Monday, September 19, 2016

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

As we exit summer, here's a simple sauce that's perfect for using some of those wonderfully vibrant and flavorful tomatoes. They need little adornment. This recipe uses no meat and just a scant amount of aromatics to underscore the tomatoes' flavor. Yes, the simmer time is pretty long, but it's worth it. This sauce is amazing. Finishing the pasta in the sauce helps it pick up the sauce's flavor.

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

The Best Simple Tomato Sauce for Pasta

2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, cut into small dice
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lb. fresh ripe summer tomatoes (use canned tomatoes out of season; I don't recommend using store-bought tomatoes from November until about mid-June as they lack flavor), cut into 1-inch pieces
4-6 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with string
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
8-10 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Heat the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the butter has melted and warmed, add the onion and cook about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until they are softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes more.

2. Stir in the tomatoes, thyme, nutmeg and red chili pepper flakes, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer (medium-low or lower). Simmer for 90 minutes, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture should bubble just slightly.

3. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions 1 minute shy of al dente (al dente pasta is cooked through but chewy, so this pasta will be too chewy, indicating it needs more cooking time, which I'll get to in a second). Drain pasta, then stir the pasta into the simmering tomato sauce. Continue cooking the pasta in the sauce for another minute or two until the pasta is al dente (i.e. cooked through but chewy).

4. Remove the pasta from the heat and serve in shallow bowls topped with fresh basil and grated parmigiano-reggiano. Pair with a robust but not overbearing Italian red wine, such as Sassotondo Ciliegiolo.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rehoboth Beach Dining 2016

The summer beach season is over, which means it's the perfect time to head to the shore to enjoy fewer crowds, shorter lines and the (still quite decent) mid-to-late September weather. We were in Rehoboth Beach over Labor Day weekend, which, yes, meant we were chased inside on Saturday by tropical storm Hermine, but the wind and rain was all the more reason to stay inside and eat well.


This year, we focused mostly on revisiting some of our favorite places to see how they're holding up. Really quite good, actually.

Dos Locos Steak Fajitas

Dos Locos basically feels like our second home while we're at the beach, and with the stormy weather we faced during our recent trip, we made several visits. The thing is, we really love Tex-Mex food and, despite the fact that we live near several popular Tex-Mex restaurants in D.C. (Cactus Cantina, Guano's and Laredo--formerly Alero), we never get food at those places that's as good as Dos Locos. Their frozen margaritas are by far the best, delivering a tart buzz without the cloying sweetness of most restaurant's frozen margs. The fajitas, whether you get steak or chicken (they also have many other varieties), are always well cooked, flavorful, not too greasy and garnished with all the accoutrements we like. Plus, it doesn't hurt that every person we've met who works there is unfailingly friendly.

a(MUSE.) jar o' pickles

Rehoboth Beach has a good variety of fine-dining restaurants (even if they have white tablecloths, you can still totally go in your shorts--it's the beach after all). We enjoyed quite good meals at two of our favorite. a(MUSE.), which no longer feels like a newcomer in town, continues to excel at delivering a range of unique flavors. We started the evening with a pucker-inducing jar o' pickles served with toast triangles, mustard and creme fraiche, which came with a variety of pickled vegetables, including snow peas. I loved my halibut served with a side of rye, a grain I've never enjoyed in whole form before--the chewy grains were delicious. A tender Berkshire pork came nestled among tasty mushrooms. a(MUSE.) has a great bar, and while we enjoyed several good cocktails, the most memorable drink we had this year was an excellent wine: the Southern Slope 2012 cabernet sauvignon from Washington State. I'll keep my eyes open for that for sure.

Espuma was nearly empty the night we were there, but hey, it was the night of the storm. Despite that, we were still treated to a delicious dinner and friendly service. I enjoyed a roast chicken with mushroom and pea risotto while Chris opted for the mushroom ravioli--perfectly al dente pasta pockets filled with a silky mushroom puree and flecked with generous chunks of bacon. I hope they were busier through the summer, since this is a wonderful restaurant.

Blackwell Hitch mahi mahi tacos
Our one attempt to try something new for dinner resulted in our least impressive meal. Blackwall Hitch is a small regional chain with outposts in Annapolis and Alexandria, and, as of this year, also one in Rehoboth Beach just steps from the boardwalk. The seafood-focused menu is quite lengthy, but unfortunately not very imaginative, making it a challenge actually to find something interesting. I opted for mahi mahi tacos, which were fine but not exceptional. Chris had the pork osso buco, a tender, generously portioned braised pork shank that could really use a more interesting partner than buttered pasta. The best thing here was our starter salad: a pleasing arrangement of pear, arugula, pecorino cheese, raisins and pine nuts.


Hobos shrimp salad
Apart from our arrival-day tradition of getting a Baker's Choice pizza from Grotto Pizza (always amazing, still was this year), we tend to not really do much for lunch, since typically we're on the beach where we might grab a hotdog or some Thrasher's fries. Well, this year, given that we only had one real beach day, we had plenty of time for lunch. We took the unusual (for us) step of leaving Rehoboth to drive a little ways north to the next town. Lewes is a quaint little town with a historic town center that abuts the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal. Striper Bites is a great little coastal bistro on the south side of town. Wanting something lighter, I sprang for the hummus platter with pita and grilled vegetables, which was just perfect. Back in Rehoboth on a nicer day, we enjoyed people watching from Hobos outdoor patio. The shrimp salad I had hit the spot: a slightly spicy mix of greens, avocado, bacon and plenty of pieces of large shrimp.

Royal Treat buttermilk pancakes


There's only one name you need to remember for breakfast in Rehoboth: Royal Treat. It just seems to get better every year. I raved about their omelets last year and I'll rave about them again: they are made just right. As if that wasn't enough, their buttermilk pancakes are also quite heavenly: cooked to golden perfection with a slightly sour tang to match their perfectly chewy-soft texture. Royal Treat is pretty popular, and it doesn't open until 8, so if you need an early breakfast or don't want to stand the line, nearby Goolee's Grill or the Robin Hood diner are solid choices, featuring similar breakfast fare (eggs, pancakes, waffles, breakfast meats, etc.). One thing I really appreciate at Goolee's is that you can get a side of fresh fruit, which is unfortunately not on offer at Royal Treat or Robin Hood. And Robin Hood's blueberry pancakes really impressed us this year--almost as good as Royal Treat's hot cakes.


Kohr Bros. beat Starkey's for soft serve this year, but Royal Treat's peanut butter and vanilla swirl ice cream is still our favorite boardwalk sweet treat. I think we ended almost every night with a stroll down the boardwalk, cones in hand.

a(MUSE.), 44 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-7107. Reservations: Open Table.

Blackwall Hitch,  52 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 226-0550. Reservations: Open Table.

Dos Locos Stonegrill & Tex-Mex Restaurant, 208 Rehoboth Avenue (near 2nd Street), Rehoboth Beach, Del. Reservations: Open Table.

Espuma, 28 Wilmington Avenue (entrance on 1st Street), Rehoboth Beach, Del. 302-227-4199. Reservations: Open Table.

Goolee's Grill, 11 South 1st Street (on the corner of Wilmington Avenue), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-7653.

Grotto Pizza, 36 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-3278.

Hobos Restaurant, 56 Baltimore Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 226-2226.

Robin Hood, 54 Rehoboth Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-0770.

Royal Treat, 4 Wilmington Avenue, Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-6277.

Striper Bites, 107 Savannah Road, Lewes, Del. (302) 645-4657.


2012 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Dos Locos, Grotto Pizza, Robin Hood)
2013 a(MUSE). review
2014 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Espuma)
2015 Rehoboth Dining Guide (Includes Dos Locos, Royal Treat)

Monday, August 29, 2016

Remembering Michel Richard: Le Kit Kat Bar

Michel Richard's Le Kit Kat Bar
Le Kit Kat Bar (Bread Furst version)
Two weeks ago, D.C. lost Michel Richard, one of the city's great chefs. He was best known for two restaurants: his four-star fine-dining Georgetown establishment Citronelle (which closed in 2012), and Central, a more casual downtown bistro known for its burger and fried chicken.

Le Kit Kat Bar bottom layer (with corn flakes)

In Richard's memory the week after he died, Bread Furst, our neighborhood bakery, offered Le Kit Kat Bar, Richard's wonderfully decadent no-bake chocolate dessert bar inspired by the Kit Kat Bar. I picked up two and brought then home for Chris and I enjoy to enjoy after dinner. The bars were wonderfully chocolatey and quite rich (I decided to eat only half of mine and save the other half for the next day). They consisted of two layers: a firmer lower layer with a wafering crunch throughout the chocolate and a lighter top layer almost like a firmer version of chocolate mousse. Needless to say, I wanted the recipe.

Le Kit Kat Bar creamy chocolate top layer

I didn't have to go far. The Arlington, Virginia bakery, Livin' the Pie Life, shared the recipe on its blog a few years ago. It's surprisingly easy, requiring few ingredients and--best of all for these hot summer days--it's a no-bake treat, requiring just enough heat to melt the chocolate, which can be done in the microwave. The recipe includes an optional hazelnut sauce, which sounds really good, but I didn't make, since I was taking them in to work for an office dessert contest, where they were a big hit. I cut them a lot smaller than the rather generous portions Bread Furst served. You can cut them into squares or Kit-Kat-like fingers.

Michel Richard's Le Kit Kat Bar
Adapted from Livin' the Pie Life's recipe adapted from Michel Richard's original Happy in the Kitchen recipe

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp. peanut oil (I used vegetable oil)
7 oz. milk chocolate chips melted and slightly cooled (I melted the chips in the microwave according to package directions)
1 1/4 cups crushed cornflakes (I put the cereal in a bag and used my fingers to crush them through the bag)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
5 oz. bittersweet (i.e., 60% cacao) chocolate chips
Cocoa powder (optional)

1. Add peanut butter and oil to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is light in color, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the melted chocolate chips, beating until combined. Turn off the mixer and stir in the crushed cornflakes.

2. Line an 8 x 8 inch square baking pan with plastic wrap so that it overhangs the sides. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes.

3. Melt the bittersweet chocolate chips and set aside to cool a bit. Add the cream to a bowl of a stand mixer (the bowl should be cleaned after step 1) and whip on high speed until soft peaks form (run a spoon through the cream and it should stand up a bit but fall back on itself; in contrast, stiff peaks will stand upright and not fall over). Fold half of the melted chocolate into the whipped cream, then add the remaining chocolate and fold it into the chocolate-cream mixture until the mixture is uniform in color. Spread the cream-chocolate mixture over the chilled chocolate-corn-flake layer, making sure to get the mixture into the corners and smoothing the top with a spatula. Bang the pan against the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours until set (I refrigerated it overnight).

4. Using the plastic wrap that's overhanging the sides, lift the chocolate mass out of the pan. Carefully peel off and discard the plastic wrap. Cut into bars of desired size. If desired, dust the bars with cocoa butter by spooning a little bit of cocoa into a fine-mesh sieve and shaking it over the bars. Serve immediately or refrigerate again until ready to serve (the bars should remain refrigerated).

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sweet Corn and Chorizo Tacos

Corn-Chorizo Tacos

Sweet corn, one of my favorite summer crops, is here. Really good sweet corn needs no adornment to be absolutely delicious. Corn-on-the-cob, prepared simply boiled, is summer perfection, requiring no butter or salt.

When you get your fill of that, fresh sweet corn is amazing in lots of other dishes, and one of my favorite things to do is stuff it into tacos with some spicy-sweet chorizo and fresh garnishes. With a mixture of textures and flavors, plus a simple preparation, this is summer cooking at its table-pleasing best.

Corn-Chorizo Tacos

Sweet Corn and Chorizo Tacos

Serves 2-3

3/4 lb. spicy fresh Mexican chorizo sausage, removed from casings
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
kernels cut from 2 ears of sweet corn
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder (use more or less as desired for heat)
1 tsp. dried oregano
Salt, to taste
8-10 corn tortillas, warmed
Crumbled queso fresco
6 radishes, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1. Heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until the sausage is browned, about 10 minutes. Remove sausage from pan and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate. Remove excess grease from pan.

2. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil to the pan. When hot, add the onion, garlic and corn, then season with cumin, chili powder, oregano and salt. Sauté until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked chorizo and reheat a couple minutes, then turn off the heat.

3. Serve the corn-chorizo filling in warmed corn tortillas garnished with crumbled queso fresco, matchstick radishes and cilantro leaves.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sausage and Green Bean Frittata

Sausage and Green Bean Frittata

 Do you ever feel inundated with vegetables during the summer? While the season can deliver an embarrassment of riches for those who crave fresh produce, it can sometimes feel like overkill. What to do with all these vegetables? A happy problem for sure, but one an avid cook may face if they feel trapped into making the same-old same-old.

The frittata is one simple solution for what to do with summer produce. It's simple, flexible and satisfying. Basically, gently cook any mixture of vegetables, preferably with some onion and/or garlic, combine with eggs and cheese, cook briefly on the stove and finish in the oven. It's pretty simple and it's delicious. I made this frittata with green beans, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and sausage. The combinations are really endless here.

Sausage and Green Bean Frittata

2 cups fresh green beans, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz. mild Italian chicken sausages, casings removed
1 bunch of scallions, white and light green parts chopped
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced into 1/4-inch strips
Salt, to taste
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper flakes
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven broiler with rack about 4-5 inches from the broiler.

2. Insert a steamer insert into a medium saucepan and fill with water below the insert. Heat over medium-high heat until the water boils. Add the beans, cover and steam for 3 minutes until tender. Set beans aside.

3. Heat olive oil over medium heat in an oven-safe 12-inch nonstick frying pan. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through and lightly browned. Remove sausage from pan, transfer to a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces.

4. Add scallions and mushrooms to the pan, season with salt, Aleppo pepper, rosemary and thyme, and sauté until the onions are softened and the mushrooms are lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the cooked green beans and sausage to the pan, stir to combine with the other ingredients and, using a spatula, smooth the ingredients into an even layer in the pan.

5. Stir half the cheese into the beaten eggs, then pour the egg mixture into the pan so that it is evenly distributed around the ingredients in the pan. Keep cooking on the stove without disturbing the ingredients to set the bottom of the egg. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Transfer the pan to the broiler and broil for 4 minutes until the frittata is cooked through, a bit puffy on top and lightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Restaurant: Tail Up Goat (Washington, D.C.)

Restaurant: Tail Up Goat (Washington, D.C.)

Restaurant accolades are a big deal these days in D.C., where the buzz about our constantly improving restaurant scene just continues to get louder.

Of course the James Beard Awards are the biggest-deal of the big-deal prizes, but another notable indicator, especially of new restaurants, is Bon Appétit magazine's list of the country's best new restaurants. The list was introduced as top-10 in 2009; since its expansion to a top-50 in 2012, D.C. has notched 10 restaurants on the list, including the magazine's #1 pick for 2014, Rose's Luxury.

The only other entry to make the top 10 so far was Little Serow in 2012 (#7), the basement offshoot of acclaimed Greek restaurant Komi. Since opening 5 years ago, the heat of Little Serow's buzz has been matched only by the chilies in its Thai-style dishes.

One of the names on this year's list just happens to be Tail Up Goat, opened earlier this year by three former employees of Komi and Little Serow. Although I've not visited either of those restaurants, I've heard enough good things for me to set fairly high expectations for this new endeavor (also on this year's Bon Appétit list: The Dabney, the Southern-leaning restaurant with the open-hearth kitchen where we enjoyed a very memorable dinner earlier this year).

Unsurprisingly, Tail Up Goat was quite busy when we had dinner there on Saturday. Would the swamped staff still be on top of their game? Would the kitchen rush orders and cut corners? Thankfully, there was no need for concern at Tail Up Goat, where we enjoyed a sensational meal. Sure, it took some time for us to get our drinks, but our server--who was extremely delightful the entire evening--acknowledged this, apologized for it and even comped the drinks, which we didn't expect at all. Nice to see a restaurant that clearly takes keeping its guests happy quite seriously.

The drinks were worth the wait, and we had something quite different. I opted for a refreshing mix of gin, allspice dram and shrub, while Chris opted for a bracingly strong rum drink flavored made bitter with gunpowder tea. Never heard of shrub? It's a sort of tangy fruit-juice and vinegar mixture from the colonial era that has seen a revival lately, especially in cocktails. As a palette-cleansing starter, Tail Up Goat serves a small short of melon-jalapeño shrub, a refreshing sip with just a hint of spice.

Tail Up Goat's menu is divided into sections that roughly correspond to snacks, breads, small vegetable plates (basically salads), pasta and large plates. We chose one from each category except snacks, which, along with a dessert, was just right for two people.

If you're thinking of skipping the bread, don't. It's wonderful. We opted for the red grit sourdough, which was flavorful and perfectly textured, plus it comes grilled, just enough to give it some light toasting but without drying it out. The accompanying liver mousse and green tomato jam is a nice savory-sweet departure from the usual butter. We followed the bread with a fresh summer salad of cucumber, melon, potato and pepitas. I loved the light creamy dressing, and the smoked trout roe provided little salty-briny bursts.

"Summer on a plate" is how our sever described the corn ravioli, bright with the fresh flavors of sweet corn, sungold tomatoes and fresh peppers. Caper-flavored breadcrumbs give the dish a bit of crunch. You know how sometimes the big meat entree you order doesn't live up to everything else that comes before? Not at Tail Up Goat, where the grilled pork, served with romano beans and a pancetta-flecked sauce spiced with espelette peppers, was another highlight of the evening. The pork was amazing, tender and perfectly cooked. Next time we go, I have my eye on a plate of lamb ribs for two; the next table over ordered them, and they looked divine.

I expected the food at Tail Up Goat to be good, but I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of its service. Everyone was friendly, including a manager who came by and thanked us for coming. And their excitement about the restaurant seemed genuine. It's nice when a server has clear affection for the food and can really sell the dishes while offering spot-on recommendations. I didn't feel like I was being offered something that that kitchen needed to get rid of, but rather something she really liked. The almond cake she recommended for dessert, for example, was incredibly good, moist, flavorful and dotted with toasted almonds, musk-melon cubes and whipped yogurt. While I know the restaurant is known for its sommelier, it was our server who made the excellent recommendations for what we should drink when we wanted to follow our cocktails with a glass of wine (the sommelier poured the wine, so we benefited from his insight too). If you can't make up your mind what to get, your in good hands here if you just ask for help.

Tail Up Goat more than earned its spot as one of Bon Appétit's 50 best new restaurants list. It was one of the best meals we've had recently in a restaurant--old or new. With excellent food and service that matches, it's a worthy addition to our city's growing roster of high-caliber eating establishments.

Tail Up Goat, 1827 Adams Mill Road (one block north of Columbia Road; entrance is on Lanier Place), Washington, D.C. (Adams-Morgan). (202) 986-9600. Reservations: Rezku.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Cocktail: Caipirinha

Cocktail: Caipirinha

The summer Olympics will be officially opening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil tomorrow. Which means is time for Caipirinhas!

The Caipirinha is the national cocktail of Brazil. How cool is it that Brazil has a national cocktail?! (I wonder what other countries do? Must do research!). It's a simple drink with very few ingredients. The base spirit, cachaça, which, like rum, is distilled from sugar cane but through a different process. The only other ingredients are fresh lime juice, sugar and ice. Nothing else. No mint. No soda. No liqueurs. Certainly you may find variations with some of those things, but the classic is a very simple drink.

That said, there's a technique to this drink, which involves muddling fresh slices of lime with the sugar before adding the cachaça and ice. A hastily made Caipirinha might skimp on the muddling and just squeeze lime juice and simple syrup into the glass, but the action of the muddling releases oils from the lime peel that give the drink additional flavor that you want have from lime juice alone. You can build this drink in a cocktail shaker or in a glass and then stir it before serving. Either works fine.

So muddle your way through mixing a proper Caipirinha and raise a glass to all of this year's competitors in Rio (and root for your favorite team to win).

Cocktail: Caipirinha

1/2 fresh lime, cut into 4 equal wedges
2 tsp. sugar
2 oz. cachaça (I used 51, which is a popular brand)

Add the limes and sugar to a rocks glass. Muddle the limes with the sugar to release the limes' juice and oils. Add the cachaça and fill the glass with ice. Stir to combine the ingredients and chill the drink. No garnish.