Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Feed: July 31, 2013

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

Washington Post: “Popcorn 2.0: How to up your home game,” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
Reading through replies of the Complete Pantry’s snack-themed #PantryChat on Twitter yesterday got me thinking about how popcorn makes a really great snack—my mom and I used to eat popcorn together a lot when I was a kid. We never put butter on it—just a little salt. Which is a great way to have it, except that there are lots of ways to flavor popcorn besides just butter that makes it interesting. Just in time to satisfy my curiosity, Benwick has this article on creative popcorn, which features D.C. popcorn food truck Stella*s Pop Kern and its operator Kristina Kern. The story includes five recipes from Kern and others, which all sound delicious, especially Kern’s Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn and Cheesy Popcorn Bread, a cornbread recipe that uses ground popcorn.

Eater New York: “Chefs, Restaurateurs, and Writers on VIP Treatment,” by Gabe Ulla. 
Last week, The Feed covered New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’ knocking Daniel down to three stars from four. This week, Eater New York interviews several chefs and a former Times food critic about the review and restaurant practices when they critics are in the room. The story also touches on how restaurants treat certain customers—friends, VIPs, regulars—differently than other guests, which is eye opening. I felt so sorry for the couple at Dirt Candy who were surrounded by friends of the restaurants who were getting all sorts of freebies and they were not. Seems like something the servers should have been aware of and rectified.

Wall Street Journal: “London's Cocktail Renaissance,” by Elizabeth Gunnison Dunn.
Pimm’s Cup is a classic English cocktail that the current renaissance of classic cocktails is unlikely to embrace. Overly sweet and overly garnished, it eschews current trends towards more balanced and bitter flavors, being comprised of the gin-based Pimm’s liqueur and lemon soda garnished with mint, cucumber and fruit. Dunn describes it as “Skittles dissolved in gin,” which isn’t very reassuring. Leave it to a group of London bartenders who are out to rescue Pimm’s Cup with modern twists on the old drink, including skipping the Pimm’s brand altogether in favor of house-made infusions, fresh juices and, yes, those popular bitter flavors, like aperitifs.

Bon Appetit: “The Vegetable Revolution,” by David Tamarkin.
No longer content to be a side to a meaty main, vegetables have really stepped out into the limelight lately. Tamarkin’s story, plus its informative sidebar, highlights many ways that vegetables are getting their due these days. He mentioned Eleven Madison Park’s carrot tartate, for example, which Chef Daniel Humm created as a vegetable alternative to steak tartare but ended up being a big hit (I wish the recipe would have been included).

Smithsonian Magazine: “Sorry, Wolfgang, Fusion Foods Have Been With Us for Centuries,” by Natasha Geiling. 
When you hear “fusion” applied to cooking, it generally evokes trendy urban restaurants that serve things like Korean tacos or wasabi-spiked guacamole. Although a popular trend in recent years, Geiling recounts how the cross-cultural recipes actually have a long history. Pasta, for example, is a common example of how noodles—a Chinese invention—have been fused via Italy with Western ideas about vegetable, cheese and meat sauces. She details how even so-called “national” dishes often have fusion origins, like Indian vindaloo.

Los Angeles Times: “Master Class: Chef Thomas Keller explores ratatouille's possibilities,” by Thomas Keller.
For the L.A. Times’ Master Class series, top toque Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon) throws out ideas for serving summer staple ratatouille in new and interesting ways, such as pureeing it into soup or using it as a chunky pasta sauce. The ratatouille spread with a little mustard and hot sauce served with pitas sounds particularly tasty.

Eater: “The Chez Panisse Renovation: A Tour With Alice Waters,” by Amy McKeever.
Alice Waters’ Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse is one of America’s most beloved food institutions. So there was no question it would return after being damaged by fire in March. McKeever talks with Waters about the remodeled space, which got a bit of a makeover in the process of repairing the damaged space for last month’s reopening.

NPR: “Palm Oil In The Food Supply: What You Should Know,” by Allison Aubrey.
Reacting to the anti-trans-fat movement, fast food titans have replaced the deadly fat not with something arguably less bad (like vegetable oil), but palm oil, which is still high in saturated fat. While technically not trans fat, Aubrey cites a study where participants who ate a diet high in palm oil still saw their bad cholesterol levels rise in similar fashion to what a diet with trans fat would do.

The Guardian: “Top tastes: chefs' favourite flavours,” by Amy Fleming.
Chilies, anchovies and garlic are among the flavors chefs love to use, according to this Guardian survey. Makes sense if you’ve seen a restaurant menu lately. This articles, based on an informal survey, explains why each of these ingredients is an important flavor contributor.

Tasting Table: “Oven, Off - A fruit salad that defies stereotypes.”
Tomatoes, berries and watermelon are three of the essential tastes of summer. They are great in salads and, although generally found separately, in this dish Chef Chris Amendola of Fleet Street Kitchen in Baltimore has thrown them all together with basil, ricotta and a raspberry vinaigrette. Sounds like a delicious seasonal dish.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mediterranean Chicken Salad


The Mediterranean Chicken Salad from The Silver Palate Cookbook is delicious, especially the chicken, which is cooked in a wonderful homemade vegetable stock of onions, carrots, leeks, bay and clove. I used to make it sometimes when I was in high school.

As tasty as that is, it takes a lot of time to make the stock and then cook the chicken in it. I wanted to create a salad inspired by that classic dish that could come together in half an hour to make a weeknight dinner salad.

To do so, I sautéed the chicken with some of the seasonings from the stock, namely the clove and thyme and ditched the vegetable broth poaching. It is, admittedly, not as flavorful as the original, but it's still quite good and a lot easier to prepare. Otherwise the recipe is quite similar. I added some fresh parsley and substituted kalamata for the niçoise olives.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad
Inspired by a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

1/2 lb. green beans, halved with rough ends cut off
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of ground clove
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3 cups loosely packed arugula
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup kalamata olives
1 tbsp. capers (small size)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tbsp. fresh chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Cook the green beans until just tender, about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove beans from water and transfer to ice water to stop cooking. Drain beans and set aside.

2. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pat chicken cutlets dry and add to pan. Season chicken with salt, pepper, clove and dried thyme and cook for about 10 minutes, turning halfway through until chicken is lightly browned and cooked through. Transfer to a cutting board, allow to cool and cut into strips or chunks.

3. Combine the arugula, tomatoes, olives, capers, green beans and chicken in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp. olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. Pour dressing over salad and toss to combine. Top with fresh parsley and serve family style or on large plates.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Posto Thin Crust Pizza (New York, N.Y.)

Posto Thin Crust Pizza

It's hard to believe it's only been about 4 years since I discovered my favorite pizza restaurant.

During a January 2009 trip to New York, my friend who was living in Manhattan at the time took our group to his favorite Gramercy neighborhood pizza joint for lunch. Chris and I immediately fell for Posto Thin Crust Pizza with its cracker-like charred crust and fresh, flavorful toppings. We've made it a tradition ever since that our first meal upon arriving in New York is eaten at Posto.

Our longtime favorite is the Salsiccia Dolce (Italian for "sweet sausage"), made with sweet Italian sausage, beautifully sweetened caramelized onion and generous sprinkle of fresh basil ribbons. Along with the usual slices of fresh mozzarella and Posto's perfectly textured tomato sauce, it's the stuff of our pizza dreams.

Recently, for the sake of variety, we ventured out from our usual pie and sampled two others. On the basis of the online comments, we got the popular Shroomtown featuring thick hearty slices of portobello, shiitake and button mushrooms. What makes their mushroom pie particularly enticing is its scent: the unmistakable fragrance of white truffle oil.

We also got the Parma, an adventurous combination of intensely smoky thick pieces of "millionaire" bacon with crispy prosciutto, arugula, green apples and a balsamic reduction. The pie delivers a well-balanced mix of meaty, smoky, sweet, sour and bitter flavors, plus a kick of spicy for good measure. While I imagine we'll remain faithful to our good friend the Salciccia Dolce, we also liked both of these pies very much.

Like many New York restaurants, Posto is a small space, so if you're headed there in the evening, you may have to wait for a table (it never seems as busy at lunchtime, although it can fill up then too). Cool your heels at the bar with one of three rotating selections of draft beer or enjoy one of the couple dozen international selections of wine available by the glass or bottle. Once your seated expect service that is friendly and efficient.

Posto, it turns out is part of a chain, along with its progenitor Gruppo in the East Village, Spunto in the West Village and Vezzo in Murray Hill, all of which have identical (as far as I can tell) menus.

Posto Thin Crust Pizza, 310 Second Avenue (at 18th Street), New York, N.Y. (Gramercy). (212) 716-1200.
Posto on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 26, 2013

Garden Martini


Inspired by Kevin Liu's recent article about cocktail foams, I wanted to try my hand at one. Perhaps it's all the summer produce, but my cocktail desires have leaned heavily towards fruit and vegetable flavors lately. This drink leans particularly that way, with its blend of vegetable, herb and fruit flavors.

I was also inspired to give Aviation Gin a go, after reading a Harvard Business Journal interview with its maker, House Spirits Distillery's co-owner and CEO Thomas Mooney (both this and the Liu story were in this week's edition of The Feed). In the article, Mooney talks about how Aviation Gin represents their work to create a definitive American cocktail gin. It's also from my birthplace, Portland, Oregon, so I have to give it as fair a shot as I gave Green Hat Gin, made in my current home (Washington, D.C.).

This drink has a nice bitterness from the Cocchi and the fennel, but also a marked sweetness from the liqueur. Although the fennel comes forward at first, as the foam dissipates, the flavors blend quite nicely.

Garden Martini

8-10 lemon basil leaves
3/4 oz. Cocchi Americano (Cocchio Americano is a bittersweet Italian aperitif. Lillet Blanc would be an acceptable substitute, although without the bitterness)
1 1/2 oz. American gin (Aviation Gin)
2 dashes grapfruit bitters
Fennel foam (see recipe below)

Add basil and Cocchi Americano to a cocktail mixing glass and middle. Fill halfway with ice. Add gin and grapefruit bitters. Stir until cold and diluted as desired. Strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Top with about 1/2 inch of fennel foam.


Fennel Foam
Inspired by a recipe for Elderflower Foam by MolecularRecipes.Com

200 ml fennel liqueur (Don Ciccio & Figli Finocchietto)
2 grams powdered gelatin

(The guiding recipe I used for this is in metric. A rough conversion: 200 ml is 6.8 ounces or a little more than 3/4 cup. 2 grams of powdered gelatin is just slightly less than a teaspoon.)

Heat the fennel liqueur in a microwave (about 1 minute at 50 percent power). Stir in the gelatin until dissolved (reheat in the microwave at low heat if needed until the gelatin dissolves completely). Allow to cool at room temperature.

Transfer mixture to an ISI whipping siphon. Charge with one N2O (cream) charger. Refrigerate for several hours until cold.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pea Soup with Crispy Prosciutto & Shallots


When we ate recently at Blue Hill, Chris started his dinner with a delicious bowl of chilled pea soup. The presentation was dramatic: in the middle of the bowl was a pile of peas and bacon, to which the server added then added the cold pea broth. The flavors were so intense: both the peas and the bacon.

For this soup, I wanted something similar. In the winter, split pea soup is perfect, but in the summer the taste of fresh peas feels more appropriate--truly fresh just shelled if you can find them but frozen will work too. Although I pureed most of the peas, I reserved a few and added them at the end to make the texture more interesting. The crispy shallots and prosciutto add a bit of crunch too.

I served this soup warm, but it would be good cold too.


Pea Soup with Crispy Prosciutto & Shallots

2 16-oz. packages frozen peas (may substitute 2 lb. fresh shelled peas, if available--note that's 2 lbs. after shelling)
3 oz. prosciutto
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
3 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon

1. Set aside 1 cup of the frozen peas.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment. Lay the prosciutto slices on the baking sheet, making sure not to overlap them. Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes until they render some fat and get crispy. Watch to make sure they don't burn. Set aside on paper towels to cool then chop into thin strips.

3. Heat vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 4-6 minutes (it may take longer--watch carefully to prevent burning). Transfer shallots to a paper towel-lined plate.

4. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven, deep-sided sauté pan or other large soup pot. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the peas (except the reserved 1 cup), broth and tarragon. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes until the peas are tender. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Stir in the reserved 1 cup of peas and turn off the heat. Serve warm or cold in shallow bowls topped with crispy shallots and prosciutto strips.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Feed: July 24, 2013

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

Washington Post: “Bryan Voltaggio: From a teenager ‘amok’ to ‘Top Chef Masters’,” by Tim Carman. 
On the occasion of D.C. area chef Bryan Voltaggio’s (Volt, Range) appearance on Top Chef Masters—the first Top Chef alum to appear on the Masters show for established chefs—Carman writes a deeply personal profile of the man, digging into his troubled past and even interviewing his brother Michael, also a well-known chef. There are a lot of great things about this story, but my favorite part is how Carman describes the reaction of a crowd of Top Chef viewers at Bryan’s restaurant Volt when Michael was announced the season’s winner (famously beating his own brother). Along with the story is a fun gallery of D.C.’s “celebrity” chefs, mostly Top Chef competitors.

New York Times: “A Light That Shines Through the Clouds,” Daniel restaurant review by Pete Wells.
Pete Wells reviews Daniel, the flagship in Daniel Boulud’s restaurant collective and, while giving it a very good review, knocks it from its four-star perch. Wells has many nice things to say about the restaurant, particularly its food. He writes beautifully about the pea soup: “Salty diamonds of smoked sable and a white ring of rosemary-infused cream helped the soup’s purity shine more clearly.” Smartly, Wells realized he’d been recognized and employed a coworker to help test the quality of the service. While Wells received additional amuses and top offs of his glasses of wine, his coworker sat waiting with an empty glass for someone to offer him another. Clearly, a four-star review begs excellence, but I think importantly, also consistency, as Wells has so effectively demonstrated here.

Serious Eats: Cocktail Science: All About Foams, by Kevin Liu.
Cocktail science expert and author of (the extraordinarily useful) Craft Cocktails at Home contributes this great piece on the various ways to enhance cocktails with foam. After first describing what a foam is, he dives into various ways of achieving frothy texture in drinks, including traditional methods like using egg white and more complicated ones involving gelatin and cream siphons. For an example of the latter, see my Beasts of the Southern Wild cocktail. (Cocktail term of the week: "dry shake"--to shake cocktail ingredients without ice).

Harvard Business Review: “The Booming Business of Craft Cocktails,” by Sarah Green, HBR Ideacast.
This is a transcript of Green's interview with Thomas Mooney, co-owner and CEO of House Spirits Distillery, the Portland, Oregon-based company that makes Aviation Gin, among other things. They talk the current state of cocktails: how to remain exclusive while growing a business, why American gin is a good alternative to the common London Dry style, the Spanish gin & tonic boom, etc. It's a great read for cocktail geeks.

Eco-Centric: “Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Cucumbers,” by Kim O’Donnell.
O’Donnell’s article is like “Cucumbers 101,” providing a nice overview of the vegetable and many tips for how to use it. Disturbingly, she also describes how supermarket varieties are waxed, sometimes with petroleum products (not so at the farmers market, thankfully). Her suggestion to make a cucumber drink with ginger, lime and simple syrup sounds quite refreshing.

Food Republic: “Randy Clemens Knows More About Sriracha Than, Well, Anybody.”
Like a lot of you, I have a bottle of sriracha in my condiments cupboard. But unlike probably all of us, Randy Clemens has 20 different varieties of the popular Thai hot sauce on hand. Clemens is clearly an expert; he’s even penned a cookbook of recipes built around sriracha. I’m intrigued by the idea of using it in a dessert, such as in his recipe for pineapple upside down cake.

Science and Food: “10 More Things You Should Know About Pie,” by Amy Rowat.
My inner nerd emerges whenever someone wants to talk food science, and pie is a dish for which a little science can definitely help ensure success (see my Apple Pie with Vodka Crust, for example). Rowat offers some great tips here, particularly in thinking about how to cut the fruit for the filling and why egg wash is helpful for achieving a good color on the crust.

The Guardian: “How to cook a proper full English breakfast, by Killian Fox.
Given our current love of all things greasy for breakfast--bacon, doughnuts and (good grief) cronuts, I'm surprised the “proper” English breakfast hasn't become more popular in the U.S. It's not that dissimilar from the classic American breakfast: you have eggs, meat and toast, although you get both sausage and bacon, which means you don't have to choose, and instead of potatoes, you get grilled tomato and braised mushrooms, which, when in season, make a great addition to breakfast. Working with Chef Tom Kerridge, Fox runs through the steps for making the classic British way to start your day.

New York Times: “The Flexitarian: The Whole Story,” by Mark Bittman.
Just a few weeks after writing a great piece on grain salads (which was the inspiration for my salad posted yesterday), Bittman returns to the subject with this Flexitarian column, basically expounding on that infographic with more details about various grains and ways to make interesting salads with them, like Puffed Rice Salad with Chicken.

Esquire: “The Problem with ‘Reinvented’ Comfort Food,” by Josh Ozersky.
Ozersky rants against chefs who take classic comfort dishes, like grilled cheese with tomato soup, and "reinvent" them with upscale flourishes. I like how he dissects such reinvention into three basic camps: modernism (in his words, "something new and weird"), updating (new techniques/ingredients) and basically the same but with better ingredients. I'm not sure I agree it's a problem though when chefs experiment. I think it can be fun to reinterpret an old dish in a new way and not necessarily disrespectful to the original.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer Grain Salad

Grain salad

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman wrote about this versatile formula for grain salad in June. The story was accompanied by a wonderful graphic showing the possibilities for grain--eight different choices including rices, farro and couscous--and fruit, vegetable, nut, herb and spice mix ins.

I thought the combination in the photo was so tasty-looking that I made my salad with the same ingredients.

Summer Grain Salad
From The Perfect Grain Salad by Mark Bittman, New York Times

1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked wild rice
8 asparagus spears, shaved
1/3 cup red grapes, halved
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice plus zest from 1/2 a lemon
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine grains, asparagus, grapes, onion, mint and lemon zest in a large bowl. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pour over salad and toss to combine.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Eating While Shopping in Manhattan

Shopping is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Manhattan, along with sightseeing, theater and incredible dinners. After a few hours and laden with shopping bags, you’re bound to be hungry.

Since we tend to splurge on dinner while in New York, we like to keep lunch light and simple, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing taste. Below are some of our favorite places to duck into for lunch while on the retail trail.

Soho

Our favorite shopping neighborhood is dotted with little cafes, which, for better or worse, tend to fill up pretty fast around lunchtime. Soho is also home to Balthazar, but good luck getting in—when we tried to go in for lunch, despite many open tables, they weren’t accepting walk-ins. 

Instead, I suggest heading over to Spring Street Natural on Lafayette Street, the border between Soho and Nolita. For the area, it’s a fairly large restaurant, so you’re bound to get a table. If you can get there early, you might be able to snag a seat by one of the corner restaurant’s large picture windows that look out onto Spring or Lafayette Street. Definitely great people watching.

On a hot day, their entrée salads are particularly satisfying, loaded with fresh ingredients and meats like generous strips of grilled chicken. Their southwestern salad with sun-dried cranberries, roasted corn and toasted almonds is one of our favorites, and I recently enjoyed their Asian salad with pineapple, crispy wonton strips, mango and jicama.

Since a lot of the stores in Soho open a little later, if you find yourself in the neighborhood early and need to kill a little time, I suggest you check out Once Upon a Tart, which has a nice selection of baked treats.

Midtown

View of Columbus Circle from Bouchon Cafe
Fifth Avenue is New York’s busiest shopping strip and also one of its trickiest for finding a good lunch. I prefer to get away from the bustle and head over to the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle on 8th Avenue. Although home to Thomas Keller’s upscale four-star restaurant Per Se, the shopping center also houses another Keller establishment, the Bouchon Café. The restaurant is set up in the concourse of the shopping center’s third floor, which gives the space a great view of Columbus Circle and the southern tip of central park through the windows of the building’s massive entrance atrium.  

Bouchon Café’s menu consists of salads, sandwiches and a few entrees. If you’re in the mood for a glass of wine, they also have a nice selection. One of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever had in New York was when we ducked into Bouchon Café on a scorching hot summer day and enjoyed a bowl of delicious cold corn soup (my corn soup recipe was inspired by it). 

For a sweet treat after your shopping is done, grab a corn or compost cookie at the Momofuku Milk Bar on 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. 

Union Square

For a break from the clothing and housewares stores around Union Square (and famed bookstore The Strand), I suggest a short walk to the next square north along Broadway, Madison Square at 23rd Street. There you will find Eataly, a giant Italian food emporium that is part market, part restaurant. 

I’ve made a habit of stopping at Eataly to pick up interesting pastas and other assorted food stuffs (I found hard-to-find fennel pollen here), but Chris and I enjoyed a meal here for the first time on a hot day when we wanted something light with lots of vegetables. We took a table at Le Verdure, the vegetable-themed space that is one of Eataly’s seven sit-down restaurants (if it hadn’t been so hot that day, we’d have been tempted by the rooftop beer garden, Birreria).

Grilled peach, bean and pea salad from Eataly

At Eataly’s Le Verdure, we shared a spot-on lunch of beans salad with sugar snap, green and yellow beans, toasted hazelnuts and grilled peaches that were so tender and sweet. We also enjoyed the polenta "pizza" bites, which had a base of polenta with a nice crispy charred corn flavor topped with tomato sauce, greens and fresh mozzarella with peppery watercress on the side.

Obviously, there are many more good choices for lunch while shopping in New York, but these have become favorites of mine over the years. What are some of your favorites? Please let me know in the comments.

Bouchon Cafe, Ten Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor (In the Time Warner Center, at the intersection of Broadway, 8th Avenue and 59th Street), New York, N.Y. (Midtown). (212) 823-9364. 
Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue (on the Broadway side of Madison Square Park between 23rd and 24th), New York, N.Y. (Flatiron District). (212) 229-2560
Il Pesce & Le Verdure @ Eataly on Urbanspoon

Spring Street Natural, 62 Spring Street (at Lafayette Street), New York, N.Y. (Soho). (212) 966-0290. 
Spring Street Natural on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bangkok Breeze Cocktail


Bangkok Breeze Cocktail

See this herb below? This lime basil, which I'd never heard of before but came across at my neighborhood farmers market, New Morning Farm, last weekend.

Lime basil
True to its name, lime basil is basil with a definite hint of lime flavor. Basil and lime together made me think of Thai cuisine, so I decided to play on that with ginger and coconut flavors. Since I wanted the drink light and refreshing, I went with coconut water rather than the heavier coconut cream. The resulting drink was perfect for the super hot weather we're having this week in D.C.

Bangkok Breeze Cocktail

8-10 lime basil leaves
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur (Domaine de Canton)
1 oz. rum
3 oz. coconut water

Add lime basil leaves to a rocks glass. Add simple syrup and muddle. Fill halfway with ice and add ginger liqueur, rum and coconut water. Stir to combine.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Broiled Peach Salad with Watercress, Sugar Snap Peas and Toasted Hazelnuts



Peaches are among the shortlist of foods that I didn't eat as a child that as an adult I hadn't gotten around to eating until recently.


Just a couple weeks ago, Chris and I ducked into Eataly for lunch on a really hot day, looking for replenishing light meal without any heat. We ended up at the vegetable-themed Verdure counter with a delicious salad of grilled peaches and mixed beans. Despite having previously been ambivalent toward peaches, I thought they were really great and I was inspired to make something similar.


Since I don't have a grill, I broiled my peaches, and instead of string beans served them with sugar snap peas and watercress. Although several ingredients in this salad require separate preparation, none of it is particularly time-intensive and you could prepare them ahead of time, particularly the nuts (probably not the peaches).

Broiled Peach Salad with Watercress, Sugar Snap Peas and Toasted Hazelnuts
Inspired by Eataly

Makes 2 large servings

Broiled peaches:
2 white or yellow peaches
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup shelled hazelnuts
8 oz. sugar snap peas
2 cups of fresh watercress leaves

Dressing:
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Bring a medium saucepan filled with about 3 inches of water to boil. Score the peach with a large X crossing at the bottom. Drop the peach into the water and cook for 1 minute. Remove peach, allow to cool then peel by carefully removing the skin by the corners of the X (use a paring knife to remove any peel that doesn't easily come off). Cut the peach in half and remove the pit.

2. Preheat oven broiler with rack in top position (4 to 5 inches from broiler). Place peaches cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Drizzle peaches with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil for 5 to 6 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven, cool and slice into wedges.

3. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the hazelnuts and toast until they are lightly browned. Allow to cool then transfer to a clean kitchen towel. Fold the towel over the nuts and rub to remove skins.

4. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add the sugar snap peas and boil for 2 minutes. While they boil, prepare a bowl of ice water and when the peas are done, transfer them to the ice water bath to cool.

5. In a large bowl, combine the watercress, toasted hazelnuts, and sugar snap peas. Whisk together the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and toss to coat. Serve the salad in shallow bowls topped with the broiled peach wedges.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Feed: July 17, 2013

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

Washington Post Magazine: “What’s missing from D.C.’s food scene? A lot,” by Mark H. Furstenberg.
This is the article everyone is talking about this week: a takedown of D.C.’s food scene written by a local. Furstenberg argues that D.C.’s recent praise as a “world class” food city is undeserved, citing factors such as high prices at farmers markets, poor offerings at chain grocery stores and, critically, a lack of a discernable food culture. While some of these things may be true at times, he’s overreaching. The high prices at farmers markets for example—are farmers markets in New York City not similarly priced? Comments on Yelp seem to indicate that Union Square Greenmarket is pricey but not bad for New York (which means it’s pricy). He names Portland, Oregon, as having a better variety of local supermarkets, but there are more examples of such markets here than he cites, and most Portlanders buy their groceries at large chain stores just like people anywhere else.

His characterization of the D.C. restaurant scene seems particularly unfair to me. While he praises the increase of chef-owned local restaurants, he dismisses some chefs’ practice of opening successive restaurants (he names Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Birch & Barley and Vermilion as an example, although curiously not D.C.’s king of local proliferation, the venerated José Andrés of Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinya, Minibar, Barmini and all his restaurants in other cities like Las Angeles, Las Vegas and Puerto Rico). I disagree with his assertion that such proliferation doesn’t happen as much in other places: I see it all the time. It’s very common in New York (Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Daniel Humm, Alex Stupak, Harold Dieterle, Andrew Carmellini, Mario Bataly all have their hands in multiple restaurants—and those are just ones that came to mind quickly because I’ve been to many of them). I can think of several notable Portland-based chefs that are doing the same thing. I agree that sometimes this practice can be problematic if quality takes a hit, but for many of the aforementioned chefs (and their diners) it’s working great.

Furstenberg claims that restaurants in the area are concentrated in downtown D.C. and they are too expensive: citing $20 appetizers and $40 entrees. I work in downtown D.C. and eat lunch there everyday. I know there are restaurants at that price, but that’s only a small part of the downtown food story that includes a wide variety of moderately priced establishments, a growing assortment of American and ethnic fast-casual choices and the booming food truck scene, where lunch is easily under $10. He points to high downtown prices as preventing new local talent from taking a foothold there. Is it so bad then, that they might instead set up wonderful neighborhood restaurants throughout the city? When I first moved here in 1999, as a twentysomething, there were few neighborhoods with interesting, affordable food choices—basically Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park, Adams-Morgan and Capitol Hill. Now we have U Street, 14th Street, Columbia Heights, H Street NE, Shaw, Bloomingdale and more--with commercial development continuing to grow throughout the city (the area around the ballpark looks poised to be the next hot area of new restaurants). His article actually makes this point, but then seems dismissive of its significance, whereas I think it’s something that makes D.C.’s food scene really great. When I moved here, I was a bit dismayed to find that restaurants tended to be either too expensive or chains. Today, that’s no longer the case. There is amazing variety here.

I’m not the only one who feels this article unfairly maligns D.C. For a great counterpoint, see Jessica Sidman’s Washington City Paper article. Sam Heirsteiner also comes to the city’s defense in the Huffington Post.

Gawker: “The Pizza Belt: the Most Important Pizza Theory You'll Read,” by Max Read.
Do you ever tire of people who insist that the only good pizza comes from New York? I certainly do. With his theory of “The Pizza Belt,” defined as “the area of the United States where the chance of obtaining an adequate-to-good slice of pizza from a randomly chosen pizzeria is greater than 50 percent,” Read injects some much needed nuance into this discussion. Basically, his theory is that within this belt, roughly southern New Jersey to Providence, Rhode Island, you’re more likely to get good pizza than you would elsewhere (he expands the belt to D.C. and Boston if you drop your chance to 33 percent). I think the concept makes a lot of sense, although I’m sure many will balk at his insistence that the belt not include Chicago or San Francisco.

Washington Post: “Gnocchi: The secrets to making it, from the pros,” by Bonnie S. Benwick. 
The last time I made gnocchi, the fabled Italian potato dumplings served with various sauces, I was disappointed with the results: some disintegrated in the pot while boiling. I’ve also been disappointed by leaden store-bought gnocchi that are far from having the ideal “pillowy” texture they should. To get to the bottom of what it takes to make good gnocchi, Benwick consults with several expert cooks, who employ varying techniques but all end up with good results. Don’t miss the video with Ripple chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. I also love how Benwick, in mentioning “gnocchi day,” gently pokes fun at how ridiculous some food holidays are. The article includes several recipes. For some of my gnocchi recipes, check out Gnocchi with Sausage-Mushroom Ragu, Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Beet Gnocchi with Walnut-Sage Butter (this is the one where some fell apart, but was still tasty—I recommend adding an egg or two egg yolks to the dough to see if that helps keep them together).

Washington Post: “Frozen drinks, beyond the sugar-slush bombs,” by M. Carrie Allan.
When I make margaritas at home with fresh lime juice, Cointreau and choice tequila, I serve them on the rocks. When we go out for Friday night Tex-Mex, we’re all about the frozen “slushy” version. It’s just fun. Allan examines seemingly low-brow frozen drinks (which, like other cocktails, don’t have to be made with sour mix), including the origins of the frozen margarita machine. She also shares a recipe she created for a spicy frozen take on the Paloma, the Chilly Chile Paloma, which I’d love to make soon. I’m really enjoying her writing style too, including fun pop culture references (she describes D.C.’s current heat wave as having  “a Ryan Goslingesque level of hotness”).

New York Times: “Restaurant Takeaway: Ravioli With Burrata, Brought Home From Rome,” by Melissa Clark.
Clark makes us instantly jealous of her recent vacation in Rome by telling us about all the burrata she got to eat there. Generously, she shares a recipe for a delectable-sounding ravioli filled with burrata and fresh ricotta and tossed with a nutty basil pesto. Hungry yet?

New York Times: “Chopped Salad Has Become the Lunch of Choice in the Northeast,” by William Grimes.
Chopped salads, basically entrée salads with chopped ingredients, have become all the rage in New York and elsewhere along the Mid-Atlantic to Northeast corridor (although apparently not in California) from restaurants like Chop’t and Just Salad (and the unmentioned but soon to open in New York, Sweetgreen). Grimes traces their origins and charts their meteoric rise, while seeking to explain their appeal. And, I should add, if you’re interested in chopped salads (and other chopped-style dishes) at home, check out KC The Kitchen Chopper’s website for some great ideas.

CNN: “Real or fake sugar: Does it matter?,” by Jacque Wilson, Elizabeth Landau and Jen Christensen.
Wilson and crew provide an informative overview of the different popular sugar substitutes like Sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Equal), as well as the latest science on their healthfulness. Their bottom line: they’re really not that bad in moderation. I suspect that won’t be good enough for many skeptics though (potentially including me).

Atlantic Monthly: “The Beauty of Eating at the Bar,” by Alexander Abad-Santos.
Abad-Santos’s essay argues that solo diners get a better experience at the bar than at a table for one, an argument he bases in part on the potential for better service, but also largely on avoiding the social stigma and psychological trauma of dining solo.  Personally, I have no problem getting a table for one and I do it for lunch all the time, but I can see that dining at the bar could have its appeal in certain restaurants. I just don’t like eating a meal from a barstool that much.

Bloomberg: “Campari Blitzes Europe with Aperol Spritz to Boost Stock,” by Clementine Fletcher.
Italian aperitivo Aperol has for years been an important growth product for Campari Group, the beverage company behind products like Skyy Vodka and Wild Turkey Bourbon (and of course its namesake Campari). But European sales flagged recently after a dispute in Germany led the product to be pulled from shelves and competition to fill the gap. With the product once again available there, Fletcher discusses what Campari is doing to elevate Aperol’s profile there and elsewhere, such as by promoting its namesake cocktail, the Aperol Spritz. Aperol is one of my favorite aperitifs and I’ve featured it in several cocktails, such as the Light My FireEverybody Loves a Gin Blossom and August Sunset.

New York Times Diner's Journal: "A Note to Readers."
Sadly, The New York Times killed its food blog, Diner's Journal, last week. Although they are retaining many of its features on their main Dining page, their daily roundup of interesting food stories, "What We're Reading," seems to have become a casualty of this decision--a fate bemoaned in the comments to the blog's final post by many readers who enjoyed it. I'd become a big fan of "What We're Reading" (and not just because I was featured in it twice). It was a great resource for discovering interesting food stories--one I relied on in part for putting together The Feed. To help fill the void, I'm expanding The Feed and will consider posting it on additional days besides Wednesday (I can't, however, do it daily).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Farro Bowl with Sugar Snap Peas and Turkey Kielbasa


Farro is a type of wheat grain that is ideal for weeknight cooking. It cooks up fast--a fraction of the time  for cooking wheat berries--and provides a satisfying chewy crunch when not overcooked.

If you've never had farro, I suggest giving it a try. It's become rather popular on restaurant menus lately. I used it a few months ago in the multigrain risotto. This dish is similar to but simpler than a risotto. Since it's not really a pilaf either, I'm just calling it a "bowl."


Farro Bowl with Sugar Snap Peas and Turkey Kielbasa

Serves 4

2 1/2 cups water
Pinch of salt
1 cup farro, rinsed
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced
Seasoned salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12-14 oz. cooked turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/4-inch thick coins
8 oz. sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
Generous handful of fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Bring water and salt to boil in a medium saucepan. Add farro, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the grains are cooked through but quite chewy, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large sauté or frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add kielbasa and continue cooking another 5 minutes or so until the onion and meat are lightly browned. Add peas and sauté another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in mint, cheese and cooked farro. Serve in large bowls.



Monday, July 15, 2013

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



[2015 Update: Eater reported that Commerce has closed.]

Last year, Eater NY named Commerce among the 20 most underrated restaurants in New York. It's easy, however unfortunate, to see why this restaurant can get overlooked, tucked away as it is on the unassuming Commerce Street far from the usual commercial stretches of the West Village. Here's my pitch to get it off that list.

Commerce is, quite simply, a very satisfying place and our favorite meal from our recent New York trip. The restaurant's charming interior feels very traditional Manhattan: leather banquettes line the walls, above which are slightly angled mirrors and, in the rear, a painted mural. Columns, subway-style tiles and a handsome bar complete the setting which works as well for a romantic dinner for two as it does for drinks with a group of friends.

The menu, like a lot menus these days, leans Italian but isn't a slave to it. Pasta, gnocchi and meatballs sit comfortably next to Korean-style pork chop, steak Diane and the popular roast chicken for two, which I'll be tempted by next time we visit.


And there will surely be a next time with food as good as this. We went the Italian route with light and flavorful ricotta gnocchi served with Italian sausage, tomato and scallions and a hearty short rib ravioli with hen of the woods mushrooms and barolo sauce. Our salad starters--20 herbs and lettuces (including my favorite, mint) with manchego, olive oil and lemon, and romaine hearts with tomato, onion and a generous portion of Oregon blue cheese--were likewise tasty and satisfying.

A surprising highlight was the bread basket, with echoes of Le Diplomate in terms of its variety and quality. The warm assortment are made in-house by "Head Bread Baker" Heather Bortnam. The soft pretzel may be the star selection, but don't pass up the poppy seed roll, sausage biscuit or baguette.

Desserts are aimed at your inner child: birthday cake, cookies and ice cream. We shared a nostalgic banana pudding with Nilla wafers.

The selection of cocktails are another treat. The menu divides them into original "house" and "classic" styles. The Debonair, from the latter, was a satisfying mix of Scotch and ginger while Chris's Agave Stinger was an intriguing play on the margarita with flavorful burnt honey syrup.

The restaurant has a nicely varied wine list, but I wish they offered more choices by the glass (there were only four reds on offer when we visited). It would also be helpful if the staff knew a little more about those choices. That minor gripe aside, the staff was extremely friendly, particularly our affable server.

Its name may be "commerce" but Chef/Owner Harold Moore's restaurant is warm and inviting way beyond a mere exchange of money and goods. Although we visited on a hot summer night, this strikes me as an ideal place to steal away from the cold and warm up with delicious comforting food.

Commerce, 50 Commerce Street (on the corner with Barrow Street between Hudson Street and Bedford Street), New York, N.Y. (West Village). (212) 524-2301. Reservations: Open Table.

Commerce on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 12, 2013

Roasted Fennel, Sausage and Quinoa Chopped

Sausage, Fennel and Quinoa Chopped

You know those days. You've had a long day at work. Probably got home later than you wanted. You may or may not have time for your usual workout. And you just don't feel like spending an hour or two in the kitchen braising a delicious meal from scratch, so you reach a frozen package of...

There's a solution: make a chopped.

"Chopped" is the term KC The Kitchen Chopper uses for the custom dishes she whips up on her blog. A lot of her recipes are basically like deluxe entree salads, but she also uses the "chopped" monicker for things like pizza toppings and even dessert (the Pineapple Blueberry Cinnamon Yogurt Dessert Chopped with fresh mint sounds really good).

Her dishes are the ideal solution for home cooks who are short on time: they can be whipped up quickly but with healthy, hearty and fresh ingredients. There's really no excuse for microwaving some nasty Frankenmeal when you can have a chopped on the table in a pretty short amount of time.

Ir recently made her Roasted Fennel, Sausage, Quinoa Chopped and was rather impressed with it. Chris said it reminded him of Thanksgiving with its dried cranberries, onions and molasses-sweetened dressing. Her recipes include optional ingredients as "zing factors," but I say don't you dare leave them out. The sundried tomatoes and turmeric zingers in this dish gave the dressing unique flavor.

I made a few modifications from KC's original recipe: I roasted the fennel almost twice as long to get it lightly browned, although that might be because my oven seems to be crapping out lately. I also added more olives, substituted fresh chicken sausage from Whole Foods for the pre-cooked kind and used pecorino romano instead of parmesan. Despite my longer roasting time, this still came together pretty quickly.

Roasted Fennel, Sausage and Quinoa Chopped
Adapted from a recipe by KC The Kitchen Chopper

Makes 4 servings

1 fennel bulb, chopped
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. (2 large) mild Italian chicken sausages, removed from casings
4 cups baby arugula
½ cup cooked quinoa
2 tbsp. dried cranberries
6-8 large green olives, finely chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1 oz. pecorino romano cheese, finely grated

Dressing Ingredients:
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. molasses
2 tbsp. chopped sundried tomatoes
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ tsp.ground turmeric

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Place chopped fennel on a baking sheet and toss with 2 tsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Roast until slightly caramelized, tossing halfway through, about 15 to 30 minutes. Cool slightly.

2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, stirring and breaking up with a wooden spoon.

3. In a large salad bowl, combine the roasted fennel, cooked sausage, arugula, cooked quinoa, dried cranberries, olives, scallions, and grated cheese.

4. Make the dressing: In a small microwave safe bowl, mix together olive oil, garlic, molasses and sundried tomatoes. Microwave on high for 15 seconds. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Serve in large bowls.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sautéed Summer Squash and Sugar Snap Pea Medley


Sometimes when I hit my neighborhood farmers market New Morning Farm on Saturday mornings, I have a plan. Other times, I just start tossing whatever looks good into my basket. This dish, which I served with broiled salmon, definitely came about on one of those latter days.

The other weekend, the market had beautiful scallions with bulbs so large they almost looked liked spring onions. Lots of nice color here too with the golden summer squash and bright green sugar snap peas.



For additional summer flavor, I added lemon juice and tarragon, plus some grated pecorino romano. For some reason, there's something about that cheese that works so well this time year. I end up using it more than parmigiano-reggiano, my usual favorite.

Sautéed Summer Squash and Sugar Snap Pea Medley

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 scallions, white part thinly sliced, greens chopped into pieces about 1/4- to 1/2 inch-long
3-4 yellow summer squash, sliced in 1/80-inch coins
2 cups (thereabouts) fresh sugar snap peas, ends snapped off and strings removed
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, lightly chopped
Grated pecorino romano cheese

1. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium to medium-high heat. Add scallion white parts and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add squash and sugar snap peas and saute, stirring occasionally until the squash is soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as it cooks.

2. Turn off the heat. Add the scallion greens and lemon zest and stir to combine and wilt the scallions. Remove pan from stove. Add the lemon juice and fresh tarragon and stir to combine. Serve in bowls topped with grated pecorino romano.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Feed: July 10, 2013

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

Bloomberg Businessweek: “McFresh: Why a simple tortilla wrap is so important to McDonald’s,” by Susan Berfield. 
I haven’t eaten in a McDonald’s in nearly 10 years (except perhaps a forgettable breakfast at an airport once). Although I may ignore its food, I can’t ignore its influence: it’s still the world’s largest restaurant chain. And I, like many Americans, have fond memories of it from my childhood. So it was interesting to read Berfield’s story about the golden arches’ latest attempt to modify its assembly-line-style food just enough to appeal to changing tastes looking for fresher, “realer” ingredients—i.e. the sort of thing you get at fast casual establishments like Chipotle. McDonald’s key tool in this effort is the new McWrap, which Berfield describes as a “fusion of the fresh and the machined” with its visible lettuce and chicken, but also its shape and package designed to fit in a cup holder.

I really enjoyed the accompanying “Periodic Table of McDonald’s,” which visually illustrates the ingredients of McDonald’s 44 burgers, wraps and salads. It’s amazing to think that in the early ‘80s, the chain had six sandwiches—none of which contained chicken—and no wraps or salads. Today there are twice as many chicken than beef entrees.

Washington Post: “One grower’s grapes of wrath,” by David A. Fahrenthold.
Raisins aren’t a food I often give much thought to, but this piece about the “raisin reserve”—a government program to protect raisin prices by pulling excess supply off the market—was fascinating. The issue is examined from the point of view of Marvin Horne, a raisin farmer who is resisting the 64-year-old program (and breaking the law by doing so, apparently).

New York Times: “Homemade Pickles Require Just Three Ingredients,” by Cathy Barrow.
D.C.-based food writer Cathy Barrow shares how easy it is to make your own sour pickles. It sounds extremely easy actually if you use the right ingredients: dense fresh cucumbers with thin skin, kosher salt and pure water (garlic and dill may also be added). I just might have to try this. I bet the results are way better than jarred pickles from the grocery store.

New York Times: “Vietnamese Marinated Flank Steak,” by Melissa Clark.
This simple grilled or broiled flank steak recipe uses a marinade inspired by the Vietnamese dipping sauce nuoc cham and comes with a side salad of cucumber, scallions and radishes. Sounds delicious and quick—another winning idea from Clark.

Washington Post: “Weeknight Vegetarian: Ratatouille, all wrapped up,” by Joe Yonan.
Yonan writes about a delicious idea for transforming a summer staple: use ratatouille as the filling for tomato crepes. Ingenious! Recipe: Ratatouille in Tomato Crepes.

Just a Taste: “Food blogging guide,” by Kelly Senyei.
Senyei is the author of Food Blogging for Dummies, a resource I found helpful when I was starting Cook In / Dine Out early last year. Now she’s created a web-based resource with similar information for food bloggers. So far she mostly has information about getting started, but promises to expand the guide.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Restaurant: Blue Hill (New York, N.Y.)


A visit to a restaurant like Blue Hill is a special treat. It's not everyday we get to visit the restaurant that just won the James Beard award for Outstanding Restaurant. In fact, I'm pretty sure this was a first.

The restaurant, and its chef, Dan Barber (winner of the 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef), have come to epitomize the farm-to-fork ethos that has swept restaurants across the nation. Bill Hill and its sister restaurant Bill Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, N.Y., operate in conjunction with Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts, which has been in the Barber family for three generations. The Blue Hill website makes this connection obvious: the farm is featured as prominently as the food. It is a principal supplier of the restaurant's fresh vegetables and meat.

At Blue Hill, freshness isn't just a selling-point. You can taste it in every bite. And given the current season, peas were the chef's note of choice, coaxed into an amazing and varied symphony of flavors. These were among the most glorious sugar snap and green pea dishes I've ever had. The beginning amuse was a mini pea and ricotta burger with an almond flour bun. The one-bite treat had a bit of crunch and nice sweetness.

Blue Hill is dimly lit so, despite adjustment, these pictures aren't as colorful as the food really is. I'm providing them for a sense of presentation.

Presentation is thoughtful at Blue Hill, but not overdone. The chilled pea soup begins as a small pile of fresh peas and bacon over which the server pours cold pea broth. The broth is thin but flavorful, and the bacon adds intense flavor, despite there being very little of it in the soup.

Sugar snap peas are cooked just enough to make them tender, served in a pile with roasted hazelnuts and a tangy vinaigrette. Although the menu stated the dish contained pickled ramps, I'm pretty sure the night we visited it featured picked cauliflower instead, which is fine by me, since both would be delicious in this dish. The crispy fresh peas were the star, while the slightly bitter roasted nuts and sour pickles were the fine supporting cast in this opening act.

We had varying reactions to our entrees. I was quite happy with my pig dish prepared three ways: roasted pork loin, a strip of chop and a piece of luscious pork belly with crispy skin. Each preparation was unique, delicious and well-seasoned but not too salty. Accompanying the porky trio was the now-familiar sugar snap peas, more cooked this time, along with some fava beans and almonds.

Chris was not as happy with his chicken, which came as a rather meager portion. If you're thinking of the generous Palena or NoMad roast chicken, put that image out of your mind. At Blue Hill the presentation is more subtle: just a few slices of herbed breast and a small (but incredibly tasty) piece of dark meat. A few pieces of summer squash and a pile of ricotta cheese mixed with chopped basil adorn the simple plate.

Dessert was a relatively simple preparation of cooked blueberries with toasted almond cake and buttermilk sorbet. Again, be prepared for a small portion: you get about a dozen berries with three pieces of cake and a teaspoon-size quenelle of sorbet. It was all very delicious though, especially the sorbet. Chocolate truffles and citrus-dusted marshmallows arrive as one last treat before the check.

The service here was very good, as you would expect. Dishes were well-timed and our server was friendly and quite knowledgeable about the by-the-glass wine selections.

Our overall feeling upon leaving the restaurant was more like "huh, that was really interesting" than "wow, that was really good." From what I've read about Blue Hill, the restaurant is aiming for subtlety and nuance rather than dishes that bowl you over. Like a complex novel, it's the sort of thing you enjoy at the time but appreciate more as you reflect upon it later. It's certainly inspirational. My head is already buzzing with ideas for sugar snap peas. Here's to hoping I can make them sing at least half as sweetly as they did in Barber's lovely symphony.

Blue Hill, 75 Washington Place (Between 6th Avenue and Washington Square), New York, N.Y. (Greenwich Village), (212) 539-1776. Reservations: Open Table.

Blue Hill on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 8, 2013

Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs with Tarragon

Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs with Tarragon

This simple, delicious chicken dinner was adapted from The Washington Post Cookbook, which was released a few months ago. The original recipe called for honey mustard, which I didn't have, but I did have honey and mustard, so I figured I could approximate something similar using those ingredients plus some additional white wine vinegar. I also added tarragon, a wonderful summertime herb. I served the dish with a slice of crusty white bread and a simple salad of lettuce dressed with a garlicky lemon vinaigrette (below).

Roasted Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs

Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs with Tarragon
Adapted from Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs, The Washington Post Cookbook

1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsbp. white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used L'Ecole No. 41 2011 Semillon)
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 pinches of salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs

1. Preheat oven to 450 F with oven rack in middle position.

2. Add honey, mustard, vinegar, wine, thyme, salt, peper and tarragon to a small bowl. Whisk together with a fork until combined to form the marinade.

3. Place chicken thighs in a large (gallon size) resealable plastic bag. Pour marinade ingredients into bag. Seal the bag, pressing to remove excess air, shake a bit and turn over to coat chicken evenly. Marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for several hours.

4. Pour chicken and marinade into a 9 X 13 baking dish. Bake until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 to 165 F, about 20-30 minutes. Baste the thighs about halfway through. For the last 5 minutes, turn on the broiler to brown the tops of the thighs. Serve chicken thighs with some crusty bread and dressed greens (I suggest pouring a little of the cooked marinade into a dish to sop up with the bread).

Lettuce with Garlicky Lemon Dressing

Serves 2

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed and roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. Lillet Blanc (may substitute a sweet white wine or white wine vinegar and a tsp. of honey)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. capers, drained
8-10 romaine lettuce leaves, torn
Grated pecorino romano cheese, to taste

In a small bowl or 1-cup glass measuring cup, grind together the garlic cloves and anchovies with a pinch of salt until they form a paste using the back of a spoon or a cocktail muddler (if you have them, use a mortar and pestle). Add lemon juice, Lillet Blanc, pepper and stir to combine. Whisk in the olive oil. Combine caper and lettuce in a large salad bowl. Toss with vinaigrette and top with grated cheese.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Gijito Cocktail


This "gijito" as I've decided to call it is really quite simple: It's just a mojito made with gin instead of rum, which makes it pretty close to a Tom Collins except with muddled mint and lime instead of lemon.   The substitution works well, making this just as delicious and refreshing as the original.

Gijito Cocktail

1 oz. simple syrup
8-10 fresh mint leaves
2 oz. gin (I used Green Hat gin, made in D.C.)
3/4 oz. lime juice
2-3 oz. club soda

Add simple syrup and mint leaves to a highball or collins glass and muddle. Fill the glass with ice then add the gin, lime juice and soda. Stir to combine.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Red, White and Blueberries

Red, white and blueberries
Blueberries photo public domain, courtesy of World News

Happy Fourth of July! Here are some delicious recipes for showing your patriotic colors.

Red

Of these colors, red is the easiest to find in food. During summer, there are three particularly great seasonal choices: tomatoes (Nachos with Fresh Tomato Salsa), strawberries (Strawberry Shortcake) and watermelon (Watermelon and Watercress Salad). Lots of options here.

White

White might not be the most common naturally occurring food color, but it is quite common to sweet confections like Gin & Tonic Cake or Baked Alaska. Dairy is another route to go, like a Grilled Cheese Sandwich with white cheddar or this creamy Rainbow Chard Dip.

Blue

Blue is perhaps the most challenging color to capture in food. Apart from blueberries, blue corn and blue curaçao, there aren't a lot of common blue foods, and each of those present their challenges. Luckily, summer is blueberry season, the perfect time for a blueberry pie, blueberries in salad (Rocket Salad with Blueberries) and even entrees (Salmon with Blueberries).

What are you making to celebrate Independence Day today?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Feed: July 3, 2013

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

Washington Post: “Ice Cream: Here's the scoop,” by Bonnie S. Benwick, Becky Krystal and Laura Stanton.
It’s such a shame that if I lick this beautiful Washington Post infographic on homemade ice cream, it’s just going to taste like newsprint (or glass if I'm looking at it online). Benwick and team have assembled a fun and informative piece about frozen creamy desserts (not just ice cream) with recipes, tips and fun facts. This is the Food section at its summer best.

New York Times: “Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles: What You Call Your Pie Depends on Where You Live,” by Kim Severson.
And what should you eat with your ice cream? Pie, of course, and the New York Times has you covered, with this feature story and page of 20 recipes, including Pear Ginger Crumble, Rhubarb Raspberry Crumble with Cornmeal Biscuits and the simply sinful sounding Butter Pie.

Bunkycooks: “Mediterranean salad with spelt, eggplant, zucchini & marinated cheese for a summer solstice party,” by Gwen Patresi.
Summer isn’t just about sweet treats, as Bunkycooks reminds us this week with this beautiful (and versatile) Mediterranean salad. If you’re a regular reader of her site you know that Gwen and her husband (“Mr. B”) travel often. This dish came about during their recent trip to Boston, where they used to live.

Wall Street Journal: “Wish They All Could Be California Wines,” by Will Lyons.
Last week, the Washington Post treated us to a story about Napa winemakers embracing old styles of Cabernet Sauvignon. This week, the Wall Street Journal takes a loving look at my favorite wine region and varietal. Lyons’ story has lots of interesting facts about the valley, including how it compares to Bordeaux, the French region known for its Cabernet and like-minded big red blends.

Washington Post: “The case against small plates,” by Neil Irwin.
A day after I reviewed the city’s most famous tapas restaurant, I find myself writing about Neil Irwin’s rant against small plates. He makes some goods points, such as how serving small plates instead of entrees puts a greater burden on the diner to design a good experience. And yes, sharing everything can be rather annoying. But I disagree with his assertion that they are “cheap thrills.” I rather like the idea of eating a taste of something interesting and then moving on to something else. After about the third bite of anything, your taste buds get desensitized to it. If you’ve ever found yourself slogging through an entrée, even if you loved it at first, you know what this feels like. On the Post’s sister site, Slate, you can read Matthew Iglesias’ opposing view.

New York Times: “Inheriting the Restaurant Gene,” by Alex Witchel.
The Times profiles the restaurateurs behind popular D.C. salad chain Sweetgreen, which is opening its first Manhattan location this month (in the NoMad Hotel no less). Very exciting to see one of my favorite lunch places expand and prosper.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: Jaleo Still Strong After 20 Years


When the Washington Post's Phyllis Richman first reviewed Jaleo soon after it opened in 1993, there was no mention of its location in Penn Quarter (it was called "old downtown" back then), nor was there mention of its not-yet-famous chef-owner José Andrés. My, how the times have changed.

But what hasn't changed for Jaleo, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year, are the raves about its food. It's as vibrant and creative today as it's always been.

Sure, the prices have gone up--Richman noted several times that one of Jaleo's best selling points was its low price--but I would argue Jaleo still delivers good value. People may scoff at the $225 per person Andrés is charging a couple blocks away at Minibar, but of the 10 or so D.C.-area restaurants the Post has rated with 3.5 or 4 stars, Jaleo is the gentlest on your pocketbook. A couple could reasonably enjoy a dinner of six shared tapas and two glasses of wine for $75. Of course, a few rounds of sangria, a paella and some dessert will set you back more, but at least Jaleo offers the chance for young, less well-heeled Washingtonians to dine in style while eating well. This is how you train people to love eating at restaurants.

Our recent dinner at Jaleo was as delightful as any we've had in the 10-plus years since I started eating there. The interior got a needed update last year, turning the corner restaurant with its large glass windows into a colorful, whimsical space in keeping with its Spanish origins. The menu also got a facelift. I remember it used to feature cold tapas, hot tapas, seasonal tapas and entrees. Now small plates are divided by style: appetizers, soups and salads, vegetables, fritters, seafood and meat. There's also the aforementioned paella and a tasting menu option.

Vegetal Gin & Tonic

The food side of the menu isn't the only thing that's a little different: Jaleo also expanded its cocktail offering last year, notably by adding gin & tonic, a nod to the current Spanish "gin tonic" craze. While you may think of Jaleo for its sangria, I'm more excited about its G&Ts: six choices made with varying tonic waters, aromatic herbs and other ingredients. On a previous visit, I enjoyed the José's Choice, which is a pretty traditional interpretation with lemon, lime and juniper. More recently, Chris and I sampled some of the more unusual choices like the Barrel Aged made with pickled ginger, allspice, orange and lemon. It was good, but I preferred the ultra refreshing taste of the Vegetal with fennel, radish, cubeb (a spice berry that resembles a peppercorn), kumquat and Fentiman's tonic water. Chris enjoyed the London Dry with grapefruit, mint, lemon and white pepper, although we were surprised to find it's mixed with club soda instead of tonic water.

Salad of mixed greens with idiazábal cheese, anchovies and garlic anchovy dressing

While I'm sure Jaleo's paella is delicious, I, like most people, come for the tapas. We ordered a mix of new dishes and old favorites across most of the different categories. Dinner started on a very strong note: a salad of mixed greens with idiazábal cheese (like pecorino), spanish anchovies and garlic anchovy dressing. Anyone still harboring an aversion to anchovies needs to get over it. They were delicious in this dish, which got additional briny flavor from capers and was rounded out with pine nuts. Along with that we enjoyed an old favorite: beets with grapefruit, valdeón (Spanish blue) cheese and pistachios.

Sautéed seasonal mushrooms with cheesy potato purée

The next highlight was the sautéed seasonal mushrooms (looked like cremini and chanterelle) with a cheesy potato purée, garlic and herbs. Arriving at about the same time was the warm Brussels sprouts salad with apricots, apple and serrano ham, which was the evening's only disappointing dish. Restaurants are doing marvelous roasted sprouts these days, so I was expecting something more like that than the "warm" sprouts (which really weren't that warm). I also thought the ham was too tough. Nonetheless, this one mediocre dish was offset by the always fabulous Dátiles Con Tocino Como Hace Todo El Mundo, which translates roughly to "dates with bacon how everyone does it." The sweet and smoky fritters may be done by everyone, but I seriously doubt they all do it this good (we've been known to order two plates of this, we like it so much).

Another old favorite then arrived: the classic Spanish tapa of sautéed shrimp with garlic. This is one I remember eating on the street in Madrid back in 1998 (I also remember lots of little pieces of paper and toothpicks everywhere; "tapas detritus" I suppose). It was particularly spicy this time, which I liked. And that garlicky oil they cook the shrimp in is always really great when sopped up with Jaleo's crusty bread. Interesting, this was one of the few dishes Richman didn't enjoy back in the 1993, describing the shrimp as "tasteless" and its "onion-strewn" garlic butter as "watery." Obviously it's been improved since then.

Pork and foie gras canelones

The best was yet to come, however. The pork and foie gras canelones (like the Italian cannelloni) with béchamel sauce were a revelation. If you love macaroni & cheese as much as I do, consider this like a luxe version of that staple with shredded pork. That the cheese around the edge of the plate was a bit crispy just made me love this all the more. I would definitely eat this again and it's probably a good thing that it doesn't come as an entree portion.

Like most of the small-plates restaurants Jaleo inspired, dishes come out as they are ready, although I've noticed the kitchen does try to pace things a bit by bringing the salads and cold dishes first before the hot and meat dishes. At no point did we feel like we had too much on our table. Servers did a got job removing the things we'd finished and never a moment too soon.

That Penn Quarter is now a major foodie neighborhood and José Andrés is one of our nation's best known chefs are part of a greater story about the transformation of DC's restaurant scene from grumbles about expense count lunches to truly a world-class destination of diverse and exciting culinary experiences. Jaleo is one of that story's tastiest and most influential chapters.

Jaleo, 480 7th Street NW (at E Street), Washington, D.C. (Penn Quarter). (202) 628-7949. Reservations: Open Table.

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