Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Cookies

Please don't blame me. I take no responsibility for the following recipe. Blame the 16.4 inches of snow and the resultant three days I was stuck in my house surrounded by naught but butter, sugar and chocolate.

On Saturday, chocolate chip cookies sounded like a tasty prospect; gooey chocolate brownies were a necessity on Sunday, but an attempt that was left half baked and in an unattactive, over-gooey heap thanks to an unexpected dinner escape to Commonwealth. But come Monday night, I was standing over the pan eating the crumbly bits (no calories!), feeling not a little sad at the prospect of throwing away such delicious, if undercooked brownies, when I realized that the bits looked an awful lot like chocolate chips. Hey, chocolate is chocolate, right? So with a little further crumbling, a lot more baking, and the promise of sexual favors if my husband would run to the store for more sugar, brownie cookies were born.

Crazy? Maybe. Overly decadent? Perhaps. Worth being stuck in our itty bitty apartment for three blizzard-filled days? You bet.

Brownie Cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter flavored Crisco
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups leftover brownies - the more underbaked the better - crumbled into bits (homemade recipe below, but box versions would be just as good)

Set the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375.

Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a large bowl or mixer, beat together the butter, both sugars and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add in the flour, a cupful at a time, until fully incorporated. Stir in the brownie bits by hand.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 11-12 minutes (cookies will be slightly underdone but will firm up as they cool).

Outrageous Brownies
Recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs
3 tbsp instant coffee granules
2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter and flour a 12x18x1-inch baking sheet.

Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt. Add the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hail to the Sheep

I have long been turned on to the magic that is goat's milk cheese. Whether its fresh chevre in a salad or the tangy hint of goat cheese in a luscious berry topped cheesecake, call me a fan. But though I frequently peruse the myriad cheese plates gracing our local restaurants' menus, I didn't fully appreciate just how darn good sheep's milk cheese can be until this weekend.

While wandering around the Dupont Farmers Market - my favorite Sunday morning pastime - I saw a stall I hadn't really noticed before, Everona Dairy, where they were handing out delicious samples of their farmstead sheep's milk varieties left and right. Not only did I walk away with a hefty hunk of nutty Piedmont, their signature cheese, but I also got a tub of their Rapidan spread, a tapenade-style dipping 'sauce' that's got the Piedmont cheese mixed right in. Dolloped into a pot of hot orzo with some fresh basil and chopped heirloom tomatoes thrown in for good measure, we had one of my favorite meals of the summer. Yay sheep.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Skinny Beach Fare

Here's a super quick weeknight dinner that's easy and - surpise! - actually kinda healthy. Well, maybe not healthy, per se, what with the mayo-based dunking sauce, but I figure baking and not frying the shrimp allows for some wiggle room. Add a big, summery salad and you've got a beach-worthy feast - sans the guilt.

Unfried Shrimp
1 lb medium shrimp, cleaned and deveined
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
Cayenne pepper
2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 450. In a shallow bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, and salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Toss the shrimp in the cornmeal first, shaking off the excess, then dip in the eggs and back in the cornmeal, again shaking them off. Place the shrimp on a lined and oiled baking sheet and bake directly under the broiler for 5 minutes. Turn each shrimp over, cook another minute, then pile on a platter, sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the remoulade.

Spicy Remoulade
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp ketchup
Several dashes of hot sauce
Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What Are You Doing for Labor Day?

Nothing like planning for the last summer holiday before the first is even behind us.

In addition to its ever popular Oyster Riot, Old Ebbitt Grill is launching another annual soiree - its First Annual Labor Day Block Party, to be exact. From 6-11 PM on Saturday, September 5, the swath of street in front of the historical restaurant (and down the street from the White House) will be roped off for food, libations, and live blues by Mudcat and headliner Bruce in the USA, the #1 Bruce Springsteen tribute band. Wonder if Obama is a Boss fan...

Pre-sale ticket price is $65 ($75 after July 31), which includes admission to the event, five of Ebbitt's classic menu items (think crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, bratwursts & burgers), and five drinks.

For more info or to purchase tickets, visit

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Crust Convert

I have never been what you would call a "crust person." Though the delicious berry and fruit pies of summer sit near the very top of my favorite desserts list - second only to an ooey gooey chocolate cake, of course - I've never been able to get excited over the requisite bland casing holding my slice together. Frankly, it's never tasted like much to me, and - as I've always told myself - if I skip all that fat and flour, pie is downright healthy!

Enter Julia Child.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that Baking with Julia has been my go-to baking bible. And lo and behold, when I returned home from the 14th and U Farmers Market with a fridgeful of glossy cherries and an intense desire for a big slice of freshly made cherry pie, a quick flip through her pages revealed what Ms. Child declares as "the classic dough that earns blue ribbons at country fairs and stars at esteemed pastry shops." Skeptic though I was, I gave it a try. And you know what? It was buttery and flaky and tender and awesome. Count me among the Crust Converts. (And so much for my healthy pies).

This recipe makes enough dough for four 9- to 10-inch tarts or open faced pieces, or 2 double crusted pies. It's super easy, too - just remember to keep everything cold and not to overmix. It also freezes beautifully for up to a month, so you might as well make the whole batch - after all, there are a lot of summer fruits to look forward to.

Perfect Pie Crust
from Baking with Julia
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups solid vegetable shortening, chilled (I used butter-flavored)
1 cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Add the butter, and using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs (this will take a little while). Break up the shortening and add it in bits to the bowl, working it in with the pastry blender or your fingers until small clumps and curds form. Switch to a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring to incorporate it. Turn the dough onto a work surface and fold it over itself a few times, just til it all holds together. Don't overwork it!

Divide dough into 4 equal pieces, shape into flat disks, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or as long as 5 days. The dough can also be frozen for up to one month - just thaw completely in the fridge before using.

And, because I can't show you this delcious pie without giving you the recipe...

Best Ever Deep Dish Cherry Pie
2 dough disks, recipe above
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1 quart whole pitted sour cherries
1 quart whole pitted sweet cherries
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 tbsp milk

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla; set aside.

Roll out one dough disk on a floured surface to a 12-inch round, lifting and turning frequently so it doesn't stick. Transfer to a 9-inch deep dish pie dish by wrapping it around your rolling pin, and gently work it into the pan - don't pull or stretch it. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Chill crust while you finish preparing the pie.

Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl. Stir in cherries, lemon juice and vanilla; set aside.

Roll out the second disk to a 12-inch round. Using a pastry wheel with a fluted edge, cut ten strips from the dough round.

Transfer the cherry filling to the dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center. Dot with the butter, then arrange the dough strips on top of the filling, forming a lattice. Trim the dough strip overhang to 1/2 inch and fold the bottom crust up over ends; crimp the edges to seal. Brush the lattice crust (not the edges) with the milk and sprinkle lattice with a tablespoon of sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown, about an hour longer. (During baking, cover the edges with a foil collar if browning too quickly). Transfer the pie to a rack and cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shrimp Noodle Curry

As I'm sure I've mentioned before in this space, Regent has long our hands down favorite Thai restaurant in DC proper. The food is great, the dark wood and tinkly fountains are lovely, and - thank goodness - we can walk to it in ten minutes. Although the menu features a long list of delicious options, we always find ourselves ordering the same comfort-inducing dishes - red curry for Rory, drunken noodles with seafood for me. So when I was trying my hand at homemade Thai, I decided to mix our two favorites. (Although I admit that, having nothing but somen noodles in the house, the dish took on a decidedly Japanese accent). Do try to make it with Thai-style rice noodles if you can...or nix the noodles altogether and just serve it over rice. Rory would approve.

Drunken Curry Noodles with Shrimp
2 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely sliced, white parts only (reserve a few tablespoons of chopped green tops)
2 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
4 heads baby bok choy, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large pot or dutch oven over high heat. Add the shrimp and saute until almost cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Remove shrimp; set aside. Lower heat to medium. Add the second tablespoon of oil and when hot, add the ginger, garlic and green onions and sweat for several minutes until softened and fragrant. Add curry paste, coconut milk, fish sauce, and tomatoes, along with half the tomato sauce from the can, and stir to incorporate, mashing the tomatoes as you go. Season with salt and pepper to taste, bring to a simmer, then add bok choy.

While the bok choy is cooking through, cook the noodles according to package instructions, removing 1 minute before complete cooking time. Add noodles to curry sauce, then add shrimp just before serving to finish cooking through. Serve with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Well how about that - Dish-trict turned 1 yesterday! How time flies.

To celebrate, I thought I'd share with you some of my personal favorite dishes over the past year.

Thanks so much for reading. Here's to many more delicious dishes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brainfood Grill-Off - Tickets Still Available

Attention all food lovers: there's still time to get your tickets to tomorrow's Brainfood Grill-Off.

Brainfood, a DC-based non-profit that uses food and cooking to teach healthy living and life skills to DC youth, is hosting its third annual competition tomorrow, June 11th, at the Decatur House from 6:30-9:30. This is a high spirited event in which top local chefs - including Tony Chittum (Vermilion), Cedric Maupillier (Central Michel Richard), Shannon Overmiller (The Majestic), Bryan Moscatello (Zola), and The Next Food Network Star finalist Teddy Folkman (Granville Moore's) - will team up with amateur cooks and Brainfood graduates to compete against one another in a grilling showdown. In addition to the grill-off, there will be hors d’oeuvres, an open bar and a live auction. Tickets are $75, all of which goes to Brainfood's after-school and summer programs.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Trifling Dessert

Ah, late spring/early summer. It's one of my very favorite times of year. And for me, one of the happiest places to be at this exact time of year is at a farmer's market. Walking through the throngs of smiling Sunday morning people, my thought process goes something like this - "Strawberries! And asparagus! And peas! And strawberries! And green stuff!...And strawberries!"

Yes, with row after row of those insanely sweet smelling and juicy strawberries on display right now, I would be remiss if I didn't offer at least one sigh-inducing dessert showcasing these little beauties. So, other than suggesting you eat them right out of the carton in the middle of the market, I give you Strawberry Trifle Cake, a riff on a delicious trifle my parents like to serve. You can make it quick with box mixes and ready-made pudding, or you can go old school and make each part from scratch. Either way, it's one of the best desserts I've ever had. (Seriously, I'm thinking about making another one right now). So enjoy, and please share any favorite strawberry dishes you have with me - I will try to keep my hands off my newest batch long enough to try yours out!

Strawberry Trifle Cake
1 box yellow cake mix
1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, divided
2 tbsp sugar
2 8-oz packages cream cheese
4 3-oz cups vanilla pudding
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

Pour cake batter into two greased 8-inch cake pans. Cook according to package instructions. Turn out onto wire racks and cool completely. Meanwhile, place half the sliced strawberries in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, stir to combine and place in fridge while cake is cooling.

For the icing: In a stand mixer or large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat together the cream cheese and pudding until smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, being sure to break up any lumps. Add the vanilla extract; stir to combine.

Place one cake round on a cake plate. Smooth a cupful of icing over the top. Cover with a layer of the unsweetened sliced strawberries. Top with second cake round and finishing icing the top and sides of cake. Let chill for several hours.

To serve: Mash up the chilled sweetened strawberries with the back of a fork until a thick sauce forms. Slice the cake and serve with the strawberries.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For Your Consideration

As we are all quite aware, now is the time to get your hands on some delicious spring asparagus. The farmers markets are overflowing with them - literally - and the freshly picked local stuff is so much better than the supermarket version trucked in from who knows where that you'd swear you're eating a totally different vegetable. Steam it, nuke it, roast it - you can't go wrong. I particularly love mine folded into fresh pasta. And while you certainly don't need to go to the trouble of making your own pasta from scratch, it is totally worth it in the taste department - and the pat-yourself-on-the-back department, once you see that your golden strands can hold their own against most of the area restaurants' "house-made" versions.

While this pasta/asparagus combo would be equally good dressed simply with melted butter and a dusting of parmesan, I decided to go the robust route. Gremolata sounds awfully fancy, but it's really just a pretty word for a chopped herb condiment, usually made from parsley, garlic and lemon zest - all things that I happen to find delicious in my pasta bowl. Gremolata is super versatile, too. While its traditional purpose is to accompany a big plate of osso buco, it's also great with fish and seafood, and even sprinkled over crisp french fries, a la Cork's version. While the raw flavors of gremolate can be a bit assertive, I find that the smooth creaminess of the ricotta balances them out nicely.
So here's a slew of ideas for you, all in one little post. Put them together, try each out on its own - just get that asparagus!

Fresh Pasta with Asparagus, Ricotta, and Hazelnut Gremolata
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
Hazelnut gremolata (see recipe below)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lb of fresh fettuccine noodles (see recipe below)
1 lb. fresh asparagus, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta cheese, gremolata and olive oil. Set aside.

Drop pasta into rapidly boiling water. Stir to loosen strands. After 2 minutes, add the chopped asparagus to the water. Cook for 2 more minutes, or until the pasta is done to your liking. Remove the pasta and asparagus and transfer to the bowl with the ricotta mixture; add 1/4 cup of the cooking water to the bowl. Toss the noodles to coat in the cheese sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

Fresh Semolina Pasta
2 1/2 cups semolina flour
4 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, pour the flour into a mound, making a well in the center with your fingers. Add the remaining ingredients to the well. Using a fork, slowly begin incorporating the flour into the eggs, until a rough dough forms. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 4-5 minutes (you can also let the dough hook of your stand mixer do this for you). When the dough is smooth and elastic, cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Pass each piece through the widest setting on a pasta maker, or the pasta sheet attachment of your stand mixer. I do about 10 passes, folding the dough a few times at the beginning to get it uniformly smooth. Switch to the next smallest sheet setting and pass the pasta through another 10 times. Repeat on the next setting. The dough should be about 1/16th-inch thick. Dust the sheets with plenty of semolina flour to prevent sticking, then fold them over themselves and place on parchment paper while your finish the rest.
Switch to a fettucine attachment to cut the sheets into strands. Place serving size mounds of pasta on parchment. You can either cook the pasta right away, or chill it overnight. (I place the extra in plastic baggies and store in the fridge to use later in the week)

Hazelnut Gremolata
2 tbsp crushed toasted hazelnuts
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl mix gremolata ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Welcome Back

Gah! Where have I been? A looong vacation + no internet access sure makes for a dull blog. Sorry about that.

I hope with this tasty posting you'll welcome me back with open arms. This is the perfect dish for a lazy day - the kind that requires minimal prep time, few ingredients, and a long, lazy soak in the oven, during which you can lie on the couch and catch up on missed American Idol episodes. Oh, and did I mention beer is involved? Pair it with something creamy and something green (I went with polenta and swiss chard), and you've got one of the best - and easiest - comfort dishes around.

Beer Braised Beef Short Ribs
2 pounds beef short ribs
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 11 oz. bottle of your favorite beer (mine is Hoegaarden)
2 cups of beef/veal stock
1 large onion, chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
4 large garlic cloves, crushed

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat. Sprinkle the ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. When the oil shimmers, place the ribs into the pan. Sear on all sides until deep brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Pour the beer into the pot and stir to loosen up any browned bits. Let the alcohol cook off for about 1-2 minutes, then add the stock. Stir to combine, add the rosemary and garlic, then place in the oven, uncovered. Braise for about 3 hours - covering halfway through - until the meat falls off the bone.
Remove the meat; set aside. Discard the rosemary sprig and puree the sauce, if desired. Serve short ribs over polenta or mashed potatoes and drizzle with sauce.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Celebrate Spring at Poste

FINALLY. The chill of winter is (slowly) dissipating, the flowers are blooming, and (yay!) restaurant patios are opening once more. Why not thank the good earth for the return of spring with a garden party at one of the best restaurants in town?

On April 22 - Earth Day - Poste Brasserie will officially re-open its popular courtyard, dubbed "The Garden," with an outdoor soiree honoring FRESHFARM Markets. A $5 admittance fee lets you enjoy wine tastings from regional wineries (Poste is launching an all-Virginia wine list in The Garden - very exciting), cheese tastings from Cowgirl Creamery, a host of tasty punches, and samples of the truffle frites and warm gougeres from The Garden's new small plates menu. The cherry blossoms are great and all, but free food and outdoor drinks are pretty hard to beat.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sweet and Tart

Do you like going wine tasting in Virginia? I sure do. And do you find yourself in the same predicament as me, in which you get so caught up in the fun of wine tasting and the atmosphere of wine tasting and the, well, wine of wine tasing that you find yourself back at home that evening with a bunch of wine you wouldn't normally have bought and you don't really know what to do with? Good, I'm glad it's not just me.

This particular predicament is the cataylst behind this posting. I have gone to Linden Vineyards more times than I can count. I love the place, the people, and, usually, the wines. Linden makes a wonderful dessert wine, the Late Harvest Vidal, and while I am not really a dessert wine person - they usually taste like syrup to me - this one is extremely good (Linden says it has "dense, opulent and warming flavors of sweet nectar and persimmons"...ok). What's more, in the past they've served a gorgonzola tart alongside the wine to showcase how different it can taste when eaten with a more savory, cheese-focused dessert. It was a bit of a revelation to me, realizing how un-syrupy and complex a dessert wine can be when paired with the right foods. So of course I had to buy a bottle. And of course it's sat on my counter for a year, because when am I going to make a gorgonzola tart to un-syrupify it?

Well, I finally got motivated after another trip to Linden several weekends ago and tried my hand at a cheese dessert to go with my dear old Vidal. I added a bit of fig jam for sweetness, a bit of ricotta to mellow the flavor, a bit of pecans for crunch, and presto! A delicious pairing...though I don't think I'm going to wait for another dessert wine to collect dust on my shelf to make this tart again.

Gorgonzola Fig Tart

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1 tbsp pieces
1/4 - 1/2 cup cold water

For the filling:
1/2 cup gorgonzola
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
2 large egg yolks
Dash of pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup dried fig jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, add the flour, salt and sugar and pulse a few times to mix. Add in the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture looks grainy. Slowly, while pulsing, add the water until the mixture becomes dough when pressed between your fingers. Press the dough into a buttered tart pan and bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the cheeses, egg yolks, and vanilla. Fold in the nuts. Set aside. Spread half the dried fig jam over the bottom of the cooled pie crust, then pour in the cheese mixture, smoothing the top. Drop dollops of the remaining jam in several concentric circles over the top of the filling. Then, using a knife or toothpick, drag through each circle in alternating directions in order to form a pretty patten (see above). Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the filling remains firm when jiggled. Let cool, slice and serve.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Art of Compromise

My dear husband is a bit of a mystery to me. If you forced him to pick a favorite food, there is no doubt in my mind that he would say cheese. (I’m betting that spending some formative toddler years in cheese-snob Switzerland has something do with it). Gooey brie, smoky gouda, creamy mozzarella – we’re talking a serious cheese love affair here. And yet, impossibly, he hates, HATES my childhood favorite, macaroni and cheese. How there isn’t a special place in his heart for that blue box is beyond me…though I suppose it has something to do with appreciating real cheese versus mystery powder. Whatever.

In any case, I decided to employ that time-immemorial tool of a happy marriage and compromise: make macaroni and cheese, but fancy-style, sans box and neon orange glow. It may not look or taste like the mac I know and love, but after a bowlful (or two or three) I’ve decided there’s room in my heart for the grown up version, too.

Grown Up Mac and Cheese
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
4 oz. fresh goat cheese
4 oz. gruyere, cut into small chunks
6 oz sharp cheddar, cut into small chunks
1 1b. elbow macaroni or cavatappi
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, bring salted water to boil. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the flour; whisk to incorporate and cook the flour, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, salt, peppers, and nutmeg, and continue to cook, whisking often, until the mixture thickens to the point where it coats the back of a spoon. Reduce the heat to low and add in the three cheeses. Stir often to fully melt and incorporate.

While the cheese is melting, add the pasta to the boiling water and par-cook, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and pour into a large casserole dish. Pour the sauce over the pasta, stirring to fully coat each noodle. Add salt and pepper to the panko crumbs to taste and sprinkle over the top of the pasta. Place on middle rack of oven and bake til heated through and the top is golden and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Care for Some Light Reading?

Check out the interview I did recently with Meredith Adams, freelance journalist and writer of brand spanking new blog Platypuss.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Calling all Oyster Lovers

It's ba-ack! On Saturday, April 18, Hank's Oyster Bar will hold its second annual Oyster Fest, this time at both the DC and new Old Town locations. From 11 AM - 3 PM, party goers get to enjoy all they can eat East and West Coast beauties (including Virginia's own Rappahannock) as well as fried and BBQ'd oysters, onion rings and fries, and lots of fancy beer. Guests from local oyster farms and beer brands will also be on hand to discuss tasty oyster-and-beer pairings.

Tickets are $65 per person and are available for presale at both locations, or by calling 202-462-4265. Get yours before they're gone!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Remember that cooking class I told you I was taking - the one that focuses on mastering the basics of "serious" cooking? Well, last week's session was All About Eggs. "Eggs?" you say, "but eggs are...just eggs." Well yes, I admit, eggs are pretty darn basic, but that was the whole point - that eggs, in all their humble glory, are one of the main building blocks of many celebrated French dishes. Think satiny creme brulee, light-as-air merengue, decadant hollandaise. And on the other ends of the fancy-shmancy spectrum, eggs all by themselves are the beloved star of many a breakfast/brunch spread. So, since eggs are such a ubiquitous ingredient, I thought rather than giving you just one recipe, I'd share a bunch of tips I gleaned from class that are already paying off big time for me. I hope you find them helpful, too - and if you have any tried-and-true egg tips of your own, please share!

Egg Cooking Tips
  1. A nonstick pan is for cooking two things. Eggs is one of them. (Fish is the other).

  2. Cook sunny side up eggs on medium-low heat for a tender, delicate white.

  3. Cook over easy eggs on medium-high heat for a white sturdy enough for flipping.

  4. Cook omelettes over high heat. Yes, high.

  5. Speaking of omelettes, here's how to make a perfect one: add a little butter to a hot, nonstick saute pan. Pour in lightly beaten eggs (enough to completely cover the bottom of your pan). Immediately scramble your eggs with a fork to help them cook through quickly. When they are halfway set, pat them down with the fork to create an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle in shredded cheese and any other filling ingredients. With one hand, hold the pan's handle like a dagger (i.e., at a sharp angle) and with your other hand, use a spatula to slowly roll the omelette out of the pan onto a heated plate. The whole process should take about a minute tops. Ta-da!

  6. When a recipe calls for whipping egg whites, like for a souffle, do it slowly. Think of blowing bubbles with a straw into a glass of milk. If you do it fast, you get big bubbles that disappear quickly. If you do it slow, you get tiny bubbles that stick around for awhile. You want those small bubbles for sustained lift.

  7. Older eggs are best for hard boiling - something about how they have more space between the shell and the goo, making for easier peeling.

  8. When cracking eggs, always do it on a flat surface. Though washed, egg shells are where bacteria can reside, and cracking on the side of a bowl makes it easier for the egg itself to come in contact with the outer shell. (Trust the chef on this one. No one likes salmonella).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Back to the Kitchen

How's that old saying go? "When the going gets tough, the tough order takeout." Something like that.

If you haven't noticed, I haven't been doing much cooking lately. I'm the first to admit that when schedules get hectic with work and family and friends and - bleh - the gym, cooking often slips off my to-do list. But I'm putting a stop to that this week, and reminding myself that cooking isn't just another item to be checked off, but my time to unwind and engage in an activity that I actually enjoy doing. Take last night - risotto, while definitely not difficult, is not just a phone-it-in type of dish. It is, however, some serious gastro-therapy, and just what I needed to remind myself that a little time in the kitchen is always worth the effort.

Risotto with Mushrooms and Prosciutto
2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4-4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, hot
1 cup sauteed mushrooms (recipe here)
3 strips prosciutto, chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Add the shallot and sweat until the shallot is translucent, about 3 minutes (do not brown). Add the white wine, stir to deglaze the pan, and let the wine cook off til the pan is nearly dry. Add another tablespoon of butter, melt, and then add the arborio rice. Stir thoroughly to coat each grain with butter. Add a cup of hot stock and stir often until the stock has soaked into the rice, about 5 minutes. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and creamy and you've used about 4-4 1/2 cups of stock (it should take 20-25 minutes).

Fold in the grated cheese, then add the mushrooms, prosciutto and salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Update on The General Store

Good news, folks - The General Store in Silver Spring is now a sit-down in addition to a carry-out restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner will now be available in the dining room it took Chef Gillian Clark and partner Robin Smith over two years to build. And they promise that wine and beer are on the way. (Check out WP's recent write up on the place here).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Culinary Epiphanies 101

So I'm taking this cooking class - well, cooking course to be more accurate, seeing as it's every Thursday night for the next 6 months. And come every Thursday, I'm tired, crabby, and don't really feel like hauling myself out to Gaithersburg for 3+ hours of social interaction after a long day at work. But I still go, begrudging my decision and my husband's support of me having an "activity."

And you know what? As soon as I get there, I remember why I decided I needed this activity to begin with. It's not your average sit-and-watch-the-chef-cook demo, or even one of those themed classes with three courses and a bunch of wine (though the wine would be nice). Instead, each week is focused on the techniques around approaching a particular type of food (i.e., stocks, soups, vegetables, grains, poultry). No detailed recipes are shared, and we only get mere tastes of each dish the chef demos before we have a go at them ourselves, but that's the whole point - to try in class, then to go really internalize these techniques by practicing on our own back at home. And the stuff we learn is amazing! Hey, it may not be the sexiest cooking class around, but having weekly culinary epiphanies is pretty darn cool.

Take last week for example: I always wondered why mushrooms at good restaurants always have such a firm, delicious, mushroomy flavor and texture, and why the mushrooms I cook never measure up. And now I know!

1. Clean off your mushrooms with a damp towel to remove any dirt.
2. Chop your mushrooms to the desired size.
3. Heat a saute pan over high heat - DO NOT ADD FAT.
4. When the pan is hot, add your mushrooms; sear for about 5 minutes, until they take on color.
5. Add a few tablespoons of water or wine to the pan - this will help soak up all the browned bits that have stuck to the bottom (called deglazing). You can also just add a few pinches of salt to the mushrooms - the salt leeches out the water in the mushrooms and they deglaze the pan all by themselves.
6. Ta-da! Gorgeous, firm, mushroomy mushrooms.

So, tired and crabby though I am, I'll go tonight, donning my little chef jacket and the knife set they made me buy, looking every bit the Top Chef wannabe I am, and looking forward to more little epiphanies to share.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Brabo Opens Tomorrow

Attention Brasserie Beck lovers - Brabo, the newest restaurant from Chef Robert Wiedmaier (pictured in foreground) is set to launch in Old Town tomorrow. Located at 1600 King Street, the Belgian-inflected breakfast, lunch and dinner menus will highlight Virginia products and eco-friendly farmers.

Next door is the Brabo Tasting Room - a bit of a misnomer, as this is the more casual outpost of the two - which will feature a wood burning oven churning out charred goodies like tarts stuffed with smoked duck and braised pork belly. Guests can also share charcuterie and cheese platters with housemade marmalades, breads, and, of course, those addictive frites and mussels Beck is known for.

Photo: Washington Post

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Fishy Valentine

If, like me, come V Day you avoid fancypants restaurants with overpriced menus in favor of a relaxing meal at home with your spouse/sig other/bff/dog, I have a simple menu suggestion - try serving a whole fish. It's impressive looking, relatively cheap, and, if you can get past the whole head-on, googley eyes thing, it's actually quite romantic to be sharing a meal in the truest sense of the word. Throw some pork and potatoes in there, and what's not to love?

Whole Snapper with Sausage, Potatoes and Olives
Inspired by this month's Saveur magazine
2 large baking potatoes, scrubbed and chopped large
2 spicy, pre-cooked sausage links, sliced on the diagonal (I used red pepper/garlic chicken sausage, but chorizo or andouille would also be great)
1 whole cleaned snapper, about 2-3 lbs
1 lemon, sliced thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Several sprigs both fresh parsley and thyme
Salt and pepper
2 handfuls pitted Kalamata olives
1/2 cup dry white wine
Zest of an orange/clementine, optional

Preheat oven to 450. Place the potatoes in a large pot of cold salted water, just enough to cover, and simmer covered until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Add a dash of olive oil to a large skillet over high heat and add the sausage; saute until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil on a large baking sheet. Pat the fish dry and make three shallow slits on each side; stuff each with a slice of lemon. Place remaining lemon slices and the herbs in the cavity of the fish. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Lay the fish on the baking sheet and surround with potatoes, sausage and olives. Drizzle the olive oil over the fish and then pour the wine around it. Place another layer of heavy duty foil over the fish and crimp up the edges to form a packet (this will allow the wine to help steam the fish). Roast for 30-35 minutes.

To serve, slice open the foil, remove fillets and place each skin side down on a plate, topped with potatoes/sausage/olives and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Little Sunshine

The avocado - definitely on my top ten list of Favorite Foods Ever - and definitely not locally grown. So when Rory's old roommate Oliver came to visit us from San Diego, I did quite the happy dance when, like a buff surfer Santa, out of his suitcase he pulled the best housewarming present ever - a sackful of beautiful avocados, grown on his FAMILY'S LAND, from trees he planted HIMSELF. That's about as local as it gets, right?

Aaand, if that wasn't enough, he made us his world famous guacamole (super secret recipe below). We ate it every way we could think of - on eggs, stuffed in burritos, smeared on chips, licked off our fingers. Thanks to O, we got a much needed dose of gold and green sunshine, right in the middle of a very dreary winter.

Big O's Guac
Flesh of 4 ripe avocados, mashed
1/2 red onion, diced small
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 ripe roma tomato, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Few dashes of hot sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and serve.

PS - According to Oliver, if you leave the seeds of the avocados in the guacamole, it keeps it from getting brown. I don't know if it was the seeds or all that lime juice, but either way our guac stayed beautifully green for two whole days.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Locavore's Dilemma

I’m all for trying to be a locavore – you know, shopping at my neighborhood farmers markets, not eating strawberries in January, that sort of thing. If you asked me why, it’s probably equal parts feeling it’s the ‘responsible consumer’ thing to do, and also believing that local, season-specific food just plain tastes better.

While I subscribe to this food philosophy, my husband doesn’t really care so much where or when he gets his food, so long as it tastes good – although, seeing as I do 98% of the cooking in our house, he kind of ends up on the locavore bandwagon by default. So you can imagine my dilemma when my dear husband arrives home from the grocery store with…bananas. Bananas! The forbidden fruit, that abhorred, anti-poster child of the local food eatin’, Barbara Kingsolver lovin’ tribe. (It has something to do with each bunch requiring a small country’s annual supply of gas to reach us Americans, I think).

So what to do? I can either: 1) go all preachy on his ass and tell him such evil is not welcome in MY kitchen, or 2) accept that we may have different views when it comes to our food choices – and that's ok. Seeing as we’re only about 4 months into our union, I figured I’d hold off on the banana diatribe and save the preaching for a more worthy cause – like who should take the trash out (him), or the merits of still watching Grey’s Anatomy (it's getting good again, really!) And, if I'm being honest, that forbidden fruit does make a wicked batch of muffins. I mean, the real sin is letting a perfectly overripe banana go to waste after it came all that way. I think even Barbara would agree with that.

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins
1 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 very overripe bananas, mashed
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces (or ¾ cup chocolate chips)
Turbinado sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line 12 (1/3 cup) muffins cups with paper liners. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, melt the butter. Stir in the sour cream, egg and vanilla, then fold in the mashed bananas and the chocolate. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until just mixed – it will be very thick. Divide the batter into each muffin tin (a small ice cream scoop works very well for this). If you like that sugary crunch on top of your muffins, sprinkle each with a tablespoon or two of the raw sugar. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Potatoes

After our potato-induced frenzy the other day, I decided I needed to make another scalloped potato dish - partly so you get to see the final shot of a delicious potato casserole, and partly because it was so darn good we needed a repeat performance.

As you can see from comparing these two dishes, the recipe is just meant to be a guide. You can add or forgo the ham, switch in any cheese you want, double up on the root vegetables...there are lots of yummy possibilities here.

And by the way, if you're wondering what the different between au gratin and scalloped is, apparently, the answer is not much. Some say au gratin is simply French for "with cheese" - though it's usually based in a cream sauce - whereas a scalloped dish is an American term for any casserole with a creamy sauce, cheese or not. If anyone knows the final word on the great au gratin vs. scalloped debate, please do share.

Scalloped Potatoes and Carrots
4 large red skinned potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick*
1/2 onion, sliced thin
4 carrots, halved and sliced into 1 inch chunks
Salt and pepper
For the sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Leaves from 5 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)

Preheat the oven to 400. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk constantly for a minute or two to incorporate. Add the milk, salt, pepper and thyme. Raise the heat to medium high and continue cooking, stirring often until the mixture just begins to boil and is thick enough to coat a spoon. Add the shredded cheese and stir to combine. Set aside.

Butter the bottom of a large shallow casserole dish. Arrange half the potato slices, onions and carrots on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, sprinkling again with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the vegetables, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

*If you slice the potatoes ahead of time, you can keep them covered in cold water so they don't turn brown. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly before using.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The General Store Opens Saturday

It's official - two years in the making, Chef Gillian Clark of Colorado Kitchen fame is set to finally open The General Store this Saturday at 1:30. One of several new restaurants in the works for the popular DC Chef, The General store is located in Silver Spring (at the corner of Forest Glen and Capital View) and will be serving "American road food." Just one catch - until a pesky parking issue is resolved, dining will only be of the take out variety. Clark promises dine in serve is soon to follow, though.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Still Tingling

Happy day-after-Inauguration-Day, everyone! Is it just me, or is the city still tingling a bit in the afterglow of all that hope and happiness?

Speaking of tingling...I have this problem. I'm not really big on super spicy food, but every time I try to make a spicy dish at home, something in my brain goes haywire. Instead of thinking, "Hey, this chili garlic sauce I bought is made from the hottest chilis on earth. I better use just a teaspoonful," I think, "Hey, I'm making a spicy dish - I better use half a cup of this chili sauce." And every time, lo and behold, I end up ruining an otherwise delicious dish. Like tonight for example. As enticing as that bowl o' noodles, shrimp, and broccoli may appear, the truth is it was a suicide mission for our taste buds. So no recipe today, just an offer to learn from my oft repeated mistake: reach for the tablespoon and not the measuring cup when it comes to chili sauce. (Unless you enjoy culinary suicide missions - and singed lips).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mmmm, Pork

This is one of my go-to fall/winter dishes. It's so easy to make, pairs perfectly with all the seasonal produce that's available right now (think Brussels sprouts, potatoes, parsnips), and comes out great each time - which makes it a great choice for entertaining, btw. This pork is also delicious when cooked on the grill, but since our condo association frowns upon open flames in the living room, I content myself with the oven-made version.

So any other favorite pork recipes out there? Please share!

Balsamic and Honey Mustard Marinated Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin, approximately 1 lb, trimmed of excess fat and silver skin
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
3 large tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

Place all ingredients in a large plastic baggie, squish around to mix everything together, and marinate overnight. (If you only have a few hours, that's fine, too, but the longer the better).

Preheat the oven to 400. Remove the pork loin from the baggie and let the excess marinade drip off. In a large nonstick skillet over high heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork loin and sear until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. (Do not move the pork during these two minutes - this will keep it from getting a nice crust). Repeat on each side.

Leave the pork in the skillet and place in the oven. Cook for 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest on a cutting board for 5-10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love Dish: Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

I meant to show you a picture of these beautiful scalloped potatoes we had recently, all hot/bubbly/cheesy out of the oven and unbelievably comforting. Honestly I did. But we, um, ate them all before I remembered to take a 'final' shot. So instead, I leave you with this semi-artsy pic I took pre potato-high, and recommend you simply make them and see the hot bubbly goodness for yourself. Enjoy!

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cups mild shredded cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs potatoes,* sliced thin (about 1/8 inch)
1/2 onion, diced
1 lb diced ham
Preheat oven to 375.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour to the butter (creating a roux), and whisk to dissolve the flour and cook it through. After a few minutes of whisking, add the milk, thyme, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and cook, whisking often, until the mixture just begins to boil and the sauce gets thick. Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese.

In a large and shallow sprayed/buttered casserole dish, spread a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Layer a third of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle them with a third of the ham and the onions, then a third of the sauce. Repeat two more times - potatoes, ham/onions, and sauce, then cover and bake for an hour, or until the potatoes are tender.

*I've used just about every kind of potato for this (red potatoes, Idaho potatoes, fingerlings, new, peeled, not peeled) and they've all worked great, so just use whatever you've got.

Note: make sure you use a shallow dish; otherwise your potatoes will take hours to cook through.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quick Dish: Sweet and Sour Sauce

Never before have such seemingly incongruous ingredients come together so quickly to make such a delicious quick dish. It's no wonder the recipe for this ridiculously easy, perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce comes from my dad's mother, who, other than her fabulous brisket, always believed there were more important things to do in life than waste one's time in the kitchen.

My mom, though tending to agree with her mother-in-law's view of kitchen duty after a long day at work, is still one heck of a cook. Way back when, she tried adding her family's Italian meatballs (recipe here) to my Jewish grandma's sauce, and voila! - the perfect blending of my heritages was born.

Of course, you can add this sauce to just about anything that needs a sweet and source kick - spooned over baked chicken for example, or as a dipping sauce for egg rolls or satay - but I'll always be partial to the classic pairing my mom so greatly improved upon.

Sweet and Sour Sauce
2 cans whole cranberry sauce
1 can crushed pineapple in juice
1 cup ketchup
½ cup water

Heat all ingredients together on stove. If making sweet and sour meatballs, add meatballs to sauce and simmer on medium low until the meatballs are cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Buttercrunch Toffee

The original name for this post was "Buttercrunch Toffee Ice Cream." However, I got in a bit of a fight with my new ice cream maker, and the ice cream maker won. So rather than treating my friends to buttercrunch toffee soup, I decided to just serve the candy on its own. And you know what? None of us missed the ice cream one bit.

All you need is a candy thermometer - I got mine at the grocery store for $5 - and you're all set to make the best, most chocolately, buttery, crunchy candy you've ever tasted. As for the ice cream...Ben and Jerry's makes a lovely vanilla.

Buttercrunch Toffee
From The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes 2 cups

1 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon water
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup bitter or semisweet chocolate chips

Using half the chopped almonds, form an 8-inch circle in an even layer on an ungreased baking sheet.

Fit a small, heavy-duty saucepan with a candy thermometer, then add the water, butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar, mixing them together. Have the baking soda and vanilla measured and ready. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring as little as possible. When the mixture reaches 300 degrees, remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Mix just until combined; don't overstir.

Right away, pour the hot toffee mixture over the circle of almonds, covering completely. Scatter the chocolate pieces over the toffee and wait 2 minutes to allow them to melt. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate into an even layer, then scatter the remaining chopped almonds on top, pressing them into the chocolate. Cool completely, until the chocolate is firm. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, you may need to cool it in the refrigerator. Remove it once the chocolate has hardened.

Note: Toffee can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the freezer or at room temperature.