Monday, July 21, 2014

Taking a Short Break

Cook In / Dine Out is taking a much needed rest this week. I'll be back next week with new recipes and restaurants. In the meantime check out some recent posts by theme:

Last week was all about summer, including a stop by the Smithsonian American Indian Musuem's cafe, ideas for summer produce, food-related beach reads and the Beach Breeze, a good summer cocktail.

I've been growing an herb garden this summer, so I've been writing about its progress and featuring lots of recipes with fresh herbs like basil, spearmint and parsley.

Summer Cocktail Week 2014 is chock-full of ideas for refreshing warm-weather drinks.

I had a recent spate of Mexican posts, including recipes for tacos, an apple margarita and a guide to D.C.'s Mexican restaurants.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cocktail: Beach Breeze

Summer is for...lazy afternoons with cocktails. Who can argue with that? Whether you're at home on your balcony or deck or enjoying warm weather at a beach or lake, nothing beats a refreshing, cool drink at your side.

This drink is loosely based on the Rainbow Beach Swizzle by Jesse Card. Card's version features more rum--four kinds in fact--plus pineapple juice. I dialed back the rum a bit, omitted the pineapple juice (for the sole reason that I had run out and didn't realize it) and added some ginger syrup.

For more summer cocktail ideas, check out my recent Summer Cocktails Week.

Beach Breeze
Adapted in part from Rainbow Beach Swizzle by Jesse Card

1 oz. fresh lime juice
8 spearmint leaves
1 oz. light rum
1/2 oz. falernum
1/2 oz. ginger syrup (see recipe here)
Float of blackstrap rum
Mint sprig and lime wheel garnish

Add lime juice and mint leaves to a cocktail shaker and gently muddle the leaves. Add the rum, falernum and ginger syrup and fill the shaker with ice. Shake until cold then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Carefully float the blackstrap rum on top of the drink (it works well to slowly pour it over the back of a spoon). Garnish with mint spring and lime wheel.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Food Reads

Summer is for...good beach reads. Or good reads wherever you find yourself on a nice day with a few hours to relax. These are the food-related books that I've either read, am reading or am otherwise interested in this summer.

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford. This beautifully written memoir details a season Crawford spent on his family's small Pennsylvania farm after abandoning his 9-to-5 life in Boston with girlfriend (now wife) in tow. Titling such a book with a reference to death might be an unexpected move, yet it's an apt title, referencing the powerful cycle of life-and-death that plays out on the farm each year as well as the murder of a neighbor that happened during Crawford's childhood that is a running thread through his story.

I particularly enjoyed this book because the subject farm--New Morning Farm--is the one where I buy my produce every Saturday morning. Reading pages 204-212, which detail said Saturday morning but from the point of view of the market workers, was a real treat, giving me a deeper appreciation for the vegetables and fruits I have been buying there over the years. In fact, I draw a significant amount of inspiration from the wonderful produce I buy there (see this recipe, this recipe, this recipe, this recipe, this recipe, this recipe, this recipe and this recipe, for example).

The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax. I've recently started reading Sax's insightful examination of food trends, which discusses not just what the trends are but the factors that bring them to prominence. He starts with the once-humble cupcake, formerly served mostly at elementary school birthday parties but now an adult indulgence churned out in endless varieties from high-end bakeries in every major city in the country. I can't wait to see what other trends he tackles.

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. The title of this memoir, Delancey, refers to the Seattle pizza restaurant Wizenberg started with her husband. When I mentioned to a coworker I was going to read this, she got excited, having discovered Wizenberg through her popular blog, Orangette. I'm only a little ways into the book, which is clearly about more than just the restaurant, but I'm already loving Wizenberg's warm, witty writing style.

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber. Has Barber emerged as the most prominent voice in the farm-to-table movement? Quite possibly. With The Third Plate, the Blue Hill chef critiques that movement while imploring its followers and practitioners to move a step further. If you've read any of the recent interviews Barber's done to promote the book, it's clear what his bent is. Although I haven't yet read any it, it's been recommended to me and sounds like it would appeal to fans of books like those by author Michael Pollan.

The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. This book I wrote about earlier this summer as part of my summer cocktails week. I thought I'd include it again though for cocktail fans. Unlike most cocktail books, this isn't just a collection of recipes, but rather an informative treatise on proper cocktail-making techniques, inter spliced with Morgethaler's stories about his experience in the bartending industry. One of the few cocktail books that is quite an enjoyable cover-to-cover read.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Feed: July 16, 2014

My By The Fire sundae has a lot of smoky flavors, but imagine if the ice cream itself were smoked--wouldn't that be something?!
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

The Daily Meal: “How ‘Reality’ TV Cooking Shows Get It Wrong,” by Jacques Pepin.
I love food. And I love television. So it might surprise you to learn that I don’t really love food television. While I’ve been known to watch Top Chef and the occasional demonstration cooking show, I find most food-driven reality TV to be rather ridiculous. Leave it to legendary chef Jacques Pepin to write a thoughtful take-down of the industry. When he says the kitchens depicted on such shows are fiction, you know he knows what he’s talking about.

Washington Post: “What It’s Like When Michelle Obama Shows Up To The Restaurant Where You’re Dining,” by Tom Sietsema.
A fun treat for D.C. restaurant-goers since the Obamas’ arrival in 2008 is that the President and First Lady often like to dine out. Chris and I just missed them at Oyamel recently—they arrived minutes after we’d left. So what would it be like to dine with Mrs. Obama at a nearby table? The Post’s restaurant critic had just such an experience recently.

Washington Post: “Plate Lab: Parmigiano ‘Gelato’ Is Magic Simple Enough to Make at Home,” By Joe Yonan.
Savory cheese gelato? Why not. For a recent Plate Lab column, Yonan examined the recipe behind Osteria Morini’s unusual crostino. Best of all, the relatively simple recipe has only five ingredients.

Serious Eats: “The Best Sweet Use for Your Smoker? Smoked Ice Cream,” by Max Falkowitz.
Smoked flavors have been increasingly popular in recent years. So I shouldn’t be surprised that they now show up in ice cream. I’d really like to try some. I’ve made a smoky sundae before with a brown-butter blondie, maple-bacon ice cream and smoky whipped cream that was quite decadent.

Los Angeles Times: “Controversial website puts a price on table reservations,” by Dashiell Young-Saver.
Much news was made this last week about web-based services that scarf up hard-to-get reservations and then sell them. Effectively turning something free but coveted into a monetized commodity. Young-Saver writes that one such company, Reservation Hop, has apparently shut down over the backlash against it. I’m glad. I think it’s a terrible direction for dining-out to go. I’ve said that I’m not a fan of restaurants that don’t take reservations, and I disagree that reservations are somehow elitist since—barring services like these—they provide anyone the chance to snag a table. But bringing in third parties to start chargin diners for something that should be free could quickly become a race to the bottom. It would mean the end of reservations, and I don’t want to see that.

New York Times: “Microwaved and Messy, Not Stirred,” by Robert Simonson.
There is so much seriousness when it comes to cocktail-making these days, that it’s refreshing to read Simonson’s story about Joe & Misses Doe, the East Village bar churning out inventive, whimsical drinks, like Three Sheets to the Watermelon.

Business Insider, “11 Psychological Tricks Restaurants Use To Make You Spend More Money,” by Maggie Zhang.
I’ve read before that there is a certain science to restaurant menu design. Zhang looks specifically at ways restaurants can optimize their menus so diners spend more.

Eater: “Sriracha Factory Saga Blamed on Faulty Science,” by Khushbu Shah.
Remember Srirachagate? Huy Fong Foods, the California-based producer of the popular Asian-style hot sauce, had to temporarily shut down after complaints from neighbors that odors from the factory where making them sick. The city dropped its case about the food company, but Shah unearths what will probably be the last chapter in the story: the rather flawed research the city did to make its case.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Produce

Summer is for...fresh produce. During the winter, we have to settle for foreign imported, bagged-frozen or canned vegetables and fruits. As spring arrives, a selection of green choices start to arrive. But then when summer hits, the floodgates are opened and a wonderful, shifting variety of fresh, local produce becomes available and keeps coming until about October. All those fresh herbs, greens, beans, squash, root vegetables, berries, corn and, my favorite, the tomatoes, provide plenty of inspiration for simple, summer dishes that showcase these wonderfully flavorful and colorful foods. Here are ways I like to enjoy some of my favorite summer staples:

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are my favorite summer produce because they have amazing complex flavor and because their year-round equivalent just doesn't hold a candle to the fresh summer variety. Buy a tomato in February and will have a ghostly white inside and a mealy texture. Summer tomatoes are vibrantly colored inside and out, juicy with a slightly firm texture. They are wonderful raw in salads, like the classic combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil or the slightly more complicated heirloom tomato panzanella. Lightly cooked, fresh tomatoes are perfect for pasta with fresh tomato sauce, broiled tomato and green garlic pasta or fresh tomato and oregano soup. Then there's roasting, which deepens tomato's amazing flavor. I do all kinds of things with roasted tomatoes, including risotto, gazpacho, panzanella, bruschetta, even cocktails.

Sweet Corn. Sweet corn, which is the kind you get in the produce section, is perfect when just boiled and eaten off the cob. Still, there are other fun ways to enjoy it when it's sweetness peaks while in-season during summer. Looking for a good cooking project with a bit of challenge? Check out sweet corn agnolotti. What something simpler? Try corn risotto or soup. Corn is also good roasted and stuffed into enchiladas. Check out last year's sweet corn week for additional recipes.

Berries. Blackberries taste really good with corn, like this blackberry-vanilla ice cream pie with corn cookie crust, corn pancake with blackberry sauce or sweet corn ice cream with blackberries. Blackberries are also good in salad with cucumbers or in a cocktail (blackberry mint fizz). Similarly, blueberries are good in salad or dessert, like panna cotta. They're even good with salmon.

Beans. Dried and canned beans are great anytime of year, but in the summer, it's nice to have fresh beans. Green beans of course, are easy to come by and taste great in recipes like sautéed green beans with baby leeks, garlic-ginger green beans and Mediterranean chicken salad. For something a little different, try fava beans, served in this recipe with shallot, mint and pecorino cheese.

Beets. Beets are another item available not just in summer, but my farmers market has an excellent assortment of them this time of year, especially beets. they are wonderful roasted or boiled for salads, pasta with beet pesto, beet gnocchi, golden curry chicken salad, roasted beet and cottage cheese salad,   and roasted beet and carrot salad.

Herbs. Lastly, fresh herbs are abundant this time of year and taste great as an accent on just about any dish or the star player in a dish like spaghetti with parsley pesto. For lots of great fresh-herb recipes, check out this first post about my summer herb garden.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Restaurant: Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.)

Mitsitam Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Summer is, and a great many travelers find their way to my city, Washington, D.C. The National Mall, basically D.C.'s front lawn, is D.C.'s biggest tourist magnet, surrounded by the free-admission Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, the Capitol, White House and numerous monuments. Given the influx of camera-toting, souvenir-t-shirt-wearing visitors, locals tend to avoid the area unless they are out for a midday jog or ultimate frisbee game.

But when it comes to food, we all have to eat, and there's one place on the Mall I think both tourists and locals should get to know: the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

A museum cafeteria probably isn't where you'd go looking for haute cuisine. When I think of such places, I have a vision of a big yellow tray on which I might put a sandwich, salad and some fries--nothing particularly notable. At Mitsitam, you still get a yellow tray, but from there things get much more interesting.

Most of the larger Smithsonian museums have their own cafes, either innocuous ones serving basics or food-court-style places with name-brand vendors. In contrast, Mitsitam Cafe serves the most remarkably creative and fresh cuisine I've ever seen coming out of a museum. If you're one of the 25 million annual visitors to the National Mall and find yourself in need of lunch, this is where you should go.
Hominy salad

The cafe is structured around five food stations serving dishes inspired by the cuisines of native cultures from five regions: the great plains, the Northern woodlands, the Northwest coast, Mesoamerica (i.e. Central America) and South America. Each station offers a few entrees, hot and cold sides and desserts. You're free to design your meal any way you like: choose selections all from one station or mix-and-match from several. The cafe's chef, Richard Hetzler, helped research and develop the restaurant's concept (that alone is a tip this a special place; how many museum cafes are run by executive chefs?).

In addition to offering regional variety, Mitsitam's menu changes seasonally. Recently, the menu shifted from spring to summer (so some of the dishes I discuss below are no longer available, but this will still give you a feel for the types of food to expect).

Roasted kohlrabi

One of the greatest things about the offerings at Mitsitam is the variety of unusual, fresh ingredients. Fiddle heads, for example, is one of those hard-to-find ingredients you read about each spring but never see at the grocery store and rarely at the farmers market. Well, here are the little green fern tendrils, nestled within a salad caramelized pearl onions, hominy and aged sherry vinaigrette. Speaking of hominy--another not-so-common vegetable--the grain also shows up braised in a tangy side with candied bacon and wild onions (in case you're wondering, hominy is just corn soaked in an alkali solution that causes the grain to puff up).

Both the fiddle heads and hominy come from the Northwest Coast station, which features one of Mitsitam's best-known entrees, wild salmon grilled on a cedar plank. When I had it from the spring menu, it was served with a fresh horseradish relish, which complemented the nicely cooked fish without overwhelming it.

The Northern Woodlands station offers wonderful soups. On offer now is a chilled corn and heirloom tomato soup that sounds really good. The tangy-sweet pickled beet soup with cherry compote and dried corn crumble was one the best things I've had at Mitsitam. The sides from this station can be hit-and-miss though. A wild rice and watercress salad was quite good, but a grilled spring squash salad was served with corn that proved hard to eat, as the corn was served still on the cob (how does one eat such corn in a salad? pick it out with your fingers even though it's coated in dressing? try to cut the kernels off--a tricky prospect with a table knife). A recent side of roasted kohlrabi was beautifully flavored with apple and cider reduction, but struck me as undercooked, as the star vegetable was quite tough.

Chicken and goat tacos

Another highlight are the tacos from the Mesoamerica station, which rotate with the season. On offer now are chicken with prickly pear mole and goat with plantain and poblano salsa. If you've never had goat, I say give it a try. The tender, shredded meat reminded me of braised beef and was my favorite of the two. Guacamole, crumbled cojita cheese and a selection of salsas are offered as garnish. I've never had coconut in a taco before, but the coconut-chili salsa was perfect with both meats.

The line at the Great Plains station is always the longest. Probably because this is where you can get an Indian fry bread taco or a buffalo burger. Maybe if I return during non-tourist season, I'll give this station a try.

Corn custard with fresh blackberries is a simple, sweet way to end a meal.

A potential drawback of Mitsitam, especially for families, is the price. The sourcing of this array of fresh ingredients surely doesn't come cheap, and the cost of entrees generally runs in the teens with some in the twenties. So lunch for two can easily hit $40 (discounts for federal employees and Smithsonian members help a little bit). Still, if you're willing to splurge, you're in for a treat, and given the cuisine's connection to the subject-matter of the museum, it's a particularly tasty way to further experience American Indian culture.

Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe, 4th Street and Independence Avenue SW (inside the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian). Museum phone: (202) 633-6644.

Mitsitam Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fresh Herb Croutons

Fresh herb croutons

Back in the day, I hardly remember ever eating a salad without croutons. I always wanted the crunchy little bread cubes flecked with herbs. The half-inch cubes were the most common, although I also loved the larger 1-inch size and even the round ones.

Being a carb, croutons have lost favor in salads outside of things like Caesar Salad where they are an essential ingredient (and there are even a lot of Caesar Salads without croutons these days, like this version with a parmesan crisp).

You can toss the bread cubes with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, but to coat them more evenly (and potentially use less oil), apply the olive oil with an oil sprayer.
Although store-bought croutons can sometimes taste a little stale, homemade croutons are really good and easy to make. Fresh or dried herbs can be used to season them. This time I used fresh thyme from my herb garden. I find garlic powder works better than minced garlic since it adheres better to the oil-coated bread.

Fresh Herb Croutons

White bread, such as sourdough or baguette, crusts removed, bread cut into 1-inch cubes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Place bread cubes in a bowl. Drizzle or spray with olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt, garlic powder and thyme.

3. Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.