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.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Lemon Chicken and Fresh Herb Pasta

This is a very simple summer pasta recipe. It's little more than noodles, chicken, garlic and fresh herbs--lots of fresh herbs. If you have an herb garden, it's probably producing at its peak right now, given you a bounty of basil, parsley, chives, mint, etc. You can use any combination of herbs you like here and it will probably be delicious. I used mint, Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, basil and chives. I'm sure chervil would be good here, as would thyme and rosemary. Want this to be vegetarian? Omit the chicken and maybe substitute some mushrooms.

Lemon Chicken and Fresh Herb Pasta

Salt, to taste
1 lb. dried linguine pasta
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of mint, Italian parsley, chives and basil--about 2 tbsp. of each)
1 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain pasta and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil and butter in a large deep-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and pan-fry until the chicken is browned and cooked through, turning over after about 5 minutes. Remove chicken and transfer to a cutting board. After a couple minutes, chop the chicken into 3/4-inch pieces.

3. Add the garlic and lemon zest to the pan. When fragrant, add back the cooked chicken, reserved pasta cooking water and lemon juice. When the mixture simmers, reduce heat to medium-low and add the pasta, herbs and 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Stir to combine all the ingredients.

4. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls with the rest of the grated cheese spooned over it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Restaurant: Mayahuel (New York, N.Y.)

Expectations can be a bitch. Have you ever had the perfect restaurant experience only to go back a second time and feel deflated because the second visit was only so-so? It's happened to us enough times that we have been tempted to never return to spots that deliver a perfect experience.

For whatever reason, Mexican food in New York is where we tend to experience this phenomenon the most. A few years ago we were wowed by Agave, but subsequent visits lacked the initial spark. Then we fell under the spell of Black Ant, but during or second and third visits there, the magic seemed to have fizzled. Late last year we had an excellent dinner at Empellon Taqueria; but our dinner last month lacked the consistency we'd noted that first time.

Were we tempting fate when we decided to try the menu at Mayahuel? Possibly; however, Mayahuel had already passed the first test last year by delivering a second-visit experience that was every bit as good as our first, if not better. Regular readers will recognize the name: it's the mezcal-focused cocktail bar in Manhattan's East Village that we visited last year and fell absolutely in love with. Prior to that, I was already familiar with its cocktails, which are well-known among mezcal fans. We went back again in December--twice actually, since we went before and after dinner--and continued to be smitten by its cool ambiance, talented staff and delicious drinks. During that visit, we also tried a plate of churros, and they were divine, leading us to conclude that we really should try make a point to eat dinner at Mayahuel.

I'm happy to say that our favorite cocktail bar is now also our favorite Mexican restaurant. Dinner couldn't have been more delicious. From start to finish, dinner at Mayahuel was among the most satisfying restaurant experiences we've ever had.

The first decision was whether to sit at the bar (which was shockingly completely empty) or the upstairs dining room. Although the dining room might have been a more traditional choice for dinner, we chose the bar, knowing that it provides the best seats in the house, since you can watch Mayahuel's amazingly talented (and super friendly) bartenders work their magic.

It's hard not to start a Mexican restaurant dinner with a round of chips and guacamole, and Mayahuel's traditional take on the avocado dip was quite tasty. But the smoked tomato salsa was an absolute revelation. Served warm, the salsa was intensely smoky due to the tomatoes having been charred over hickory chips. It was the best tomato salsa I've ever had and was the first of many good bites we enjoyed that evening.

From there, we moved on to the quinoa and avocado salad, a delightfully good mixture of texture and flavor with a touch of sweetness from the corn as well as a touch of heat. I particularly liked the sesame oil dressing, which added just a hint of Asian flair. Shortly after, the croquetas arrived. Mayahuel's are black-bean and roasted-corn fritters rolled in plantain crumbs and served with roasted red pepper coulis and crema. They were tasty; however, their comparatively mild flavor got lost amid all the other spicy dishes and drinks. I should mention that if you like heat, this is good place for you.

The main event was the tacos, and they were divine. A single order is perfect for sharing: it comes with four corn tortillas was your choice of two different meats. We opted for carnitas and chorizo, both of which were phenomenally good--meaty, tender and not greasy. Just excellent tacos. They arrive garnished simply with cilantro, radishes and lime wedges. We are big taco fans, and it just doesn't get any better than this. They even outclassed the tacos we had the next night at Empellon Taqueria, a well-known restaurant that's known for its tacos (its chef even published a James-Beard-award-nominated cookbook I wrote about recently).

Mayahuel offers only two choices for dessert, but trust's a really really hard choice. Save yourself the pain order both of them. This visit we opted for the tres leches cake, which we are huge fans of (I made one for Chris's birthday this year and last). Mayahuel's version does not disappoint. I like that they use a fairly sturdy cake for its base, but the real treat here is the torched meringue on top. Most tres leches cakes I've had come with a whipped topping, so I loved this subtle but delightful twist. During our previous visit, we enjoyed the other option: cinnamon-sugar dusted crispy churros (doughnuts) with spiced Mexican chocolate sauce. As if it isn't obvious, let me point out that deep-fried donuts showered with cinnamon sugar and set next to a spiced Mexican chocolate dipping sauce are a pretty amazing treat after a few rounds of drinks.

Speaking of the drinks, they continue to be as fabulous as they were during our first and second visits.  I started the night with a Chabomba, a sherry and mezcal cocktail with jalapeño-infused tequila, pear brandy, vanilla and Galliano. I absolutely loved this drink. It's a little spicy and a little savory (from the sherry), and the subtle hint of vanilla gives the drink an almost dessert quality. Brandy Alejandro is more than just a mezcal twist on the brandy-and-cream classic. The drink features chocolate-milk-infused mezcal, cognac, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, cacao, mole and orange bitters. It's a very smooth drink, not creamy like its namesake nor as chocolatey as you might expect (which is a good thing; it's subtle).

Like heat in your drink? You gotta try the Puebla Drink with No Name. This drink is seriously spicy, made from mezcal infused with chile de arable and muscatel infused with ancho chiles. This drink was inspired by a mole that Mayahuel founder and owner Phil Ward tasted while on a trip in Mexico and fashioned a drink after it. It will be too hot for some people, but I loved its flavor. I might recommend not pairing this one with food, since it could overpower it (except maybe the churros, since the sugar will help cut the heat).

Chris enjoyed the Hidalgo, a nicely balanced smoky and bitter drink with tequila, mezcal, sweet vermouth, amaro, maraschino and Fernet Branca, and the Black Star, a wonderfully autumnal drink of tequila, bourbon, ginger, cinnamon, lemon and apple butter. It sparked a great conversation with a server, who said she used to make apple butter all the time and enjoys it on just about anything (she suggested cooking pork tenderloin with it, which is an excellent idea). He also revisited the Six Shooter, a drink we named our favorite cocktail of our last trip to New York. I'm now ready to just name it our favorite cocktail at the moment. It's an amazing drink featuring a split base of mezcal and two types of rum with touches of Punt e Mes (sweet vermouth), Rammazotti (an amaro), coffee, sugar and bitters. I so love it, that I tried to concoct something similar at home I call the Ode to Mayahuel's Six Shooter.

We never got to meet Chef Vincent Gonzalez, but we sure did enjoy his food. We did, however, get to enjoy the company of our bartender, Nicole, and a server, Rachel, who stopped by the bar often to pick up drinks for diners upstairs. These were two of the nicest restaurant staff I've ever met. I loved watching Nicole mix drinks and chat with her about them, and Rachel had such enthusiasm for the food and drinks. Food makes or breaks a restaurant, but service is critically important too, since good service shapes the experience into something truly special. We felt more than taken care of by these nice people.

Expectations, as I said, can be a bitch, but Mayahuel, as a restaurant, more than exceeded the high expectations set by our prior visits to the bar. For the last year, we've been telling people that it's our favorite bar in New York, and it's now also our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Mayahuel, 304 East 6th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), New York, N.Y. (East Village, Manhattan). (212) 253-5888. Reservations: Open Table.


Cocktail: Ode to Mayahuel's Six Shooter

Cocktail Bar: Going Two Rounds in Mayahuel (New York City)

Dining Notes from New York, January 2016 (includes our second visit to Mayahuel)

Mayahuel Mezcal Cocktails (my first post related to Mayahuel featuring two of its drinks)

Getting Serious About Mezcal

Holy Smoke! It's Mezcal! By John McEvoy