Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grilled Caesar Salad

Grilled Caesar Salad

Caesar salad freshly made with quality ingredients has been making a comeback lately. There's no excuse for the mass-produced style with gloppy dressing and too-much parmesan. Caesar should have a bright, briney dressing, crisp, fresh lettuce and something crunchy, usually croutons.

In this version, the classic salad gets a smoky summer twist by spending time on the grill. I first had a grilled Caesar salad years ago at Casey Jones in La Plata, Md., and I loved it. The lettuce doesn't need much time on the grill--between 1 to 2 minutes is enough to char its edges and impart a little smoke while keeping most of the greens crisp-fresh. I also used the grill to toast the bread for croutons.

Because not everyone is fan of anchovies (their loss, I agree), I made the dressing instead with Worcestershire sauce (which, by the way, contains anchovies). You could just as easily mash a tablespoon or so of chopped anchovies into the dressing.

Grilled Caesar Salad

Italian bread, cut into three 1-inch thick slices
1 garlic clove, cut in half
Olive oil
Seasoned salt, to taste
3 romaine lettuce hearts, cut in half through the stem so the leaves stay connected (do not separate leaves)
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Rub both sides of each slice of bread with the cut sides of the garlic clove. Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoned salt. Brush the cut side of each romaine heart with olive oil.

2. Prepare hot coals for direct-heat grilling. Arrange the bread slices and lettuce hearts (cut-side down) on the grill. After 1 minute, flip over the bread and check the lettuce. Remove both when done: the lettuce is done when the edges are charred; the bread should be charred on both sides. Cut the toasts into 1-inch croutons.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and whisk until emulsified.

4. Arrange two lettuce halves on a plate, cut-side up. Scatter a few croutons over the lettuce, drizzle with about 1 tbsp. of dressing and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grilled Chicken Tacos

Grilled Chicken Tacos

Chicken tacos are a fun treat in our house. I sometimes get them at Chipotle; sometimes make them in a pan at home. But it's a super special treat when we get to have them with grilled chicken. There's just no match for that charred smoky flavor.

I marinated this chicken in a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and spices and grilled thick slices of onion along with the chicken. For serving, I kept it simple: shredded cheddar, guacamole and some lime wedges.

Grilled Chicken Tacos

1 1/2 lb. boneless-skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs)
2 yellow onions, peeled and sliced into rings about 3/4-inch thick
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing the grill pan
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
Salt, to taste
1 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
Corn tortillas, warmed (wrap with paper towels and microwave on high 30 seconds)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Guacamole (see recipe)
Lime wedges

1. Prepare hot coals for direct grilling. Brush a grill pan with olive oil and set on one side of the grill.

2. Place chicken and onions together in a small roasting pan or other large, shallow bowl. Mix together olive oil, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, salt and oregano and pour over chicken and onions, turning to coat them evenly.

3. Grill the chicken on the grill for 5 minutes. Turn and grill another 5 minutes until browned and cooked through. At the same time, grill the onions on the hot grill pan, turning as they char. When cooled, chop the chicken.

4. Serve the grilled chicken and onions with corn tortillas, shredded cheese, guacamole and lime wedges.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Restaurant: Tico (D.C.)

Tico Washington DC

One glance at Tico's menu and you know you're in for something fun. Chef/owner Michael Schlow has designed a menu that is mostly, but not exclusively, Latin American, particularly Mexican. But it's also much more than that, drawing inspiration from Italian risottos, Spanish stews and Southern fried chicken (even mac & cheese).

It was the perfect evening for dining out. We arrived around 6:45, and given that it's spring, it's still quite light outside. So Tico had its front windows flung open, bringing the vibrancy of 14th Street into the dark art-filled interior. I imagine in winter or later in the evening the place would have a totally different vibe.

Top: Cool Hand Luke; Bottom: Hibiscus Margarita.

First order of business: cocktails. This proved to be the evening's most difficult decision. So many of the options sounded really good.  I started with the refreshing Word of Mouth, a smoky/tart concoction of mezcal, Green Chartreuse, lime and vanilla. Chris chose the Cool Hand Luke, a vegetal mix of American gin, cucumber, mint and lemon with a pink peppercorn rim on the glass. After that we both switched to hibiscus margaritas, a beautifully magenta drink made with blue agave tequila, orange liqueur and citrus. On my list to try next time: the Barrel-Aged Rosita, which sounds like a tequila version of a negroni, and the 14th Street Shuffle made with rum, Cardamaro, lime and bitters.

To better sample the breadth of the menu, we opted to fashion a meal out of small plates, from which there are numerous selections. A long list of small plates is flanked by a selection of tacos, ceviches and dishes "a la plancha" or grilled.

Executive chef George Rodrigues handles both the vegetable and meat dishes well. We began the night with a few of the former, starting with shredded cabbage salad dressed with green tomatillo salsa and crushed almonds. The refreshing dish, which also includes some asparagus (I imagine they change that up with the seasons) is a wonderful mix of textures. Peas Peas Peas combines warm but not overcooked peas with smoky chunks of bacon, a smear of avocado and a soft egg on top which, when broken, effectively unites these flavors into a warm and homey package.

Top: Roasted Cauliflower; Bottom: Sweet Corn with Bacon.

Bacon shows up again partnered with sweet corn, which is surprisingly delicious given that it's not really in season yet, but it's another winner, with a spicy heat from fresh jalapeño. A word on that: hot chiles show up in quite a few dishes, so be prepared, although we didn't think anything was overwhelmingly spicy. There are some cooler options like the roasted cauliflower, which does have some chipotle, but it's a comparatively mild dish, sprinkled with cotija cheese.

Top: Two-Texture Beef Tacos; Bottom: Roasted Pork Tacos.

We got our meat from a selection of tacos, which again highlight a playfulness with texture. Two-texture beef tacos come filled with shredded beef--both the tender braised variety and crispy fried pieces. Roasted pork tacos come topped with black beans, cilantro and a few pieces of crunchy chicharrones (fried pork rinds). Both were good, although no more show-stoppers than the vegetable dishes that had preceded them.

Caramelized banana Split with Chocolate Gelato and Peanut Butter Mousse

Capping our meal was a caramelized banana split with chocolate gelato and peanut butter mousse, garnished with Mexican chocolate sauce and peanuts. For a chocolate-and-peanut lover like me, it was the perfect choice.

We enjoyed all of the dishes we ordered during our first visit to Tico, a night of zesty and spicy fresh flavors and amazing cocktails. In fact, there were many other dishes and cocktails we wanted to try but didn't get to (I hear I hear the bacon cheeseburger is excellent). Luckily there's a pretty simple solution for that: return. And return we will.

Tico, 1926 14th Street NW (between T and U Streets), Washington, D.C. (Logan Circle/U Street Corridor). (202) 319-1400. Reservations: Open TableTico on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Crunchy Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Crunchy Sugar Snap Pea Salad

The approach to this salad was inspired by my recent lunch at Beefsteak. The star ingredient is the sugar snap peas, which I boiled briefly (about 3 minutes) to make them crisp tender, in a similar manner to how Beefsteak cooks its vegetables. I then rinsed the peas in cold water before adding them to a salad of Boston lettuce, along with crunchy toasted almonds, toasted walnuts and pepitas.

Crunchy Sugar Snap Pea Salad

2 cups sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and strings removed
2 tbsp. sliced almonds
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tbsp. roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2-3 cups Boston (bibb) lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 oz. chèvre (soft goat cheese)
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to boil. Add sugar snap peas and cook until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.

2. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Toast almonds and walnuts until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Combine lettuce, cooked sugar snap peas, toasted nuts, pepitas, cranberries, goat cheese and chives in a large bowl. Whisk together vinegar, honey and mustard, then add the olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Add to the salad and season with freshly ground black pepper toss until well combined and the goat cheese has mixed in with the dressing.

Monday, May 11, 2015

No Beef with Beefsteak

Beefsteak Frida Kale
Beefsteak's Frida Kale with Avocado
Let's get this part out of the way: Beefsteak is not a steakhouse. There's no steak on the menu. There's not any beef on the menu. In fact, there's little meat of any kind other than chicken and salt-cured salmon.

Beefsteak is instantly recognizable in the burgeoning collective of fast-casual restaurants. The drill will seem familiar: a mixture of star ingredients, bases, sauces and toppings. Mix-and-match or choose a pre-selected combination and it all comes together rather quickly (except for maybe the wait in line, which can be lengthy at popular Beefsteak).

What makes Beefsteak unique is that the star ingredients here are vegetables. It's the first choice you make upon reaching the counter, where a beautiful and vast array of seasonal options await you. It's that variety that's quite striking. At Chipotle you have chicken, two beef options, pork (maybe), vegan stuff or beans-and-guac. At Beefsteak there are at least 20 vegetable options, which I imagine may change a bit with the seasons. I saw corn, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, asparagus, yellow squash, potatoes, broccoli, snow peas and kale. I'm sure there were other choices. Whatever you choose, the vegetables are boiled for a short period, making them tender but not too soft. You then pick a grain base (rice, quinoa or bulgur), sauce, dressing and raw or crunchy toppings from a list of about 20 more choices.

Beefsteak Eden
Beefsteak's Eden

On my first visit, I opted for the Frida Kale, a delicious blend of flavors of textures made up of kale, rice, black bean sauce, spicy tomatoes sauce, cherry tomatoes, scallions, corn nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries and lemon-honey dressing. I included the optional suggested avocado and couldn't resist a sprinkle of crunchy roasted chickpeas. That's a lot of ingredients for one dish, but they play together quite nicely.

My colleague choice the Eden, a spring-like mixture of snow peas, edamame, green beans, asparagus and broccoli over quinoa with roasted garlic yogurt sauce, romaine lettuce, cucumber salad, scallions, sprouts, toasted sesame seeds lemon honey dressing.

We both really liked what we had and both vowed to be back.

Beefsteak Interior

A bit about the space: the restaurant occupies a first-floor corner of a building on The George Washington University campus close to the Whole Foods and the Foggy Bottom Metro station. The space is bright and open with simple wooden furniture. It's not the sort of place that makes you want to linger, which is probably a good thing for diners. We arrived early--before 11:30--and walked right up to the counter. But by noon the line had snaked to the door. It's clearly very popular. Just when you think fast-casual has reached saturation, the mob of people willing to try new places proves otherwise.

It shouldn't come as too big a surprise that the man responsible for this shake-up in the fast-casual space is D.C.'s acclaimed chef José Andrés, who is well-known in the city for Jaleo, Zaytinya, Oyamel, Minibar (and Barmini), America Eats Tavern, China Chilcano and the Pepe food truck. If there's a drawback to Beefsteak, it's a personal one: the restaurant is located in Foggy Bottom, which is the wrong end of downtown for me. I'm hopeful one will come to Penn Quarter, the neighborhood that is home to five of Andrés' aforementioned establishments.

Beefsteak, 800 22nd Street NW (entrance on H Street), Washington, D.C. (Foggy Bottom, in The George Washington University campus). (202) 296-1421.

Beefsteak on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes

Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes

Of the herbs I raised last year, the chives were the only plant that survived the winter. I replanted them in their own pot, where they appear to be doing rather well. Soon I will plant the other herbs for the season.

But for now I have chives, so I made some mashed potatoes, a perfect dish to highlight them in. Instead of using milk, I went with the richer, tangy flavor of sour cream. Sour cream and chives...perfect.

Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes

3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into quarters
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, 2 tbsp. melted
Salt, to taste
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the potatoes and cook until a fork easily pierces them, about 15-20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl to cool slightly.

2. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer into a large bowl (alternatively, add them to the bowl and mash with a potato masher). Add the 2 tbsp. of melted butter and stir to combine, then add the sour cream, salt and 3 tbsp. of the chives. Stir until evenly combined. Reheat in the microwave. Top with the final tablespoon of butter and a sprinkle of chives.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Star Wars Day Cocktail: Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew

Star Wars Cocktail: Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew

Let's face it. Life on a farm that raises...water...can get kinda boring. It's a life Aunt Beru is used to. After all, she was born and raised on Tatooine by moisture farmers. So she knew what she was getting into when she married Owen Lars and they moved to the homestead with the igloo entrance where they farmed water and raised her husband's step-brother's son Luke.

Life as a moisture farmer's wife is often thrilling. Or not.

But just because you're used to a quiet life doesn't mean you can't live it up occasionally. That's exactly what Beru does sometimes with her blue milk. Although it's quite refreshing in its natural cold state, it's even better spiked with some exotic liquors (that, from her perspective, come from a long time from now in a galaxy far, far away, but we'll just ignore that fact for now). Sometimes she'll make up a big batch and have all of the Lars' farmer friends from here to Mos Eisley lined up for a taste of Beru's Blue Milk Brew. And occasionally, she has a few too many herself. Stand back when that happens!

Careful Aunt Beru.
Aunt Beru, no!
Oh Aunt Beru!
Seriously, I made this drink in honor of today, Star Wars Day. Because I needed to use blue curaçao to make the drink blue, I used other tiki ingredients that give this drink a refreshing tropical bent. Half-n-half makes it creamy. For the garnish, I used two lemon wheels to represent the twin suns of Tatooine.

Cheers! May the Fourth be with you.

Star Wars Cocktail: Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew

1 1/2 oz. light rum
1/2 oz. Velvet falernum
1/2 oz. blue curaçao
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. half-n-half
2 lemon wheels, for garnish

Combine rum, falernum, blue curaçao, simple syrup, lemon juice and half-n-half in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass. Garnish with two lemon wheels.

Star Wars Cocktail: Aunt Beru's Blue Milk Brew