Thursday, February 28, 2013

Salmon Tacos

Salmon tacos with cabbage slaw, avocado and chipotle lime crema

I don't often get fish tacos, but they are a nice alternative to the usual chicken, beef or pork, as well as a fun way to dress up broiled salmon. My favorite memory of fish tacos involves a sandy beach cantina in Cabo San Lucas and a bucket of ice filled with bottles of Tecate. Ahhh... This isn't quite as much fun as that, but it is more fun that the usual broiled salmon over something--vegetables, lentils, beans, etc.

This is a little more involved, although not unreasonable for a weeknight. The slaw takes the most effort, just because of of the peeling and chopping, but it's not that time intensive. You could always buy corn tortillas, but homemade ones are really easy and so much better. The salmon cooks in 10 minutes. If you like tacos, this is great fun.

Unlike a more delicately flavored white fish, salmon can stand up to some zestier accompaniments, like the flavorful slaw and chipotle-lime crema that garnish the fish in these tacos. Peas and Crayons' salmon tacos recipe was an inspiration for my dish, although I broiled my salmon instead of pan-searing it because I find it to be easier and less messy (pan-searing fish tends to create smoke, which sets off my fire detector).

Cabbage, carrot and cilantro slaw for salmon tacos

The slaw is particularly delicious. Since it's not practical to make slaw in small quantities, there is plenty leftover to eat as a side salad with the tacos (or save for the next day).

With this dish, I also get to show off my cool metal taco holders (above). If you want some, they are available here.

Salmon Tacos
Inspired by Seared Salmon Tacos with Honey-Lime Slaw, Peas and Crayons

Makes 4 servings (12 tacos), with extra slaw leftover

1/2 head of napa cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups of shredded cabbage)
1/2 sweet onion, shredded
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (chop a little extra for garnishing the tacos)
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. agave nectar
Juice from 1/2 a lime

Chipotle-Lime crema:
1/2 cup sour cream
Zest from 1 lime
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder (omit if you don't want it spicy)

1 1/2 lb. salmon fillet
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. dried oregano
4 garlic cloves, minced
Juice from 1/2 a lime
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

12 corn tortillas (see recipe for homemade)
3 oz. crumbled cotija cheese
2 ripe avocadoes, peeled, pitted and diced
Chopped fresh cilantro (garnish)

1. Make the slaw: Combined shredded cabbage, onion, carrot and chopped cilantro. Season with salt. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, agave and lime juice. Toss with vegetables. Set aside until ready to use.

2. Make the chipotle-lime crema: Combine the sour cream, lime zest, lime juice and chili powder by stirring with a fork until blended. Transfer to a squeeze bottle, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Make the salmon: Preheat the oven broiler with rack positioned about 5 inches below broiler (the highest position in my oven). Place salmon fillet on an olive oil-sprayed rimmed baking sheet, skin-side down. Combine olive oil, oregano, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl and spread mixture on the flesh side of the salmon. Broil salmon for 5 minutes. Turn over and broil another 5 minutes or until cooked through. Remove skin and any gray layer. Use a fork to break fish up into chunks no larger than about an inch.

4. Assemble the tacos: Place warm corn tortillas on plate or in taco holder. Add a generous spoonful of salmon, about an equal amount of slaw and smaller amounts of cotija cheese and diced avocado. Drizzle with chipotle-lime crema and top with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Feed: February 27, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

New York Times Magazine: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,” by Michael Moss. It seems so many of us have sworn off junk food. Yet many of us get the occasional urge for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or a Nacho Cheese Dorito (note the lack of realism in my using the singular for those cravings). Moss's article helps us understand junk food’s primal draw, touching on the food science and marketing that makes sweet and salty snacks so addictive. Equally of interest are the revelations of the industry’s growing awareness of its role in the country’s obesity problem and reluctance to address it. This fascinating excerpt whets the appetite for the longer discussions on these topics in Moss's new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Washington Post: “Is there a way to fight fish fraud?” by Tim Carman. With Europe’s horsemeat crisis taking over headlines, the other recent food fraud story is playing second fiddle. Carman covered the Oceana study story that broke last week, revealing that up to a third of seafood in restaurants and grocery stores is falsely labeled. This week, Carman offers a follow-up piece on how chefs and others seek to combat such fraud.

New York Times Diner's Journal: “James Beard Awards: Geography vs. Quality,” by Pete Wells. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who noted some interesting omissions in the Beard awards semifinalists list. The Times’ restaurant critic sees a big hole when it comes to New York restaurants, such as the omissions of The NoMad, Atera and Blanc, among others, on the Best New Restaurants longlist. Whether these omissions should be considered snubs is up for debate. I’d love to read a thoughtful rebuttal of this piece; it’s certainly sparked a lively discussion in the stories' comments section.

Time/CNN: “Mediterranean diet lowers risk of heart attack, stroke,” by Alice Park. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine adds to the mounting evidence that a Mediterranean diet—one marked by fruit, vegetables, fish and lots of extra virgin olive oil—is better at warding off cardiovascular disease than a more American-style low-fat diet. It’s good news for olive oil fans, considering that it calls for having 4 tablespoons of it daily.

Cookistry: Herbivoracious-Inspired Grilled Cheese. I love a good grilled cheese sandwich, but I’ve never heard of anyone making one with cheese on the outside. Inspired by the little melty bits that sometimes escape the bread and brown on the grill, Cookistry does a version where cheese coats the outside of both slices of bread (as well as in the middle of course). It’s inspired by the cookbook Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup

Sausage, kale and white bean soup

Even though spring feels like it's just around the corner, it's still very much winter around here. Today was definitely not the day to have forgotten to wear a hat.

The cold has put me in the mood for soup. And my focus lately on things like Oscar Cocktails, Valentines Day Sundaes and Mac & Cheese has me wanting something healthy: low fat, low sodium, but still quite delicious. Looking for a white bean and kale soup, I found this recipe on the Whole Foods website. I used this as the jumping off point for my soup, adding some additional flavors with the fennel, sausage and herbs. This soup is perfect for weeknights: it came together in about 30-35 minutes.

Chopped kale

Sausage, Kale and White Bean Soup
Inspired by Vegetarian Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup, Whole Foods Market

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, core removed and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 kale leaves, stemmed removed and leaves chopped
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
12 oz. cooked Italian chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch thick coins
32 oz. container of low-sodium chicken broth
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. dried oregano
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, fennel, carrot and garlic and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the kale and stir to combine. Cook about 2 minutes until it begins to wilt. Add the tomatoes, sausage and chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high. Season with thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans and heat through (won't take long). Serve in bowls topped with grated parmesan.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dallas Drinks: The Pamela

Dallas Drinks is a co-creation with Dallas Decoder, honoring the characters of the TNT drama Dallas, which continues the Ewing family saga. See all of the Dallas Drinks here.

TNT's Dallas has returned for a second season, which is a very big deal when you're married to Dallas Decoder. Monday nights at 9 p.m. is Dallas time.

One of last season's most intriguing storylines was the mystery around the identity of Rebecca Sutter, the new wife of Christopher Ewing, who at first seemed like a sweet young woman, but who turned out to be a con artist. And then, in a final twist, the last episode of the season revealed that Rebecca was really Pamela, daughter of the Ewings' longstanding rival Cliff Barnes.

Although I made a Rebecca cocktail last summer, Pamela is nothing like Rebecca. She needed an update: something that nodded to The Rebecca but stronger, more confident and sophisticated. The Pamela, like The Rebecca is gin-based, but features higher end Plymouth. Both have Cointreau, but instead of grapefruit juice, The Pamela gets its citrus flavor from the fine St. Germain and Galliano liqueurs. 

Dallas Drinks: The Pamela - gin, galliano, st. germain, cointreau, grapefruit

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar Cocktails: Just the Recipes

In one place for easy referencing, here are just the recipes for all 10 Oscar Cocktails. 

Oscar Cocktails: The Amour

1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. pear liqueur
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. champagne (or other sparkling wine)
Lemon twist (optional garnish)

Combine gin, pear liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold. Strain into champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish with lemon twist.

Oscar Cocktails: The Argo

1 1/2 oz. Canadian whisky
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1 oz. orange juice
3/4 oz. cardamom syrup (see recipe)
Orange peel

Combine whiskey, sweet vermouth, orange juice and cardamom syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold and strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

Oscar Cocktails: The Beasts of the Southern Wild

1 ½ oz. rye whiskey
½ oz. walnut liqueur
1 oz. roasted corn syrup (see recipe)
1 oz. milk
Milk foam (see recipe, may substitute whipped cream)
Ground nutmeg (garnish)

Combine whiskey, walnut liqueur, roasted corn syrup and milk in shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with a generous portion of milk foam and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Oscar Cocktails: The Django Unchained

8 mint leaves
1 oz. peppercorn syrup (see recipe)
2 oz. bourbon
2 oz. club soda
Mint sprig (optional garnish)

Add mint leaves and peppercorn syrup to highball glass and muddle. Fill glass with ice then add bourbon and club soda. Stir to mix with muddled syrup. Garnish with mint sprig.

Oscar Cocktails: The Les Misérables

2 oz. London dry gin (Plymouth)
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. St. Germain liqueur
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton)
Lemon twist

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Oscar Cocktails: The Life of Pi

Fine sea salt or kosher salt
1.5 oz. light rum
.64 oz. blue curaçao
.5 oz. simple syrup
.5 oz. lime juice (plus more for the glass rim)
Orange twist

Wet the rim of a chilled coupe with lime juice. Spread salt on a plate and twist the glass rim-down in the salt to coat the rim. Combine rum, blue curaçao and lime juice in shaker with ice. Shake until cold. Strain into salt-rimmed coupe. Garnish with orange twist.

Oscar Cocktails: The Lincoln

2 oz. smoked whiskey (Corsair)
1/2 oz. maple syrup
6 dashes Peychaud's bitters

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into chilled coupe.

Oscar Cocktails: The Silver Linings Playbook

1 1/2 oz. silver tequila (Sauza Silver)
1/2 oz. absinthe (Absente)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
2 oz. ginger beer (Gosling's)
Lime wheel (garnish)

Combine tequila, absinthe, lime juice and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Add ginger beer and stir. Garnish with lime wheel.

Oscar Cocktails: The Zero Dark Thirty

1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (such as Kahlúa)
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz. vodka

In a tall shot glass, carefully layer the drink by slowly pour the liquors over the back handle of a spoon touching the inside of the glass just above the previous layer: first the coffee liqueur, then the Chartreuse and finally the vodka.

Oscar Cocktails Bonus: The Skyfall

2 oz. single malt scotch
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
Lemon twist

Combine scotch, Lillet and ginger liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Which Oscar Cocktail do you think sounds most appealing? Vote on Facebook.

Oscar Cocktails Bonus: The Skyfall

Recovering from wounds inflicted during a botched mission in Istanbul, an aging James Bond tracks an insider espionage trail through London, Shanghai, Macao and back to London, revealing a plot set in motion by a former agent to exact revenge on their boss, M, herself facing professional, if not personal, mortality.

Skyfall received five Academy Award nominations--the most this year for a movie not nominated for Best Picture and the most ever for a James Bond movie. The film's best chance at an award is for its theme song by Adele, but I'm crossing my fingers it may also have a shot at Best Cinematography for the beautiful work by Roger Deakins that made Skyfall the most visually arresting Bond film ever.

For the cocktail, I took the infamous James Bond martini as my starting point, using its Lillet (Lillet Blanc, as Kina Lillet is no longer made), but turning the drink into a scotch cocktail as a nod to the film's climax at the Skyfall manor in Scotland with a little Domaine de Canton for the several sequences in China. And of course, this cocktail is "shaken, not stirred."

Oscar Cocktails: The Skyfall

2 oz. single malt scotch
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
Lemon twist

Combine scotch, Lillet and ginger liqueur in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscar Party Nibbles with Cocktail Pairings

My Oscar Party focus has been on the cocktails, but I'd like to also suggest some appetizers for Sunday night. Here are some suggestions for what might pair well with each drink:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chicken Miso Ramen

Chicken miso ramen with spinach, shiitake mushrooms, corn and eggs

Like any American who attended college in the '90s, I've cooked a lot of ramen. So it feels strange to say that with this recipe, I feel like I made it for the first time.

The ramen of my early years, which I started making in high school, was the instant kind: a package of dried semi-cooked noodles and a seasoning packet that contained MSG and 3/4 of your daily allowance of sodium (if you ate the whole thing, which pretty much everyone does). As a soup, it cooked up in just 3 minutes, although I liked the use it as the base for stir fries, which took a little longer--maybe 5 minutes more.

I cooked the chicken breast cutlets in chicken broth with ginger and, to retain these flavors, added this cooking broth to the soup along with additional chicken broth. Breast halves may be used but will take longer to cook.

Today, a more authentic and flavorful version of ramen is one of the hottest dishes on the culinary scene. Notable D.C. outlets serving it include Sakuramen, Toki Underground and the newly opened Daikaya. When it comes to Japanese food, these days sushi is taking a back seat to the warm noodle soup.
Although you may think of ramen as being curly, it can also be straight, which is what I used for this dish.

There are four traditional styles of ramen: (1) Shoyu, a soy sauce-flavored broth usually served with curly noodles, which is the most common style; (2) Miso, a chicken or fish-based broth flavored with miso paste, fermented soybeans, rice and/or barley; (3) Shio, a lightly flavored broth, often made with seaweed--it is the oldest ramen style; and (4) Tonkotsu, a thicker broth made from pork bones.

Sautéing the shiitakes in a little bit of oil gives the broth a bit of mushroom flavor.

My version doesn't adhere faithfully to a particular style, although it is closest to miso, since I used a generous helping of miso for flavoring my broth, but I also added some tamari, and the straight ramen noodles I used are more typical of the Shio or Tonkotsu styles. I was grateful for the recipes by Momofuku for 2 and Steamy Kitchen, which I consulted in making my version. I used hard cooked eggs, since I don't often care for the runny kind, but you could soft boil them if you like.

The finished miso-chicken broth with shiitake mushrooms and onion.

If you are sensitive to sodium, note that that this dish includes 1 tbsp. of miso (about 400-550 mg of sodium, depending on the brand) and 1/2 tbsp. of tamari (350 mg), for a total of 750-900 mg of sodium, which is about 1/3 of the daily recommended intake (plus a minimal additional amount for seasoning the spinach and chicken). While that may seem like a lot, it's still only about half of what you'd get eating the whole package of instant ramen, and since this contains many other ingredients, it's more filling.

Chicken Miso Ramen
Makes 4 servings

1 lb. chicken breast cutlets
2 inches of ginger root, peeled and sliced
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt, to taste
4 eggs
10 oz. dried ramen noodles (I used Hakubaku brand organic wheat ramen)
3 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 tbsp. canola oil
8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1 medium (or 1/2 large) sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp. low-sodium tamari (may substitute soy sauce)
4 tbsp. white miso paste
1 bunch of scallion greens, chopped

1. Add chicken breasts, fresh ginger, 2 cups of chicken broth and salt to taste to a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from broth, allow to cool and shred using two forks. Cover to keep warm. Strain the chicken broth to remove the ginger and set the broth aside.

2. Place the eggs in a large saucepan 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. 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 in half.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil (do not salt). Cook ramen according to package directions (mine cooked in 4 minutes). Drain noodles and set aside until ready to use (do the next three steps while waiting for the water to boil).

4. Fill a large saucepan halfway with water, add salt and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook a couple minutes until wilted. Drain spinach and set aside.

5. Cook the corn in the microwave on high heat for 3 minutes (or bring a saucepan of water to boil and cook the corn in boiling water for about 3 minutes).

6. Heat canola oil in a dutch oven or other large soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add mushrooms and sauté until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add the broth from cooking the chicken in step 1 and the remaining 6 cups of chicken broth. Increase heat to medium-high to bring to boil, add onion, reduce heat to medium-low to simmer while waiting to finish other tasks. Stir in the tamari and miso paste.

7. To serve, place a fourth of the noodles in the bottom of four large bowls. Divide the chicken, hard-cooked eggs, spinach and corn between the bowls. Ladle the miso broth with mushrooms and onion over the mixture. Top with a handful of chopped scallions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Cocktails 2013: Planning Your Oscar Party

Top (L to R): Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Middle (L to R): Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi; Bottom (L to R): Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
The Oscars are just three days away! I hope you've enjoyed my series of cocktails inspired by this year's nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It's a collection of drinks as diverse as the movies they are based on.

I came up with these drinks over the course of the last few weeks. Making them all in one night for an Oscar Party could be time-intensive and costly, given the list of ingredients--38 in all across the 9 drinks--and varied techniques for custom syrups and even a little molecular gastronomy behind the "milk foam" in the Beasts of the Southern Wild.

If you're ambitious enough to make all the drinks as is, by all means go for it, but this guide is an attempt to help downsize the work and ingredients a bit while still offering a selection of awesome drinks. The first table lists all the ingredients the drinks call for.

Oscar Cocktails 2013: Table of All Ingredients
Drink Spirit Liqueur/other liquor Syrup Other ingredient Garnish
Amour Gin Pear liqueur, Champagne (Sparkling wine)
Lemon juice Lemon twist
Argo Canadian whisky Sweet vermouth Cardamom Orange juice Orange peel
Beasts of the Southern Wild Rye whiskey Walnut liqueur Roasted corn Milk, milk foam Nutmeg
Django Unchained Bourbon
Peppercorn Mint, club soda Mint sprig
Les Misérables London dry gin St. Germain, ginger liqueur, Lillet Blanc
Lemon twist
Life of Pi Light rum Blue curaçao Simple Lime juice, fine sea salt Orange twist
Lincoln Smoked whiskey
Maple Peychaud's bitters
Silver Linings Playbook Silver tequila Absinthe
Lime juice, Angostura bitters, ginger beer Lime wheel
Zero Dark Thirty Vodka Green Chartreuse, coffee liqueur

Skyfall Scotch Lillet Blanc, ginger liqueur

Lemon twist

The second table lists the equipment, my judgement of each drink's difficulty and ideas for substitutions that consolidate ingredients across the drinks and cut down on the more challenging techniques.

For example, four of the cocktails call for whiskey, but each uses a different type: rye (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Canadian (Argo), bourbon (Django Unchained) and smoked (Lincoln). Although there are reasons for those choices, one good whiskey (bourbon or rye perhaps) could suffice for making all four drinks. And although the custom syrups give the drinks unique character, simple syrup could be used instead. And I won't fault you for using whipped cream instead of the milk foam.

Oscar Cocktails 2013: Table of Difficulty, Equipment and Simplifying substitutions
Drink Difficulty Glass Equipment Simplifying substitutions
Amour Easy (pour, shake and mix) Champagne flute Shaker Substitute a liqueur used in another drink, like St. Germain or ginger liqueur; use a less expensive sparkling wine than Champagne, such as prosecco.
Argo Medium (make syrup, pour and shake) Rocks Shaker, sphere ice mold Substitute simple syrup, use a different whiskey, use regular ice, omit bitters or use the same for the Lincoln.
Beasts of the Southern Wild Hard (make syrup, milk foam requires time and special equipment) Coupe Shaker, baking sheet, saucepan, cream siphon Substitute simple syrup (do not substitute regular corn syrup), use a different whiskey, substitute whipped cream for the milk foam.
Django Unchained Medium (make syrup, muddle, pour and shake) Highball Shaker, saucepan, muddler Substitute simple syrup (perhaps with a couple shakes of hot sauce), use a different whiskey.
Les Misérables Easy (pour and shake) Martini Shaker Substitute dry vermouth for Lillet Blanc, use different liqueurs from other drinks, such as Green Chartreuse or pear liqueur.
Life of Pi Medium (salt rim, pour and shake) Coupe Shaker, small plate Omit the salt rim.
Lincoln Easy (pour and shake) Coupe Shaker Use a different whiskey, use the same bitters as the Argo.
Silver Linings Playbook Easy (pour and shake) Rocks Shaker Substitute a liqueur used in another drink for the absinthe, such as Green Chartreuse or ginger liqueur (will make it really gingery). 
Zero Dark Thirty Hard (requires careful layering of ingredients) Tall shot Spoon Substitute rum (from the Life of Pi) for the vodka. If layering fails it will still taste the same.
Skyfall Easy (pour and shake) Martini Shaker You could substitute whiskey for the scotch, although that really defeats the purpose of the drink.

Have fun, enjoy, drink responsibly and let me know if you make the drinks and what you think of them. Vote for your favorite Oscar Cocktail on Facebook.

The Feed: February 20, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

James Beard Foundation: “The 2013 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists,” by JBF Editors. The semifinalists, also known as the longlist, were announced yesterday for the 2013 James Beard Awards in the restaurant and chef categories. It’s great to see two restaurants I visited last year make the cut for Best New Restaurant: Mintwood Place in D.C. and Empellon Cocina in New York—and interesting that another notable newcomer, The NoMad, did not make it. Finalist nominees will be culled from these lists and announced March 18.

Washington Post: “DIY cottage cheese: Yes, you should,” by Bonnie S. Benwick. Last year, I had the pleasure of learning to make homemade ricotta cheese. After reading Benwick’s article, I’m ready to give cottage cheese a try. If you’ve ever had the dreamy cottage cheese Chef Vickie Reh makes at Buck’s Fishing & Camping—nicely profiled in this story, complete with a recipe—you know the cheese they are talking about is nothing like the gloppy muck at the supermarket. Cowgirl Creamery also gets a deserved shout out.

New York Times: “Beans and Red Wine: Party Hearty,” by Melissa Clark. The Good Appetite writer offers a simple, perfect-for-winter recipe for hearty bean soup made with wine, vegetables and (if you’re in the mood and you really should be) bacon. Here’s the recipe.

Bon Appétit: “The 20 Most Important Restaurants in America,” by Andrew Knowlton.
These aren’t the restaurants with the most stars or the richest history (don’t look for The French Laundry or Chez Panisse), but rather, as Knowlton writes, they are “the restaurants that matter right now.” It’s a nice mix of the classic (Le Bernardin), upscale (Eleven Madison Park), popular (Momofuku), modern (Pok Pok) and modernist (Alinea).

GQ: “The Perfect Night Out: The 12 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2013,” by Alan Richman.
GQ also delivers a “best of” restaurants list, albeit with less recognizable names than Bon Appétit’s, although D.C.’s hottest Thai restaurant, Little Serow, made the cut.

Bon Appétit: “10 Things to Do with Peanut Butter,” by Teri Tsang Barrett. I’m mad about peanut butter, so this is definitely a “had me at hello” kind of article. Peanut butter popcorn? Yes. Pork skewers with peanut sauce? Yes! Buckeyes? Sold!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tom Khaliflower Soup

Tom Kha Gai roasted cauliflower and leek soup

This dish came about somewhat unexpectedly. Recently, I’d planned to make a pretty straightforward pureed cauliflower soup for a weeknight dinner—something topped with bacon and chives—but then life intervened and I ended up going to happy hour that day instead of cooking.

Being a hardy vegetable, cauliflower keeps fine for quite awhile. So what would’ve been a weeknight dinner turned into a weekend dinner and along with it the extra time to turn ordinary cauliflower soup into something extraordinary.

Off the bat, I knew one thing I could do with the extra time was roast the cauliflower. Searching the web for inspiration, I came across this recipe from Love & Lemons that has roasted leeks along with the cauliflower (for tips on cleaning leeks, watch this video by Melissa Clark of the New York Times). She also used some miso paste, which got me thinking about the possibility of pushing the flavor of my soup eastward.

Rather than make this Japanese, I headed to southeast Asia, inspired by the coconut, ginger and lime flavors of Tom Kha Gai soup, my favorite way to start dinner in Thai restaurants. Don’t be afraid of the fish sauce. Sure, it may smell a little rank in the bottle, but once it’s mixed into the broth it adds to the unmistakable flavor profile of Tom Kha Gai. You’d miss it if it wasn’t there. I topped this with chopped peanuts and cilantro for an additional Asian touch. Because I had it on hand, I also added bacon. Although I love bacon, I wasn’t completely sold on its inclusion here. Give it a try if you like or leave it out.

Tom Khaliflower Soup
Inspired by Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup, Love & Lemons

2 lb. head of cauliflower, florets cut off (about 4 cups)
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
3 leeks
3 garlic cloves, sliced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
3-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 tbsp. fish sauce
14 oz. can coconut milk
1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon (I used black forest), cut into 1/4-inch strips (optional)
1 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss the cauliflower with 2 tbsp. olive oil, sprinkle with salt, spread out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and roast for 40-45 minutes until browned and tender, stirring every 15 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

2. While cauliflower roasts, prep the leaks by cutting off the dark green part, slicing the leeks in half the long way (including through the root), cleaning then in the sink by running them under cold water while separating the layers to remove any grit and lastly slicing them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch half rounds. Toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast for about 30 minutes until tender and some pieces are browned. Set aside until ready to use.

3. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Increase heat to medium-high and add garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant, but not browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken broth, water, ginger, pepper flakes, lime zest and juice, fish sauce, salt to taste and roasted vegetables. Bring to boil, add coconut milk, reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. (optional) While soup simmers, cook the bacon in a large frying pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

5. Remove soup from heat. Puree soup using an immersion blender (or alternatively, transferring it in batches to a blender) until smooth. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve in bowls topped with peanuts, cilantro and, if desired, bacon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Oscar Cocktails: The Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surreal fantasy about a 5 year-old girl named Hushpuppy, her father and a community of survivors who live in the "bathtub," a rural water-logged area of Louisiana cut off from society. As a brutal storm approaches, Hushpuppy is taken on a journey of survival as she searches for her mother, fights to save her community and stares down some giant wild cattle. The film is nominated for four Oscars, including Picture, Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis) and Director (Benh Zeitlin).

Being the most unusual film of the group, The Beasts of the Southern Wild deserved the most unusual drink. For this, I wanted a dessert cocktail, and started with rye whiskey for the film's southern setting and some walnut liqueur for depth and sweetness. Since floating a fried corn fritter in the drink to represent Hushpuppy seemed unwise, I instead invoked that idea by make a simple syrup flavored with roasted corn. To recreate the concept of the bathtub, I thought about a bubble bath and topped the drink with milk foam.

Oscar Cocktails: The Beasts of the Southern Wild

1 ½ oz. rye whiskey
½ oz. walnut liqueur
1 oz. roasted corn syrup (see recipe below)
1 oz. milk
Milk foam (see recipe below, may substitute whipped cream)
Ground nutmeg (garnish)

Combine whiskey, walnut liqueur, roasted corn syrup and milk in shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with a generous portion of milk foam and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Roasted Corn Syrup

2 cups frozen corn
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
½ oz. vodka (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread corn in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes until the corn looks dried out and browned in places. Set aside to cool and refrigerate until ready to make syrup.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to boil water, sugar and roasted corn. Boil for 2 minutes, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and steep for about 40 minutes. Strain liquid in a small bowl, pressing on the corn kernels to release liquid (the corn will absorb some of the syrup, so this recipe makes less syrup than typical for this amount of water and sugar). Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator (note: to extend the life of the syrup, add a little vodka to inhibit mold formation).

Milk Foam

1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine milk, gelatin, sugar and vanilla, and cook, stirring frequently, until the gelatin has dissolved and combined with the milk. Set aside to cool. Pour mixture into a pint-size cream siphon. Charge with two N2O cartridges and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours.

Like The Beasts of the Southern Wild? Vote for it as your favorite on Facebook. View all nine Oscar Cocktails here.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oscar Cocktails: The Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is the controversial spy movie based on the real life story of a young CIA operative's 8-year search for Osama Bin Laden. The gripping film is Director Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to her 2010 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, and is nominated for five Oscars, including Original Screenplay, Actress (Jessica Chastain) and Picture.

For the drink, I was inspired by two things: first, the vivid imagery of the film's climatic raid on the Bin Laden compound, shot in first-person perspective through the muted green color of night vision goggles, represented by the dark coffee liqueur and the green tint of Chartreuse. Second, I considered the busy lives of the CIA operatives who put all other considerations aside for this mission. These aren't people who have time for fancy cocktails. A shot seemed more their style.

Oscar Cocktails: The Zero Dark Thirty

1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (such as Kahlúa)
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
1/2 oz. vodka

In a tall shot glass, carefully layer the drink by slowly pour the liquors over the back handle of a spoon touching the inside of the glass just above the previous layer: first the coffee liqueur, then the Chartreuse and finally the vodka.

Like The Zero Dark Thirty? Vote for it as your favorite on Facebook. View all nine Oscar Cocktails here.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cook In / Dine Out Joins Pinterest

If you love browsing photos of beautiful food, then Pinterest is a great way to kill many hours. I've added a account for Cook In / Dine Out. You are cordially invited to join in the fun (link).

Broiled Salmon with White Bean, Kale and Bacon Ragoût

Broiled salmon with white bean, kale and bacon ragout

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Broiled salmon is an ideal weeknight dinner. It’s fast, tasty and healthy. So here’s yet another good idea for how to prepare it: pairing the fish with kale, white beans and bacon, a recipe from Fine Cooking’s recent Winter CookFresh publication.

You may wonder why the recipe calls for cooking the bacon in olive oil, since bacon renders fat and the extra oil would seem unnecessary. The reason for doing so is that the oil speeds up cooking and therefore the bacon cooks without rendering as much fat. This makes it more tender and less crispy, which is useful sometimes and provides better texture for this dish.

Broiled Salmon with White Bean, Kale and Bacon Ragoût
Adapted from Fine Cooking

Serves 2

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ lb. thick-cut bacon, cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups packed thinly sliced kale leaves (stems removed)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 lb. salmon fillet
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme

1. Preheat broiler with oven rack about 6 inches from broiler element.

2. Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon renders much of its fat and starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Use a spoon to remove 2 Tbs. of the bacon fat from the skillet and reserve in a small bowl.

Add the garlic to the bacon in the skillet. Cook, stirring, until the garlic starts to sizzle, about 30 seconds. Raise the heat to high, add the kale, and sauté, stirring, until it starts to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the skillet, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

While the beans are cooking, line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with foil and arrange the salmon, skin side down, on it. Drizzle the reserved bacon fat over the salmon and season with 1/2 tsp. salt and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Broil until slightly firm to the touch, 7 to 10 minutes for medium (the salmon will be dark pink in the middle). Sprinkle half of the thyme over the salmon. Stir the remaining thyme into the beans and kale and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon equal portions of the beans and kale onto dinner plates and top each with a piece of salmon. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Oscar Cocktails: The Amour

Amour tells the story of an elderly Parisian couple who face their mortality when the wife is struck ill and the husband must care for her to the bitter end. The heart-wrenching drama is a Best Picture nominee--only the ninth foreign-language film to earn that honor--and counts nods for its lead actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and director (Michael Haneke) among its five Academy Award nominations.

Although the film's heart-wrenching story is not fodder for cocktail inspiration, I thought about the main characters Georges and Anne, people of the arts who are shown attending a musical performance at the beginning of the movie. The Amour is a champagne cocktail not dissimilar from the classic French 75, something I imagine George and Anne could have enjoyed together in better times, perhaps during a performance intermission or maybe afterwards in an old-fashioned Parisian bar before heading home.

Oscar Cocktails: The Amour

1 oz. gin
1/2 oz. pear liqueur
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 oz. champagne (or other sparkling wine)
Lemon twist (optional garnish)

Combine gin, pear liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold. Strain into champagne flute. Top with champagne and garnish with lemon twist.

Like The Amour? Vote for it as your favorite on Facebook. View all nine Oscar Cocktails here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Modernist Mac & Cheese with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower

Modernist mac & cheese with bacon and roasted cauliflower

When Modernist Cuisine was published in 2011, it took the culinary world by storm, but the five-volume $625 set was geared more towards professionals than home cooks. The latter got their due with last year's Modernist Cuisine at Home, a shorter single volume set with simpler yet still very interesting recipes scaled for us amateurs by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet.

I was a very lucky boy when I unwrapped my copy of Modernist Cuisine at Home on Christmas morning. I opened the slick volume, instantly impressed by its beautiful photography and labeled cutaway diagrams. My elation quickly transformed to intimidation. These recipes are still pretty complex requiring equipment and ingredients a typical kitchen doesn't have. I needed to stock up.

Sodium citrate for smooth cheese sauce
Sodium citrate, a salt from citric acid, is the special ingredient for smooth cheese sauce.
The recipe for Mac & Cheese was an instant attraction. I love Mac & Cheese and have made several version for this blog. I never use American cheese, since it's not real cheese and I don't think it has a very interesting flavor. I make Mac & Cheese the traditional way by using four and butter to make a roux, adding milk to make bechamel and then cheese to make mornay sauce. This very common method is versatile and easy but the texture is never perfect. It's always a little bit grainy.

Cheddar finely grated in a food processor

I was intrigued by the Modernist Cuisine's method for making super smooth cheese sauce, which uses sodium citrate, a compound that keeps the water and fat of cheese emulsified when heated, resulting in a sauce with a super smooth texture. Sodium citrate is a sodium salt of citric acid that occurs naturally in citrus fruits and has a sour/salty taste, although not so sour that it overpowers the cheese in this sauce. It's what makes American cheese melt so smoothly, but can be used with other cheeses to make them melt nicely too.

Making smooth modernist cheese sauce

I wanted to use this technique for my nacho cheese sauce, but the sodium citrate was on back order, so I opted instead for the evaporated milk method. It produced a nice smooth sauce, although it became a little lumpy as it cooled. Eventually, the sodium citrate I ordered from Amazon arrived.

Bacon for modernist mac & cheese

This sauce was amazing. It seemed a bit thin when it was done, but as it cooled it thickened a bit. The flavor was so intense and cheesy: no flour or milk to dull the flavor. The sauce is just water, cheese and sodium citrate. I used an extra sharp cheddar, but I could easily see a gruyere-cheddar blend working well for this dish.

Macaroni mixed with modernist cheddar cheese sauce

The technique really wasn't that difficult. To finely shred the cheese, instead of using the food processor's shredder disc, I cut the cheese into 1/2-inch cubes and used short pulses of the chopping blade to grate the cheese. The sodium citrate dissolved quickly in the water. After that, it was just a matter of adding the cheese one spoonful at at time and using the immersion blender for a few seconds to combine the cheese after each addition. The mixture got pretty frothy early on, although this subdued once all the cheese was added.

Modernist Mac & Cheese with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower
Adapted from Mac and Cheese, Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet

1 lb. cauliflower florets
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 lb. dried elbow macaroni
2 1/4 cups water
570 grams (8 cups) white sharp cheddar, finely grated
22 grams sodium citrate (a little more than 1 tbsp.)
Snipped fresh chives

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Put cauliflower florets in a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet lined with aluminium foil. Top with another sheet of foil. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove top piece of foil, increase oven temperature to 400 F and roast for another 15 minutes until cauliflower is cooked through and lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crisped. Use a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.

3. Cook macaroni in salted water according to package directions for al dente. Drain cooked pasta and set aside.

4. Add 2 1/4 cups water to a large (4 qt.) saucepan and heat over medium heat until simmering. Add sodium citrate and stir to dissolve. Add grated cheese to water one spoonful at a time. After each addition, blend with an immersion blender until the mixture is smooth. Continue in this manner until all the cheese has been added and melted in the sauce.

5. Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and stir to combine. Fold in the roasted cauliflower and bacon and serve in bowls topped with chives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Feed: February 13, 2013

The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

The Bitten Word: “50 Things We've Learned in 5 Years of Writing The Bitten Word.” Fellow D.C. food bloggers Zach and Clay celebrate the 5th anniversary of their blog with a look back at 50 things they’ve learned, a great retrospective showcasing their good-natured writing style, zeal for adventurous cooking and love of all things tasty. There’s even some useful food blogging tips.

Food & Wine: “100 Best Recipes Ever.” Speaking of retrospectives, the March 2013 issue of Food & Wine celebrates the magazine’s 35th anniversary with a stuffed collection of articles and features that look at the journey of food and drink since 1978. I’m particularly fond of the “The Legends,” a collection of recipes from all-time great cooks like Julia Child, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jacques Pépin. The magazine also features the “20 Best-Ever Recipes” (which I was pleased to see included the Zuni Café Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, which I adore). Online, the website has the list of 100 recipes the 20 were chosen from.

Bloomberg Businessweek: “Monsanto Takes on 76-Year-Old Farmer Over Seed Patents,” by Susan Decker and Jack Kaskey. In a case that sounds like David v. Goliath, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a case involving agriculture giant Monsanto and the 76 year-old Indiana farmer the company sued for planting soybeans seeds harvested from plants grown from Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed. Decker and Kaskey lay out the issues in a article that takes me back to the corn section of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Washington Post: “Value Added: Ending a career with a slow gin biz,” by Thomas Heath. The Post’s Business section profiled Michael Lowe and John Uselton, the father-son-in-law entrepreneurial team behind the New Columbia Distillers, D.C.’s first (legal) distillery in generations, which is up and running making Green Hat Gin. Apparently volunteers are needed on bottling days, which comes with some free samples. Sounds like fun.

New York Magazine: “Pizza Perfection: 101 Awesome American Pies (and Slices).” Let’s just stop and applaud a New York-based publication that’s willing to admit recognize that there are indeed pizzas worth eating that are not baked in the five boroughs. It’s a slide show post, so reading it means flipping through 100 photos of really delicious looking pizza. They are smartly divided by category:  American New Wave, Deep Dish (Armands!), Thin Crust, Neapolitan, New York, Sicilian, Slices, Chef-Driven, Frozen (Yes, surprisingly) and Outré. Probably best read when you’re not hungry.

Oscar Cocktails: The Silver Linings Playbook

In Silver Linings Playbook, Pat (Bradley Cooper), a young man who suffers bipolar disorder, returns to his family after a stint in a mental hospital, intent to rebuild to his life. But an eccentric young widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), forces her way into his heart. The clever, offbeat comedy-drama is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Picture, Actor (Cooper), Actress (Lawrence) and Director (David O'Russell).

The Silver Linings Playbook cocktail is something I imagine Pat and Tiffany could enjoy together: tequila--silver of course--with a sweet punch of ginger beer and a green lime wheel for the Philadelphia Eagles, since Pat's family are big fans. it's finished with a touch of absinthe, a nod to Pat and Tiffany's history of bad behavior.

Oscar Cocktails: The Silver Linings Playbook

1 1/2 oz. silver tequila (Sauza Silver)
1/2 oz. absinthe (Absente)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes angostura bitters
2 oz. ginger beer (Gosling's)
Lime wheel (garnish)

Combine tequila, absinthe, lime juice and bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Add ginger beer and stir. Garnish with lime wheel.

Like The Silver Linings Playbook? Vote for it as your favorite on Facebook. View all nine Oscar Cocktails here.