that had been slow cooked.  I opted for the lamb shank, whereas the men in my life (Dad, Brian, and Matt – future brother-in-law) out ordered me with the short ribs.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Oh, those short ribs…to die for.  Really.  Warm, flavorful, comforting.  My lamb shank (above) was good, but the short rib (below) was better.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

The sides are my favorite things at Blue Duck, and what side do you think is the best in my humble opinion?  You guessed it: the grits.  It is very rare to find a restaurant that does grits correctly.  I’ve been to many places in the south that don’t make them as well as my grandfather did (one, they were so wonderful…slow cooked over a double boiler with butter and salt…) and it’s usually laughable what passes for grits up here.  But Blue Duck makes them creamy and delicious – usually flavored by another ingredient in season.  We ordered two for the table to share, and none went to waste.

The duck fat fries are also excellent – triple cooked, one blanched in water, and the twice fried with duck fat – have a great outside crunch with a velvety interior – I just wish I could train my palate not to want ketchup with them!

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Even though you might be stuffed from a decadent and heavy dinner, do not forgo dessert.  The “individual” (read: feeds 3) apple pie with hand churned ice cream is not to be missed.  It isn’t overly sweet, and you can really taste the freshness and wholesomeness of the apples.  Delicious.

Blue Duck Tavern by you.

Blue Duck Tavern is my favorite restaurant in DC for a reason, and it didn’t disappoint on this trip as a great spot for 3 generations at one table, and for impressing a hard to please foodie father…

Best for: Celebrating the little big ocassions –  a new job, a holiday, or 11-month anniversary.

Worst for: Watching your budget and waistline.