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.