Monday, April 30, 2012

Recipe of the Month: April

These are just pretty tomatoes. They have nothing to do with the post.
The year is going by quickly. Tomorrow it will be May and Cook In / Dine Out will have been up for almost 4 months. April's most popular recipe was the Chicken Tortilla Pie, followed by the Lemon Cake with Honey-Mascarpone Frosting and Ginger-Brown Sugar Ice Cream. The most popular post for the second month is the Happy Endings Whore's Bath cocktail.

While I like every recipe that I post, I have my own favorites. These are the five recipes I've posted in the last 4 months that I like best:

1. Roasted Chicken with Greens and Bread Salad. I just love this dish. Every time I see it posted on my blog I want to have some. The bread salad, in particular, has such a remarkable flavor. 

2. Southwestern Salmon with Black Eyed Pea Succotash and Yellow Pepper Sauce. I like this dish a lot because it's an interesting combination of flavors and the colors make a beautiful presentation.

3. Gnocchi with Sausage-Mushroom Ragu. Gnocchi is a big hit in our house. This batch turned out perfectly and the sauce, while rich, complemented the little dumplings without burying their potato flavor.

4. Turkey and Butternut Squash Meat Loaf. I like this dish because I consider it a rather bold experiment that exceeded my expectations for how well it worked. 

5. Astoria Salad. This was the first recipe I posted and it's one of my favorite salads. I like that it takes a classic dish--Waldorf Salad--and reinterprets it as something lighter and fresher.

And my favorite cocktail:

Honey-Nut Old Fashioned. Another grand experiment that actually worked well. I've not done a lot of liquor infusions, so I feel fortunate that my first attempt, which could have gone horribly wrong, resulted in a nice flavor combination. Plus the fact that I was able to tie the whole thing into a popular cereal was fun too.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pork Chops with Maple-Peppercorn Sauce

Years ago, The Washington Post published a foolproof recipe for perfectly cooked pork chops. I've made it many times since then and it works great. The meat is seared on the outside, tender on the inside, and the pan residue is ripe for deglazing to make whatever pan sauce inspires you.

There are two essentials for doing it right. First, you need a frying pan with a lid. For three chops, I find a 10-inch pan is just the right size. Second, you need to buy the right type of chops. The recipe recommends boneless chops that are about an inch thick. Thinner chops will overcook and dry out; thicker chops might work, but would require longer cooking.

Then it's just a matter of heating the pan really hot with a little oil. Since the pan is going to be quite hot, it should be an oil with a lower smoke point, so olive oil is out, since heating extra-virgin olive oil to a high temperature will give it a funky taste. I used canola; vegetable would work too.

For the sauce, I wanted something sweet and spicy rooted in flavors that go well with pork. Since pork chops and applesauce go well together, I decided to use apple brandy as its base, adding maple syrup for complex sweetness and brined peppercorns (the soft kind you can chew whole).

Under the chops, I made Mark Bittman's Spinach with Currants and Pine Nuts, which Chris and I both really liked. I could see pairing this with other meats or fish. And then on the side, I served White Asparagus with Brown Butter.

Pork Chops with Maple-Peppercorn Sauce
Pork Chops adapted from The Washington Post, 1+1+4+4 Pork Chops

1 tbsp. canola oil
3 boneless pork chops, 1 inch thick
Seasoned salt to taste
1/4 cup apple brandy (I use Apple Jack)
1 tsp. brined green peppercorns
2 tbsp. maple syrup
3 tbsp. heavy cream

1. Heat canola oil in a medium-size frying pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Pat chops dry, season with seasoned salt and add to pan. Sear for 1 minute, turn pork chops and sear other side for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Turn chops and cook covered for another 4 minutes. Remove chops from pan, tent with foil and allow to rest while making pan sauce.

2. Increase heat to medium. When pan juices start to sizzle, add apple brandy. Cook until reduced by about half. Add peppercorns, syrup and cream. Swirl to combine and cook for a few more minutes to thicken.

3. Slice chops into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange on plate and top with maple-peppercorn sauce.

Spinach with Currants and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Mark Bittman's Spinach with Currants and Nuts

8 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed clean
2 tbsp. currants
2 tbsp. pine nuts
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add spinach and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain spinach and rinse with cold water.

2. While spinach is boiling, add currants to small bowl and cover with warm water. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat and toast pine nuts until fragrant and lightly browned.

3. Squeeze spinach to remove water, wrap with towels and squeeze again to remove additional water.

4. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until golden. Add spinach and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes. Drain currants and add to pan along with pine nuts. Cook for another 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

White Asparagus with Brown Butter

For years I've wondered about but never tasted white asparagus. Those ghostly sprigs show up in the grocery store around this time of year, looking like zombie versions of the more common green type.

White asparagus is white because it's grown underground, preventing sunlight from reaching the stalks and thus inhibiting chlorophyll production.

Although green asparagus has woody parts, the outer part of white asparagus is even tougher and must be peeled off before preparing (the snap method does not work for white asparagus). Nonetheless, the stalks themselves are more tender, so this must be done carefully. The recommended method is to lie the stalks flat on a cutting board and run a vegetable peeler over them, starting about an inch below the tip. Even doing this, I broke a few, so be careful.

I tasted a small piece of the raw, peeled white asparagus. The flavor reminded me of bean sprouts, which I suppose makes sense, given that they too grow underground. Cooked, the stalks have a more delicate, less bitter flavor than their green counterpart.

I like this recipe from Gastronomer's Guide, which uses a simple preparation paired with brown butter and fresh parsley.

White Asparagus with Brown Butter
Adapted from Gastronomer's Guide, White Asparagus with Brown-Butter Vinaigrette

1 bunch white asparagus
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. lemon juice (juice from 1/2 lemon)
1 tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

1. Cut off about an inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks and discard. With a vegetable peeler, carefully peel off the outer layer of the white asparagus stalks starting about an inch below the tip.

2. Fill a deep-sided skillet or large saucepan (large enough that the stalks can lie flat when placed in the pan) about halfway (2 inches) with water. Add salt (a tablespoon or so should do it) and asparagus spears. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes.

3. Heat a small saucepan over medium heat (a stainless steel pan will work better than a nonstick pan, since it's lighter surface will allow you to better observe the browning of the butter). Add butter and cook until butter has browned, swirling occasionally to better ensure even heating, about 5 minutes. Pour butter into a glass measuring cup and whisk together with lemon juice and vinegar.

4. Place asparagus on a plate, spoon brown butter sauce over spears and sprinkle with parsley.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cocktail: Anejo Highball

I have highball glasses, but I never think to use them. Nonetheless, the Anejo Highball tastes just as great in a lowball glass, which is easier to deal with. This is a recipe that appeared in the Washington Post and comes from Brad Thomas Parsons' Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas.

Anejo Highball

1/2 oz. rum
1/2 oz. orange liqueur (Cointreau)
1/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Ginger beer
(Optional garnishes: lime and orange wheels)

Combine rum, Cointreau, lime juice and bitters in a glass over ice. Top with ginger beer.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chicken Asparagus Salad

This salad recipe uses the simple broiled asparagus from Monday, cooled and chopped and tossed with the other ingredients. It's a great mid-week recipe: quick, simple, healthy and tasty. If you are lucky enough to be able to barbecue, I bet this would be great with grilled asparagus and chicken.

Chicken Asparagus Salad

1/3 cup walnut halves
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. honey
1 bunch of broiled asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3-4 cups arugula
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced julienne
4 oz. chèvre (goat cheese)

1. Toast walnut halves in a small frying pan over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add chicken breast cutlets to pan, season with salt and pepper and cook until done, about 10 minutes turning halfway through. Remove from pan, cool and slice.

3. To make dressing, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard and honey, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Combine asparagus, arugula and yellow pepper in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Divide into plates and serve topped with goat cheese, walnuts and chicken.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 16

Food (Section) Fight! is my weekly look at The Washington Post's Food section and The New York Times' Dining section with my verdict on which section had the better content for the week.

New York Times
Dining featured two really great front page stories today. First, Jeff Gordinier, quickly becoming my favorite Dining section writer, tackled a subject near and dear to me: cooking with music. He interviews chefs about their musical tastes in the kitchen, how central music is to their work and how their musical personality is seeping into the dining room. As a former music blogger turned food blogger, this story held particular interest for me. Love that it features my favorite ice cream chef, Jeni Britton Bauer.

I also really liked Jan Hoffman's story about 12 year-old Marshall Reid who learned to cook healthy food after being teased for being fat and is now an activist to help other children eat better too. He calls his effort "Portion Size Me," (Hoffman also calls it the "Marshall plan," clever), which he and his mom recently turned into a book. It's an inspiring and very human story, as Reid, now healthier but still struggling with his weight, admits to the same dessert temptations faced by many of us all the time.

Pete Wells gives two stars to Empellón Cocina, the East Village Mexican restaurant from Alex Stupak, the former pastry chef of New York's WD-50 and Chicago's Alinea. The restaurant has received a fair amount of buzz, so it's nice to see it get a decent review. Wells points out that Stupak's cooking isn't authentically Mexican, but draws on those flavors to design his own creative dishes, like a gordita made with deep-fried egg yolk served with smoked plantains and chorizo. The guacamole, served with pistachios and masa chips, sounds really good too.

Elaine Sciolino has a piece on the pursuit of the perfect pea. I love peas, although I'm not quite passionate enough to read the whole thing. However, the accompanying recipe for Petits Pois de L’Oustau de Baumanière, which is French for Awesome Sounding Peas with Bacon, is something I must make soon. In keeping with my asparagus theme this week, the Times offers a recipe for Penne with Asparagus Carbonara

Washington Post
In contrast to the Times, I wasn't really excited about either of the Food section's front page stories, although both have their merits. Jim Shahin explores innovative barbecue cooking, something that would probably interest me more if I had a barbecue (one of the few food drawbacks of living in the city). Joe Yonan pops in for a Cooking for One column on eggs, particularly eggs from your own coop which, again, not something I can do where I live, although it bring back fond memories of gathering eggs in the morning on my grandma's farm. 

Two things I really liked today: Bonnie Benwick's Dinner in Minutes recipe and Jason Wilson's Spirits column. Bonnie offered up a Broccoli Soup with Cheddar Croutons, which uses yogurt instead of cream as a thickener plus an interest spice blend of cumin seed, fennel seed and coriander. Jason Wilson's column focuses on cocktails made with grapefruit juice, a personal favorite for building interesting drinks (see, for example, my blog's to-date most popular post: The Happy Endings Whore's Bath). He demonstrates its versatility, offering up suggested drinks with mezcal, tequila, vodka and aquavit. During today's chat he offered quite a few more examples too.

New York Times. Great front pages stories and a review of Alex Stupak's restaurant definitely carries it to victory this week.

The New York Times: 9
The Washington Post: 7

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Salmon with Tarragon-Lemon Yogurt Sauce

This is a tangy spring-leaning sauce to brighten up broiled salmon with asparagus. I recently discovered the utility of Greek yogurt. It has great texture, making a creamy sauce that is much lighter (fat free) than if using sour cream.

 Since I don't have a mortar and pestle, I use the rounded end of a cocktail muddler to grind the garlic into a paste. A sprinkle of salt helps the process.

To trim asparagus, simply bend the stalks and let them break at their natural breaking point. Discard the thicker, tough ends (the ends without the buds).

Salmon and Asparagus with Tarragon-Lemon Yogurt Sauce

3/4 lb. salmon fillet
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 lb. of asparagus, ends trimmed

Yogurt sauce:
1 garlic clove
Pinch of sea salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1. To make the salmon, preheat broiler with oven rack in highest position (about 4-5 inches from broiler). Stir together olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Place salmon fillet skin side down on baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Spread garlic-oil mixture on flesh side. Broil 5 minutes, flip fillet and broil 5 minutes more. Remove charred salmon skin and check for doneness. Broil an additional minute if salmon isn't cooked enough. Cut fillet in half.

2. To make the asparagus, toss with olive oil and seasoned salt and broil for about 7-8 minutes (if you use a large baking pan, you can broil the salmon and asparagus side-by-side).

3. To make the sauce, chop the garlic, add to a bowl with a pinch of salt and grind to a fine paste. Add the other ingredients and stir to combine.

4. Serve salmon on top of asparagus topped with the yogurt sauce and a sprinkling of fresh tarragon leaves.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Photo: Ryan Freisling for Wikipedia

All of this week's recipes will feature what I consider the quintessential spring vegetable: asparagus. Although asparagus can be very simple to prepare, it's good to know a few things.

When choosing asparagus, I try to pick stalks that are on the smaller side. Thicker asparagus is older and thus more likely to have started to take on a woody texture (once asparagus flowers, it becomes very woody).

Like any vegetable, it should always be thoroughly washed, and I find that asparagus is particularly prone to collecting sand.

To trim asparagus for cooking, a simple, an efficient method is to bend the asparagus stalk, which will cause it to snap at a natural breaking point, dividing it into the woodier, thicker part that isn't very tasty and the tender stalk and tip which is. Although I usually discard the thicker part, it can be used to flavor stock (as my pasta dish later in the week will show). Alternatively, you can use a peeler to remove the tough outer layer of the thicker part of the stalk, but this will increase your prep time significantly.

My favorite simple preparation for asparagus is to broil it. I do this frequently. It makes a simple, satisfying side dish that goes well with fish and meats. It can also be chopped and added to salads when cooled.

Simple Broiled Asparagus

1 bunch of fresh asparagus stalks, trimmed
Olive oil spray
Seasoned salt
Fresh-ground black pepper

1. Preheat the broiler with the oven rack adjusted to about 4-5 inches from heat element.

2. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoned salt.

3. Broil asparagus for 7-8 minutes, turning stalks halfway through (I use kitchen tongs).

4. Sprinkle fresh-ground black pepper on top and serve.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Reference Guide

I added a new feature to my blog today, a reference guide, which I will update regularly. It contains information about abbreviations, equipment, terminology and measurement conversions that I intend to be particularly useful for interpreting recipes, both by me and others. If you have any suggestions for information to include on the reference page, please let me know. It's accessible from the title bar.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Roasted Chicken with Greens and Bread Salad

On this very day a year ago, Chris and I walked into San Francisco's Zuni Cafe for dinner hoping to try its burger, tipped as one of the country's best. Sadly, their burger is served only during lunch, no exceptions.

At the time we were disappointed, but it meant that instead we got to enjoy the restaurant's other famous dish: roasted chicken for two with warm bread salad. Turns out, it was an auspicious swap. The dish was very good, so good that I sought out a recipe for it and have made it several times in the last year.

The bread salad is the best part: crusty peasant bread is tossed with olive oil and lightly toasted before soaking up the salad's white wine vinaigrette and mingling with its flavors of garlic, scallions and vinegar-plumped currants. Just writing this makes me want to go make another batch.

Zuni Cafe's dish comes with a whole roasted chicken cut into pieces with lots of crispy, seasoned skin. It's not as special but a lot easier to use boneless-skinless breasts and thighs like I did. To give the chicken a flavor boost, I roasted the chicken pieces on a bed of fresh thyme, along with olive oil and S&P. I also substituted arugula for the red mustard greens.

I'm not the only one singing the praises of this dish. It's been featured on the Today show, where you can find Chef Judy Rodger's original recipe. Smitten Kitchen did a nice take on it a few years ago.

Although I really enjoy this dish and make it every few months, I would still really like to try that burger.

Roasted Chicken with Greens and Bread Salad
Adapted from Zuni Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad by Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe

1 bunch of fresh thyme
1.5 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breasts
1.5 lb. boneless-skinless chicken thighs
Extra-virgin olive oil
Seasoned salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Bread salad:
8 oz. crusty Italian or peasant bread
7 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. currants
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. warm water
1 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Ground sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, sliced very thin
4 scallions, white end chopped with a little bit of the green part
2 tbsp. lightly salted water
4 cups of arugula (or other salad greens)

1. Preheat broiler with oven rack about 5 inches from heating element. Cut crust off bread and discard or use for other purpose. Tear and slice bread into pieces of about 1 to 2 inches. Put bread pieces in a large bowl, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and toss to coat. Spread bread pieces onto a baking sheet and broil to lightly toast, about 1-2 minutes (watch carefully, they will burn easily, especially if you hand tear the bread). When done, allow to cool and then put bread pieces back in the large bowl.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F (it won't take as long since the broiler was just on). In a 9 x 13 baking dish, arrange the fresh thyme sprigs on the bottom of the pan. Pat chicken pieces dry and place on top of the thyme. Brush chicken pieces with olive oil and season with seasoned salt and pepper. Put in oven and roast until internal temperature of chicken is about 165 F (should take about 20-30 minutes).

3. While chicken is roasting, prepare the bread salad. Put the currants in small bowl and add red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp. water. Set them aside to plump while you prepare the other ingredients. Whisk 1/4 cup of good quality extra-virgin olive oil with the white wine vinegar and ground sea salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/4 cup of the dressing to the toasted bread and toss to coat (the remaining tbsp. of dressing will be used later for the greens).

4. Heat a small (8-inch) frying pan over medium-low heat. Toast pine nuts in pan until fragrant and lightly browned (doesn't take long, watch carefully and keep nuts moving to avoid burning). Remove from pan and add to bowl with dressed bread. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil to pan. Add sliced garlic and chopped scallions and saute until softened, about 2 minutes. Add to bread. Drain currants and add to bread.

5. Place bread mixture in a small (8 x 8) baking dish. Sprinkle 2 tbsp. salted water over the bread mixture. Cover with aluminum foil and place in oven to warm during the last 7-8 minutes of time when the chicken is roasting.

6. Add arugula to large bowl and toss with remaining white wine vinaigrette. When broad mixture comes out of oven, remove from pan, add to bowl and toss with greens. Serve bread salad under roasted chicken pieces. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cocktail: Spring Breeze

I don't think it's possible to make a cocktail that's more refreshing than this. Mint, cucumber and lemon juice are all classically "refreshing flavors." Together with Hendrick's gin and some sugar, it makes a cocktail that's like being kissed by a cool spring breeze.

Spring Breeze

1 oz. simple syrup
8 fresh mint leaves
1-inch cucumber
1 1/2 oz. gin (Hendrick's)
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
2 oz. club soda
Small mint leaves and a slice of cucumber (optional garnish)

Add mint leaves and 1/2 oz. simple syrup to cocktail shaker. Muddle mint leaves with a twisting motion. Peel cucumber and chop into 1/2-inch cubes. Add to shaker and muddle with a crushing motion. Add ice, gin, lemon juice and another 1/2 oz. simple syrup. Shake until cold. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Garnish with small mint leaves and a slice of cucumber.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 15

Food (Section) Fight! is my weekly look at The Washington Post's Food section and The New York Times' Dining section with my verdict on which section had the better content for the week.

Sometimes it's nice to be surprised. I had a preview of what one of the food sections was offering today, and I was sure that it meant it would win. Turns out, I was mistaken. However, it was a competitive week, with both sections offering up enticing new columns today.

New York Times
The New York Times was off to a strong for two reasons: 1) The front page declared this week's Dining section to be "The Pizza Issue." That gets me going off the bat, for I love pizza (see my recent crispy pizza post). 2) Columnist Mark Bittman returned to the Dining section today. Bittman is something of a legend in food writing circles. For years, he wrote the Dining section column, The Minimalist, a celebration of how to bring out the best in fresh ingredients with simple recipes.

Bittman's new column "How to Cook Everything," is a riff on his celebrated cookbook of the same name (it's also available as an iPhone app, which I wrote about awhile ago). His first How to Cook Everything column ties into the issue's theme, espousing his simple approach to pizza, including his easy recipe for Basic Pizza Dough (which I consulted for my Crispy Pizza recipe). 

To some extent, I was prepared to award Food (Section) Fight! to NYT this week on the basis of these very promising moves. However, the rest of today's Dining section failed to live up to the promise of the front page.

The rest of the pizza coverage was underwhelming. Pete Wells has a piece on fried pizza, which doesn't really interest me (I suppose I'm a traditionalist in that I think pizza should be made in an oven). He also ignites one of my pet peeves by using the word "ecosystem" in the wrong context, referring to "New York's crowded pizza ecosystem." An ecosystem is an ecological unit comprised of living things and, as wonderful as pizzerias are, they are not, in fact, living (the people who run them, that's another story). Eric Asimov has a column on what to pair with pizza, in which he concludes that you can pair just about anything (red wine, white wine, beer, champagne or Coke). Melissa Clark offers up a couple of calzone recipes, which is like pizza's cousin. She says for the dough you can use homemade or purchased, but fails to direct readers to Bittman's dough recipe on page D3. Melissa! 

David Tanis' Seaweed Salad takes a really pretty picture. I don't know if I'm gung ho about putting seafood in my salad, but all the other ingredients sure look nice together. Pete Wells reviews Alison Eighteen, a new restaurant new Union Square that gets only 1 star. Then there's Jeff Gordiner's story about a guy who likes to paint pictures of cheese, which is amusing, but not really about either cooking or eating. 

Washington Post
So the New York Times dazzled me with the promise of a good section but ultimately let me down (except for Mark Bittman--LOVE Mark Bittman). Meanwhile, the Washington Post churned out a real work horse of a Food section today. You know how I said I often judge a good Food section by whether I'm still reading it by the time I finish breakfast? That was certainly true today. 

Front and center is the new column by David Hagedorn, which I am really excited about. It's called "The Process," and it's going to document the methods by which Hagedorn turns interesting ingredients into original dishes. For me, this is really exciting. It's is exactly where my personal cooking interest lies right now: learning how to use exceptional ingredients and draw on a working knowledge of cooking technique to produce delicious, original recipes. For the home cook, I see this is an important tipping point: crossing that threshold from replicating recipes others have made to wielding sufficient expertise to create your own. It's an exciting challenge, and I'm really looking forward to reading this each month. The first column focuses on a selection of spring vegetables: fresh chickpeas (i.e. not the canned kind), garlic chives and scallions, with recipes for each (particularly like the Scallion Shiitake Pancakes). 

Last week, I said I thought Tim Carman and I weren't on the same wavelength. This week, I love his story, a review of chef Alain Ducasse's new cookbook Nature, which includes some particularly witty phrases: "Alice Waters would have gushed like a broken fire hydrant in Queens, given the chance!" and..."which has earned him enough Michelin stars to form his own private galaxy." Full disclosure: his review didn't actually appear in the Food section (it's online), but the recipes he adapted from the cookbook do, including the rather tasty looking Spring Tartines.

For those who follow the D.C. restaurant scene, the trials and tribulations of chef Robert Donna will not be new to you. For those who don't, here's a quick recap: For years, Donna presided over the kitchen of his renowned downtown restaurant Galileo (I ate there twice, it was fabulous). When the building owner decided to renovate, Donna moved his operation to Crystal City, opening a more casual eatery called Bebo. Here the problems began: Bebo was plagued by bad service and mixed reviews. Still, the devotees seemed to give him a pass and when he returned to D.C. proper with Galileo III, that's when it got really bad. The good reviews? Gone, along with much of his staff, who reportedly took off after he failed to pay them. Yikes. Donna closed up shop, tucked tail between legs and took off for Phoenix (Yeah, odd, but it happened). Well, now he's back with a new casual pasta and pizza restaurant in upper northwest called La Forchetta. Already, it's embroiled in controversy for apparently having lifted its name and logo from a Venezuelan restaurant and creating confusion with the similarly named French D.C. restaurant La Fourchette. However, Tom Sietsema's First Bite preview sounds promising (thankfully for me, since I have reservations there soon). The pizza sounds a little disappointing, but other dishes sound good. Tom fails to mention anything about the pasta, which perhaps he is saving for his review proper. 

Other good content this week includes Jane Black's story about mobile carts bringing produce to low-income, urban neighborhoods, Bonnie Benwick's Dinner in Minutes recipe for Kale and Chickpeas Stew, reminiscent of this All We Can Eat post from January about kale and chickpeas, and Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's Nourish recipe, Grilled Asparagus, Farfalline and Prosciutto Salad.

The Washington Post. Despite my excitement over the NYT pizza issue and the return of Mark Bittman, I was even more impressed by the new David Hagedorn column and overall good coverage this week from WaPo. 

The New York Times: 8
The Washington Post: 7

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ginger-Hoisin Salmon with Quinoa Pilaf

In my continuing quest for good salmon dishes, I came across The Lovely Pantry's Hoisin Salmon with Quinoa and Zucchini. Quinoa is very popular these days, a crunchy whole grain that is supposed to be very good for you. It can be a bit bland on its own, but tossed with other good ingredients it adds wonderful texture. I liked the idea of pairing it with salmon as well as giving an Asian flavor with hoisin sauce.

For the quinoa, I decided to turn it into a pilaf, adding sweet onion, red pepper and corn. For the salmon, I switched to broiling, which is my preferred method for cooking salmon, and also added another Asian flavor--fresh ginger. The basil was just because it was hanging around the kitchen, but it went nicely with the quinoa and vegetables.

Salmon with Quinoa Pilaf
Inspired by The Lovely Pantry's Hoisin Salmon with Quinoa and Zucchini

1 cup red quinoa, rinsed
2 cups low sodium chicken broth (may substitute vegetable broth)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium (or 1/2 of a large) sweet onion, diced
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels (may use frozen)
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
3/4 lb. salmon fillet with skin
Olive oil spray
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. basil, cut into thin ribbons

1. Heat quinoa and chicken broth in a medium (2.5 qt.) saucepan over medium-high heat until mixture boils. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes.

2. While quinoa cooks, in a large (12-inch) frying pan, heat 2 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, zucchini and red pepper and saute for 5 minutes. Add corn and continue sautéing another 10 minutes. Season with seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Add to quinoa once it has simmered for 10 minutes and continue to simmer another 5-7 minutes until the chicken broth has mostly absorbed.

3. Position oven rack to 4-5 inches from the broiler and heat. Put salmon fillet skin-side down on a rimmed baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Spray salmon with additional oil and smear grated ginger on flesh side of salmon. Season with seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Broil for 5 minutes, flip salmon over and broil another 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Discard salmon skin and, if desired, scrape off the grey fatty part. Flip salmon over again so the side with the ginger is up. Put hoisin sauce in a small microwave dish (like a Pyrex ramekin) and heat for 5 seconds to thin it out a bit. Spread over salmon and broil for another minute. Remove from oven and slice in half.

4. Serve a few large spoonfuls of quinoa pilaf in a shallow bowl topped with a piece of broiled salmon and a sprinkling of fresh basil chiffonade (not pictured, because I forgot to add it before the photos, but we ate it!).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Food Truck Lunch II

Awhile back I wrote about some downtown D.C. food truck lunch options. I thought it was time to revisit the topic.

Apart from the ongoing regulatory battle, the biggest news in the D.C. food truck of late is the arrival of Jose Andres' truck Pepe. It's been around for a few weeks now, but Andres' Spanish sandwich truck seems is still setting records for longest food truck lines (in addition to its record prices, including $20 for the Pepito de Iberico, which includes Iberico pork, Serrano Ham and roasted green pepper--sounds delicious).

Regrettably, I haven't tried Pepe yet. But not for my having not tried. Most food trucks tweet their location in the morning well before lunchtime, which you can track with a map of their locations on Food Truck Fiesta. For awhile, Pepe was tweeting it's location later than most others, although it seems to be improving. However, I've had bad luck trying to locate the truck. One day when it was going to be at the Portrait Gallery at 11:30 I was ready to go. I showed up at 11:30 even pepe. I circled the block three times and even did a lap around Hotel Monaco in case Pepe's location had been a little off. No dice. I ended up getting food from another truck and learned later that Pepe was about 20 minutes to its spot. I'm determined to try it soon though.

Here's a round up of some of my best recent food truck lunches:

Chupacabra. The Chupacabra is a mythic Latin-American monster, but there's nothing scary about the food served up at the food truck by the same name. These are the best food truck tacos I've had so far (yes, better than TaKorean). Pictured above is their trio of chicken, pork and shredded beef tacos, all of which come topped with chopped radishes and cilantro, giving the spicy, seasoned meat a cool, fresh finish.

Borinquen Lunch Box. This truck serves Puerto Rican cuisine and was recommended to me by my coworker with a Puerto Rican heritage. She steered me towards the Tripleta, and I'm a better man for it. It's really, really good. As the name implies, this is a sandwich with three meats: roasted pork, skirt steak and ham, served with lettuce and potato sticks (basically mini French fries). It's not a particularly healthy sandwich, but it is very satisfying.

Carnivore BBQ. A hankering for a good barbecue sandwich is easily satisfied by this truck, whose pulled pork sandwich features a rather generous helping of shredded pork served on a bun with slaw and barbecue sauce. I thought the sandwich was really good; not too spicy, not too sweet, although that will vary depending on what sauce you choose (I opted for Memphis).

CapMac. It's been a few weeks since I visited CapMac, and they are no longer offering their winter mac, a dressed up mac & cheese featuring shredded pork, roasted butternut squash and fontina cheese (they told me today that they are now offering a roast pork Philly mac, with fontina and provolone cheese sauce and sautéed broccoli rabe). Even if this is no longer there, I imagine whatever seasonal offering has replaced it will be just as good.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Pie

(This caps off a week of Mexican-themed content, including a recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole, my Tartan Mula cocktail and a review of the newest D.C. outpost of Rosa Mexicano, plus a look at the citrus juicer, an essential piece of equipment for these recipes.)

Restaurants are often a good source of inspiration for home kitchen creativity.

During a recent visit to the new Rosa Mexicano in Friendship Heights, Chris really enjoyed an entree of chicken tortilla pie. The dish was corn tortillas layered with pulled chicken, Chihuahua cheese and a poblano cream sauce.

For my take, I wanted something similar, although with a little more complexity. I decided to alternate layers of chicken, cheese and peppers with a spicy black bean puree.

Getting the various components ready is the biggest challenge for this dish. You can do them one at a time, but it will take a while. I recommend getting the beans started first so they can cool a bit before pureeing them in a food processor. The chicken doesn't require much care either, so it can get started early too.

I'd never cooked a poblano pepper before. In fact, I didn't know what one looked like and had to ask a produce clerk for help. It's a good thing, as I almost picked up a cubanelle instead.

For the chicken layer, I wanted something with a cheese sauce, but I didn't want it to be too rich. So I shied away from using heavy or sour cream and instead melted the monterey jack in some bechamel. The texture was just right when mixed with the sauteed onion, chicken and diced poblano.

To layer the pies, I started with a tortilla, then a layer of chicken, another tortillas, then a layer of bean puree, and then all that repeated again with extra cheese on the final top layer of bean puree.

Chicken Tortilla Pie

Makes two pies (enough for four servings)

Black bean puree:

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
seasoned salt to taste
Juice from 1/2 lime

Poblano-chicken-cheese filling:

3 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 poblano pepper
Olive oil spray
1 sweet onion, diced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. flour
1 cup milk (skim is fine)
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese

8 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
1 avocado
Juice from 1/2 lime
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

1. Make the black bean puree. Heat olive oil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until soft and fragrant. Add the beans, spice and lime juice and reduce heat to simmer until the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated off, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly then puree cooked mixture in a food processor.

2. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken breasts and season with seasoned salt and ground black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, flip breasts, and cook for another 5 minutes until breasts are browned on both sides. Set aside to cool and then chop into 1/2-inch size pieces.

3. Prepare the pepper. Preheat the oven broiler with the rack in the highest position (about 4-5 inches from broiler). Cut the pepper in half to make two long pieces, removing the seeds as desired to moderate hotness (I left about half of them in). Place the two pieces of pepper skin side up on a baking sheet, spray with olive oil and broil until the peppers start to black in places (watch carefully, cooking time will vary and it won't take very long). Set aside to cool and then chop finely.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 F (since it was just used to broil the pepper, it should heat up quickly).

5. Make the bechamel. Heat the last tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and oregano and saute until the onion is softened. Season as desired with seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Add the flour and stir with a whisk to cook it a few minutes. Add the milk to the pan and continue whisking until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Reduce heat to medium-low.

6. Stir half of the shredded cheese into the bechamel until it melts and is smooth. Add the chopped sauteed chicken and chopped blackened poblano pepper.

7. Assemble the pies. Spray a large baking sheet with olive oil. Assemble the first pie on one end of the baking sheet in the following order: 1) corn tortilla, 2) chicken-cheese mixture (use about 1/4 of the mixture, 3) corn tortilla, 4) bean puree (use about 1/4 of the puree), then repeat steps 1 through 4 to make an eight-layered pie with two layers of bean and two layers of chicken. Top the final layer of bean puree with about half of the remaining cheese. Repeat to make a second pie on the baking sheet next to the first pie.

8. Bake the pies in the hot oven for about 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese on top has melted and browned a bit.

9. While the pies are baking, prepare the guacamole. Peel avocado and place flesh in a medium bowl. Add lime juice and mash together (I like to use a pastry blender). Mix in half of the chopped cilantro.

10. Once the pies are done, serve them them topped with a big dollop of guacamole and some chopped fresh cilantro.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rosa Mexicano (Friendship Heights), Washington, D.C.

2015 Update: The Friendship Heights Rosa Mexicano has closed. The downtown location remains open.

Unlike food critics who have to, most diners who have a bad experience during a first visit to a restaurant do not go back. Why would they? With hundreds of options vying for your hard-earned cash, it's a more reasonable gamble to try your luck somewhere else.

Unfortunately for restaurants though, this means one bad night can turn any first-time diners into one-time diners. Maybe this doesn't seem fair--that server who ruined your meal may have been new and not long-lasting--but it's the way it is.

My first meal at the downtown D.C. Rosa Mexicano did not leave a very good impression. I thought the meal was overpriced for rather ordinary enchiladas. The supposedly famous table-side guacamole? Not as good as the table-side guacamole served a block away at Oyamel. This was probably 8 years ago, and I hadn't been back since...until recently.

In the ensuing years, the restaurant has apparently thrived. The downtown location always looks busy, and a second opened at Maryland's nearby National Harbor. Then, just a few months ago, a third local location opened not far from my house. I decided to act in atypical diner fashion and give the Manhattan-based another chance.

I'm glad I did. Chris and I have been to the new Friendship Heights location twice and had great dinners both times. That table-side guacamole may be no better than what Jose Andres serves at Oyamel, but it scores points for being served with warm, freshly made mini corn tortillas, which also taste delicious with the chipotle house salsa.

So far, our entrees have been uniformly good. My grilled salmon served with sweet corn, kale and pancetta was cooked just right and given a nice spicy-sweet kick by its habanero-fruit white wine sauce. Even better were the short ribs. So tender and served with a savory but not too spicy tomatillo-tomato-chipotle sauce. For those that either love or loath heat, both of these dishes are marked as "medium" spicy, but frankly neither are really spicy--certainly far less spicy than the green salsa served with the guacamole.

Another winner is the chicken tortilla pie, a comforting layered dish of shredded chicken, cheese and roasted peppers served with poblano cream sauce. It's so good that I was inspired to make my own take on the dish (which I will write about tomorrow). Other dishes I've yet to try that tempt me to make return visits: the marinated pork shank and the roasted duck with mole poblano sauce. There's also a brunch, which could be enticing too.

As for drinks, although their frozen pomegranate margarita claims to be the house speciality, I prefer the simpler tradicional: silver tequila with fresh lime and agave served on the rocks. Haven't yet sampled the desserts; we're always too full.

Rosa Mexicano replaces Bambule, a Spanish restaurant that we never tried. No matter. Rosa makes a nice addition to the somewhat starved-for-good-restaurants retail mecca of Friendship Heights.

 Rosa Mexicano on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cocktail: Tartan Mula

The other weekend while out at District of Pi, a friend ordered this amazing cocktail made with mezcal and spicy ginger ale. It was so delightfully smoky. I wanted to try to make something like it. Sadly, my local liquor store didn't have the right kind of mezcal, so I'll have to keep looking. I made this instead, inspired by its smoke and ginger flavors.

Tartan Mula
1 oz. blanco tequila
1/2 oz. single malt Scotch
1/2 oz. lime juice (juice from 1/2 fresh lime)
4 oz. ginger beer
Lime wedge (optional garnish)

1. Fill rocks glass halfway with ice. Add all ingredients and stir to combine. Serve with lime wedge.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 14

Food (Section) Fight! is my weekly look at The Washington Post's Food section and The New York Times' Dining section with my verdict on which section had the better content for the week.

Washington Post
I think maybe Tim Carman and I aren't on the same wavelength. Today's Food section starts with his feature story about how Washington doesn't eat breakfast anymore, a story I read while...perusing the Food Section over breakfast. I eat breakfast everyday with none being more special than Wednesdays (since it's breakfast with the Food Section, duh). In addition to telling us how restaurants like the four-star  Michel Richard Citronelle have ditched breakfast, he quotes a nutritionist who seems to think it's healthy to skip breakfast, and that the mantra to eat breakfast was a cereal marketing ploy. Perhaps. But I feel like these are examples in search of a narrative. There are plenty of restaurants in D.C. that offer breakfast. There's also plenty of evidence that eating breakfast is healthy. It's an interesting story, but I'm highly skeptical of its generalizability.

The other cover story, by Candy Sagon, is also amusing, but not very illuminating. It's about how bad food smells in a house for sale could keep buyers away. She talks about how she and her husband went without home-cooked broccoli, cabbage and organ meats (who cooks organ meats at home?) while they were trying to sell their house. Ultimately, she suggests keeping store-bought cookies warm in the oven to make good smells in the house. I suppose that's good advice, but I think you could just as easily open some windows and run your kitchen fan and everything would be fine.

Among the things I liked in today's Food section: this recipe for Lemon and Honey Chicken, which despite the fact that it's supposed to not make your house smelly, but just sounds really tasty. Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's Nourish recipe also sounds really good: Red Wine Chicken and Mushroom Stir-Fry, which she likens to a stir-fry version of coq au vin. Beer Madness concludes, and the winner is Maui Brewing Co's Coconut Porter. Good luck finding that! (Rodman's has Maui Brewing Co. beer, but I didn't see this particular one there this afternoon.) Finally, Jason Wilson has an interesting story about blending cognac, including a discussion about his own experience blending one, which revealed his rather expensive taste. Here here Jason.

New York Times
I really enjoyed Patricia Leigh Brown's lead story about a conference at the Napa Valley Culinary Institute of America Greystone Campus for healthcare professionals to learn how to cook. To me, that makes a lot of sense. If obesity is linked to a lot of health problems, then teaching doctors how to cook will allow them to give better advice to their patients. Telling people to eat healthier is not effective advice when you don't know how to do so yourself. 

Andrew Scrivani's story about repurposing leftovers into new dishes is amusing and his Greek-style dinner pie made with leftover greens looks quite tasty. Melissa Clark's Pink Grapefruit and Radicchio Salad with Dates and Pistachios sounds good too. Looking at the picture, I thought there was bacon in it, but I guess those are just dates (but wouldn't bacon be good in this too?). Lastly, I was pleased to see a mention of a Portland, Oregon, restaurant, Pok Pok, whose chef, the James Beard Award-winning Andy Ricker, is opening a New York City outpost in Brooklyn, Pok Pok NY. 

The New York Times. Although it's not a knockout week for the Times, I found more stories that interested me in the Dining section this week than in the Post.

The New York Times: 8
The Washington Post: 6

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole

 Guacamole is one of life's great comfort foods. With the weather warming up, a bowl of fresh guac with some salty tortilla chips and a frosty margarita feels more and more appealing.

Making guacamole is pretty simple and, apart from the two required basics (fresh avocados and salt), additional mix-ins make it a versatile treat. Fresh citrus juice, tomatoes, herbs and spices shape its flavor profile. For a long time, I made guacamole frequently (like every week), and my additions were lime juice, seasoned salt, cumin and chipotle chili powder, as well as tomatoes or cilantro if I happened to have them. Just don't overdo it: you want the avocado to be the dish's true star. One popular additive I don't endorse: sour cream. I know some people like this, but I think it ruins it.

About the trickiest part is making sure the avocados are ripe. When unripe, their flesh is tough, which makes peeling and chopping them a pain. Plus you don't get that nice creaminess to the mixture. Overripe and they turn brown and mushy, which makes them unappetizing. To ripen them, just leave them out on the counter in a paper or plastic bag (don't put them in the refrigerator). Hitting that sweet spot can be tricky. If the avocado at the store is pretty green, you'll probably want them to set out for 2 or 3 days. If they're darker green toward brown but pretty firm, maybe just a day. If they feel at all squishy, don't buy them--they're overripe.

To peel them, I run a paring knife all the way around the avocado the long way, cutting through the flesh to the pit. Then I twist both halves; the pit will remain on one side. If the avocado is ripe, you can remove the pit with your fingers. If it's a little early, you might have to cut it out. I then cut the two halves in half again and peel off the skin with my fingers.

For this version, I chose to up my game by adding roasted tomatillo. Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes with a light brown papery wrapper. The wrapper comes off pretty easily, but the inside of it is sticky, so you'll want to wash the tomatillos after peeling off the outer skin.

Roasting them is pretty simple: just broil them for about 7 minutes. They'll turn nice and black on top, adding a depth of flavor and bringing out their tangy sweetness.

You can peel off the charred skin or just leave it on (I did) and chop the cooked tomatillos along with the other ingredients.

Traditionally, the avocado is ground in a rough stone bowl, the molcajete. Lacking that, as well as a mortar and pestle, I've developed what I think is a rather ingenious blending method: using a pastry cutter. It's really quite perfect, mashing the avocado into a creamy pulp while still leaving some nice-size chunks.

Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole

5 tomatillos, outer skin removed and washed
3 ripe hass avocados
Juice from 1 lime
2 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
Seasoned salt to taste

1. Move oven rack to position 5 inches from broiler and preheat broiler. Put tomatillos in a rimmed baking sheet and broil until softened and charred on top, about 7 minutes (watch to prevent burning). Set aside until cool and then chop coarsely.

2. Peel avocados and place flesh in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, mash and chop the avocado until it reaches a desired consistency (I like mine to be fairly chunky; keep going longer if you want it smoother).

3. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Serve with good quality tortilla chops. Also good as a dip for fresh vegetables.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Equipment: Citrus Juicer

To some, a citrus juicer may not seem like essential kitchen equipment. If you don't make a lot of things with fresh lemon or lime juice, perhaps it's not for you. But for me, it's absolutely great.

I use fresh citrus juice frequently in cocktails as well as many recipes (including all three recipes I'm posting this week). This tool saves time, mess and waste. There's really no downside.

Trying to squeeze citrus with your bare hands can be tiring; this gives you good leverage to work quickly. By hand, you often end up squirting on the counter, on the wall or even in your eye (ouch). This is designed to contain the squirt and drain the juice only where you want it. The green middle piece allows you to size the inner bowl to make a better fit for lemons or limes, so there's little "unsqueezed" juice left in the fruit. Plus it's just really efficient. You can juice your way through a whole basket of citrus in no time, without having to roll them on the counter or microwave them to get a good result.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lemon Cake with Honey-Mascarpone Frosting and Ginger-Brown Sugar Ice Cream

When I tell people that I make my own birthday cake they have this surprised look on their face, but for me it makes perfect sense. I love to cook and making a cake is a treat. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to...or make my own cake!

This year, I decided I wanted to combine the flavors of lemon, honey and ginger. This is a classic combination that works well in hot tea and cocktails (see my Indochine Bee's Knees from earlier in the week). After considering several options, I decided the best course would be to put the lemon in the cake, the honey in the frosting and the ginger in the ice cream.

Finding a good cake recipe proved to be tricky. America's Test Kitchen's Lemon Layer Cake is layers of white cake sandwiched with lemon curd. I wanted the lemon flavor in the cake itself. Such cakes, however tend to be bundt cakes or loaf cakes, like Ina Garten's Lemon Cake. Still not quite right. I'd have to improvise.

In the past, I've had a lot of luck with America's Test Kitchen's recipe for Yellow Layer Cake. I decided to adapt this recipe by swapping out the milk for lemon juice and buttermilk. Buttermilk is an obvious choice: it's tangy flavor would compliment the lemon. Some recipes that call for buttermilk suggest substituting milk and lemon juice if you don't have buttermilk. I upped the moisture ratio a bit, adding 3/4 cup of buttermilk and lemon juice. Although one must be careful when changing ratios in baking, my thinking was that the extra 1/4 cup of liquid might mean baking the cake a little longer and wouldn't make a huge difference, which turned out to be the case.

For the frosting, I decided a cream cheese frosting would be the way to go, since a powder sugar frosting might be too sweet. But instead of regular cream cheese, I chose mascarpone, which has a richer texture and more neutral flavor. Doing so provided a better showcase for the honey flavor, which regular cream cheese might have muted.

I had a little timing problem with frosting the cake. I made the frosting too soon and when it was ready, the cake wasn't cool yet (and, FYI, it's not a good idea to frost a warm cake, as it will activate the butter and you'll have a runny mess). Since the frosting is basically cream cheese, I put it in the fridge. But then once the cake was cool, the frosting was hard. Arg. So I had to let it sit out anyway and I think the cool and reheating caused some separation with the honey, giving it a lumpy texture. It still tasted wonderful, but I would recommend setting the frosting ingredients out while the cake is in the oven (so they come to room temperature) and then making the frosting once the cake is cool.

Finally, there was the ice cream. I've had such success making ice creams from Jeni Britton Bauer's Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home that I knew I wanted to use her technique, even though she doesn't have a recipe that exactly matched what I wanted to make. Her technique is very adaptable though: the basic formula starts with cream, milk, sugar and corn syrup which is first cooked then combined with cornstarch and cooked again, then finally whisked together with cream cheese and salt before chilling and processing. Flavors that need to be steeped are added in the first step, other flavors that aren't cooked can be added with the cream cheese and any added solids (like chocolate chips or cookie crumbs) would go in during the processing. Seems easy enough.

To infuse the cream mixture with ginger flavor, I added a heaping 1/4 cup of roughly minced fresh ginger root. A last minute brainstorm led me to substitute brown sugar for regular sugar. Since brown sugar contains molasses, I thought this might nudge the ice cream toward a molasses ginger cookie without putting in so much molasses that the ice cream would overpower the lemon cake. Once the cream/ginger mixture was boiled for a few minutes, I let it steep for about 10 minutes before straining out the ginger solids. Some ginger ice cream recipes I consulted (including Jeni's Celery Ice Cream with Candied Ginger  Rum-Plumped Golden Raisins) add chopped crystalized ginger when processing the ice cream. I tasted the ice cream mixture before freezing it and decided it was sufficiently gingery, so I did not do this.

The resulting cake and ice cream delivered the flavors I wanted in nice balance.

Lemon Layer Cake
Adapted from Yellow Layer Cake recipe by America's Test Kitchen

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces, soft but still cool

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two cake pans with butter, cover pan bottoms with buttered parchment rounds. Flour pans and tap our excess flour (tip: to reduce flour waste, I tap the excess flour from the first pan into the second).

2. Whisk eggs, lemon juice and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Measure out 1 cup of this mixture. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in stand mixer bowl and beat on lowest speed for about 30 seconds to blend. With mixer running, add butter a few pieces at at time. Mix until mixture clumps together and looks like sand and pebbles (will be about the time you finish adding butter). Add the reserved 1 cup of egg mixture and mix for about 5 seconds to incorporate, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about a minute. Add remaining egg mixture in a slow stream with the machine running, about 30 seconds (careful, it splatters easily). Stop mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Beat on medium-high for another 15 seconds to thoroughly combine. Mixture will appear a bit curdled.

3. Divide batter into prepared cake pans and smooth batter with spatula. Bake until cakes are light brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center, about 25 minutes. Cook on racks for about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes with a knife (tip: use a plastic one to avoid scratching nonstick cake pans), invert onto racks, remove parchment and allow to cool completely before frosting.

4. To assemble cake: place first cake layer on cake plate flat side down. Smooth about 1/2 cup frosting on top of cake (tip: I like to use an offset spatula for frosting cakes; it doubles as a nice serving instrument). Place second cake on top of frosted layer with flat side up. Smooth about 3/4 cup of frosting on top and use the rest to frost the side. Cake should be kept in refrigerator.

Honey-Mascarpone Frosting
Adapted from Darjeeling Dreams' Honeyed Frosting recipe

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz. mascarpone, at room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3 tbsp. honey (I used wildflower honey)

1. Beat together butter, mascarpone and powdered sugar on low for a few seconds to combine and then beat on medium-high until mixture is thick and fluffy. Add honey and continue beating another minute to incorporate. Use frosting immediately on cooled cake layers.

Ginger-Brown Sugar Ice Cream
Adapted from the technique of Jeni Britton Bauer in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
1/8 tsp. salt
2-3 inches of fresh ginger root
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp. light corn syrup

1. Whisk 2 tbsp. of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl (I use a 1-cup liquid measuring cup). Set aside. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

2. Whisk cream cheese salt in a large bowl (I use an 8-cup liquid measuring cup).

3. Peel and chop the fresh ginger until there's a heaping 1/4 cup. Add to a 4-quart saucepan with the cream, brown sugar, corn syrup and remaining milk. Bring to a rolling bowl over medium-high heat. Boil mixture for 4 minutes, watching carefully and stirring frequently to avoid boiling over. Remove from heat and let steep for 10 minutes.

4. Slowly whisk in the cornstarch slurry and return mixture to medium-high heat to boil for an additional minute to thicken. Remove from heat, strain to remove ginger pieces, and gradually whisk hot mixture into cream cheese until smooth. Pour mixture into a large gallon-size zip lock bag and submerge sealed bag in an ice water bath. Once cooled, you can store this mixture in the fridge for awhile or proceed with processing the ice cream in step 5.

5. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and process until thickened and frozen, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a storage container and freeze fully in the freezer.