Friday, May 30, 2014

Broiled Vegetable Skewers

Grilled Vegetable Skewers

When summer arrives I get grill envy. As I've mentioned before, I don't have a grill. Well, that's not exactly true. I have access to a grill...3,000 miles away at my mother's beach house.

As an urban apartment dweller, I have to find other ways to get smoke into my food. Thankfully, I discover new ones all the time. Liquid smoke works great for sauces and marinades, smoked salt is good for imparting subtle smoke flavor and smoked cheeses, such as gouda or mozzarella is wonderful with pastas and in salads.

But my favorite way to "smoke" just about anything is to add smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is typically the Spanish variety,  pimentón, and usually not at all spicy, so feel free to use it liberally.

Smoked paprika gives these simple vegetable skewers a nice hit of smoky flavor--almost enough to fool you into thinking they were grilled outdoors instead of under an oven broiler. I mixed the paprika into a glaze with a touch of honey to add sweetness and lime juice to provide just enough tartness for balance.

In arranging the vegetables on the skewers, I tried to pair vegetables that would cook similarly, rather than mixing them all up. That way, if the tomatoes or mushrooms were done sooner, I could remove them while allowing the cauliflower and zucchini to cook a little longer. As it turned out, I cooked them all for the same amount of time, although I arranged the tomatoes and mushrooms on the edges of my baking sheet so they would have the least direct heat.

Although they were all good, my favorites were the cherry tomatoes, which turn warm and liquified inside, and the cauliflower, which soaks up the glaze nicely.

Broiled Vegetable Skewers

Makes 8 skewers, enough for two people

Equipment: 8 wooden or metal skewers, cooling rack designed to fit in a baking sheet and, you guessed it, a baking sheet

1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into florets about 1 1/2 inches wide
1 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 white or cremini mushrooms, stems cut off
6 cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Seasoned salt, to taste
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Soak the wooden skewers in water for about 15 minutes.

2. Preheat oven broiler with rack about 6 inches from broiler (in my oven, this is the second highest position).

3. Thread the vegetables onto skewers by grouping like vegetables together, such as: 1) thread the tomatoes on one skewer, 2) thread the mushrooms on another skewer, 3) thread the cauliflower on two skewers, and 4) mix up the onion, bell pepper and zucchini and thread them on the remaining four skewers.

4. Set the cooling rack inside the baking sheet and add about 1/4 cup water to the baking sheet (this keeps oil from splattering as it drips off the vegetables). Arrange the skewers on the rack. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and season with seasoned salt.

5. Broil the skewers for 5 minutes, rotate and broil another 5 minutes, repeating until the vegetables are brown around the edges, about 20-22 minutes total.

6. While the vegetables broil, combine the lime juice, honey and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Remove the baking sheet and skewers from the oven and brush the vegetables with the lime-honey glaze. Return to the oven and broil another 2 minutes. Remove from oven, flip the skewers and brush the remaining glaze on the vegetables. Broil for another 2 minutes. Remove from oven and serve on a platter.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Restaurant: Ripple (Washington, D.C.)

[Update: Ripple has closed.]

Still reeling from the recent closure of Palena, it's easy to forget that there are still lots of other great places to eat in Cleveland Park. One place in particular, Ripple, may be the heir-apparent to the title of Cleveland Park's best restaurant. We paid it a visit recently to judge whether its worthy.

When Ripple first opened in 2010, it was billed as wine bar. Having since gone through a couple chef changes, it's known today as a farm-to-table restaurant and home to one of the city's hottest young chefs, Marjorie Meek-Bradley (a semifinalist this year for the James Beard Award for best chef mid-Atlantic). We hadn't yet sampled Ripple since Meek-Bradley took the helm last year, so we were eager to try her much-buzzed cooking.

Arugula soup (top) and beet salad.

The food at Ripple remains quite good, better I think than when we first visited several years ago.

Ripple's dedication to fresh seasonal ingredients is immediately apparent in our opening salvo of cocktails. I opt for a gibson, whose ingredients the menu says includes ramp brine--ramps being the wild leek available for a limited time in the spring that certain food lovers go nuts for. Chris springs for a Cytrus Hystrix, a sweet-and-sour concoction of kaffir lime-infused vodka ("citrus hystrix" is another term for kaffir lime), elderflower and cardamom-ginger soda. With dinner, we each had a glass of wine from Ripple's extensive by-the-glass list, a varied and interesting assortment that hearkens back to Ripple's roots as a wine bar.

My first course was the chilled arugula soup thickened with Greek yogurt. Trout roe provided little briney-salty bursts. Chris's beet salad was also satisfying, especially the dates wrapped in guanciale, a type of Italian cured meat similar to bacon.

Roasted halibut (top) and glazed pork shoulder.

Our entrees were also very good. I sprang for the roasted halibut, served with seasonal accompaniments of ramps, fava beans, chanterelle mushrooms and fingerling potatoes. Chris's glazed pork shoulder was tender and flavorful, served alongside path valley beans and roasted cauliflower with chermoula, an African herb and spice mixture.

For dessert, when I saw the twix mousse pie, I had to see how Ripple translated a popular brand of candy into an upscale dessert. Rather effectively it turns out, the chewy "twix," although not as crunchy as their namesake, were a nice texture contrast to the silky chocolate mousse. Tangy buttermilk sherbet was a welcome choice over the more usual vanilla.

Twix mousse pie

If there's a downside to Ripple, it's the cost. When the bill comes, there's a bit of sticker shock. I felt this way the first time we ate here and again when we visited recently. I'm no neophyte when it comes to restaurant prices--I've written extensively about restaurants in D.C. and New York where eating out is not exactly a bargain exercise. I may not be looking for a cheap dinner, but I am looking for value. And for some reason, Ripple doesn't quite balance the value equation in my opinion. I think that, as good as it is, there's not a "wow" factor, like a signature dish that I can't wait to come back and have again or something so unique that I can't get anywhere else. I felt similarly about Table, another farm-to-table restaurant that served us good food, but nothing truly remarkable.

That said, there is a lot to like here. Ripple offers a varied, seasonal menu in an inviting space with friendly and attentive service. It doesn't make up for the loss of Palena; there's a hole in Cleveland Park that will likely never be filled. But it's nice to see that there is still a reason why fresh food lovers should venture to this neck of the woods.

Ripple, 3417 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. (Cleveland Park). (202) 244-7995. Reservations: Open Table.

Ripple on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Feed: May 28, 2014

Buck's Fishing and Camping Burger
It's National Hamburger Day. Whether upscale, fast and simple or homemade, burgers almost always hit the spot. Pictured is the delicious version offered by Buck's Fishing and Camping in Washington, D.C. Read below about Europe's burgeoning upscale burger scene and one food writer's journey from wildly gourmet back to simple-is-best burgers.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Washington Post: “Noma Chef Daniel Giusti Keeps the World's Top Restaurant Running,” by Tim Carman.
Noma is once again the world’s top restaurant. And minding the kitchen there these days is American Daniel Giusti, formerly an executive chef at D.C.’s 1789. Carman’s profile of the chef de cuisine at the acclaimed Danish restaurant reveals the amazing level of detail that goes into the food served there.

Eater: “Dispatches from Dirt Candy: Amanda Cohen on 'Overpriced' Food and the Looming Cost Crisis,” by Eater Staff/Amanda Cohen
People complain some restaurants are too expensive, me included (tomorrow’s restaurant post will be an example). Cohen breaks down why certain restaurants, particularly smaller ones like hers, are so expensive and cautions diners to expect prices to rise as restaurants become increasingly required to provide benefits to their workers.

CNN Eatocracy: “Why Sprouts Can Make You Sick,” by Kat Kinsman.
Is it just me, or have sprouts fallen out of favor? I remember they used to be a plentiful salad bar item a couple decades ago, but now I rarely see them. Perhaps that just as well, as they are apparently susceptible to harboring bacteria that cause food-borne illness. Kinsman includes this scary statistic: "since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and, yes, lightly cooked sprouts."

Wall Street Journal: “Europe’s Gastro Burger Scene,” by Evan Rail.
It’s no secret that burgers are popular in Europe. There are, after all, thousands of McDonald’s locations there. But what may come as a surprise is that upscale burgers—ones served at places claiming to be “gastropubs”—are in style now there too, often with local flourishes like aged parmigiano-reggiano in Italy or Heumilchkäse cheese in Germany.

Food & Wine: “The Secret Ingredient in the Perfect Burger Is…,” by Daniel Duane.
Speaking of upscale burgers, sometimes, they miss the mark. Sure, Duane has tried them with sriracha, kimchi and fish flakes, but his story about how he swung back to the fast-food-style burger is an engaging read on why sometimes simple is best. Online, you can read about his take on the KronnerBurger, while in the magazine, you can read the fully story of his journey to gourmet burgers (much to his daughter’s chagrin) and back.

Food & Wine: “Cocktails for Grilling.
Looking for something to sip while you cook out? Food & Wine offers a slideshow of tasty options like the Tom Terrific made with IPA and old tom gin and the Descanso Beach Smash with rye and Aperol.

New York Times: “What Are You Drinking?” by Rosie Schapp.
If you're still not finding your summer drink of choice, the Times has provided this handy interactive tool to mix you a custom cocktail! Choose your style, spirit and setting and voila...Schapp (virtually) hands you one of 27 possible drinks.

New York Times: “Blaring the Horn for Food Trucks,” by David Sax.
When it comes to local ordinances, food trucks sometimes face an uphill climb. Enter Matt Geller, a food truck advocate who has formed a national association to represent the interests of this segment of entrepreneurial chefs offering delicious quick eats like fusion tacos, gyro salads and Ethiopian vegetable platters (to name a few tasty food truck lunch items I enjoy regularly).

Food Ease: “Kiwano-Maca Banana Ice Cream
I’d never heard about Kiwano until Food Ease told me about it Monday night during the weekly Foodie Chats Twitter chat. It’s an amazing-looking fruit from Africa. Food Ease turned it into a simple frozen banana treat. Would love to give this fruit a spin.

Food 52: “Your Questions for Molly Wizenberg + Her Rice Noodle Salad,” by Marian Bull.
Molly Wizenberg, whose latest memoir Delancey was just published, dropped by Food 52 to answer readers’ questions and make a noodle salad, the same one it so happens that the Washington Post featured a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Smoky Tuna (Noodle) Casserole

Smoky tuna noodle casserole

"So what is this?" asks Chris, as I set down our dinner plates.

"It's smoky tuna...oh $#!t...I forgot the noodles."

Has this happened to you? It happens to the best of everyone. You work long and hard on a dish only to discover--when it's too late--that a star ingredient has been left out.

Sometimes the damage is irreparable, like when you forget to add the cup of sugar to your dessert and it tastes savory in an off-putting way. In those cases, you just need to start over.

In the case of this tuna noodle casserole, the disaster was quickly fixed. I'd already cooked the noodles the day before. I'd just forgotten to add them to the casserole before baking it ("this is awfully soupy," I was thinking when I dished it up, still not registering that the noodles' absence was the reason). I heated the noodles a couple minutes in the microwave, dumped the casserole into a large bowl, and mixed everything together. Voila. The lovely crumb topping was lost amid the rest of the ingredients, but the dish still tasted like it should and was thusly salvaged.

Giving you an example of a kitchen rescue wasn't the original purpose of this recipe. Instead, I was trying to come up with a more flavorful version of a classic but rather bland dish. Many versions are made with cream of mushroom soup and a noted lack of seasonings. I wanted my casserole to have better texture and flavor.

Velouté flavored with thyme sprigs.

I leaned pretty heavily on a recipe from Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe, which uses velouté instead of cream of mushroom soup as the casserole's binding. Velouté is one of the five classic "mother" sauces of French cooking, so called because the sauces are the foundations for making other sauces. Velouté is simply a roux (butter and flour) with a light stock and seasoning. In this regard, it's very similar to béchamel, which is made with milk instead of stock (see it in action in bolognese lasagna and macaroni and cheese). In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child includes a single recipe covering both sauces, noting that the stock and milk are interchangeable to make velouté or béchamel respectively.

Here's where I went wrong: there should be noodles stirred in at this point.

In addition to improving the dish's texture, I wanted to add more flavor. For all-around zip, I added a little Dijon mustard, a touch of cayenne pepper for spice and a few capers for their sour brininess. Since this is the beginning of summer grilling season, I also wanted to add a good layer of smoke, which I achieved by using smoked gouda in the sauce and smoked paprika for the bread crumb topping. Certainly this would work nicely in your backyard barbecue spread.

Despite the lack of noodles, it still looked good coming out of the oven.

Smoky Tuna Noodle Casserole
Adapted from Tuna Noodle Casserole, The New Best Recipe by The Editors of Cook's Illustrated

Crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (to make fresh bread crumbs, pulse torn chunks of crustless bread in a food processor until they are the desired size)
Pinch of salt
2 tsp. smoked paprika

1 lb pasta, small shape like conchigliette (shells) or elbow macaroni
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large (or two smaller) sweet onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
12 oz. cremini mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
4 tbsp. (half stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves plus a few sprigs of fresh thyme
4 oz. (about 1 cup) shredded smoked gouda cheese
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
10 oz. albacore tuna, from pouches or cans
1 tbsp. capers
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen thawed)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. Make the crumb topping: melt butter in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the bread crumbs, season with salt and smoked paprika, and stir to coat the crumbs with butter. Cook, stirring occasionally until the crumbs are lightly toasted. Set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside.

4. Heat olive oil a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms are lightly browned, another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as you cook. Remove vegetables from pan and set aside.

5. Turn heat down to medium. Melt butter in skillet, then whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the chicken broth until fully incorporated. Add the fresh thyme and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs. Turn heat down to medium-low. Add the shredded cheese by handfuls and whisk to combine each addition as the cheese melts into the sauce. Once all of the cheese is added, keep whisking until smooth. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard and fresh lemon juice.

6. Add the cooked pasta, tuna, capers and peas to the sauce and stir until the ingredients are evenly combined. Transfer to a 9 X 13 baking dish. Smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the cooked bread crumbs evenly on top. Bake in the oven until bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Simple Grilled Salmon

Happy Memorial Day. Is it summer? Not officially until June 21--25 days from now. But unofficially, Memorial Day kicks off summer and thus summer grilling season. All week, I'll be looking at various ways to incorporate good smoky flavor into food and drink, most of which won't require a grill, since I don't have regular access to one.

When I do get a chance to grill, I like to keep it simple, and there's nothing simpler than grilled salmon. With good, wild salmon, little needs to be done besides grilling it to add a little smoke and bring out its fresh flavor. A squirt of fresh lemon is a nice touch, as is fresh chopped herbs.

Simple Grilled Salmon

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 lb. fresh salmon fillets (cut into two pieces for easier handling)
Olive oil
Sesoning salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 lemon

1. Prepare hot coals for direct-heat grilling. Heat grill. Brush salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt (or plain salt) and pepper, to taste.

2. Place salmon fillets skin-side down on the hot grill, cover, and grill for 5 minutes. Remove lid and, using a metal grilling spatula, turn fillets over. Replace cover and grill for another 3-5 minutes (3 minutes will be a bit pinker; 5 minutes will be well-done).

3. Cut off the skin and serve on a platter with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bourbon-Ginger Glazed Chicken

Bourbon Ginger Glazed Chicken

Inspired by the bourbon-ginger chicken wings we enjoyed from the Asia Nine station at the Food & Friends Chef's Best event I wrote about last week, I made these simple chicken thighs served over white rice.

This dish comes together pretty quickly, since boneless-skinless chicken thighs cook much faster than their bone-in/skin-on counterparts. I had considered searing the thighs and then finishing them in the oven, but they cooked just fine on the stove, allowing the sauce to thicken as they finished.

Bourbon-Ginger Glazed Chicken

1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1 1/2 lb. boneless-skinless chicken thighs
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch of ginger, minced
1 or 2 pinches of red chili pepper flakes
2 tbsp. bourbon
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
1 heaping tbsp. light brown sugar
1 bunch of scallions (about 8), white and light green parts chopped separate from dark green parts
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Cooked rice (see recipe for Perfect White Rice)

1. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the sliced almonds and toast, tossing occasionally until browned. Set aside.

2. Heat vegetable oil and sesame oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven. Add the chicken thighs and cook until browned on both sides (flipping over after the first side is browed), about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

3. Lower heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger and chili pepper flakes. Stir to combine with the chicken and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Add the bourbon, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and white and light green scallions. Season with pepper and stir, continuing to cook over medium heat, until the chicken is cooked through (juices run clear when cut into) and the sauce has thickened. Serve over white rice topped with toasted almond slices and chopped dark green scallions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Spring Waldorf Salad

Spring Waldorf Salad

Last year, I offered a smoky take on the classic Waldorf Salad, a good way to make the warm-weather staple into a winter dish. This year, I'm steering it toward a brighter course idea for the fresh flavors of spring.

The tweaks are actually pretty minimal. Tangier (and lower calorie) Greek yogurt stands in for the mayonnaise, while lemon juice and fresh mint contribute their sunny notes. Otherwise this is pretty typical Waldorf salad with chicken, celery, apples, walnuts or raisins (you may use halved grapes instead if you like).

Spring Waldorf Salad

2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pink lady apple, cored and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 scallions, diced
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
zest of 1 lemon
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 cups baby arugula leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Pat chicken breasts dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper and add to hot pan. Cook for about 10 minutes, flipping over halfway, until lightly browned and cooked through. Allow to cool, transfer to a cutting board and chop into pieces about 1/2 to 1 inch wide.

2. In a large bowl, combine chicken, apple, celery, scallions, walnuts and raisins. Whisk together yogurt, lemon zest, lemon juice and mint. Add dressing to ingredients in bowl and toss to combine. Serve in individual servings over arugula leaves.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Feed: May 21, 2014

Margarita and guacamole lovers rejoice: the lime shortage appears to be at an end as recounted in NPR's story below.

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

Washington Post: “Smoke Signals: Smoke: Why We Love It, for Cooking and Eating,” by Jim Shahin.
The Washington Post Food section’s annual summer grilling issue is today. Shahin’s centerpiece story seeks to explain the allure of smoked food, which, some reason is evolutionary—we’re wired to love it. Just reading his opening description of the short ribs he was smoking made me salivate (and I booked reservations for Saturday night at a local restaurant known for its grilled food).

Washington Post: “Smoke in Cocktails: Complicated, but Worth It,” by M. Carrie Allan.
Allan puts a cocktail spin on the Post’s grilling issue by talking smoky cocktails. She confers with J.P. Caceres and chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo, who really know their stuff when it comes to smoke, including the smoky lemonade they serve that I (and Allan too apparently) love. But then she smartly offers a good home mixology alternative: smoky ingredients like mezcal and Islay Scotch. The Maguey and Mango cocktail, which features both, sounds quite tasty.

New York Times: “More Than a Cherry on Top,” by Florence Fabricant.
Fabricant puts the spotlight on maraschino liqueur, the old-school liqueur made from marasca cherries that’s a staple in a lot of classic drinks (the Last Word, for example). I didn’t realize there were brands besides Luxardo available.

Lucky Peach: “All You Can Eatonomics,” by Bourree Lam.
All-You-Can- Eat (AYCE as they say) buffets were how my smart grandmother fed my picky-eating child self. I remember the cinnamon rolls, macaroni & cheese, soft-serve ice cream and fried chicken breading (yes, only the breading). Lam profiles how such buffets turn a profit, examining the simple country variety to the upscale Vegas buffets. Also worth checking out is Naomi Harris’s article on suburban swingers clubs and their AYCE buffets—her article gives a new meaning to strip mall.

NPR: “With Cartels On The Run, Mexican Lime Farmers Keep More Of The Green,” by Carrie Kahn.
Good news! The price of limes is finally coming down, as supply is returning to normal as other Mexican crops besides those hit with bad weather are bearing their fruit. As an added bonus, the Mexican drug cartels reportedly squeezing the farmers and keeping prices high are on the run as well.

Get in My Mouf: “Sophisticated Chicken Wings,” by Evan Shaw.
Chicken wings aren’t something I give much thought too, but Shaw has, in this witty and engaging piece for his blog, Get in My Mouf, that argues for elevating wings above appetizer/sports-watching fare into something more sophisticated (but still eaten with your hands, of course). The photos, courtesy of his wife, are stunning too. Always love finding another great D.C.-area food blog.

Wall Street Journal: “The BLT Variations,” by Matthew Kronsberg.
Playing on tangy tomatoes, smoky-salty bacon and vegetal lettuce, Kronsberg offers various riffs on the classic B.L.T. sandwich, such as the APE (arugula, pepper and eggplant).

Imbibe: “Ginger Spice,” by Tracy Howard.
I recently left a supermarket empty-handed when I wanted ginger beer. Perhaps I should follow Howard’s lead and make my own. It doesn’t sound that hard. You don’t need any fancy soda-making equipment, since the yeast fermentation is what makes it bubble, no carbonation. One way or another I need to get some soon to try the Kentucky Buck, one of the Imbibe’s 10 “new classic” cocktails.

New York Post: “How Restaurant Culture Changed the Way We Eat,” by Cindy R. Lobel.
Lobel offers a compact history of restaurant culture in New York from the sixpenny eating houses of the mid 1800s to the cronut craze of today.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Bruschetta

Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Bruschetta

Yesterday, I wrote about our neighborhood's amazing new bakery, Bread Furst. I've been bringing home samples of their bread every couple days, which means I had to find things to do with it (other than just eat it immediately, which was so tempting). So, of course, one of the things I did was make toast.

Kitchen shears make fast work of chopping (or rather snipping) fresh chives.

Toast is apparently "hot" right now, which might seem strange until you realize that toast offers a lot of wonderful possibilities. You can top it with just about anything, from basic butter or jam to layers of savory goodness.

With a loaf of Bread Furst's dense, flavorful whole grain bread, I decided to make bruschetta, an Italian style of toast that involves garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper, sometimes with other toppings. (Please note that bruschetta is NOT a jar of tomato spread, despite what you may find at the grocery store).

Because this bread is so flavorful and tomatoes available this time of year are not, I decided to roast the tomatoes, which can bring out good tomato flavor even during their anemic off-season (tomatoes are best bought locally July through September). I also used fresh ricotta (not homemade this time) and fresh chives from my herb garden.

Roasted Tomato and Ricotta Bruschetta

7-8 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5-6 slices of thick, crusty bread (I used a whole grain bread, but you could substitute other types)
3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese, softened (you can soften it in the microwave for about 20 to 30 seconds at 50% power)
2 tbsp. fresh chopped chives

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Add the tomatoes to a roasting pan, drizzle with 1 tbsp. of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss with a wooden spoon to coat the tomato pieces. Roast in the hot oven for about 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit, then mash the tomatoes with the wooden spoon until they have a chunky sauce-like consistency.

2. Preheat the oven broiler. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet. Brush or spray with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil until the tops of the bread slices are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don't burn.

3. Transfer the toasted bread to a serving plate. Mix the softened ricotta cheese with freshly ground black pepper and spread the cheese on each slice of bread. Then top each piece of bread with a generous spoonful of roasted tomatoes. Sprinkle with fresh chives and serve.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bread Furst (Washington, D.C.)

Bread Furst bakery

I always thought a bakery would be a nice thing to have in the neighborhood. A real bakery. Not a window in the back of the grocery store. Not a chain coffeehouse that also peddles a few baked goods. An honest-to-goodness local bakery staffed by skilled people making amazing bread and baked sweet treats.

I got my wish when Bread First opened 2 weeks ago. And wow did I get lucky.

D.C. isn't exactly known for its artisanal bakeries. Despite our confusing street grid, this isn't Paris. With so much of the city's hot new restaurants going into places like 14th Street and Shaw, one wouldn't expect a new top-rate bakery to stake its claim 2 blocks north of the Van Ness Metro station on Connecticut Avenue, a commercial stretch best known for the great Calvert-Woodley liquor store, a car wash and UDC. The area suffers from an unfortunate lack of good places to eat (Glover Park, a little ways south of Van Ness, has surprisingly better food choices, despite its lack of Metro service).

Bread Furst levain, palladin breads and oatmeal cookies
Levain (left) and Palladin (right) breads with oatmeal cookies
Bread Furst is the latest business from baker/entrepreneur Mark Furstenberg, who opened his first Marvelous Market in 1990 (which he later sold) and the BreadLine in 1997. Furstenberg is no stranger to this corner of Upper Northwest D.C.: his original Marvelous Market location was 6 blocks further north on Connecticut Avenue in the same block as Politics and Prose, the notable bookstore formerly co-owned by his late sister Carla Cohen.

Bread Furst meats
The meat case, perfect for sandwich makings.

When it comes to bread, Furstenberg clearly knows what he's doing. A 2008 profile of Furstenberg by David Hagedorn in the Washington Post describes the baker's training with Los Angeles chef and baker Nancy Silverton and a series of Parisian bakeries around the time he opened Marvelous Market.

So it's no surprise then that the bread at Bread Furst is the star attraction. Every loaf I've sampled has been incredibly good. If Bread Furst could replicate its quality on a large scale, the gluten-free fad would dry up in an instant. It's that good.

Bread Furst whole grain bread
Whole Grain bread

The Palladin bread has a good crumb and a crispy crust. I ate a few slices as a side to shrimp scampi and enjoyed my first piece spread with butter, which was really good. This is would be a great dinner accompaniment.

The Levain bread is darker and has more structure. It's quite chewy. The crust though is amazing. Rich, dark flavors, almost like coffee. I don't recall every being as excited by bread crust before. Whole Foods carries a levain bread we get sometimes; Bread Furst's is way better.

When the young man behind the counter hands me my loaf of whole grain bread, the first thing I notice is it's heft. Did they bake a firearm into this thing? So yes, it's fairly dense, although when sliced the interior is still nicely structured. Like the levain, it also has a substantial crust, this time studded with sunflower seeds.

Bread Furst baguette
The already famous baguette, available only every 4 hours, has a perfectly soft texture with crackling crust.
Then there's the baguette. If you weren't impressed by the other breads, you couldn't deny that this is special. They bake them every 4 hours, and they're so popular that they sell out quickly. Due to lucky timing, on a recent visit I showed up 5 minutes after the latest batch had come from the oven. So I now only got one, it was still quite warm. Eating a slice of that soft warm baguette with its crackle crust topped with a thin spread of butter made me convinced I'd never eat another baguette as good as this one again.

Smartly, Bread Furst leaves its plate of cookies by the cash register, making it hard to resist adding a few to your bread order. Chocolate chip, triple chocolate and oatmeal are among the varieties available, all of which exhibit the appropriate buttery goodness. The triple chocolate are particularly good.

We've also ventured into Bread Furst for breakfast during its first Sunday morning service, on Mother's Day no less. We arrived about 8 minutes before they opened, which was a smart move, as we ended up being third in a line that stretched through the bakery and outside all throughout our breakfast.

Bread Furst donut
Glazed donut, available for breakfast on weekends.

My favorite breakfast item was the glazed donut, which was chewy and yeasty the way a good donut should be with a thin layer of icing that cracks as you eat it. The vegetable quiche was also good and had a smooth texture and a flaky crust. Our one warm item, french toast with real maple syrup, had a soft middle with crisp edges and subtle spiciness of cinnamon and clove. We could resist adding a couple of cinnamon-sugar donut holes to our repast as a final touch. I look forward to eventually making it in for lunch to try one their sandwiches (on the menu right now: a harissa chicken sandwich on palladin roll with chickpea spread and watercress that sounds like it would be right up my alley).

Bread Furst caterpillar
If someone at Bread Furst offers you a caterpillar, don't worry. It's not an insect, but rather this puffy pastry confection with a creamy hazelnut filling.

The sweet treats, although all very good, don't excite me as much as the bread. I'm pretty good at making my own sweets, but apart from pizza crust and a few run-ins with a bread-maker, I have no experience making bread. So I don't think I could turn out a good loaf, let alone a great loaf, let alone the most stellar loaf I've ever tasted. Thankfully, now that I have an amazing neighborhood bakery, I don't have to learn.

Bread Furst, 4434 Connecticut Avenue NW (at Albemarle Street, 3 blocks north of the Van Ness Metro station), Washington, D.C. (Van Ness) (202) 765-1200. Bread Furst on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 16, 2014

Angostura Bitters Chicken Salad

Angostura Bitters Chicken Salad

Cooking with bitters? Why not. Their flavorful aromatic properties can be harnessed in recipes beyond just cocktails. Angostura's website has recipes for a number of dishes.

The Washington Post's Jane Touzalin recently wrote about cooking with bitters as a Free Range on Food chat leftover. (Coincidence? Not really. I was the one that asked about it.) Touzalin perused the recipes on the Angostura site, which mostly are for appetizers, entrees and desserts. She suggested that fruity bitters would be particularly at home in a dessert or vinaigrette.

I liked the idea of using bitters in salad dressing, although instead of going the fruity route, I stuck with the spicy classic aromatic Angostura bitters.

The Greek yogurt dressing I developed for this chicken salad tastes great without the bitters, but adding them gave the dressing a wonderful spicy dimension. Just like how bitters can pull together ingredients in a cocktail, the bitters in this salad dressing was the final touch that made the dressing really sing.

Angostura Bitters Chicken Salad


2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 dashes angostura bitters
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 apple, cored and chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 or 4 scallions, white and green parts chopped
3 cups baby kale leaves


1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 dashes Angostura bitters

1. Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and add to pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes, flipping over halfway. Transfer to a plate to cool, then cut into pieces no larger than an inch.

2. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add sliced almonds and toast until lightly browned, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Transfer to a plate to cool.

3. Combine apple, celery, scallions and baby kale in a large bowl. Add chicken and almonds once cooled.

4. Whisk together yogurt, lime juice, honey, mint, salt, pepper and bitters. Pour over salad and toss to combine.

Related Post: Cocktail Bitters: An Introduction and History

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Food & Friends Chef's Best Dinner and Auction

Charity dinners are rarely about the food. They're more about seeing friends, being inspired and helping to support a good cause. There's an old joke about such events serving rubber chicken, which is, unfortunately, sometimes the case.

But not the case at the Food & Friends recent Chef's Best Dinner and Auction. The event had all the hallmarks of a great fundraiser--there were speakers, a live auction, a silent auction and a raffle. But for this food lover, the real attraction was the incredible food offered in abundance from over 50 D.C.-area restaurants set up in stations around the lovingly retro Grand Ballroom of the Washington Hilton.

I was invited to attend the recent event with friends and thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Here were some of the highlights.

EatWell Mixology's Flight of the Bumblebee cocktail.

Start the evening with a cocktail? Why not. Mixologist Kyle McNeel of the EatWell restaurant group was mixing Flight of the Bumblebee cocktails, a tart-sweet gin cocktail with lavender honey, lemon and grapefruit bitters.

Clockwise from upper right: Urbana's salmon tartare, Teddy & The Bully Bar's smoked calamari salad, a server ready with Chef Geoff's shrimp & grits.


Seafood was a surprisingly abundant choice at Chef's Best, one we seemed to encounter at every turn when we first entered the ballroom. One of the evening's more unusual selections was Teddy & The Bully Bar's Smoked Calamari Salad with Shaved Fennel, Pineapple Carpaccio, Coffee Buttermilk Dressing and Burnt Lemon Fluid Gel. Also offering calamari was The Fourth Estate at the National Press Club with its Calamari Cakes in Lettuce Cups with Lime Aioli. I'm not a big raw foods guy, but I did enjoy the salmon tartare served over fresh vegetables from Urbana. Chris isn't a major seafood lover, but he enjoyed Chef Geoff's Shrimp & Grits. I also want to mention Blacksalt's delightfully seasonal Fava Bean Bruschetta with House-Cured Anchovies and Ramp Pesto. Always up for good anchovies.

Clockwise from top right: Meridian Pint's brisket slider, Asia Nine's chicken wing and dumpling, Meatcrafters' salami, Taberna del Alabardero's pheasant over creamy rice, The Pig's pork vindaloo.

Meat and Poultry

We're meat lovers here at Cook In / Dine Out, and Chef's Best didn't disappoint us in the least. In fact, our first taste of the evening was the Pork Vindaloo from The Pig, a tender piece of pork shoulder served with spicy kasmiri chili and cool cilantro-mint yogurt. Tabarna del Alabardero's Pheasant Over Creamy Rice with Boletus Mushrooms reminded me of a good risotto. Meatcrafters, a local producer of salami, cured meats and sausage, offered six choices of salami ranging from mild to more flavorful choices. My favorite was the One Wild Fennel salami. Lettuce wraps were also a trend (sensible finger food at an event like this is appreciated), such as Charlie Palmer Steak's Pork Shoulder Lettuce Wrap with Compressed Melon and Pickled Ramps.

One of my very favorite meaty treats of the evening was Asia Nine's Bourbon Ginger Chicken Wing with Summer Chicken Dumpling. The combination of bourbon and ginger was fantastic, something I would definitely like to experiment with. I also swooned over Meridian Pint's Chipotle Barbecue Beef Brisket Slider with Coleslaw.

Clockwise from top right: Argia's bruschetta, Firefly's three bean salad, Farmers Fishers Bakers' pimento cheese with baguettes.

Vegetables and Other Non-Meat Items

I'm really into chickpeas, but I don't think I'd ever had fresh ones before coming across Firefly's Three Bean Salad. The fresh chickpeas were green, rather than the usual light brown color you get from the canned ones. Our friend Wendy steered us over to the Pimento Cheese, a Southern favorite, at the Farmers Fishers Bakers station, which I had spread on a chewy baguette slice. Newly opened Dino's Grotto, the reincarnation of Dino's in Cleveland, served a delicious cold Potato and Garlic Soup. For apple and cheese fans, Argia's Bruschetta with Gorgonzola, Ricotta, Apple and Walnut was a nice fresh taste.

Clockwise from top right: Westend Bistro's ice cream with ceviche, Washington Hilton's bacon ice cream, Shake Shack's lemon meringue ice cream.


Ice Cream was the dessert of choice at the event. My favorite was Shake Shack's Lemon Meringue ice cream, which tasted so much like the pie that you wondered how they made it work. Westend Bistro has the most unusual ice cream: a mini cone of Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream topped with Snapper Ceviche. For wow factor, the Washington Hilton scored with its Bacon Ice Cream served over Bacon Pralines.

Washington Hilton's Pulled Pork Griddled Cheese with Cole Slaw, House-Made Mustard, Grilled Pork Belly and House-Baked Beans.

Lastly, I have to single out a particular highlight of the evening, which was the food from the Washington Hilton hotel caterers, who served a selection of dishes celebrating all things porky. In addition to the aforementioned bacon desserts, their table featured Pulled Pork Griddled Cheese with Cole Slaw, House-Made Mustard, Grilled Pork Belly and House-Baked Beans--all of which was quite tasty. No rubber chickens from this crew.

Food & Friends really lived up to its name with this event. I had a great time with my friends and the food was spectacular. If you've never heard of Food & Friends, it's a wonderful charity that prepares and delivers meals and groceries to people in the D.C. metropolitan area living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses. This is an important service for the community helping to bring hope and sustenance to those for whom the everyday task of acquiring and preparing food can be a struggle. I felt fortunate to be in good health to be able to enjoy such a remarkable event as Chef's Best. I left the event happy, sated and yes, inspired.

Special thanks to Jason Shriner of The Aubergine Chef who let me use many of his photos which appear above--generally the better ones, since he brought a nice camera while I was using my iPhone. Jason also wrote about our evening at Chef's Best on his site.

Fancy Gin Cocktail (Boker's Bitters)

Fancy gin cocktail with Boker's bitters

Monday, I wrote about classic bitters cocktails; Tuesday, I discussed the new wave of bitters. Today's drink takes a page from both of those ideas: looking at old-school cocktails through the modern lens of the cocktail renaissance.

The Fancy Gin Cocktail particularly benefits from today's cocktail craze. It's an old-school 19th century cocktail that could not have been easily made in the United States until recently, since its key ingredients--genever, curaçao and Boker's bitters--were not available here for quite a long time. In fact, as recently as 2007, when David Wondrich wrote about this drink in Imbibe!, two of the drink's key ingredients were not for sale in the United States.

In discussing the earliest versions of cocktails in the 19th century, Wondrich sets up three increasingly complicated (although by our standards extremely simple) drinks. First, there's the "original cocktail," dating to the early 1800s, which consisted of a base spirit (rum, gin or brandy), water, bitters, sugar and nutmeg, and, unfortunately, no ice, which was not a given for cocktails back in those days. Iteration two, the Plain Cocktail, adds ice, curaçao and the option to make the base spirit whiskey. I like version three, the Fancy Cocktail, best. It differs from the Plain Cocktail only in that it includes a citrus garnish and is served in a better glass, appropriate hallmarks of a fancy cocktail.

Wondrich noted that Boker's bitters was the leading brand of aromatic bitters of the late 1800s. He also noted that the product was no longer available and included a recipe if you wanted to make your own. Additionally, he said that he's partial to Hollands gin in the drink--Hollands gin being another name for genever, the style of gin made in the Netherlands that was popular in the United States until British gin styles came along and displaced it. After prohibition, genever was not available in United States and even by 2007, it still wasn't available. Wondrich suggested a substitute mix of gin, whiskey and sugar, but noted that it wasn't particularly adequate. Lastly, there's the curaçao. Sure, curaçao has been available in the United States. (including in blue form, which is not what you want for this drink), but it's not a good fit for the type of curaçao that would have been used in this drink the 1800s. Wondrich suggested substituting Grand Marnier.

The proper ingredients for the Fancy Gin Cocktail, long gone from the U.S. market, are all available today.

Thankfully, today you don't have to settle for substitutes and DIY measures. You can credit today's cocktail renaissance (and Wondrich himself) for generating enough interest in these products that they are all available in the U.S. now. Bols brought its brand of genever to the United States in 2008. Wondrich himself worked with a cognac producer to develop Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao with 19th century flavor. And in 2009, using historical recipes, Adam Elmegirab brought back Boker's bitters.

Boker's bitters are, well, really quite bitter. They have a bit of an herbal taste and there's some spice there too, although it's not apparent at first. They strike me as particularly medicinal among the bitters I've sampled this week. Nonetheless, they work great in this drink, which is really good.

Fancy Gin Cocktail
Recipe adapted from  Imbibe! by David Wondrich

2 oz. Bols genever
1/2 tsp. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (not the blue kind)
1 tsp. simple syrup
2 dashes Boker's bitters
Lemon twist (garnish)

Combine genever, curaçao, simple syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until cold then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist the lemon over the drink, run it around the rim of the glass, then drop it into the drink.

Related Posts:
Cocktail Bitters: An Introduction and History
Old-Fashioned Cocktail (with Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters)

Cocktail: Old-Fashioned (Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters)

Old Fashioned Cocktail with whiskey barrel-aged bitters

The Old-Fashioned isn't just aptly named because it's been around a long time. Its simplicity harkens back to the original cocktail, which I also discuss today. The Old-Fashioned came along a little later, in the late 1870s, during a time when cocktails were getting more experimental and asking for a cocktail that was "old fashioned" signaled something simpler, albeit improved with the addition of ice and a simple citrus peel garnish.

Some people make an Old-Fashioned that resembles a muddled fruit cup with a little whiskey poured over it. When you consider the origin of the drink, that doesn't sound very "old fashioned" at all. The simplicity of the Old-Fashioned is what makes it great. It's the essential cocktail: a base spirit (in this case whiskey) modified with something sweet (sugar) and something else (bitters and the oils from the citrus garnish).

whiskey barrel-aged bitters
Fee Brothers produces a line of bitters, including the Barrel-Aged bitters used in this Old-Fashioned

Angostura bitters is the typical choice for an Old-Fashioned, since it's been around a long time. But other bitters may be used, which wouldn't be un-traditional, given the plethora of bitters that would have been around at the time the drink originated. I made mine with Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters, which adds a bit of cinnamon spice along with woodsy depth to the drink. Fee Brothers makes a limited run of these bitters every spring, using charred oak whiskey barrels.

Originally, the Old-Fashioned was made with a sugar cube, so muddling was required even if you forgo the fruit salad garnish. Brad Thomas Parsons prefers simple syrup for his Old-Fashioned recipe in Bitters, and I'm with him. Since the sugar is already dissolved, it mixes better with the other ingredients. And you're still being true to the original recipe by adding sugar and water.

Old-Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz. whiskey (bourbon or rye; I went with Buffalo Trace bourbon)
1/4 oz. simple syrup (may substitute 1 tsp. of sugar and 1 tsp. of water if you really want to be traditional)
2 or 3 dashes Angostura or other aromatic bitters (I used Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters)
Lemon or orange peel garnish

Combine whiskey, simple syrup and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled and diluted (about 20 seconds). Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with a single large ice cube. Squeeze the lemon or orange peel over the drink to express its oils then drop the peel in.

Related Posts:
Cocktail Bitters: An Introduction and History
Fancy Gin Cocktail (with Boker's Bitters)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Feed: May 14, 2014

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

Metro Weekly: “Good Taste - As the longtime restaurant critic for The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema has turned dining out into a fabulous – and enviable – lifestyle,” by Randy Shulman
As a restaurant critic, Tom Sietsema has to maintain a certain amount of mystery. That said, for someone who doesn’t share his face, it’s so nice to read what he shares about his life in this interview with Shulman. I’ve been reading Sietsema’s columns for 14 years, so it’s great to get a sense of the man behind the menu.

New York Times: “Books: Canny Taste Buds and a Nose for Sleuthing (Review of Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!” by Dwight Garner
I love Reichl’s food memoirs, especially Garlic and Sapphires where she wrote about her experience as a New York Times restaurant critic. Now she’s published her first novel, Delicious!, which unfortunately doesn’t get the kindest review from Garner.

New York Times: “Red Velvet Cake: From Gimmick to American Classic,” by Kim Severson.
Severson looks at how red velvet went from being merely a gimmicky cake to a food-inspired obsession. She quotes David Sax, whose new book on American food trends, The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue, sounds interesting.

Washington Post: “Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine: The real deal,” by Tim Artz.
Artz tackles the misunderstood subject of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, which many people (erroneously apparently) equate with Amish traditions, when it is really so much more (but not Dutch, since it's actually German-influenced). I know I'll have a slice of that shoofly pie.

The Cooking Jar: “Authentic Chicken Satay,” by Farah
I discovered The Cooking Jar earlier this week during FoodieChat’s 3rd anniversary Twitter chat (check it out every Monday at 8 p.m. eastern with #FoodieChats—great way to talk food and meet interesting people) when a few of us got to talking about wanting good Asian recipes. Farah has a trove of beautiful ones, including her recent post on chicken satay, which is one of my favorite things to get in Thai restaurants, mostly because it’s a great excuse to eat peanut sauce.

Wall Street Journal: “Pizzerias Seek Certification for Neapolitan Pizza, but Some Say It's Cheesy,” by Charles Passy.
If you’ve eaten in enough “fancy” pizza places, you’ve probably come across a menu sporting VPN certification, a symbol that the restaurant has shelled some serious dough to be certified as offering “authentic” Neopolitan pizza. But is it worth it? I’ve often thought not, although it does represent an important attempt at preserving a classic recipe. And let’s give the headline writer kudos for a great pun.

Eater National: “Take a Tour of the Sriracha Factory in California,” by Hillary Dixler.
Eater tours the Huy Fong Foods Sriracha factory in Irwindale, California, the plant that drew all the bad press recently due to eye and through irritation among the locals. Looks like a pretty clean place. Glad to hear it’s up and running again.

Epicurious: “Agave Is For Lovers: The Return Of Blanco Tequila.
Reacting against the darker oaky tequilas, which this article indicates were created with Americans in mind (but have been very popular in Mexico too), blanco tequila is making a comeback as a truer way to taste the agave in tequila.