Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sausage, Vegetable and Gruyere Frittata

Sausage, Vegetable and Gruyere Frittata

If your mom is like mine, you should listen to her more often, as she probably has good ideas. Like the recipe for this frittata, the Italian answer to the French omelet. Unlike an omelet, which is cooked quickly with the fillings added last, frittatas are cooked slowly with the eggs added to the already cooked fillings and then broiled to set the eggs.

A few weeks ago, my mom emailed me about a frittata recipe she made. I thought it sounded really good, but I didn't make it right away. Then a couple weeks later she made it again and I thought, yes, I should really make this.

So this time I did. I don't know where she got the recipe, but I made some adjustments, so I feel comfortable calling it my own (with credit to Mom, of course). This is a simple dish that comes together fairly quickly. It's also quite flexible. You could easily omit the sausage to make it vegetarian, substitute a different meat (bacon, ham, chicken, turkey) and use a different combination of vegetables or a different cheese. I went with mild Italian chicken sausage, onion, zucchini, red pepper and rainbow chard with gruyere cheese, but you could use just about any green, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower. Just be mindful of the total quantity. A 12-inch frying pan is ideal for this, and it should be about half-full of cooked ingredients before you add the egg and cheese mixture.

Sausage, Vegetable and Gruyere Frittata

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 lb. mild Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 green zucchini, diced
1 punch chard (may use rainbow or Swiss), leaves removed from stems and cut into 2-inch pieces (stems discarded)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

1. Preheat oven broiler with rack 4 inches below the broiler.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick oven-safe frying pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Remove sausage from pan. Add another tbsp. olive oil to the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Add the onion, bell pepper and zucchini and cook until the vegetables are lightly browned, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the chard, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until the chard wilts, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Return the sausage to the pan and spread the ingredients evenly on the bottom of the pan. Whisk together the eggs and half the cheese in a large bowl. Pour the eggs and cheese over the vegetable-sausage mixture. Continue to cook on the stove to set the bottom of the eggs, about 3 minutes.

4. Transfer pan to the oven and broil until the top is firm, about 3 minutes. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese on top and broil an additional minute to melt and brown the cheese (watch to make sure it doesn't burn). Remove from oven and cut into wedges for serving.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cooking with Ottolenghi

Here's an unfortunate but much too common scenario: I can't think of what to make for dinner. There's no particular "experiment" I want to do, no particular new dish or ingredient I want to try out. I'm in a rut.

So I go online and search for something, inevitably finding some delicious idea or recipe along the way. But I did it once again: I neglected my cookbooks.

In the Internet age, it's so easy to overlook this great resource. Every once in awhile, I find I need to remind myself to crack a few open, look at the pictures, read the recipes. I'm rarely disappointed in what I find.

It was a recent Saturday morning that I cracked open Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, the 2013 publication by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the London-based chefs and restauranteurs that have together authored this cookbook and its best-selling predecessor, Jerusalem.

It's a wonderful cookbook wish dishes of varying complexity, beautiful photographs and loads of flavor. I settled on two dishes that I figured I could execute for dinner over a couple of hours: 1) fennel, cherry tomato, and crumble gratin and 2) beef and lamb meatballs baked in tahini.

Both of these recipes were delicious, but we were really blown away by the gratin. Although I recreated the meatballs faithful to Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe, I added an extra player to the gratin: fresh sweet corn. It was a welcome player indeed! In fact, I think this recipe could be switched up to accommodate different vegetable combinations, depending on the season. I bet it would be delicious with butternut squash and onion in the winter, for example.

Beef and Lamb Meatballs Baked in Tahini
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Tahini sauce:
2/3 cup tahini
2/3 cup water
4 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt

1 1/4 oz. white bread, crust removed
10-12 oz. ground beef
10-12 oz. ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. salt (reduced from the original 1 tsp. in the recipe)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Make the tahini sauce: Combine tahini, water, vinegar, garlic and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. The mixture should thicken slightly. Set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F.

3. Soak the bread in water, then squeeze out the water and crumble the bread (it will be mushy) into a large bowl. Add the beef, lamb, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon and egg. Using your hands, mix the ingredients until completely combined. Shape the mixture into golf-ball-size meatballs.

4. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add half the meatballs and cook for about 2-3 minutes, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove meatballs from pan and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining meatballs.

5. Transfer browned meatballs to a 9 X 13 baking dish, arranged in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs and return to the oven to bake for another 10-12 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through (I checked them with a thermometer to be sure they were 160 F degrees). Garnish with the lemon zest and additional parsley and serve.

Fennel, Corn and Cherry Tomato Gratin
Adapted from Fennel, Cherry Tomato and Crumble Gratin from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 1/2 oz. grated parmigiano-regginao cheese

2 1/4 lb. (about 1 large or 2 small) fennel bulbs, cut into pieces about of 1/2 to 1 inch
Kernels from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 tbsp. sea salt (reduced from the recipe's 1 tbsp.)
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
10 1/2 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) cherry tomatoes (I used sungold tomatoes)
1 tsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Make the crumble: combine the flour, sugar and butter in a medium bowl and mix together with your hands until the mixture has a uniform crumb texture (don't overmix or it will become dough-like). Stir in the grated parmesan cheese.

3. Assemble the gratin: in a large bowl, combine the fennel, corn, olive oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a 9 X 13 baking dish. Pour the cream evenly over the mixture, then spread the crumble evenly over the top. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

4. Remove the dish from the oven and remove the aluminum foil. Scatter the cherry tomatoes over the top of the gratin. Return the dish to the oven and bake another 15 minutes until the fennel is soft, the top of the gratin is lightly golden and the tomatoes have shriveled a bit.

Friday, September 25, 2015

8-2-Eat: 8 Restaurants with Great Pasta

Coppi's Strip Steak Bechamel Lasagna

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. This week: a list of 8 of my favorite restaurants with excellent pastas, 6 in the D.C. area and 2 in New York.

D.C. Area

1. Fiola. This downtown Italian restaurant--the first of D.C.'s three restaurants from Chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife Maria--is an elegant setting to enjoy a good bowl of pasta, like Fiola's famed lobster ravioli, a highlight of our 2012 dinner there. In a piece for First We Feast, Trabocchi named the lobster dish among the 10 dishes that made his career and said "having it on the menu will never change." I confirmed that the dish is currently on Fiola's menu.

2. Casa Luca. Speaking of the Trabocchis, their newer (and more affordable) restaurant, Casa Luca, also demonstrates wonderful skill with pasta. During our 2013 visit, we enjoyed agnolotti with squash, artichokes and brown butter, plus a divine smoked gnocchi with duck ragu. On the menu now: spinach pappardelle  with black pepper, burrito and sheep's milk cheese.

3. Aggio. Set aside any skepticism of a restaurant-within-a-restaurant and enjoy Bryan Voltaggio's Aggio, located within his sprawling Friendship Heights establishment, Range. The food and service at Aggio was fabulous. We loved the meatballs with chittara (a spaghetti-like pasta). On the menu now: buckwheat fusilli with pork sausage, rapini and ricotta salata.

4. Coppi's Organic. Coppi's, a long-time favorite of the U Street corridor, reopened last year in Cleveland Park much to my delight. The restaurant's strip steak béchamel lasagna (pictured above), a special the night we visited, tasted far lighter than it had any business being with those ingredients, making it one of the most enjoyable restaurant lasagnas I've ever had. One the menu now: vegetable lasagna, with red pepper, spinach, eggplant, zucchini, mixed mushrooms, and ricotta; topped with béchamel sauce.

5. Graffiato. Mike Isabella's first restaurant is still my favorite of his expanding set of great places to eat, and its sweet corn agnolotti--only available seasonally--has come to overshadow his Top Chef pepperoni sauce as the dish the restaurant is best known for. And for good reason--it's pasta perfection. On the menu: the agnolotti is currently listed, but I bet it isn't around much longer.

6. Tupelo Honey Cafe. I'm picky about restaurant mac & cheese because I rarely find an example I think is as good as what I can make at home. Arlington's outpost of Tupelo Honey Cafe changed my mind about restaurant mac & cheese, its dish boasts shrimp, fresh basil and wonderful cheese flavor. The dish is a staple of the Southern chain's menu.

New York

7. Lupa. Twice I've included Lupa on my year-end roundup of best restaurant experiences (in 2012 and 2014). It's become our favorite restaurant in New York for great pasta like tender ricotta gnocchi with a surprisingly light sausage and fennel sauce, and a summer special of pappardelle with chicken-tomato sauce. Or a wavy mafaldine pasta served with a hearty pork ragu. They run pasta specials all the time and they always sound delicious. On the menu now: sweet potato cappellacci with brown butter & sage.

8. Hearth. Our visit to Hearth was a highlight of our late 2014 trip to New York. We loved the macherroni with pork ragu in which oversized tube pasta were coated with just the right amount of meat sauce and served with rosemary and creamy whipped ricotta. On the menu now: the macherroni!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cocktail Bar: Going Two Rounds in Mayahuel (New York City)

There's not a big sign announcing the entrance to Mayahuel.
[Update: Mayahuel has closed.]

The way people feel about agave spirits--I'm talking about tequila and mezcal here--reminds me of an incredible Neil Leifer photograph we saw recently in the Soho Contemporary Art gallery. The one boxer is raising his arms in celebration of victory. The other's been knocked on his ass.

I know far too many people who have sworn off tequila due to bad memories of excessive low-quality tequila shots in their early 20s. They haven't tried or even heard of its smoky cousin, mezcal. They need an education. They need to visit Mayahuel.

Agave spirits aren't for everyone. And that's a shame, for I think cocktails made from tequila, mezcal and other Mexican spirits are incredibly good. Sure, margaritas are awesome, but everyone knows them. At Mayahuel you won't find a margarita on the menu, and that's a good thing, for this wonderful cocktail bar in New York's East Village is about all the other amazing things you can do with these spirits, especially mezcal, which is the foundation of most Mayahuel drinks.

I've made cocktails with Mayahuel recipes before and ever since hearing about the bar I've wanted to visit it. Last time we were in New York, we tried to stop in, but they were full. This time, I hatched a plan to show up right when they opened, hoping we could snag a couple stools at the bar. And it worked! We were among the first people in the door and had a front-row seat to watch Mayahuel's cocktail creators at work.

Left: The Division Bell. Right: Herb Alpert.

Round 1

For our first round of drinks, I asked the bartender for recommendations of drinks he particularly liked with Mezcal. Chris ended up with The Division Bell, a wonderful welcome to Mayahuel's mezcal-forward menu. The drink is similar to the Naked and Famous at Death & Co., except that Mayahuel's drink uses Luxardo maraschino liqueur instead of yellow Chartreuse. It's a nicely balanced sipper: a little smoky, a little bitter, a little tart and just sweet enough. The recipe for this drink, which I found on Serious Eats, appears below.

My drink was the spicy Herb Albert and wow, what a way to start. I absolutely loved this cocktail. The jalapeño-infused blanco tequila definitely had a kick, but it wasn't too much to manage, balanced as it was just right with lime juice (and some agave too I think) to take the sting out. Mezcal gives the drink a smoky profile, while fresh oregano gives it a hint of herbal flavor.

We had dinner reservations elsewhere, so I'd only planned for us to have one drink. But the first round was so good and there were so many more interesting options, so onto...

Left: Ready to Depart. Right: Dijahbone.
Round 2

Here's where it gets really interesting. A couple days prior, I had enjoyed my first taste of sotol at the Flatiron Wine & Sprits shop. Never heard of sotol? It's another Mexican spirit, although made with a plant called the "desert spoon" instead of agave (My Poor Liver did an excellent podcast on it recently). I'd never seen sotol on a cocktail menu, so I asked the bartender if they were working with it. Of course, they were, and he made this incredibly good drink for me.

The Dijahbone was really something special, a blend of sotol, duck fat infused Grand Marnier, carrot juice, lime juice and cumin. Although this was not a drink he'd created, he knew that his coworker who'd invented it used the duck fat and carrot juice to underscore the savory and earthy notes of the sotol. The drink was a real knockout. Anyone interested in sampling the potential for sotol in cocktails should try this.

Chris had the Ready to Depart, a refreshing and delightfully summer drink made with reposado tequila, sherry, orgeat, lemon, mole bitters and banana liqueur. The bartender built the drink in the glass with crushed ice and swizzled the drink (with a real swizzle stick). None of the modifiers were overwhelming, even the banana liquor.

In many ways, Mayahuel reminds me of our recent trip to Death & Co.--the dark, intimate setting, the delicious and well-crafted drinks and the attentive service--but with a focus on Mexican spirits. Perhaps its no surprise that Mayahuel's head talent, Phil Ward, used to work at Death & Co., where he originated one of that bar's most popular drinks, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned.

Mayahuel also offers a selection of food, mostly snacks and small plates, but as we were (finally) headed off to dinner, we had to pass this time. We emerged feeling high on the amazing drinks we'd just enjoyed. Definitely more Ali than Williams.

Cocktail: The Division Bell
I found the recipe for one of the drinks we enjoyed on Serious Eats, which I adapted below from Phil Ward's recipe for Mayahuel

1 oz. mezcal
3/4 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur (such as Luxardo or Mariska)
3/4 oz. lime juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of grapefruit peel over the glass, rub the peel around the glass's rim and then discard the peel.

Mayahuel, 304 East 6th Street (just east of 2nd Avenue), New York City, NY (East Village). (212) 253-5888.
Click to add a blog post for Mayahuel on Zomato


Mayahuel Mezcal Cocktails

Bar Talk: A Conversation About Death & Co.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mexican Corn Soup

Mexican Corn Soup

I know I just wrote about Corn-Leek Soup last week, but this Mexican variation on corn soup is just too good to pass up while the sweet corn is still good. This recipe comes from Ingrid Hoffman via Food Network. Hickory-smoked bacon gives it smoky meaty richness, the chipotle chili powder gives it a little kick and the toppings of avocado, cilantro and queso fresco add contrasting freshness.

Mexican Corn Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Ingrid Hoffman for Food Network

1/2 lb. thick-cut hickory-smoked bacon
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 ears of sweet corn
1 1/2 cups sungold cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese

1. Heat a Dutch oven or large soup soup pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until browned and crisped, turning occasionally. Remove bacon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate. Remove bacon fat in excess of about 2 tablespoons from the pot (discard excess grease). Add onion, bell pepper and garlic to pot and sauté until softened, about 8 minutes.

2. Cut off the kernels from two ears of corn and combine in a medium bowl with the cherry tomatoes, oregano and 2 cups of chicken broth. Puree mixture with an immersion blender until smooth (alternatively, combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth).

3. Add the pureed corn-tomato mixture, the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and the chipotle chili powder to the pot with the onions. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cut the corn kernels off the remaining two ears of corn, add the corn to the pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

4. Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the cooked bacon, sour cream and half the fresh cilantro. Serve in large, shallow bowls topped with a little of the remaining cilantro, diced avocado and crumbled queso fresco.

Friday, September 18, 2015

8-2-Eat: Cocktail Graphics

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. This week, 8 graphics sharing concepts, tips and opinions (mine of course) about cocktails.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Vegetables

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Vegetables

Do you find it a struggle to eat healthy? It can be difficult, especially if you do a lot of traveling. Fresh fruit and vegetables can seem rather scarce when you're on the road. When you get back home, it's a good time to dig into something delicious but also more virtuous.

Grain salads are perfect for this. This quinoa salad was inspired by a recent lunch at Spring Street Natural, a cafe in Soho where Chris and I like to go for lunch after a morning of shopping and gallery hopping.

This recipe is quite versatile. Consider it more like a suggestion. The combination of the cashews, avocado and quick-pickled onion are what make it special, but you could use other pickles, other nuts, other vegetables, etc.

Quinoa Salad with Chicken and Vegetables
Inspired by the Organic Rainbow Quinoa Salad at Spring Street Natural, with quick onion technique from The Kitchn

Makes 3 dinner portions

Pickled onion:
2 cups water
1/2 red onion, cut into thin slivers
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp salt

3/4 cup rainbow quinoa (may use other colors of quinoa), rinsed under cold water
1 cup water

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Other salad ingredients:
2 cups baby arugula leaves
1/2 cucumber, partially peeled, seeded and chopped (see note) into 1/2 inch cubes
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1/3 cup roasted unsalted cashews
1/4 cup roasted unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into thin ribbons
2 tsp. aleppo pepper flakes
1/4 cup small feta cheese cubes

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. honey
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Note: To partially peel cucumber, use a vegetable peeler to cut parallel stripes along the side of the cucumber.

1. Bring 2 cups of water to boil. Place onions in a mesh sieve and slowly pour the boiling water over the onions. Add the onions to a jar or other small container. Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt until the latter two ingredients are dissolved and then add to the container with the onions. Allow the onions to pickle for at least 30 minutes (you can set them out on the counter for this time, but if you're going to let them pickle longer, I suggest putting them in the refrigerator).

2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the quinoa (it's okay if it's still damp from rinsing) and toast, stirring occasionally, until the quinoa makes a frequently popping sound, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 18 to 20 minutes until the quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and keep covered for about 5 minutes. Remove lid, stir and allow to cool a bit.

3. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Pat the chicken breast cutlets dry and add to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 minutes, turning halfway. Set aside on a cutting board to cool a bit, then cut the chicken into cubes.

4. In a large salad bowl, combine arugula, cucumber, avocado, cashews, pepitas, mint, aleppo pepper and feta cheese. Drain the pickled onions and add then the bowl. Add the cooked chicken and quinoa. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Toss to combine and serve in large shallow bowls.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Corn-Leek Soup

Corn-Leek Soup

Earlier this year, I shared a recipe for a "punchier" potato-leek soup, which was my attempt to make a more flavorful version of the classic soup. Potato-leek soup is lovely, but unfortunately, it can be rather bland.

There's a fantastic solution available during the late summer: ditch the potatoes and replace them with corn. Hence, corn-leek soup, which is fantastic. Corn is naturally somewhat creamy too, so there's no need to add any dairy to this recipe, which is built with carrots, shallots, garlic and, of course, corn and leeks.

I'd intended to use vegetable broth in this, but I forgot to buy it, so I just used water. And you know what? I didn't miss the broth at all. There are so many flavorful vegetables in this soup that it makes its own broth. This soup was good both hot just after I made it as well as cold the next day.

Corn-Leek Soup

2-3 leeks
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 ears of corn, shucked
6 cups water
Salt, to taste (at least 1 tsp. recommended)
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Smoked paprika, to taste

1. Remove the green leaves from the leaves, leave the root end intact and slice them in half length-wise. Rinse them with water, separating the layers, to wash away any grit. Chop the light green and white parts into 1/4-inch pieces.

2. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks, carrot, shallot and garlic and sauté until softened, about 10-12 minutes.

3. Cut the kernels from the corn cobs. Do not discard the cobs. Add the corn kernels, corn cobs, water, salt, cayenne pepper and freshly ground pepper to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.

4. Turn off the heat. Remove and discard the corn cobs. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth or, alternatively, puree in batches in a blender. Serve in shallow bowls sprinkled with chives and smoked paprika.


Punchier Potato-Leek Soup

Corn Soup

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Rehoboth Beach Dining Guide Part 3: Where to Eat After Labor Day

[Update: Bramble and Brine has closed.]

Labor Day has passed and 1) the crowds have left the beach, 2) The kids are back in school. Summer feels like it's over, but here's a little secret: it's not. Not for another couple weeks. In fact, it's the perfect time to head to the beach. Why? Well, see #1 and #2 for starters, plus the fact that the weather is still beautiful, arguably better since it's sunny but not aggressively hot. It's pretty much perfect.

And the restaurants are less packed, although some of them (like Royal Treat) close for the season soon. We hit the beach over busy Labor Day weekend, but you cold certainly enjoy where we ate in the next few weeks. Here's where we dined in Rehoboth Beach this year.

Salt Air: Roast Half Chicken with Bacon Baked Beans, Corn and Cornbread


On our first night, we headed to Salt Air, one of last year's favorites. They don't take many reservations, and on the weekends during the summer, they are jam-packed, but midweek it's not bad (and I suspect after Labor Day it's even better). We weren't disappointed with our food. I loved my roasted half chicken with Benton's bacon baked beans (a shout-out to my favorite brand of bacon, how could I pass that up?), corn on the cob and cornbread. Chris's crab cakes with basil smashed potatoes and roasted asparagus was just as satisfying. We also liked our starter, a watermelon and radish salad with mizuna greens, cucumber, feta and peanuts. I'm loving the frequent use of nuts I'm seeing in salads this year. Salt Air also serves a great Manhattan, made with both bourbon and rye and a cherry compote.

Bramble & Brine: Salmon with Leeks and Tomatoes

While Chris had the "surf" and I the "turf" at Salt Air, we switched places at Bramble & Brine, where I enjoyed salmon with tomatoes, leeks and bean puree, while Chris opted for the rib eye steak with roasted vegetables and twice-baked potato, which comes served a potato "tower" of sorts. Both entrees were delicious, as were our starters of deckle--an alternate cut of rib eye that was perfectly medium-rare and served with corn and red onion--and a pea tendril salad with beets, cucumber and feta cheese. I also love the setting of the restaurant, a peacefully decorated house with light colors and lots of natural wood. Bramble & Brine also makes a fine Manhattan. Frankly, it's amazing that the Manhattans we drank in Rehoboth Beach this summer were markedly better than the Manhattans we ordered recently in, well, Manhattan.

Craving pasta? A stop at Zebra Ristorante isn't a bad option. Although the decor is a little garish, the pastas we had were satisfying, despite a surprising affinity for truffle oil, an ingredient once beloved but now shunned by many restaurants. Sure, it was in both of the pastas we ordered, but they were tasty, both the pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and the penne with Italian veal sausage, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes. The watermelon and feta salad with arugula made me really want to make some watermelon salad while the juicy melons are still in season.

Papa Grande's: Grilled Skirt Steak Fajitas
Dos Locos: 

With seafood and meat under our belts, it was time to turn our attention to our real beach craving: good Mexican. I've mentioned that lately we've been dissatisfied with the Tex-Mex options in D.C. We have no such problem at the beach: we head straight for Dos Locos, a long-time favorite that consistently performs with excellent food, drinks and service. The grilled chicken fajitas were just as good as we remembered them--perfectly grilled but still juicy and served with sweetly charred onions and peppers. Chips and salsa are an afterthought at a lot of Mexican restaurants, but at Dos Locos they are really quite good.

This summer we also tried a relative newcomer just around the corner from Dos Locos, Papa Grande's, which opened last year in the space vacated by a previous Mexican restaurant, Cabo. Admittedly, it's no Dos Locos, but Papa Grande's is pretty good. I thought the steak fajitas were flavorful and tender and I liked that they were served with corn tortillas instead of the usual flour. The salsa was good too, although the chips weren't as fresh as I'd have liked. And while the margaritas at Papa Grande's are quite good, the frozen margaritas at Dos Locos are just stellar--the best frozen margaritas we get in any casual Mexican restaurant.


Unfortunately, our previous favorite breakfast place, Corner Grille, is now closed, so we had to find a new place to fill up before hitting the beach. And that place this year was The Royal Treat, an old favorite that I felt like we rediscovered all over again this year. Of course, their buttermilk pancakes are famous, and we enjoyed a plate of them served with syrup, butter and sausage. But their omelets were the breakfast find of the summer. They are fabulous! Cooked through, but not browned around the edges and stuffed with ingredients like browned sweet onion, peppers, ham and a cheddar-jack cheese  blend. Best omelet I've ever had at the beach. Lines for The Royal Treat can be pretty long, so plan ahead and consider getting there early.

The Royal Treat closes September 14, so you'd better hurry if you want to enjoy it this year. And don't forget to come back at night: they also sell the beach's best ice cream. The peanut butter and vanilla swirl is my favorite.


Lastly, I want to talk about the service we get at Rehoboth Beach restaurants, which is consistently good year after year, and this summer was no different. There are many servers at the beach that go the extra mile and we really appreciate it. Dos Locos has a particularly talented serving staff. We stopped in one afternoon for margaritas, and John treated us like kings, making sure our water, chips and salsa were kept topped off. On a very busy weekend night, Cher seemed to turn up at exactly the right moment to make sure we got another round of margaritas and were satisfied with our food. And on our first day, when half of our Baker's Choice pizza at Grotto Pizza inexplicably slid off the serving pan and onto the patio floor, our kind server (who's name, I unfortunately do not remember) brought us a small replacement pizza and covered our embarrassment by ensuring us it happens "all the time." Perhaps, but what doesn't happen "all the time" is service this good. Thanks to the staffs for helping make our recent beach vacation another great experience.

Bramble & Brine, 315 Rehoboth Avenue (between 4th and 5th Streets), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-7702. Reservations: Open Table

Dos Locos, 208 Rehoboth Avenue (near 2nd Street), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-3353. Reservations: Open Table

Papa Grande's, 210 Second Street (at Wilmington Avenue), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 212-2409.

The Royal Treat, 4 Wilmington Avenue (near the boardwalk), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-6277.

Salt Air, 50 Wilmington Avenue (between 1st and 2nd Streets), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 227-3744. Reservations: limited availability for early hours (call the restaurant).

Zebra Ristorante, 32 Lake Avenue (north of Rehoboth Avenue near the convention center), Rehoboth Beach, Del. (302) 226-1160. Reservations: Open Table


Rehoboth Beach Dining Guide Part 1 (Dos Locos, Pig + Fish, Grotto Pizza, Dogfish Head Brewing & Eats, Robin Hood, Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, The Royal Treat, Dolle's, Kohr Bros.)

Rehoboth Beach Dining Guide Part 2 (The Back Porch Cafe, Dolles, Espuma, Nicola Pizza, Salt Air, Thrashers Rehoboth)


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Linda Gray's Mexican Meat Pie

Mexican Meat Pie

I've made dishes from celebrity chefs before, but this is a first from a celebrity actor.

The recipe comes from actress Linda Gray, most famous for portraying Sue Ellen Ewing in the CBS television drama "Dallas" and its recent TNT revival. Gray's new memoir, The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction, was released today. My husband Chris, a.k.a. Dallas Decoder, has a review of the book on his site, as well as an interview with Linda, while I focus on what she has to share about food and cooking.

The time I met Linda was, appropriately, over a meal. This was about a year and a half ago, as my husband and I got to enjoy lunch in Dallas on a beautiful spring day with Linda and Dallas's costume designer, Rachel Sage Kunin.

Of course the conversation gravitated toward food at some point, and it was clear that Linda enjoys good food and cooking just like I do. So I was thrilled to hear that her new memoir includes recipes and knew I wanted to share one on my blog. When Chris told Linda this recently, she was all for it, encouraging me to embellish the recipes as I saw fit.

The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction Linda Gray

Although not the focus of the book, food has a constant presence through The Road to Happiness. Early on, she recounts how she helped her then-husband overcome chronic acid reflux by changing his diet to incorporate more fresh vegetables. She became obsessed with cooking and nutrition. Later in the book, she describes making pasta with garlic and spinach picked from her garden to serve Elizabeth Taylor for lunch--with only a 45-minute warning that the legendary actress would be coming over. No pressure! On a more serious note, she also discusses her work as an advocate to address senior hunger.

Linda sprinkles recipes throughout the book and cites food writer Michael Pollan's famous adage to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants" as one of her favorite food quotes (it's a personal favorite of mine as well). She still likes to cook: toward the end of the book is a recipe for a lasagna noodle and vegetable crock pot meal that she makes for herself "all the time."

The story around her Mexican Meat Pie will feel familiar to working parents. It was early 1978, and Linda was going to be away from home for a couple months to film what became the first of 14 seasons of the original Dallas. Wanting to ensure her 11- and 13-year-old children were well-fed while she was gone, she stockpiled and froze a number of dishes, including this Mexican Meat Pie. It's a delicious and simple dish that comes together in just over an hour.

With Linda's blessing, I made some adjustments from her original recipe. I used ground turkey instead of ground beef and upped the amount of vegetables, adding bell pepper, jalapeño, garlic and quite a bit more onion. While Linda's recipe called for taco seasoning, I made my own spice blend with cumin, coriander, chipotle chili powder, oregano, salt and just a hint of brown sugar. This makes for quite a bit more filling than her original recipe, so I'd recommend baking this in a 9 X 13 dish (and using 12 tortillas) instead of the 9-inch pie plate (and 8 tortillas) her recipe calls for.

Linda Gray's Mexican Meat Pie
Adapted from Mexican Meat Pie by Linda Gary from The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño, minced with seeds removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Kernels from 1 ear of corn, about 1 cup
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2/3 cup corn meal
1 cup water
Olive oil spray
8 corn tortillas (or 12 if using a 9 x 13 baking dish)
3-4 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey and cook, breaking up with a spoon until browned. Remove from pan.

3. Add onion, bell pepper, jalapeño and garlic to pan and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, brown sugar and salt. Add the cooked turkey, corn, black beans, crushed tomatoes, corn meal and water and stir to combine. Turn off the heat.

4. Spray the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan (or 9 x 13 baking dish) with olive oil. Place four of the tortillas in the bottom of the pie pan (or, alternatively, six tortillas in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish). Spread the tortillas evenly to cover the bottom of the baking dish, allowing the edges of the tortillas to fold up the sides. Spread meat mixture evenly over tortillas until the mixture comes halfway up the pan. Sprinkle the top with half of the shredded cheese, then add another layer of tortillas, meat mixture and then cheese (if using a 9-inch pie pan, there will be leftover meat mixture).

5. Bake in the oven until the cheese has melted and the mixture is heated through, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool 5 minutes. If using a round pan, cut into wedges; if using a square pan, cut into squares. Serve immediately.