Red Cabbage Plus A Pound of Bacon ... You Do the Math 03.19.2011

I had no idea what to do with the head of red cabbage sitting on our kitchen counter, but I knew bacon had to be involved.  I've never cooked with red cabbage, and don't eat it often.  But the red cabbage in my hands was gorgeous and I was determined to make magic.

We were having dinner at our friend Tom's, who was making chicken pot pie and a salad.  Good wine would also be involved.  Like Eric, Tom is an exceptional cook, and if I'm making something that he's going to eat, it's a little pressure-inducing.  Having my cooking rejected by Eric or Tom means I'm going to spend at least 20 minutes sulking, and possibly longer in a spiral of cooking shame, over-analyzing their comments, or lack of comments.  

I Googled "red cabbage and bacon" and one of the first recipes to pop up was Braised Red Cabbage with Bacon.  It looked simple and I had all the ingredients, although I did not use all of them, nor did I follow each step.

Before I go into the shocking details of this recipe, I want to emphasize that the aromas emitted during the entire process were worth the calories, fat, and clogged arteries.  Now, on to the recipe.  Here are the ingredients you will need:

             1 medium head red cabbage (the one I used was on the smallish side)
6 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon or other smoked bacon, cut into lardons (about 1/4-by-1/4-by-3/4-inch pieces) (I used a pound)
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar (I ended up using a bit more to cut the bitterness)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used heaping tablespoons)
1/3 cup cider vinegar (Did not use at all)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1.  First, cut out the white core of the cabbage; cube the cabbage and cut 1/4-inch-thick slices, and set aside.

2.  Then chop the raw bacon into small pieces and throw them into large pan on the stove, stirring frequently until all the pieces are cooked.

3.  Using a slotted spatula -- and leaving the bacon fat in the pan -- scoop out the cooked bacon pieces and place them in a steel colander to drain.  Note that this is the only healthy move in this recipe.

4.  Keep the bacon fat on stove and throw in the chopped onions.  The smell of cooking bacon was amazing, but the smell of onions cooking in bacon fat -- wow.  Sprinkle the onions with salt and fresh black pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are brown at the edges.

5.  Next -- and this is the shocking part -- add the cabbage into the bacon fat and coat.  You may have coated this much bacon fat around something, but I have not.  I knew it was wrong to coat anything -- even bacon -- in bacon fat, but it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever done in the kitchen.  Absolutely gorgeous!  

6.  Cook until the cabbage begins to wilt, and then stir in brown sugar and mustard.  It was at this point that I had a taste and decided more brown sugar was needed.  I used light brown sugar because we were out of dark.  By the way, I love brown sugar -- dark and light.  Is it be because I'm Indian?  Maybe.  I may have to write an essay about the beauty and versatility of brown sugar.

7.  It is at this point that I stopped following the recipe, primarily because I was getting late, but also because the word “deglaze” makes me anxious.  The next step is to deglaze the pan with cider vinegar, and scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Then, add the chicken broth and simmer for 45 minutes "until the cabbage is soft and soupy and bacon is tender".  Wow.  I skipped a huge step.  

Let be known, however, that the cabbage in bacon turned out beautifully.  It was far from soupy, and absolutely delicious.  It was difficult to resist a second helping.  When you've personally coated something in bacon fat, you know when to stop.

I also recommend having this with chicken pot pie.  The two tastes were harmonious and satisfying.  We drank Byron 2008 Chardonnay, which I did not like right away, but as the meal went on, it grew on me.  It was not a typical Chardonnay taste and had a bit of dryness to it.  I would buy it again.

If you try this recipe to the letter, write and let me know what you think.


Finding Love in Fairfax 03.16.2011

Back in August, I was having dinner with some colleagues and asked Eric if he could recommend a restaurant in Fairfax -- an area as alien to me as Rio.  Eric came up with Villa Mozart, which is neither German, nor a villa.  The three of us showed up there a tad early, and I immediately became doubtful of Eric's choice -- not a first, but a rarity.  

The maitre d' was rushing around in an empty restaurant, presumably getting ready for dinner seating.  The restaurant slowly filled up, but not completely.  Sure, it was a Wednesday, but after I tasted the food, it was beyond me why Villa Mozart wasn't packed.  And that sentiment was confirmed the second and third time I ate at the restaurant.

The restaurant space is small and the decor very crisp, but not cold.  There is no bar, so don't plan to arrive early to wait at the bar.  The hostess will, however find you a glass of wine while you're milling about in the front hall.  

I've now had dinner twice at Villa Mozart, and most recently, lunch.  The second time I went to the restaurant for dinner, the space could barely contain the many diners.  During my recent lunch, I was at one of two seated tables.  My two companions and I agreed that the meal was outstanding.  

To start, I had the beef carpaccio, which had a thick sun dried tomato sauce underneath.  I could not pin point the sun dried tomato taste because I it -- oddly -- reminded me of Indian pickles.  I finally asked the waiter.  The carpaccio was delicate -- sliced beautifully thin.  The taste was mild, but a solid combination with the sun dried tomato.  

For my main course, I had the gnocchi puttanesca.  I'm a spoiled when it comes to puttanesca:  Eric makes delicious pasta puttanesca with a serious kick to it.  He's has to tone it down for the kids, but it still takes my breath away.  The gnocchi puttanesca at Villa Mozart was on the mild side, but still flavorful.  I could not taste or smell the anchovies, which was okay with me, and the serving size was satisfying.  I would have loved a glass of red wine with my meal, but, alas, work and a long drive home.

My two dining companions each got creme brule for dessert, and offered me a bite, to which I said no thank you.  And this is where I may have made a career limiting move.  

"I do not like creme brule," I told the offeror.

"Who doesn't like creme brule?" the offeror asked.

"Creme brule is overrated."  I said.


Look, I get it.  It's a custard with a crispy top layer.  But come on:  it's everywhere and it's overdone.  And so what if it has a crispy top layer?  I've seen friends using that torch and the appeal may have to do with using a power tool, rather than the taste.  I can do without creme brule.  

I was full and happy and didn't care to look at other dessert options, but had a cup of coffee.

Villa Mozart is a bit out of the way for me, but I will go back.  With delicious food and a strong wine list, why wouldn't I?  

Chef:  Andrea Pace

Villa Mozart
4009 Chain Bridge Road
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.

Monday - Saturday
5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Gledis' Green Cilantro Sauce 03.03.2011

Gledis is a tall, relaxed woman.  She smiles a lot, and moves with the same ease whether she's making a cup of coffee or cooking for 20 people.  I am sometimes-chef to a family of four, a task that evokes great anxiety.  But Gledis?  Ask her to cook for 20 people and she doesn't bat an eyelash.  Clearly, she has super hero powers which she has decided to use for good. 

Gledis has cooked most of her life, gaining a strong culinary foundation by watching her mother cook. Through our translator, Ceci, Gledis said she wanted to see how things were made, so she followed her mother.  She also was her mother's food taster -- a key task for young cooks. 

Gledis is one of four girls in a family of nine children from Sabana Sucre, a small town in Colombia.  She and her sisters were urged to cook for survival and strong marriage prospects.  I asked if any of the boys were imparted that message and Gledis gave me a "are you kidding?" look.

She took over cooking responsibilities for her family when she was 12 years old.  Her father was a hunter, so some dinner staples included deer and rabbit.  When Gledis was 16 years old, she moved with her grandmother to Cartagena to finish school; there was no high school in her hometown. She has since then been cooking for families.

On our first day in Cartagena, we were treated to a lunch made by Gledis and she had prepared the cilantro sauce as a salad dressing.  The sauce is reminiscent of green chutney (cilantro and mint) in Indian cooking, but is thinner and unlike the Indian chutney, contains mustard and olive oil, and is light green color.  I loved dipping flattened, fried plantains in the sauce, and mixed it into paella, and on the last lunch of our trip, in a chicken and mushroom dish mixed with rice.    

Paella with Gledis' green cilantro sauce in the distance.
Gledis' Cilantro Sauce


  • 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

1.  Put cilantro, olive oil, and lime in blender.  Mix.

2.  Then put remaining ingredients in blender and continue to mix until cilantro is fine and the mixture is liquid

That's it.  Enjoy!

For Gledis' recipe for arepas de heuvos, click HERE.

La Cevicheria 03.02.2011

On the plane ride to Cartagena, I sat next to a man named Rafael, who is from Colombia and lives in Florida.  He works in the music business and was headed to Cartagena with a group of friends for the weekend.  We got into a conversation about our favorite things to do in Cartagena and he suggested I eat at La Cevicheria.  Incredible recommendation.  

We didn't get to La Cevicheria, which was right next to our hotel, until our last full day.  It's a small restaurant with several tables outside, reasonably priced, and stellar service.  There is a lot of people activity on the streets of Cartagena, not to mention gorgeous weather starting in the early evenings, so we sat outside.  

I first tried ceviche in 1994 in Bogota at a family event preceding my brother's wedding.  Since then I've eaten both good and bad ceviche, but mostly good.  And it doesn't matter which fish is used, but I am averse to squid and octopus due to texture issues.

The menu at La Cevicheria featured about 12 ceviches (and a long list of other dishes) and the waiter was kind enough to point out which included squid and/or octopus.  He then brought out three empty bowls to show me which sizes I could order (small, medium, large).  I ordered a basic pascado ceviche in small, and a medium shrimp ceviche.  The basic fish knocked my socks off.  I'm not sure how long the fish had been sitting in lime liquid, but every bit of the fish had absorbed the lime.  Truly remarkable ceviche.  

I then tried the shrimp ceviche and it was a bit of a let down after the intensity of the fish.  Also, the amount of ceviche I had eaten was so satisfying.  I was determined to try more than one, but it really wasn't necessary.

We had dinner with friends later that evening but I did not eat.  That small bowl of ceviche (and the unnecessary shrimp) kept me happy for hours.