Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cocktail: Kickin' Cucumber Collins


I say this drink is "kickin'" because it's incredibly spicy. It won't burn your mouth, bit it will awaken your senses.

Making the ginger-peppercorn syrup

The star ingredient is the ginger-peppercorn syrup, which gives the drink a potent yet refreshing kick. To temper the heat, I added other soothing ingredients: fresh mint and muddled cucumber, plus the herbal taste of yellow Chartreuse liqueur. The syrup is also good with just gin, lime juice and club soda, if you want something simpler.

Kickin' Cucumber Collins

1 oz. ginger-peppercorn syrup*
8 mint leaves
About an inch of peeled cucumber, chopped
1 oz. lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
½ oz. Chartreuse
1 ½ oz. gin
2 oz. club soda

Add syrup and mint to shaker and muddle. Add cucumber and muddle again. Add ice, lemon juice, Chartreuse and gin. Shake well and strain into collins glass with ice. Top with club soda and garnish with cucumber slice and mint.

*To make ginger-peppercorn syrup, combine 2 tablespoons coarsely cracked peppercorns, ¼ cup chopped ginger (about 3 inches peeled ginger root), 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep for 40 minutes. Strain out solids.




Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 21

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

Today's feature story is about chefs becoming well-known for cooking ethnic food that isn't a match for their own ethnic heritage. Portland, Oregon's Andy Ricker of Pok Pok and the new Pok Pok NY is prominently featured, as is Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina (and Top Chef first season winner Harold Dieterle, whose cooking I'm a big fan of). Writer Francis Lam discusses how sometimes such chefs are able to better adapt foreign cuisines to American palates because they aren't as tied to the culinary traditions they are inspired by.

Sort of a light week from my point of view. The only other story I was really into was Pete Wells' review of Back Forty West, the new Soho eatery that's moved into the former Savoy space. I wasn't really wowed by today's recipes; even Mark Bittman's Charred Peppers didn't excite me much.

Washington Post

The Washington Post led with David Hagedorn's feature on modernist cuisine with a focus on the equipment chefs are using to marry homestyle cooking with techniques from molecular gastronomy. There's a nice photo gallery with the online version. Mintwood Place, Elisir and Rogue 24 are among the restaurants featured in the story.

Jane Touzalin has a preview of 10 must-have cookbooks perfect for summer. Aliza Green's Marking Artisan Pasta sounds particularly intriguing to me, as does the recipe adapted from Annie Rigg's The Meat Free Monday Cookbook for Sicilian Cauliflower Pasta.

Greg Kitsock has a story about beer breweries doing more to lure guests for tours and tastings, although I'm a little confused about his statement that in D.C. breweries can offer tastings but the beer cannot be consumed at the brewery, since DC Brau's website says exactly the opposite: that it MUST be consumed inside the brewery. Dave McIntyre reviews chardonnays made from Oregon-grown grapes, including the Chehalem Winery Inox Chardonnay, a crisp and fruity unoaked style that I sampled last winter and thought was quite good.

Tom Sietsema's First Bite is a rather unusual choice: the buffet at the National Gallery of Art, although it makes more sense once you read that José Andrés did the Catalan-influenced menu, designed to tie in the current Joan Miró exhibit. Lastly, Tim Carman profiles food truck ChefDriven, the project of former brick-and-mortar chef Jerry Trice from Annapolis.

Verdict

The Washington Post. A nicely balanced week of features, equipment, cookbooks, recipes and drinks.


Score

The New York Times: 11
The Washington Post: 10

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rehoboth Beach, Del. Dining Guide (Part 1)


Babyback ribs, Pig + Fish.
[2014 update: Cabo has now closed, replaced by a new Mexican restaurant, Papa Grande's, which we didn't try this year.]

Rehoboth Beach may have grown a lot over the years, but at its core it's still the quaint little beach town of your sunny summer memories, albeit with more hotels and outlet malls on the highway.

The town proper is a perfect mix of shops and restaurants catering equally well to both families and adults, including the significant number of gay and lesbian vacationers that call Rehoboth their "home away from home."

When it comes to food, there's a little of everything too, from the standard boardwalk fare of saltwater taffy, fries and pizza to upscale fine dining, such as Espuma, whose chef, Joe Caputo, was a James Beard Award semifinalist this year in the mid-Atlantic chef category.

Chris and I have been vacationing in Rehoboth Beach almost every summer for 13 years now. Over the years, we've seen quite a bit of change in the restaurant scene. We have our definite favorites, several of which we discovered as new restaurants and got to watch rise to prominence (and a few sadly that didn't make it). Here's our Rehoboth dining guide, one I hope to update periodically.

Dinner

It's hard for us to discover new dinner spots since we're fiercely loyal to two favorites, and a trip to Rehoboth Beach wouldn't feel right without visiting them both. Dos Locos (208 Rehoboth Avenue) has hit gold with its fresh take on Tex-Mex. Grilled fajitas and frosty lime margaritas are the perfect fare to enjoy as the sun sets after a day on the sand. Everything we've had tastes fresh and never greasy. Every time we go we're reminded that Dos Locos serves better Tex-Mex than anything we get in D.C. Despite the fact that the restaurant has expanded and become very popular (expect to wait if you go at prime dining hours),we always see owners Joe and Darryl working the host stand and bar and they always make us feel welcome.

Our other favorite is Pig + Fish (236 Rehoboth Avenue), which, as it name implies, excels at serving hearty grilled meat and seafood. My personal favorite is the braised barbecue pork shank, a falling-off-the-bone tender smoked pork shank served in a tangy barbecue sauce with sweet potatoes and spinach. Through the years, we've also enjoyed the Tabasco smoked pork tenderloin, babyback ribs (pictured at top) and seared scallops. As a starter, you can't go wrong with the tomato-mozzarella salad, a hearty take on the classic Italian Caprese served with beefsteak tomatoes, a fresh basil honey-mustard vinaigrette and reduced balsamic glaze. Lastly, I must say the service here is always top notch, particularly if we're served by Carissa, whose friendly and efficient service is among the best we've had at any restaurant.

Braised barbecue pork shank, Pig + Fish.

We were pleased by our first trip to newcomer Cabo (210 Second Street), a new project from aforementioned Espuma Chef Jay Caputo that opened this year in the former Porcini House space. It bills itself as "modern Mexican," which seems an apt description for the food. If you like smoke, you're in luck. Walking to the beach in the morning, we could smell the cooks at work and weren't disappointed by the tequila smoked chicken tacos and the suckling pig burrito. The only disappointment was the appetizer. Although the bowl of fresh guacamole was tasty, I didn't appreciate the floppy, undercooked corn tortilla chips. Nevertheless, that should be easy to correct (and I doubt diners would mind if they just bought them, although I do appreciate the effort to go house-made).

Lunch

We usually drive to Rehoboth Beach in the morning and have a tradition of making Grotto Pizza (multiple locations on the boardwalk and Rehoboth Avenue) our first meal. The Baker's Choice is our usual pie, made special by its tangy pickled bell peppers. Nicola Pizza is the other major pizza operation in town, although I haven't eaten there in years, so I can't comment on its quality.

If you want pub fare, your best bet is Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats (320 Rehoboth Avenue). Of course, it's best known for its locally brewed Dogfish craft ales, and on site you can get special ones not available at retail or in other restaurants. But it has good food too like hearty burgers and wood-grilled pizzas. Like Dos Locos, this is another particularly popular spot, so plan accordingly.

Breakfast

Breakfast is traditionally the most challenging meal for us. A longtime favorite, Retro Cafe, closed last year, forcing us to find a new favorite place. This year's best breakfast was from Robin Hood (54 Rehoboth Avenue), a no-frills diner near the beach that serves a basic but well-executed menu (the home fries with my western omelet were really good). Corner Grille (11 S. First Street) also does a decent breakfast.

Hoping for something a little more upscale, this year we tried the restaurant at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel (2 Olive Avenue), but were disappointed. The service was prompt and friendly and the food was fine but not spectacular. The syrup on my pancakes the menu claimed was Vermont maple was clearly maple-flavored corn syrup (perhaps they think Aunt Jemima has moved her operation up north?).

Royal Treat (4 Wilmington Avenue) is the most popular breakfast place and its pancakes are excellent. However, it opens later than other places and you are guaranteed a line, so if you want to hit the beach early (and the beach is so beautiful in the morning when it's not yet crowded), I don't recommend it. Save it for your last day before heading out of town.

Treats

What's a trip to the beach without a few sweet treats? The commercial center of Rehoboth's mile-long boardwalk offers quite a few options. The iconic Dolle's (1 Rehoboth Avenue) is certainly worth a mention. I'm not really a fan of saltwater taffy, but I do love their caramel corn. For ice cream, the first decision is soft-serve or hard. For the former, I recommend Kohr Bros. (multiple locations on the boardwalk) frozen custard, which comes in many flavors supplemented if you wish with a dip in chocolate or sprinkles (or both). For the latter, the aforementioned Royal Treat can't be beat. I had a really divine peanut butter and vanilla cone on our last night.

Sunset over Silver Lake, Rehoboth Beach, Del.


Pig & Fish Restaurant Co on Urbanspoon Dos Locos Stonegrill on Urbanspoon Cabo Modern Mexican Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 28, 2012

Early Summer Fruit Salad


With Memorial Day ushering in the (unofficial) start of summer, I'm even more in the mood for fresh, local ingredients as the region's farmers markets swell with produce.


We stopped at a market on our way home from the beach today and picked up some berries. It was Chris's suggestion that I make a fruit salad, which turned out to be just perfect today.

For the dressing, I used a simple combination of lemon juice, lemon zest and honey, augmented with fresh basil. To make basil ribbons, known as chiffonade, stack the basil leaves largest on the bottom, roll up the stack and make thin slices across the roll (see photo at right).

Early Summer Fruit Salad

8-10 fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 apple, cored and chopped
1 banana, sliced
1 orange, peeled and sliced
8 basil leaves, cut into ribbons
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tbsp. lemon juice (1/2 of a lemon)
1 tsp. honey

1. Combine fruit in a large bowl. Add basil and lemon zest.

2. Whisk together lemon juice and honey. Pour over fruit and stir carefully to combine.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Homemade Pasta with Sausage-Tomato Sauce



Want to really impress a crowd and make them think you slaved in a hot kitchen for hours (without really doing that of course)? Time for homemade pasta.

Making pasta is surprising easy. Every time I do it, I wonder why I don't do it more often. Clearly, it's not as simple as tossing a box of the premade stuff into a pot of boiling water, but it's not so complicated as to require days or even hours of your time. In fact, I made this dish from scratch start-to-finish in exactly 1 hour.

The secret to making quick homemade pasta is to rough it a little. I have a pasta rolling kit for my Kitchen Aid mixer, which I like and use from time to time, but doing so increases prep time significantly, makes a bigger mess and is more fussy than if you use a much simpler tool: a rolling pin. Sure, you won't have perfectly uniform results, but there's something kind of nice about that. The uneven thickness and odd shapes says "homemade" in a way that perfectly cut thin linguine does not.


I've tried homemade pasta recipes from Mark Bittman and Mario Batali. The approach for this recipe combines what I've learned from the both of them. For the flour, I used half all-purpose flour and half pasta flour (i.e. semolina flour). Semolina flour is coarser than all-purpose flour, so the resulting dough must be kneaded a little bit (unlike Bittman's all all-purpose flour dough which doesn't need kneading--say that parenthetical a few times fast). It also requires a little more moisture to come together well. I ended up adding at least a tablespoon of water after mixing the dough to make it form a nice ball. This is a compromise: getting the easier handling of regular flour with the superior flavor of semolina.


After letting the dough rest for about 30 minutes, I rolled it out. The thinner the better--no more than 1/8-inch thick and even that is pushing it. After that, I use a pizza wheel to cut it in strips about 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide. This mades it pappardelle, a type of wide fettucine. It cooks really quickly, just a couple minutes in boiling water.


For the sauce, I went with something pretty traditional here: a tomato sauce with onions, sausage and basil. I used the Whole Foods chicken sausage and mixed hot and mild.


Pasta Dough

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pasta flour (semolina flour)
1 tsp. salt
3 egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. water plus more if needed

Sausage-Tomato Pasta Sauce

1/2 lb. Italian sausage (hot or mild, pork or chicken)
1 sweet onion, diced
Seasoned salt to taste
1 tbsp. dried oregano
5 tomatoes, chopped
8 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
Dash of nutmeg
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Grated parmigiano-reggiano

To make pasta:

1. Add flours and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add eggs and keep machine running until dough comes together in a ball, adding water as needed to help it come together.

2. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and a bit elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for about 30 minutes.

3. After resting, place dough on well-floured surface and roll out until quite thin, no thicker than 1/8-inch. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut dough into strips about 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide.

4. To cook pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook noodles until al dente, about 3 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

To make sauce:

1. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Remove sausage from casings and add to pan. Cook until browned, breaking up with a wooden spoon as it cooks.

2. Add onion and seasoned salt and saute until softened and lightly browned. Add oregano and tomatoes and continue to cook until tomatoes have softened and given up their liquid, making a chunky sauce, about 8-10 minutes. Add basil, nutmeg and pepper. Serve over pasta topped with cheese.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Southwestern Slaw with Chicken


For this salad, I wanted a slaw with a distinctive southwestern flavor and something easy I could make mostly using the food processor. I was pretty happy with the results, which have a clean, fresh taste.


I learned something making this: bell peppers don't do well in the food processor. If I were to make this again, I would just dice them. They end up expelling a lot of water, which I mopped up.


Drop the chicken and this is a great side dish to have with tacos or black bean soup. Certainly, you could tweak the vegetable combination. I think some cold cooked corn would be good in this, for example. Vegetarian might enjoy it with a can of black beans instead of chicken.

Southwestern Slaw with Chicken

For the dressing:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 lime
2 tsp. honey
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

For the slaw:

1/2 head green cabbage (not too big, use less if you have a big head), shredded
1/2 sweet onion, shredded
1 carrot, peeled, shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño seeded, finely diced
3-4 tbsp. cilantro, chopped

For the chicken:

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets
2 tsp. dried oregano
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Juice from 1/2 lime

1. Whisk together dressing ingredients.

2. Combine slaw ingredients and toss with dressing. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes.

3. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium frying pan. When hot, pat chicken dry and add to pan. Season with oregano, seasoned salt and pepper. Cook chicken about 10 minutes, turning halfway through. About a minute before taking out of the pan, squeeze the lime over the chicken and turn the chicken to coat both sides with lime juice. Remove chicken from heat, allow to cool, and chop.

4. Serve slaw in a bowl topped with chicken and extra cilantro for garnish.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Columbia Crest: Our House Wine



Just like many restaurants, we have a house wine, or rather a house brand of wine, which is Columbia Crest, the Paterson, Washington winery that makes great wines at exceptional value. I can't remember when we became fans of Columbia Crest, but we've been devoted to the brand for many years. Chris and I had the chance to visit the winery in 2009, which was real treat.

The Columbia Crest winery

Columbia Crest divides its wines into four tiers. At the high end is the Reserve label, which the winery considers its top 1% of wines. Its selection is the most limited and varies, dominated by reds. They occasionally make a Reserve dessert wine. They retail for $30-$75.


There are two mid-tier labels: Horse Heaven Hells or H3, which retails for $15, and the more common Grand Estates line, which retails for $12, but can frequently be found at much lower price. Calvert-Woodley, for example, routinely prices Grand Estates at $8 and sometimes marks it down even lower (I've seen it as low at $6.88). Grand Estates is a real bargain. Even at $12, it tastes more like a wine priced in the $20s, with reds that exhibit rich, bold flavors. There are six varieties of H3 and eight of Grand Estates, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and pinot gris in both. One of the more unusual Grand Estates offering is the Amitage, a red blend of mostly merlot with syrah, cabernet france, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, which sounds like an attempt to make a distinctive meritage (rhymes with "heritage"), an American version of Bordeaux.


On the bottom is the Two Vines brand, of which there are nine types that retail for $8, but like Grand Estates, can routinely be found for less. They aren't bad, but represent a significant drop in complexity from Grand Estates, which is usually only a little higher in price. From a cost/benefit standpoint, I usually find the best value in the Grand Estates line, which rarely disappoints.


We almost always have the Grand Estates merlot and cabernet sauvignon on hand, making them our "house" wines. We've noticed differences from year-to-year: sometimes we like the cab better; sometimes the merlot is king. I generally prefer the years when they do more blending, particularly if there's a higher percent of cabernet franc to add depth.


I decided it would be fun to do a taste test, comparing the merlot and cabernet sauvignon offerings in the three more common tiers: H3, Grand Estates and Two Vines.

Columbia Crest tasting room.
Cabernet Sauvignon

Two Vines, 2009. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 2% Merlot, 13.5% alcohol.
Grand Estates, 2009. 87% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot, 6% syrah, 13.5% alcohol.
H3, 2009. 88% cabernet sauvignon, 7% cabernet franc, 3% syrah, 2% malbec, 14.5% alcohol.


The Grand Estates was the standout of the cabs, showing a richer, deeper flavor and more distinctive scent than the Two Vines. The higher alcohol content of the H3 was noticeable and, although we liked it better than the Two Vines, it wasn't as good as the Grand Estates. Both were pretty smooth, with the H3 being a bit spicier.

Merlot

Two Vines, 2009. 13.5% alcohol.
Grand Estates, 2008. 90% merlot, 5% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc, 13.5% alcohol.
H3, 2009. 96% merlot, 3% cabernet sauvignon, 1% malbec, 14.5% alcohol.


For the last 3 years or so, we've been particularly fond of the Grand Estates merlot, while the cab had been our favorite prior to that. So we were surprised to discover that the H3 was our favorite among the merlots. It had a richer aroma and a more refined taste than the other two. The Two Vines was good, but not very distinctive. The Grand Estates was noticeably more assertive than the Two Vines, with a better finish, but fell short of the H3.

Isn't the Columbia River valley beautiful?  I drove past this all the time 15 years ago.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 20

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.


It's the battle of the front-page condiments this week as both papers featured stories about DIY barbecue sauce (Post) and Mayonnaise (NYT).

Washington Post

The barbecue sauce contest is now an annual tradition for the Food section, one I follow closely as a keen lover of barbecue sauce. Sadly, lacking a grill of my own, I only get to barbecue when I'm at my family's beach house (even sadder, it's 3,000 miles away), but there are other ways to use barbecue sauce, including oven and slow-cooked recipes. This year the Post divided entries into three divisions: tomato-based, mustard-based and "alternative." Jim Shahin's story remarked that many of the submissions seem to fall in the last category, as contestants further blur the lines as to what constitutes barbecue sauce vs. other types of sauce. While Betty's Best BBQ Sauce (tomato-based) and the Oriental Express Sauce (alternative) both sound good, my favorite is the mustard-based Jannelle's Delectable Sauce.

Other interesting recipes this week included Joe Yonan's Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw, which calls for Grilled Cabbage, and accompanies his article on how to efficiently Grill for One. I've had a hankering for tuna lately, so I may try Stephanie Witt Sedgwick's Nourish recipe, Roasted Red Pepper, Tuna and Bean Salad. For Dinner in Minutes, Bonnie Benwick offers a Kale and Cucumber Salad with Avocado-Tahini Dressing, which may just help use up that jar of tahini sitting in the back of my fridge.

Jane Touzalin reviewed two cookbooks of recipes for pressure cookers, which both sound interesting, although I would have preferred more of a feature story on pressure cookers, including some tips on which ones are the best. Lastly, Tom Sietsema did his first bite on Sixth Engine, a new restaurant in downtown D.C. near Chinatown and Mount Vernon Square that resides in a converted historic firehouse and serves upscale pub fare (it's working its way into my regular lunch rotation).

New York Times

Melissa Clark penned Dining's centerpiece story today on homemade mayonnaise. It's something I've never tried myself but would like to if I can get ahold of some pasteurized eggs. She has some good tips for how to make the emulsion work, such as adding a little bit of water to the egg yolk.

Pete Wells reviewed one of New York's four-star restaurants, Le Bernardin, the seafood restaurant that is the jewel in Chef Eric Ripert's restaurant empire. Wells upheld the restaurant's four-star rating, which it has always enjoyed since its first review in the mid-'80s.

David Tanis writes about his retro recipe for Egg Batter Pan-Fried Flounder with Green Garlic, which he describes as hearkening back to the era when many fine dining restaurants described their cuisine as "continental."

Verdict

The Washington Post. With the delicious annual barbecue sauce and a lot of great grilling-related content, the Food section has outdoor cooks primed and ready for summer.

Score

The New York Times: 11
The Washington Post: 9

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pork Barrel BBQ Downtown D.C. Pop Up


This might turn into a barbecue week, basically by accident, if you can believe it.

Thanks to a tip from Jessica Sidman, Washington City Paper's newly installed Young and Hungry food writer, I got lunch today from the Pork Barrel BBQ pop-up at the downtown D.C. Living Social location (918 F Street NW).

Pork Barrel BBQ is a barbecue restaurant in Alexandria, Va. The pop-up runs just this week everyday through Friday at 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. And they're only serving one thing but it's really good: a barbecue pulled pork sandwich with your choice of sides.

The sandwich is really good, the tender pork has a wonderfully smoky flavor and just a little spice. I like that they put the sauce on the side; it's good, but the meat isn't drenched in it, which is nice. The chewy potato bun provides a nice cushion to the meat. This is probably the best barbecued pork sandwich I've eaten lately.

The setup is a little odd, but it works fine. You order your food from the Living Social lobby area. The people working there were certainly friendly. They run upstairs where your food is prepared and bring it down when it's ready.


For my side, I considered coleslaw or potato salad but opted instead for the more mysterious "Texas Caviar," a black eyed pea salad with red, yellow and green bell pepper, onion and a touch of spice. You also get corn bread, which is so fluffy and sweet it's rather more like corn cake.

For anyone who works downtown and loves barbecue, I definitely recommend a stop this week.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Corny Corn Bread



The corn cookies I made recently were so good, in part from the amazing corn flavor from the freeze-dried corn. If that worked so well in the cookies, I thought why not try it in corn bread?


Turns out, it was good impulse as this corn bread was awesome. Quite corny, so to speak. I worked off of Mark Bittman's corn bread recipe, which is a pretty basic recipe, substituting 1/2 a cup of ground freeze-dried corn for 1/2 cup of the corn meal. Like I did for the cookies, I just ground it in a food processor until it was really fine. I went with a little more sugar too.

Corny Corn Bread
Adapted from Corn Bread by Mark Bittman

1/2 cup ground freeze-dried corn
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup corn meal (finely ground)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1. Heat oven to 375 F.

2. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Separately, combine egg and buttermilk, add to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

3. When oven is hot, put an 8 x 8 inch baking dish in the oven. Remove after a couple minutes when it's hot and add the butter, put back in the oven and let it melt (be careful not to let it burn, as butter will scorch at this temperature).

4. Remove hot pan with melted butter from oven and pour batter into pan. Bake for about 30 minutes until top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, but serve warm.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Halibut with Spring Vegetables


Ramps are one of the more unusual vegetables found at farmers markets this time of year. Sometimes called "wild leeks," ramps' bulbs look like scallions but they have red stems and more delicate leaves. They're prized for their flavor, stronger than scallions and almost garlicky.


I've been looking for ramps at farmers markets for awhile. Recently, I finally I found some, although they came with a condition: the seller insisted I also buy her mushrooms. Fine by me, as I was sure the two would go together nicely. In fact, I found this recipe, which also calls for asparagus, and anchors the sautéed vegetables in a pea puree. Any type of mushrooms should work. I used the crimini from the farmers market and added some shiitakes from Whole Foods.


I took the recipe in a slightly different direction though, using it as an accompaniment for fish. I chose halibut for its mild flavor, which would complement the vegetables, but allow their flavors to remain the stars of the dish. I was inspired by Christine Cooks' simple recipe for roasting halibut with lemon slices.



Halibut with Spring Vegetables
Inspired by Greenmarket Recipes' Asparagus and Ramps with Crimini, Shiitake, Oyster Mushrooms and Pea Sauce 

Serves two

3/4 lb. halibut fillet
Olive oil spray
Salt and pepper
1/2 lemon, sliced into 4 slices, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp. butter, melted
8 asparagus stalks, trimmed by bending off tough ends, and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 lb. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch of ramps, roots removed and bulbs separated from greens

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Rinse the fish fillet and pat dry. Spray a 9 x 9 baking dish with olive oil. Place fish in pan skin-side down. Spray flesh side with olive oil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and place lemon slices on top of fish. Roast 18-20 minutes until cooked through. Divide fillet in half.

2. Heat a medium saucepan half filled with salted water until boiling. Add peas and cook about 2 to 3 minutes, until tender but still green. Remove peas from pan and place in a bowl of ice water. To puree the peas there are two options: 1) place peas in a food processor with melted butter and a couple tablespoons of salted water (use the water the peas were cooked in) or 2) use an immersion blender to puree the peas with the butter and a couple tablespoons of salted water. You'll probably need to transfer them to a narrower container for the immersion blender to work well.

3. Heat a large saucepan half filled with salted water. Add asparagus and cook for 4 minutes. Remove asparagus and place in ice water to cool.

4. Heat 1 tbsp. olive in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced crimini mushrooms and cook until browned. Remove from pan and then sauté the shiitake mushrooms (sauté mushrooms separately to avoid over-crowding the pan). Remove from pan once browned.

5. Coarsely chop the ramp bulbs, and add to frying pan with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Saute until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Chop the ramp greens. Add the cooked asparagus and mushrooms to pan along with the ramp greens and cook another couple minutes to reheat the vegetables and wilt the greens.

6. Divide the pea puree in two and spoon onto plates. Top with half a halibut fillet and top that with the ramp-mushroom-asparagus mixture.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cocktail: Spicy Ginger-Mint Fizz


This is a cocktail that came about from leftovers. I had some mint in the fridge and some jalapeño syrup from another cocktail (I'll write about it sometime this summer). The idea was to make something simple and refreshing.

Spicy Ginger-Mint Fizz

8 mint leaves
1/2 jalapeño syrup*
1 oz. citrus vodka
1 oz. ginger liqueur
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. club soda

1. Add mint leaves and syrup to the metal cup of a Boston shaker and muddle. Add ice, vodka, ginger liqueur and lemon juice and shake. Strain into collins glass with ice and top with club soda.

*To make jalapeño syrup, cut up 1 jalapeño pepper, add to saucepan with ¾ cup water and ¾ cup sugar, bring to a boil, boil 2 minutes, remove from heat and steep for 20-30 minutes, strain and store in refrigerator.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Arugula and Strawberry Salad


This year's unseasonably warm east coast winter means strawberries are ready earlier than usual. The ones I picked up recently were plump and sweet, a perfect counter to the peppery, bitter arugula from the same stall. I rounded out the flavors by toasting some walnuts and shaving a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano. And I think a good quality balsamic vinegar complements strawberry perfectly. This makes a nice lunch salad to accompany a sandwich or bowl of soup.


Arugula and Strawberry Salad


8 ripe strawberries, sliced
4-5 cups arugula, large leaves torn
1/3 cup walnuts
1/4 cup freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

1. Slice the strawberries. Combine in a large bowl with arugula. Toast walnuts in a small frying pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Set aside to cool before adding to salad. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin pieces of Parmesan into bowl.

2. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss vinaigrette with salad.





Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Food (Section) Fight!: Week 19

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.

There are weeks when reading the Washington Post Food section and the New York Times Dining section is a true pleasure and source of inspiration. This isn't one of those weeks.


Washington Post

The cover of today's Food section featured a big picture of different types of ice creams, which got me excited off the bat. Unfortunately, Tim Carman's story about Jamaican ice cream left me feeling like a soggy cone. While I thought his description of the ice cream was well written, I felt like he didn't adequately explain what Jamaican ice cream is or why it's a "thing" (why Jamaican? Is Puero Rican ice cream also a thing? Cuban? And why is a Caribbean island known for ice cream anyway, since, as far as I know, the only other region I've heard of that produces a well-known distinctive ice cream is Italy and its gelato).

Jane Black contributed an informative piece about FreshPaper, a new food invention that helps prolong the life of refrigerated produce by further inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungus that makes food go bad. Sounds great. My only gripe is that although she told us we could get the product at a couple of area farmers markets, she didn't say that you can also get it here.

On the plus side, Bonnie Benwick delivered on her usually good Dinner in Minutes column with a recipe for Pan-Fried Veal Chops with Rosemary-Almond Aioli that sounds quite delicious. I also liked the short Good to Go feature on Sugar Magnolia, the new bakery storefront at Cleveland Park's Ripple.

New York Times

The Dining cover story is Jeff Gordinier's feature about the rising quality of food at music festivals, which is clever, but doesn't really interest me. Neither does Cathy Barrow's story about canning vegetables. I'm really not into canning. Julia Moskin's story about chefs Thomas Keller and Andoni Luis Aduriz was interesting, in which the famous chefs discuss inflated views about chefs' roles in saving the planet (they think it's unrealistic) and the drive to source ingredients locally (they buy locally, but they're really more interested in quality than local for the sake of it). The interview was conducted a Per Se, a restaurant I would love to visit someday (well actually, I have visited it, sort of, having gazed longingly at its interior from the doors, which then opened automatically when I got too close, drawing the hostess. Oops... embarrassing).

As usual, the page 2 recipes both sound really good, particularly Melissa Clark's Asparagus with Walnuts, Parmesan and Brown Butter. The other recipe, an Asian stir-fry of Twice-Cooked Duck with Pea Shoots from David Tanis sounds like another good answer to my question about what to do with pea shoots. The best recipe, though, is Mark Bittman's Frank de Carlo's Black Chickpea Soup, the latest entry from his new How to Cook Everything column. I've opined at length about my Mark Bittman fandom, which has driven me to buy the iPad app version, even though I already had the iPhone version (the iPad version is a much richer experience and his recipes are so good, it's worth it).

Pete Wells reviews Perla, a new Greenwich Village Italian restaurant that sounds decent but not noteworthy.

Verdict

The New York Times. It's a tough call this week, but I think Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller beat veal chops and FreshPaper.

Score

The New York Times: 11
The Washington Post: 8

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Asparagus with Mustard Dressing, Bacon and Eggs


Breakfast on the farm means eggs, although the ingredient in this dish from the farmers market is the asparagus, which is drizzled with a shallot-mustard vinaigrette and paired with bacon, hard-cooked eggs and toast. I was inspired by the recent New York Times' recipe for Asparagus with Mustard Vinaigrette, to which I made a few tweaks.


For the hard-cooked eggs, I tried the America's Test Kitchen technique. They claimed their method prevented that unappetizing gray-green layer from forming between the cooked yolk and white. Turns out, they were right. No green in sight and the eggs were perfectly cooked. I'll have to remember this when I decide to try my hand at deviled eggs.


For the dressing, I pretty much followed the recipe but added some honey for a little sweetness. The resulting dish was a satisfying savory meal to begin the day.

Asparagus with Mustard Dressing, Bacon and Eggs
Adapted from The New York Times' Asparagus with Mustard Vinaigrette

1/2 small shallot, finely minced
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
4 thick bacon strips
1 lb. asparagus, tough root ends trimmed off
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2 pieces whole grain bread, toasted

1. To make vinaigrette, whisk together shallots, vinegar, mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside while cooking the rest, which will soften the shallots a bit.

2. To hard-cook the eggs, place the eggs in a medium sauce pan and cover with cold water until there is an inch of water above the eggs. Place pan on stove and heat over medium-high heat until the water boils. Immediately remove pan from heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. Then place eggs in ice water for 5 minutes (this makes them easier to peel). Carefully crack eggs all over, roll gently on a hard surface, and then use your hands to remove the shell, starting at the less-pointy end. Rinse the peeled eggs by dipping them in the bowl with the ice water. Slice into fourths.

3. Cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain and set aside.

4. To cook the asparagus, fill a large saucepan about halfway, salt the water and bring to a boil. Cook asparagus for about 3-4 minutes. Remove asparagus from water once cooked.

5. Serve eggs, bacon and asparagus over toast topped with a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette.

Monday, May 14, 2012

From the Farmers Market


With the weather getting warmer, I'm feeling the pull to visit farmers markets. This week's recipes will feature ingredients available now at markets local to D.C., specifically asparagus, mushrooms, ramps, greens and strawberries, used in dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Although many farmers markets operate year-round, their winter selection often pales to the greater abundance of foods available in the spring and summer, a cycle that peaks in late summer, by which times markets will be brimming with tomatoes, corn, fresh herbs, greens, and...I could go on a long time.

Why buy at farmers markets? The big difference in buying ingredients from a farmers market vs. a conventional supermarket is that the food at the farmers market is grown locally, which yields a number of benefits. With all the buzz about buying organic food, a second perhaps more important drive to buy locally hasn't gotten as much attention. Often, you kill two birds with one stone, as farmers market food often is organic.

The benefits of buying food produced locally are numerous. Since it hasn't been shipped long distances, it's fresher, which means it tastes better and has more nutrients. It's thus also better for the environment, having avoided the energy requirements of international shipping. By eliminating the grocery store as distributor, you get to buy the food directly from the supplier, allowing you to form a closer relationship to the source of your food.

You also get to experience food in a more natural manner that reflects the seasons. The variety available at the farmers market constantly changes as foods come in to season. Shopping at a grocery store, you may not even be aware of what's in season, since apart from a few ingredients like corn, grocery stores tend to stock the same things year-round, whereas farmers markets offer only what's available seasonally. If you like buying tomatoes in January, that may be a downside; however, let's be frank: tomatoes in January are nasty ghost-like things that bear little resemblance to a juicy, ripe, red-fleshed tomato. Buying food seasonally means you're getting ingredients at their peak, which means your dishes will taste better.

Farmers markets also often have items that you'll never find at a grocery store: garlic scapes, heirloom tomatoes, specialty herbs, beets in colors other than purple and carrots in colors other than orange. They also have foraged foods like ramps, unusual types of mushrooms and stinging nettles. Often you have to really hunt for those things (since, after all, the farmer had to as well).

The downside of the farmers market is that it is often more expensive than buying at the grocery store, since they aren't able to take advantage of economies of scale to drive down prices. However, you can get good deals, particularly at peak harvest time. And I find that the old adage "you get what you pay for" is true. A panzanella salad made with tomatoes, basil and cucumbers harvested just days ago locally will taste markedly better than making the same salad with ingredients trucked from California or flown in from South America.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Coq au Vin Blanc


Since I'm an Oregon boy, I couldn't help but feel a connection with The New York Times' recent article about Oregon chardonnays. In fact, for awhile, my father co-owned a winery with some of his friends, although I don't think they made much, if any, chardonnay (it was mostly pinot noir and riesling and, since I was about 8 at the time, I wasn't into it).


To pair with the wine, the Times also ran a recipe for Coq au Vin Blanc, a variation on the classic French dish made with white wine instead of red. It's a lighter version of the dish, perfect for spring, as it also ditches the cream and bacon that typify the dish. I lightened it up even further by substituting boneless/skinless chicken pieces. Don't worry, there's still a nice dash of truffle butter added at the end for richness.


Perhaps the biggest challenge with this dish was procuring the oyster mushrooms. What exactly are they? I had no idea. At Whole Foods, the bin marked "oyster mushrooms" was filled with creminis. Even the nearby employee mixing up guacamole samples had no idea what they looked like (thankfully another shopper found them for me in an unmarked bin). I also wasn't quite sure how to prep them, but I read that their stems are really tough, so I cut off all the flat pieces and trimmed off and discarded any remaining connecting stems.


One thing I did differently was to dredge the chicken in flour, this also helped to thicken the resulting sauce when the wine is added, so no additional flour or cream was needed as a thickener. I also added some thyme, in addition to the tarragon the recipe called for.


I served this with a crusty baguette for soaking up the sauce and a simple salad of arugula and frisée with a lemon-white wine vinaigrette.


Coq au Vin Blanc
Adapted from Coq au Vin Blanc, New York Times

2 tbsp. olive oil
2-3 lbs. boneless-skinless chicken breasts and thighs
3 tbsp. flour
Seasoned salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
8 oz. white pearl onions, peeled
1 sweet onion, chopped finely
1/4 cup chopped celery
4 garlic cloves, sliced
9 oz. oyster mushrooms, separated and stems trimmed off
1 cup dry white wine (chardonnay)
1 clump thyme
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. black truffle butter
1 tbsp. minced fresh tarragon

1. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart dutch oven over medium heat. Pat chicken pieces dry and dredge in flour. Add half the chicken to the pot and season with seasoned salt and fresh-ground pepper. After a couple minutes, turn over to brown other side. Remove to a plate when done and brown the remaining chicken pieces (chicken will cook fully later).


2. Add the pearl onions and saute until lightly browned. Remove. Add the chopped onion, celery and garlic, and cook until softened. Stir in the mushrooms. When they wilt, add the wine and thyme, bring to a simmer and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Return chicken to pot, cover and cook 25-30 minutes. Check the temperature of the chicken with an instead-read thermometer and remove the chicken when it has cooked (165-170 F). 


3. Return the pearl onions and chicken to the pot, add truffle butter and simmer a few minutes to reheat ingredients. Serve chicken pieces with a generous portion of sauce and vegetables topped with chopped tarragon.