Friday, August 29, 2014

Freekeh Tabbouleh with Mint

After reading about Freekeh in the Washington Post this last spring, then grilling the Food section staff about where I could find it and what brand to buy, I've been experimenting a bit with the grain these last few months.

What is freekeh? It's a type of green wheat grain (yes, all you gluten-free folks will want to leave now) that's been roasted, imparting a subtly smoky flavor to the grain. I absolutely love finding new and creative ways to add smoky flavors to my dishes, so I knew that freekeh was destined for my kitchen.

Like a lot of other smoky-flavored foods, I've learned that not all freekeh is created equal. The freekeh I bought at Whole Foods, for example, wasn't particularly smoky. I was discussing the issue with a coworker who loves to cook, and she offered to look for it in the Middle Eastern market near her house (what a great resource to have near your home). A couple weeks later, she showed up in my office with a bag of it, which was such a nice thing to do.

That's the freekeh I used in this dish, and it has a noticeable, but not overpowering, smoky flavor. It's a nice way to change up tabbouleh from the usual bulgar wheat. Since freekeh is generally sold cracked, it really is quite similar to bulgar but with more flavor.

This is a pretty standard tabbouleh otherwise: a generous amount of fresh parsley and mint, plus lots of fresh lemon juice. For the tomatoes, I used the crazy-sweet sungold cherry tomatoes from New Morning Farm (the same ones I talked about Tuesday in the pasta with pancetta, roasted tomatoes and fried sage dish). A couple of unexpected ingredients show up in the dressing--allspice, cinnamon and honey--courtesy of a recipe I found from Cook Almost Anything.

I was able to return the favor of my coworker who brought me the freekeh when recently she suffered a freak kitchen accident (the details of which I won't go into here) and had to be home-bound for an extended period. I made a batch of this tabbouleh, and another coworker who lives near her took it to her. That's one of the cool things about being friends with people who like good food: the exchange of it is always a simple and welcome way to show you care.

Freekeh Tabbouleh with Mint
Adapted from Freekeh Tabbouleh by Cook Almost Anything

1 cup freekeh, rinsed and picked through of anything that shouldn't be there
2 1/2 cups water
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups sungold grape tomatoes, havled
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh spearmint

1 lemon, juiced
1/4 tsp. allspice powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine freekeh and water in a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the grains are tender. Drain and set aside to cool (note: some whole-grain freekeh varieties may take longer to cook).

2. Combine the cooked freekeh, sungold tomatoes, onion, cucumber and chopped herbs in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Greek Salad as Tomato Soup

Greek Salad as Tomato Soup

It's official. Momofuku is coming to D.C.! Finally, David Chang, who is from Northern Virginia after all, will make the nation's capital part of his food kingdom that includes a collection of notable restaurants in New York (Ko, Má Pêche, Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar, Milk Bar--home of the famed Corn Cookie) and a few other cities (Toronto, Sydney), plus the Book & Dax cocktail bar and the totally hip food magazine, Lucky Peach.

I'm celebrating the impending arrival of Chang's cuisine by making this recipe that appeared recently in Food & Wine. If you're in the habit of making gazpacho around now when fresh tomatoes are at their peak, this alternative cold tomato soup might be a welcome way of changing up your cold-tomato-soup routine. Chang's idea was to reinvent Greek Salad as tomato soup. All the elements are there: cucumbers, onion, olives, feta cheese and, of course, tomatoes.

The soup is wonderfully colorful. Because the fresh tomatoes are pureed in a blender, they get a bit frothy and pink. I used sungold cherry tomatoes, adding a little yellow-orange to the color palette. I made a few small changes: instead of garnishing the soup with baby greens, I used a few small basil leaves. I also didn't have sherry vinegar on hand so I used white balsamic vinegar. And, for kicks, I used white pepper instead of black.

Greek Salad as Tomato Soup
Adapted from Tomato Soup with Feta, Olives and Cucumbers by David Chang for Food & Wine

6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup pitted Niçoise or mixed olives
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar (this was a substitution for the sherry vinegar the original recipe called for)
Kosher salt, to taste
1 small cucumber (such as kirby), thinly sliced
1 tbsp. honey
5 ripe red tomatoes, chopped
Freshly ground white pepper
4 oz. sungold cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
Handful of small basil leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, olives and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 7-9 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in both vinegars, season with salt, and allow to cool to room temperature (this step may be done ahead).

2. In a small bowl, toss the cucumber with 1/2 tbsp. of the honey and season with salt.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 tbsp. honey, 2 pinches of salt (or more/less to taste) and freshly ground white pepper to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the soup into shallow bowls. Top with the onion-olive mixture, halved cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, feta and basil leaves.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Feed: August 27, 2014

It's still summertime, not too late to enjoy a few more Negronis.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.

Eater: "Napa Quake May Cost Over $1 Billion in Damages to Vineyards and Restaurants," by Khushbu Shah.
Thankfully, nobody was killed in this week's Northern California quake that struck Napa. Sadly, however, is the significant loss of damage to the area, including to many great restaurants and the irrecoverable loss of a lot of really good wines.

Thrillist: The 21 Best Mexican Restaurants in America, by Adam Lapetina.
Chris and I love dining out at Mexican restaurants. Considering that we've only been to 2 of the 21 on Lapetina's list, we've got some serious eating to do.

CNN Eatocracy: "Salad Daze: From Leafy Greens to Meatloaf Chunks," by Kat Kinsman.
Kinsman asks a great question with this piece, "what counts as salad?" She explores how far the definition has been stretched, including, yes, a meat salad.

Washington Post: "Rose’s Luxury Chef Aaron Silverman Masters the Art of Serious Play," by Tim Carman.
I love visiting hot new restaurants, but I don't like waiting for hours to do so. So don't expect to see a piece on Rose's Luxury on Cook In / Dine Out anytime soon...but I won't rule out never, as chef Aaron Silverman's food does sound amazing. The restaurant, which debuted in D.C. late last year, has captured national attention and is serving food few people discuss as anything less than memorable.

Prevention: "10 Eating Rules Almost All Nutritionists Agree On," by Robin Hilmantel.
I don't believe in fad diets and I don't buy "diet" foods. Nonetheless, I consider myself a healthy eater (mostly), and we subscribe to all 10 of these rules, the best list for eating well that I've seen.

The Bold Italic: "A Four Year-Old Reviews the French Laundry," by Jessica Saia and Isla Bell Murray.
This piece, on a 4 year-old's reaction to each course served during the tasting menu at what many consider America's top restaurant is adorable. Now, I don't know if it's $300 adorable, which is the approximate per-person cost of eating dinner at The French Laundry (not counting drinks, although I'm assuming she didn't partake), but adorable nonetheless.

New York Times: "The Galette Forgives You," by Melissa Clark.
Less work than a pie or tart and more free-form than either is the galette, something I'm really in the mood to make soon (I'm thinking apples).

New York Times: "A Negroni Summer," by Alex Williams.
The Italian summer classic is having its moment. Williams documents its recent rise. Also check out the recent video on making them.

Food & Wine: "How to Buy Bitters for Your Home Bar," by Justine Sterling.
If you enjoyed my recent series on drinks made with cocktail bitters, Sterling's article is a good place to start if you want to grow your own collection of mysterious little bottles.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Penne with Roasted Sungold Cherry Tomatoes, Pancetta and Fried Sage

Penne with Roasted Sungold Tomatoes, Pancetta and Fried Sage

Last week, I featured a series of great tomato recipes. So, guess what? This week...I'm doing it again. Tomatoes are so good right now that they're worthy of a bonus week of great recipes.

Sungold cherry tomatoes from New Morning Farm
One of my favorite varieties of summer tomatoes are the Sungold cherry tomatoes I buy from my neighborhood farmers market, New Morning Farm. They have such a wonderful flavor: richly tomato and very sweet. Sometimes so sweet it's like eating candy in vegetable form. Seriously. They are amazing.

Roasting the Sungolds gives the tomatoes some additional depth while concentrating their sweetness. They're perfect for pasta when cooked this way.

This pasta was inspired by a recipe I saw in the latest issue of Food & Wine  for bruschetta topped with ricotta, roasted cherry tomatoes and fried sage. I made some great roasted tomato and ricotta bruschetta earlier this year, but thought the flavor combination of the tomatoes, sage and pancetta would work just as well in pasta, minus the ricotta. Frying the sage makes it a little crispy around the edges, while also nicely flavoring the oil it's fried in.

Penne with Roasted Sungold Tomatoes, Pancetta and Fried Sage
Inspired by Ricotta and Roasted Tomato Bruschetta with Pancetta by Susan Spungen for Food & Wine

12 oz. sungold cherry tomatoes (may substitute other types of cherry tomatoes)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
4 oz. diced pancetta
Handful of fresh sage leaves (about 20-30, depending on their size)
Grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine cherry tomatoes and sliced garlic in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 tbsp. olive oil, a pinch of salt and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper. Toss to combine, then transfer to a Roast tomatoes 325 for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain and set the pasta aside.

3. Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until browned, stirring occasionally to brown evenly. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Clean out the pan, then add 1/4 of olive oil. When hot, add the sage and fry until bright green, about a minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried sage to a  paper-towel-lined plate.

4. In a large bowl (or, conveniently, the pot the pasta was cooked in), combine the pasta, roasted tomatoes and any of their juices, browned pancetta, fried sage, a few tablespoons of the olive oil the sage was cooked in, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add about half of the pasta cooking water and stir to combine the pasta and other ingredients. Add additionally pasta cooking water as needed to achieve a slightly saucy texture. Serve pasta in shallow bowls topped with grated parmesan.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dallas Drinks: The Miss Ellie

Dallas Drinks The Miss Ellie

Dallas Drinks is a co-creation with Dallas Decoder, honoring the characters of the television show Dallas--both the classic series and the newer TNT Dallas, which continues the Ewing family saga. See all of the Dallas Drinks here.

Dallas characters have a knack for getting in trouble. And who do they often turn to for help getting out of it? Miss Ellie, the wise matron of Southfork ranch, who more often than not know exactly what needs to be done. Thus, the vodka in the Miss Ellie cocktail is infused with sage and sweetened with the citrusy-fresh taste of St. Germain elderflower liqueur. 

Dallas Drinks The Miss Ellie

1 1/2 oz. sage-infused vodka (see note)
3/4 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
Sage leaf, for garnish

Combine vodka, St. Germain, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a small sage leaf.

Note: To infuse the vodka, combine 8 oz. vodka and 10 sage leaves in a jar. Seal the jar and leave in a cool place to infuse for at least 24 hours (longer will make the vodka more flavorful, but be careful not to go too long).

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sandwich Mashup: PB(LT)&J


Around here, we love a good sandwich and enjoy playing around with the classics. PB&J is a childhood classic we indulge every now and then. And BLT is a more grown-up classic we also enjoy.

This, however, is something different: A sandwich mashup!

By combining elements of both these great sandwiches, I've come up with something that will blow your sandwich-craving mind.

The key ingredient in this dish is the tomato-bacon jam. After having the bacon marmalade at Range, I was inspired by try something similar. Adding tomatoes gives the jam some additional depth, although I still added sugar to make it sweet enough.

Otherwise, the sandwich is made from homemade peanut butter, arugula and whole-grain bread.


Makes 2 sandwiches

Four slices of good-quality whole-grain sandwich bread
4 tbsp. peanut butter (I recommend homemade, from this recipe)
1 cup of baby arugula leaves
4-6 tbsp. tomato-bacon jam (recipe below)

Toast bread. Spread first piece of toast with peanut butter, then top with arugula and tomato-bacon jam and the other piece of toast.

Tomato-Bacon Jam

1/4 lb. hickory-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4- to 1/2- inch pieces
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 lb. ripe tomatoes, diced (I used a mix of diced red tomatoes and golden grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook bacon until brown and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels.

2. Drain off most of the bacon grease, leaving a coating on the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to just below medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is very thick, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer jam to a bowl.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Homemade peanut butter

If asked to name my favorite condiment, I'd probably have to say peanut butter. I love it. I eat it by the spoonful from the jar sometimes.

My favorite is Jif Extra Crunchy. Natural peanut butters aren't generally my favorite, since I find the oil separation thing annoying, although I do love natural peanut butter spread on apple wedges. One of my favorite snacks.

This homemade peanut butter is great because it's all natural but not as oily as what you might buy. It's really easy too. All you do is grind the nuts in a food processor, letting it run a really long time until the nuts form a paste. Then you can adjust the texture with added oil and make it sweet if you like with sugar or, my preferred, honey.

Homemade Peanut Butter

2 cups unsalted dry roasted peanuts
1 tbsp. peanut or canola oil (or more, as desired for texture)
Pinch of salt or more to taste
Heaping tsp. of clover honey (or more, as desired for sweetness)

Add peanuts to food processor. Turn on and process, leaving the machine on as the peanuts transform to a fine crumb and eventually a thick paste. Turn the machine off, scrape down the sides, add the oil, salt and honey and turn the machine back on, continuing to process until the mixture achieves a smooth consistency. If too dry, add more oil and, as desired, more salt and honey to taste.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Cocktail: Tipsy Gazpacho

Tipsy Gazpacho Cocktail

Gazpacho, the cold Spanish soup, is so good this time of year when you can make it with flavorful, seasonal tomatoes. Because of its texture, it's sometimes served in a mug for sipping. This recently got me thinking, if it's a soup fit for drinking, why not make a drink inspired by the soup?

Searching the web, I found that others have had the same idea too, although my version is different than most. Many of the recipes I've seen go something like this: make gazpacho, add vodka. As tasty as that may be, I wanted something that is, at its root, a cocktail. Thus, this drink is inspired by soup and not a soup itself. It's base is gin, modified with sherry, a spicy shrub and a concentrated tomato syrup. When mixed together, it evokes gazpacho rather well for not actually being gazpacho.

I roasted the tomatoes to concentrate and deepen their flavor, making them a more noticeable component of the drink. For the gin, I wanted a floral, herbaceous gin, so I used Aviation American dry gin; I think Green Hat, produced locally here in D.C., would be good too.

I liked this recipe so much that I submitted it to the Washington Post Food section's Top Tomato recipe contest this year, and was thrilled when it was selected as a finalist recipe for yesterday's tomato issue.

Cocktail: Tipsy Gazpacho

2 lb. ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
8-10 basil leaves, plus 1 more as a garnish
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 inches of cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 oz. American dry gin, such as Aviation or Green Hat
1/2 oz. Amontillado sherry
2 dashes habanero shrub (Bittermens Hellfire habanero shrub)

1. Roast the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the tomatoes and olive in a 9 X 13 baking dish, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes until the tomatoes are wilted, browned in a few places and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then transfer tomatoes to a food processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to make a chunky sauce.

2. Make the tomato syrup: combine the roasted tomato sauce with the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside to "steep" for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture with a fine-mesh sieve; discard the solids (or keep them--they're really good on toast like a tomato jam). Transfer the strained syrup to a container to store in the refrigerator. This recipe makes about 1 cup of roasted tomato syrup.

3. Mix the drink: add the 8 to 10 basil leaves and lime juice to a cocktail shaker and muddle the leaves gently. Add the cucumber and muddle to release its juice. Add the gin, sherry, habanero shrub and 1 oz. of the roasted tomato syrup. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until cold. Double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a basil leaf.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Feed: August 20, 2014

This week's tomato issue of the Washington Post Food section includes the annual Top Tomato contest, featuring a great selection of recipes, plus other tomato-themed stories. Dig in below.

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

Washington Post: “Top Tomato 2014: A Most Intriguing Bunch of Recipes, Topped by Rabbit Ragu,” by Bonnie S. Benwick.
The Post’s Food section announces the results of this year’s tomato recipe contest, which includes a finalist-recipe by yours truly for a gazpacho-inspired cocktail I call “Tipsy Gazpacho.” Top Tomato honors go to Karin Schultz of Arlington, Va., who created a hearty, flavorful Rabbit Ragu with Roasted Tomatoes that I would love to try.

Washington Post: “Canning Class: Peachy Tomato Salsa,” by Cathy Barrow.
Because I’d just featured a peach-and-tomato salad on my site the previous day, Barrow’s recipe for Peachy Tomato Salsa caught my eye. It’s a bit of work, but the flavor combination, enhanced with lime, coriander and chilies, sounds like a real winner.

Washington Post: “Spirits: A bloody mary needs tomatoes, but do they have to be fresh?” by M. Carrie Allan.
Carrie Allan’s columns frequently make me laugh, and this one on bloody marys is no exception. I love how she describes her “inner grumpy old man” that despises year-round tomatoes (you know, the mealy tasteless kind you can get at the grocery store any time of year—yes, I share this same inner grumpy old man on this subject). She also pits my favorite Portland bartender, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, against one of the DC area’s top bartenders, Todd Thrasher, in an argument over fresh vs. canned tomato juice.

Eater: “Why Are New York City's Biggest Restaurateurs Heading to Washington, DC?” by Hillary Dixler.
I was excited when it was announced that Daniel Boulud would be opening a DBGB in D.C. Then I was even more thrilled to learn that David Chang is opening a Momofuku restaurant and Milk Bar here. So, what’s behind this apparent influx of New York culinary talent in the nation’s capital? A number of factors, according to Dixler’s article, which basically comes to the conclusion that when it comes to food, D.C.’s a hot place to be right now.

Eater: “The 53 Most Anticipated Restaurant Openings Fall 2014,” by Hillary Dixler.
Speaking of forthcoming restaurants, here’s Eater’s list of the 53 most anticipated ones opening this fall across the country.

NPR: “Seeking Proof For Why We Feel Terrible After Too Many Drinks.
Hangovers feel awful because of dehydration, right? Perhaps, although in his book Proof: The Science of Booze, Adam Rogers offers an alternative explanation, the focus of this short preview piece.

NHPR: “Pathogen Hits N.H. Basil, Putting Pesto In Peril,” by Michael Samuels.
Did basil suddenly disappear from your farmers market? If you live in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic, it may have been hit by downy mildew, a pathogen that affects basil, especially sweet basil. It’s spread by air-borne spores. So far, the basil on my balcony seems fine—and I live in Washington, D.C, far south of this report in New Hamsphire. But apparently my farmers market, which grows its basil in Pennsylvania, has been affected.

New York Times: “Corn Risotto,” by Emily Weinstein.
I made a corn risotto a couple years that I loved, but I’m intrigued by this version that folds whipped cream in at the end, which Weinstein says adds richness without heft.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peach and Tomato Salad with Tofu

Peach and Tomato Salad with Tofu

Last month's issue of Food & Wine included this wonderful summer salad, an unexpected but pleasing combination of flavors that's as tasty to eat as it is beautiful to look at.

The salad was created by Hugh Acheson, the celebrated Southern chef of Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, who's a frequent Food & Wine contributor and known for his turns as a judge on Top Chef.

This salad is a wonderful way to showcase tomatoes' versatility, which play well with the sweet peaches and spicy quick-pickled jalapeños, which I substituted for the serrano chiles called for in the original recipe. The quick-pickle method is very easy and produces far tastier chiles than what you can get canned. I'd definitely recommend this for other applications, like tacos and nachos. The crispy-edged fried tofu adds yet another interesting textural element.

I made a slight modification in the recipe below: I used olive oil in the dressing instead of canola oil.

Given how much we're loving our area's new Southern-themed restaurant, Macon Bistro & Larder, I've been wanting to get into more Southern cooking. I'll definitely be on the lookout for other great recipes from Acheson.

Peach and Tomato Salad with Tofu
Adapted from Tomato-and-Peach Salad with Crisp Tofu by Hugh Acheson, Food & Wine

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 jalapeño chile, seeds and ribs removed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
6 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained well and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup baby arugula leaves
2 heirloom tomatoes, sliced into wedges
2 peaches, cut into wedges
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1. Combine water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt and bring to a boil in a small saucepan or in a small microwave-safe bowl in the microwave. Cook until the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat and add the sliced jalapeños. Let the mixture with the chiles stand for 15 minutes, at which point it will cool to around room temperature. Drain off the liquid.

2. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet or wide medium-size saucepan over medium to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tofu and fry until, turning until crisp, for about 5-6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a paper-towel-lined plate.

3. Divide the arugula among the plates. Arrange the tomatoes, peaches, basil, pickled jalapeños and fried tofu on individual plates.

4. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle each salad plate with a spoonful of dressing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fattoush (Middle Eastern Tomato and Pita Salad)


For years, I've been a devotee of heirloom tomato panzanella during summertime. Once New Morning Farm starts delivering its beautiful, flavorful rainbow of seasonal heirloom tomatoes to my neighborhood every Saturday morning, that's all I want for dinner on Sunday. Most of the rest of the year we eat wine and cheese for Sunday dinner, but not from around late June to late September when we instead gorge on fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and dressing-soaked toasted Tuscan bread.

Then, this year, I learned about fattoush, a similar Middle Eastern dish. My spidey senses began to tingle as I thought about the possibilities. I knew I had to try it.

We ordered fattoush during a recent dinner at Zaytinya. Although we generally liked everything we ate that night, the fattoush was actually our least favorite thing. Nonetheless, I still wanted to try making the salad myself.

I found a recipe on the Bon Appétit website that seemed like a good starting point for my salad. I also consulted one of my cookbooks, The New Middle Eastern Vegetarian by Sally Butcher, who writes that fattoush (or rather fatoush, as she spells it) is "eminently tweakable," open to all sorts of ingredients that you may have on hand.

In that spirit, I added red pepper to the Bon Appétit recipe and omitted the lettuce. I think some olives or cheese--feta or fresh mozzarella--would be good in this too.

Finding a couple of the ingredients for this salad proved particularly challenging. I couldn't find pomegranate molasses anywhere. I asked the Washington Post Food section staff about this during a recent chat, and Bonnie Benwick told me I could make it myself by reducing pomegranate juice. Of course! I picked a bottle of POM at Whole Foods, skipping over the other pomegranate juice options that where either made from concentrate or included other juices (in The Bar Book, Jeffrey Morgenthaler said they aren't any good anyway and I trust him).

The other elusive ingredient was ground sumac. Whole Foods had a spot for it on the spice shelf, but according to the employee I asked for help, they hadn't stocked it in months. I did, however, find a za'atar spice blend there that listed sumac as its primary ingredient. So I bought that and used a fine mesh sieve to filter out the larger ingredients, which were mostly sesame seeds and dried thyme.

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit

Makes 3-4 servings

Note: You can make pomegranate molasses yourself if you can't find it in the store: Combine 1 cup pomegranate juice, 2 tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/4 cup of syrup. Allow to cool.

2 tsp. ground sumac
2 tsp. warm water
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses (see note)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. minced fresh mint
Salt, to taste
3/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 8-inch round white pitas
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh spearmint

1. Make the dressing: Soak ground sumac in warm water for 15 minutes in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, vinegar, mint and salt. Whisk to combine, then whisk in the olive oil.

2. Prepare the pitas: Preheat the oven broiler with the rack adjusted about 5 inches below it. Place pitas on a baking sheet and toast under the broiler until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit, then tear into chunks about 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. Add to a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.

3. Make the rest of the salad: To the large bowl with the pitas, add the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, scallions, parsley and mint. Pour about 3/4 of the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Add additional dressing as needed. Serve immediately in shallow bowls.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dallas Drinks: The Cliff

Dallas Drinks The Cliff

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

Dallas returns to TNT next week with the first episode of the second half of the third season. With Southfork engulfed in flames, it's sure to be a hot one.

Since I've already made drinks for all of the current show's regular characters, I've decided to honor the original series with drinks inspired by some of its characters. Cliff, of course, is a good bridge between both the original and new Dallas. A regular from the original show, during which he frequently schemed against J.R. and the other Ewings, Cliff was brought back as a recurring character on the new series and made into an outright villain.

Despite Cliff's life-long feud with the Ewings, he wouldn't be who he is without them, and thus bourbon, the drink of choice for the Ewings, courses through the Cliff cocktail as well. The other flavors nod to Cliff's love of Chinese food: amaretto, a principal ingredient in the Mai Tai, and ginger, a common East Asian flavor. The lemon is because Cliff is just such a sour guy these days.

Dallas Drinks: The Cliff

3/4 oz. bourbon
3/4 oz. amaretto liqueur
3/4 oz. ginger liqueur
1 oz. lemon juice
Lemon peel (garnish)

Combine bourbon, amaretto, ginger liqueur and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until cold. Strain into rocks glass with ice. Garnish with lemon peel.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sautéed Yellow Squash with Garlic, Pecans and Sage

Of the herbs I've been growing this summer, the one I've found most challenging to incorporate into my cooking is sage--perhaps because I associate it more with fall and winter dishes. It is, after all, a Thanksgiving staple. Combine it with onion and chicken stock and you have "the flavor of Thanksgiving" right there.

Summer Squash

I found some recipes on the web that combine yellow squash with sage, which sounded like an intriguing combination. California Olive Ranch, the maker of my favorite olive oil, has a recipe for roasted yellow squash with pecans and sage that inspired this dish.

Sautéed Yellow Squash with Garlic, Pecans and Sage
Inspired by Roasted Summer Squash with Sage-Pecan Pesto by California Olive Ranch

1/4 cup pecan halves, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Salt, to taste
Pinch of red chili pepper flakes
2 tbsp. fresh chopped sage
Grated pecorino-romano cheese

1. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat. Add pecans and cook until fragrant, about 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent nuts from burning. Set aside to cool.

2.  Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute until fragrant. Add the squash and sauté until lightly browned, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and a pinch of red chili pepper flakes. Add the sage, stir to combine, and cook another couple minutes until fragrant. Serve topped with grated pecorino-romano cheese.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Feed: August 13, 2014

Ramen Tacos
The Washington Post reports that ramen in Japan is suffering from a lack of originality. Perhaps they need to try my ramen tacos recipe.

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

Washington Post: “In Japan, Ramen Aficionados Fear for Their Favorite Dish,” by Anna Fifield.
Ramen is a hot commodity in the U.S. these days, but in its Japanese homeland, the noodle soup is apparently cooling off. Fifield quotes one Japanese ramen association executive saying “everything has been tried” (yes they have a ramen association in Japan—should hardly surprise us folks in D.C., given that we have associations for everything here).

New York Times: “Special Sauce for Measuring Food Trends: The Fried Calamari Index,” by Neil Irwin.
Hummus, pesto and sundried tomatoes were, in decades past, the pork belly, quinoa and kale of today. Such is the cycle of food trends, which Irwin examines through the Fried Calamari Index, a benchmark for comparing other food trends against fried calamari—itself once a staple of cutting-edge restaurants that’s now a common element of chain-restaurant appetizer lists. He used Times Chronicle for his research, a New York Times tool for researching how often a particular term was used in the paper at a given time.

NPR: “Your Waiter Wants You To Put Down Your Phone,” by Alan Greenblatt.
Did you hear about the recent post on Craigslist from a restaurant that claims it compared recent surveillance footage to that from a few years ago and discovered that service has slowed down—because customers are spending too much time on their phones instead of ordering/drinking/eating/paying? NPR’s Greenblatt examines the issue, which has certainly generated a lot of interest, even if, as some suggest, the original restaurant’s findings were exaggerated. I’m mindful of not using my phone while we’re eating, unless we’re waiting to get the bill (or I’m shooting photos for a restaurant post, which I try to do as unobtrusively as possible and never while the server is trying to engage us).

Smithsonian: “Your Guide to Shopping at the Farmers' Market and Keeping Your Purchases Fresh at Home,” by Shaylyn Esposito.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables procured at the farmers market are (almost) guaranteed to taste better than what you get at the grocery store. However, you don’t want the premium you paid for them to go for naught. Esposito has tips for how to best treat your fresh, beautiful bounty.

Wall Street Journal: “Kick Into Highball Gear: Refreshing Cocktail Recipes,” by Kara Newman.
Old-school craft cocktails are often delicious, but also really high in alcohol, making it tricky to drink more than a couple without getting schnockered. Newman writes about how this may open a window for the comparatively less boozy (and ever-so-refreshing) highball cocktail. And they’re more than gin & tonic or vodka & soda too.

The Blueberry Bison: “Bison Basics: Organic Blueberry Mint Simple Syrup,” by JP Bison.
Speaking of highballs, I bet the Blueberry Bison’s blueberry and mint simple syrup would make a fantastic highball with some gin and soda (or maybe ginger beer?).

Wall Street Journal: “10 Things Winemakers Won’t Tell You,” by Catey Hill.
Hill shares a great list of facts about wine many consumers may not know, some of which could be problematic while others are just interesting.

My Poor Liver Podcast: “Episode 6: Josh Bergstrom in-studio.”
Six episodes in and the My Poor Liver Podcast has achieved a nice balance of wit and education—I feel I’ve learned a lot, especially about wine from listening to these two. For episode 6 they interview a special guest, Josh Bergstrom, of Oregon’s Bergström winery.

Health Perch: “Low Calorie Summer Cocktails.
Summer is a great time to drink cocktails, but all those calories can add up in a bad way when it’s time to hit the beach. Here’s Health Perch with some great ideas for ways to slim those cocktails down a bit.

Fix: “Around the World in 7 Grills.
Sure, August can be hot as Hades, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop grilling. Here’s a fun infographic from Fix featuring seven different grilling styles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Baba Ghanoush with Peanut Butter

Baba Ghanoush with Peanut Butter

Even nonfans of eggplant love baba ghanoush, the silky, smoky Mediterranean spread that works great with just about anything that hummus is good for too. They are pretty similar: instead of chickpeas, baba ghanoush is made with grilled or roasted eggplant. But otherwise the ingredients are about the same: olive oil, garlic, salt, maybe an herb or some spice and tahini.

What is tahini? It's a paste made up of ground up sesame seeds. It reminds me an awful lot of peanut butter, so, when recently I went to make baba ghanoush and realized I'd forgotten to get tahini, I tried substituting peanut butter. The resulting spread tasted great, like a marriage between the usual baba ghanoush and peanut sauce.

Baby Ghanoush with Peanut Butter

1 lb. eggplant (generally two medium-size)
1/3 cup peanut butter (in place of tahini)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olives and chopped herbs (optional garnishes)

1. Preheat oven to 500 F. Place the eggplant on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until the skin is dark and sunken looking, about 25-35 minutes. Allow the eggplant to cool, then slice in half. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins (alternatively, roast the eggplant on a hot barbecue to give it a smoky taste; I'd have done this but unfortunately it was raining the day I made this).

2. In a blender, combine the roasted eggplant, peanut butter, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl and, if desired, garnish with olives and fresh herbs.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Restaurant: Thally (Washington, D.C.)

Have you noticed how restaurants can serve similar food, yet have markedly different personalities? I was struck particularly between the contrast in vibe between Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon and Thally in Washington, D.C. Clyde Common and Thally have similar menus: a refined list of fewer than 10 starters and entrees consisting of meat, seafood and fresh, seasonal vegetables.

Yet the vibe in the restaurants couldn't be more different. Clyde Common assaults you with its swagger of loud music and hipster-ish hostess and servers. It's that cool guy who's nice but has a bit of edge. He commands attention when he enters the room. Thally, in contrast, plays it cool. You might not notice him at first, but you'll be better off for getting to know him, for he's every bit as talented as his flashy rock-star colleague.

Thally is an attractive restaurant, a narrow space of exposed brick adorned with a cool collection of artwork. Thally's laid-back atmosphere, friendly service and thoughtfully composed dishes made for just the right evening when we wandered into the casual Shaw restaurant recently. In an age where so many restaurants feel the need to put on a show, it's nice that Thally lets its delicious food speak for itself.

And speak well it does, especially once it's in front of you. Thally's menu is refreshingly free of over-used adjectives like "heritage," "heirloom" and "farm-raised," employing instead descriptors like "grilled" and "roast" and listing the ingredients by name but without a treatise on their provenance. This makes the food sound pretty simple, but that's a deception, of sorts, as the thoughtfulness of chef Ron Tanaka's cooking becomes apparent once the food arrives at the table.

Starters: whiskey roast onion (top), bibb lettuce with red-wine-poached pears and bur rata (bottom).

Take our starters: a bibb lettuce salad and a roasted onion. Sounds simple enough, yet both dishes had an expected degree of complexity. While eating the salad, for example, I loved the flavorful purple slices I thought were beets until Chris reminded me they were in fact wine-poached pears, which paired ("peared?") nicely with the lettuce--as fresh and flavorful as any lettuce I've had in a restaurant--and creamy burrata. A roasted onion may not seem like a typical candidate for a signature starter, but Thally's version, roasted with whiskey and augmented with bacon, bread crumbs and gruyere, is a fantastic way to start dinner on a homey, savory note.

Entrees: grilled, marinated flank steak (top); grilled pork tenderloin (bottom)
Tanaka's skill for pairing good flavors extended to our entrees as well. I particularly liked my grilled pork tenderloin, served with a bourbon sauce and candied pecans that were an excellent match for the flavorful, tender mustard-brined pork. The grilled flank steak was also quite delicious, although it was a bit tough; serving it sliced or providing a steak knife would have been a nice touch. We cleared our plates pretty quickly, leaving room for summery shortcake with ice cream and two types of cherries.

Cocktail: Ms. Rosemary Bulleit

For drinks, Thally has a nice selection of craft cocktails. The Far East, a lemonade spiked with gin infused with peppercorn and lemongrass was refreshing although maybe a bit sweeter than we like.  I preferred the Ms. Rosemary Bulleit, a great example of a summer whiskey cocktail sweetened with white vermouth, maraschino liqueur and house-made ginger soda.

Casual-upscale restaurants serving fresh, seasonable food are a dime a dozen these days, although you'll generally shell out more than a few dimes for the food. On that note, I found Thally's prices to be reasonable, another good reason to visit in addition to the tasty food and very good service, which I found to be both friendly and knowledgeable. All-in-all, Thally provided us an enjoyable, relaxing Saturday night dinner. It may not have rock-star swagger, but it delivered plenty of hits.

Thally, 1316 9th Street NW (between N and O Streets), Washington, D.C. (Shaw, near the Convention Center). (202) 733-3849. Reservations: Open Table Thally on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tasting of Oregon IPAs, 2014

A trip to Oregon isn't complete with an IPA...or nine as the case may be for us this year. We were pretty aggressive in trying a variety of them this year, both old favorites and a few we hadn't had before.

Oregon IPA of the Year: Laurelwood Workhorse IPA. We first tasted this beer over lunch with friends at a Laurelwood Pub in Portland's Sellwood neighborhood and were bowled over by how good it is. When we went to stock up on beer for the beach house, Fred Meyer was sadly sold out. But then when we made a return trip to Freddie's because we needed some other things, I was delighted to see they had it back in stock and snagged a six-pack. This beer is assertively hoppy as we like, but it's more than just hoppy, with a bit of grapefruit nose and even a little of sweetness.

Other favorites: We've had Deschutes Brewery's Inversion IPA before and were happy to revisit it this year. We've been into hoppy IPAs for years, although lately I've learned that I like an IPA that isn't just hoppy. I like it to be balanced with a little citrus or fruit. That's why we loved Laurelwood's Workhorse IPA and also why Inversion IPA is another favorite. It's also why Ninkasi's Total Domination IPA, our favorite in 2012, is no longer our "top favorite" but rather one among several we like, as the strongly bitter ale doesn't offer as much other flavors. 10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA was also pretty bitter, although not as much as the Ninkasi IPA and offered a bit of malty flavor. I'll also give props to Bridgeport's Hop Czar IPA, which nicely balances its bitterness with a bit of spice and fruit.

Others sampled: A definite mis-match for our taste was the Pelican Silverspot IPA. This IPA is made in the English-style, rather than the American West-Coast style we love, and the difference is noticeable. It's hopped, but not nearly as bitter as the usual IPA and noticeably maltier in taste. Interesting, but just not our thing. We were also disappointed by the Widmer Upheaval IPA, which wasn't very flavorful (full disclosure: we tasted this one in advance of our trip, as I spotted it on the shelf at Whole Foods. I must say though, it stings that Widmer, along with Rogue, are the only Oregon beers I see with regularity in D.C. I wish some of these others--Deschutes Brewery this means you--would get wider distribution here). Bridgeport's other beer we tried, the Bridgeport Trilogy 2: Aussie Salute, part of a limited-release series, is a pretty light IPA, and thus not really something to sate hopheads like us. Lastly, Silver Moon's Hop Knob IPA wasn't bad, but just not very memorable as compared to some of the other hoppy IPAs we sampled this year.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Watermelon and Blueberry Salad with Goat Cheese

After making the blueberry pie I wrote about earlier this week, we still had quite a few blueberries on hand, plus some watermelon, so I decided to make this salad.

One of the best things I liked about this salad was the interplay between the watermelon and the goat cheese. Chèvre is a common type of goat cheese you can find in most grocery stories, usually sold formed into a little log. It's fairly soft, although solid enough that it can be crumbled (carefully) into salads. When mixed with juicy watermelon and dressing of this salad, the cheese breaks down a bit, creating a wonderfully tangy, creamy coating.

Watermelon and Blueberry Salad with Goat Cheese

Serves 3

About 2 cups 1-inch seedless watermelon cubes
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 cups arugula leaves
1/3 cup unsalted roasted shelled pistachios
1/3 cup crumbled Chèvre goat cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh spearmint

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, blueberries, arugula, pistachios, goat cheese and mint. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad. Toss to combine until the dressing and watermelon juice soften the goat cheese a bit, coating the salad ingredients.

Toasted Marshmallows

Toasting marshmallows sounds like the simplest thing. Even childen can do it, right? The truth is, however, that many people don't seem to know how. I recently witnessed a group of adults "toast" marshmallows by setting them on fire. I don't think they knew any better. A burnt marshmallow does not taste good. It doesn't toast long enough to melt but only the very outer layer under the burnt crust. Plus that crust, since it's not really edible, is wasted. I'd like to show you a better way.

Untoasted marshmallow on a stick - this is the starting point.

Perfectly toasted marshmallow. Yum.
Growing up in Portland, we spent a lot of time at the beach when I was young, and Chris and I make an annual trip with my mom to the Oregon coast where we spend the better part of a week relaxing, drinking Oregon IPA (I'll tell you about this year's selections tomorrow) and eating good food. A fun beach tradition is building a fire on the beach (legal on Oregon beaches, but not necessarily everywhere, so check if you're not sure) and toasting marshmallows. As the sun sets and it starts to get cold, a good beach fire will keep you toasty hot, the perfect setting for reminiscing or, if you're so inclined, singing a few campfire songs.

And you need something to munch on, and there's nothing better in this setting than a toasted marshmallow.

A good toasted marshmallow is creamy on the inside with a browned (not burnt) exterior. The trick is patience. Slowing toasting the marshmallow away from direct flames will allow the surface to caramelize and the center to melt. If you're patient enough, you can get it melted all the way through. That's when it's really good.

Building the fire can be a bit tricky, and I'm not going to get into the exact instructions for doing so (I imagine there are some great blog posts about it that Google can find; be sure you also follow all the safety suggestions, like building away from grass and large pieces of wood).  It can be particularly tricky on the Oregon coast, because it's almost always windy. Despite being out of practice, I'm still pretty good at it (although the fire for this post took two matches to light). And no, I didn't use lighter fluid, and I don't suggest you do either, lest it make your marshmallows taste funny.

After the fire gets going good, let it burn down until hot coals form. The ideal space for toasting marshmallows is a flat area of hot coals without nearby flames. Use a stick to adjust the fire like this, if necessary. You want to be able to focus the heat on the sides of the marshmallow and not just the top.

This is our beach fire as it is just getting started. While it's making big yellow flames, this is NOT the time to begin toasting marshmallows.
Once the flames have died down and the wood has burnt to hot embers (or coals as we sometimes call them), fine a spot with embers but away from flames for toasting.

Besides the risk of fire, another easy marshmallow-toasting fail is the maneuver where the almost perfectly toasted marshmallow falls off your stick into the fire. It's a real shame. Be sure to poke the stick all the way through the marshmallow to prevent this.

Also, the selection of stick is important. Try to find one that's pretty straight, so the marshmallow toasts evenly as you rotate it. Carving the end of the stick to a point is a good idea too.

Toasting marshmallows should be done in the evening. Start the fire while it's still light, so you can see to find the wood. Then enjoy the beautiful Oregon coast sunset, along with the toasted marshmallows.

Toasted Marshmallows

A bag of marshmallows

1. Build a fire outside. Allow the fire to burn down to hot coals. Adjust hot coals to create a space with an even layer of coals for toasting.

2. Thread a marshmallow onto the end of a long stick (3-4 feet or so--long enough that you're a comfortable distance from the hot fire).

3. Hold the marshmallow a few inches from the hot coals (you'll have to judge the distance for yourself. If the marshmallow starts to smoke quickly, move it away a bit). Slowly rotate the marshmallow over the fire, taking about a minute to do so, to even brown its exterior. When browned all over, remove the marshmallow and eat it immediately.

4. Repeat.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Feed: August 6, 2014

Shiny black eggplant sometimes reminds me of the head of the Alien from the Ridley Scott and James Cameron movies. Some people probably feel it's equally scary, but give it a's tasty!

Foodie Underground: “Food Trends Two Decades Ago: What if We Ate Like it Was 1994?” by Anna Brones.
Because I’ve been reading The Tastemakers, articles about food trends really interest me, and I’m loving that I came across two articles on historical food trends, both of which look back 20 years to 1994. This was the heyday of “low-fat” eating, which of course didn’t mean fewer calories, since fat was just replaced with sugar. Remember Snackwell cookies? I hadn’t thought about those in years.

Saveur: “Menu: A 1994 Dinner Party.
Baked brie, mango salsa, sundried tomatoes and pesto-cream sauce. Yup, it’s a 1994 dinner party, brought forward from the past by Saveur, complete with recipes.

Incanto: “Is OpenTable Worth It?” by Mark Pastore.
OpenTable, the online restaurant reservation service, is a boon for customers, but how about restaurants? Pastore looks at how the site’s fees impact proprietors and why they feel they cannot disengage from the service.

Washington Post: “The Lure of Sin Zins,” by Dave McIntyre.
Because it’s so easy to rhyme “zin” with “sin,” zinfandel wine is subject to sexy marketing like no other type of California red. But, as McIntyre discovers, some of these zinfandels are actually pretty tasty, not just racy.

New York Times: “A Round Friend to Everyone,” by David Tanis.
Who doesn’t like eggplant? Well, a lot of people it seems. I recently heard a story about someone who grows them in their garden but never eats them—just passes them around the neighborhood. But they’re good! Fry them, cook them in ratatouille or puree them into Baba Ghanoush. Tanis has several great suggestions.

A La Mode Podcast: “Episode 22: Cocktail Hour,” by Jason Shriner and Jaisyn Markley.
Among other topics, Jason and Jaisyn share their favorite 12 cocktails (6 each) and the stories behind why they’re special, a list that includes the Malibu Bay Breeze (I didn’t realize Malibu rum isn’t actually a full-proof rum), Tom Collins (great summer classic) and Caipirinha (the South American classic).

Bacon & Legs: “Elvis Rolls,” by Fontina Turner.
Heard of the Elvis sandwich? A decadent combination of peanut butter, bananas and bacon. Turner takes the decadence a step further with the Elvis Roll, which that combination into a cinnamon roll. Yum.

Eater: “How New York City's Hottest Bar Was Made,” by Kat Odell.
Odell takes a close look at the recently expanded bar of The NoMad, which looks really great now (it was pretty cool when we saw its smaller iteration a couple years ago).

Eater: “Everything You Need to Open a Hipster Bar.
You’ve got a handlebar mustache, an affinity for the 1890s and a hatred for vodka, you must be a hipster looking to open a bar. Here’s a checklist of everything you’ll need, including a good theme like “San Francisco before the quake.”

The Impulsive Buy: Putting the “Ew” in Product Reviews
I’m not much of a junkfood junkie, but nonetheless I got a kick out of this site, which covers news and reviews of new junk food products.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Restaurant and Bar: Clyde Common and Pepe le Moko (Portland, Oregon)

Clyde Common

There are various reasons I choose to visit a restaurant: it's new and buzz worthy; it's older and well-regarded; there's a particular dish I just have to try. While cocktails are certainly a reason I've made trips to particular bars, this was a first in choosing a restaurant.

Over the last year, I've become a big fan of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who writes a blog I enjoy reading and published the excellent cocktail technique book this year, The Bar Book, that I wrote about during my summer cocktails week. So when it came time to choose a restaurant for our recent Oregon trip, I immediately thought of Clyde Common, the upscale-casual downtown restaurant where Morgenthaler has worked for 5 years. As its bar manager, he's developed a cocktail menu that stands out from the pack, showcasing a range of expertly executed classic and original drinks.

Clyde Common Bourbon Renewal
Bourbon Renewal cocktail

Of course this meant that I had very high expectations for our drinks, and I was not disappointed. I started the night with a Bourbon Renewal, which Morgenthaler has said is the bar's most popular drink and is an original recipe (you can get the recipe from his blog). It's made with bourbon, lemon and creme de cassis--a great example of a refreshing summer bourbon drink. I also loved the Manhattan our server brought when I wanted a second drink but decided to leave the selection to him. Made with a rye whiskey, it was perfectly balanced--not to bitter, not too sweet--and went down easy.

Chris opted for a couple of great classics. His first was the Dark and Stormy, the classic trio of rum, lime and ginger, which is all the more potently gingery when it comes with house-made ginger beer as it does at Clyde Common. His follow-up was the French 75, the classic Champagne cocktail with gin and lemon.

Top: gnocchi: bottom: smoked duck

While the cocktails were what drew us to Clyde Common, its excellent food is no less a reason to visit. I was skeptical at first when our server told us--multiple times--about how fresh and local their ingredients are. Clyde Common, which has been around awhile (since 2007), may have pushed that concept in Portland, but it's pretty ubiquitous today--i'd be surprised if a restaurant of this caliber wasn't sourcing much of its ingredients locally.

But he wasn't overselling their fare. Almost everything we ate was quite tasty. The kitchen has seen some turnover lately: Clyde Common welcomed a new chef,

Two of our party's entrees were particularly noteworthy. Chinook salmon arrived perfectly grilled, tender and flavorful but not undercooked. It arrived atop beech mushrooms and snap peas given a nice char on the grill. A topping of shaved fennel and chives was a nice crowning touch of freshness (and inspiration for today's salmon dish).

I also really liked the smoked duck, which was also quite flavorful. Our server told me to expect it to be more cooked than usual, due to the smoking, but I found it to be quite tender, not at all tough. Grilled cabbage, peanut aillade (basically peanut-garlic sauce) and candied cherries enhanced the dish with a mix of pungent and sweet flavors. The gnocchi, while not up to the caliber of the salmon or duck, was a decent dish as well, served fried with zucchini and an eggplant puree reminiscent of Thanksgiving.

Top: zucchini and snow pea salad; bottom: charcuterie

Although the entrees outclassed the appetizers, we still enjoyed the latter, especially the zucchini and snow pea salad with almonds, greens and a milky fresh ricotta. We don't often order charcuterie, so we decided to give it a try. We liked the cured meats, pickles and mustard, but were a bit perplexed by a pork shoulder spread mixed with bacon fat. I love bacon, but I don't want to eat pure bacon grease. I scraped off as much as I could to enjoy the pork shoulder underneath it, but ultimately we didn't eat much of this part of the spread.

White chocolate ice cream pie

We did, however, devour the white chocolate ice cream pie, about as perfect as an Oregon summer dessert can get. The ice cream, on top of graham-cracker crust, was topped with a browned meringue and served with a blueberry sauce. Every component was nicely done.

In addition to the great food, we also enjoyed expert service at Clyde Common. Our server copped a bit of attitude, but not in a bad way. Rather, he was playful in a fun way that fits the off-beat style of the restaurant. All of his suggestions, particularly for the cocktails, were fantastic. In an era where servers can be over-the-top serious about the food they serving, it's refreshing to come across someone who manages to have fun while still be professional.

Fun is definitely the atmosphere at Clyde Common. There's a definite energy to the place. It's also loud...very loud. I don't usually notice that, since it's pretty much the default setting at casual-upscale restaurants these days. But Clyde Common's decibels were so high that it made normal conversation difficult. I think they could address the noise level a bit to make it easier to be heard while still giving off that "buzzy" vibe restaurants shoot for these days.

Sated as we were by our meal, our even didn't end with dessert. After having mentioned to our server that Jeffrey Morgenthaler's cocktails were what drew us to Clyde Common, he suggested we go around the corner and check out Pepe le Moko, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that opened earlier this year by one of Clyde Common's owners that also has a menu of cocktails designed by Morgenthaler. We were game and checked it out.

Pepe le Moko cocktail bar; Hotel Nacional Special and Amaretto Sour

After the pumping rock music of Clyde Common, the mellower vibe of the bar was a nice way to end the evening. Underground Pepe le Moko's curved ceiling and old-school jazz radiate retro-cool, but its tasty craft cocktails are the reason to go. Chris sprang for the Hotel Nacional Special, a sweet-and-sour tropical blend of aged rum, lime, apricot brandy and pineapple. I briefly considered a gin & tonic, although I was surprised that Pepe le Moko doesn't stock Oregon-made gins (especially given Clyde Common's emphasis on local sourcing). So instead, I sprang for an Amaretto Sour, knowing that it's one of the classic drinks that Morgenthaler is most proud of. It didn't disappoint. The drink was frothy, sweet and refreshing.

Building an evening out around a bartender turned out to be a lot of fun and, admittedly, rather intoxicating. If you like quality cocktails, there's no better craftsman than Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and I was pleased to find that the food at Clyde Common, is mostly a good match, providing a range of original, fresh tastes in an upbeat, spirited atmosphere.

Clyde Common, 1014 SW Stark Street (between 10th and 11th, one block south of Burnside), Portland, Oregon (downtown). (503) 228-3333. Reservations: Open Table.

Pepe le Moko, 407 SW 10th Street (between Stark and Washington Streets, around the corner from Clyde Common), Portland, Oregon (downtown). (503)546-8537. Call for reservations (we walked in).

Clyde Common on Urbanspoon Pépé le Moko on Urbanspoon