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Feb 13, 2012

Cooking with Truffles: Valentine’s Vegetarian Menu

Posted by Natasha Shulinina, Feb 13, 2012

Washington-20120203-00746For any foodie on a mission to maximize his or her eating pleasure, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge. The perennial question is, How do you hit a new high and top last year’s memory?

Truffles are often overlooked as the star attraction of a home-cooked meal because of their price tag. Back in the day, Brillat-Saverin described them as "the luxury of grands seigneurs and kept women" (also, perhaps, hinting at their aphrodisiac qualities). In all honesty, those qualities have yet to be scientifically confirmed, but I don't think anybody would deny the sensuousness of any truffle-specked dish…

The truth is, like many of you, I had never cooked with fresh truffles before. Truffle salt, yes. Truffle oil, yes. But not with fresh truffles. I decided to explore the possibilities and find a reasonably cost-effective way for me and my husband to indulge. I did a bit of research, and found out that this time of the year, we are primarily talking about winter black truffles of European origin (French or Italian). In the DC area, you can find them at Arrowine in Arlington (perhaps somewhere else as well), and online.

The cheapest source I found is Urbani truffles which also offers a wide variety of other truffle products (truffle paste, truffle oil, truffle butter, etc.) The smallest amount one can purchase is 1oz ($75), which happens to be enough to pull off a truffle dinner. I supplemented fresh truffles with white truffle oil, black truffle salt, and black truffle butter (which I made myself with the leftover truffle shavings). A nice local source of truffle salt is the Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown.

Given the fact that most Valentine's Day restaurant prix-fixe options run $60-90 per person, I felt like putting together the coveted truffle dinner was really no more extravagant than eating out (besides, my husband is vegetarian, which makes the choices rather limited). Another myth I wanted to debunk is that that cooking with truffles has to be complicated and time-consuming (stuffed pigeon breast with chanterelles and truffles, homemade puff pastry with braised sweetbreads and truffles all sound fantastic, but there are other delicious, easy and fast options). You don’t really want to spend the entire Valentine’s night in front of the stove, do you?

Washington-20120203-00760The theme I chose is "casual minimalist with a twist." No 10 or 20-step recipes, very few ingredients per dish, and simple preparation to showcase the truffles and keep the flavors subtle.

My truffles arrived via Fedex about 24 hours after I placed the order online. They arrived in a cooler, in kind of a matryoshka doll setup: the truffles are in a napkin inside a plastic sleeve inside a paper sack inside a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box. As for my truffle tools, I did buy a mandoline, but after reading rather graphic reviews I was too terrified to use it without a No-Slice rubber body suit. Luckily, I found a small sharp paring knife (I have small hands!) to be the perfect tool for dealing with the truffles (both for cutting and shaving).

Finally, onto the Menu:

Truffle salad with frisee, haricots verts, tarragon, endives, fennel (seasoned with truffle sea salt, Meyer lemon juice, and white truffle oil). Blanch haricots verts for no more than 2 minutes.

Washington-20120203-00762
Truffle sandwiches on sourdough (I love using the 69 cent sourdough rolls from WholeFoods) with a nice layer of European-style butter and truffle sea salt. You can stick the bread slices in the toaster oven for 30 seconds, if you like the sensation of eating warm bread.

Washington-20120203-00764

Fresh WholeFoods-brand asparagus & fontina ravioli served with truffles, truffle butter, and truffle sea salt.

Washington-20120203-00774Seared scallops with truffles and truffle butter on a bed of celeriac & potato puree (made with truffle butter, a touch of cream, and truffle sea salt) -– perfect for a pesceterian or meat eater! I prefer a 50/50 celeriac to potato ratio, in order to keep the mashed vegetable flavors subtle. Make a slit in the middle of the scallop, and insert a truffle slice prior to cooking (1-2 min on each side on high, depending on the size of the scallops).

Washington-20120203-00780
Cheese course: Sottocenere (truffled cow’s milk cheese with an ash rind), or/and Cacio al Tartufo (sheep's milk cheese with truffle sprinkles)

And for dessert - you guessed it – truffles, in my case, purchased from Cocova (formerly known as Biagio Fine Chocolates). There is a very wide variety of exquisite individual truffles for $2 each. Have them box it up for you, get on one knee, and present Her with a little cute box…

P.S. In case you did not use up all of your truffles, in the morning you can share a soft-poached egg with truffles, and a fresh ricotta and truffle honey toast with your coffee.

   
Categories: Black Truffles, DC, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Gifts, Valentine's Day
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Feb 01, 2012

Magic Moments 101

Posted by Natasha Shulinina, Feb 01, 2012

As a follow-up to the prior "theoretical" part, I want to give you four simple ideas for a food and wine tasting that demonstrate acidity in action. We are going for similarity (Tart + Tart = Pavlovian response), or opposition (as in “opposites attract” -- like buttery luxurious cheese and intense, vervy and highly acidic Champagne).

Besides being perfect tools for "wine ed", these yummy appetizers are great for entertaining. So if you are not a wine guy/gal, you can still enjoy the canapes!

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese

RamekinSimple but brilliant! The quickest "party trick" for this pairing involves stuffing golden pappadews straight out of the jar with fresh goat cheese.

PeppadewsYou also can use goat cheese in a tart or frittata, and I especially like using individual-size ramekins for an intimate get-together. All you need to do is mix together the cheese, green pepper, chives, a couple of eggs, a little cream, pop the ramekin in the oven, and you are done. Or try the pure, unadulterated chevre on a bed of greens with a simple vinaigrette dressing (if you can, make it with Meyer lemon juice and good quality olive oil). Try these little treats with a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France (a Sancerre or Quincy). Another crisp Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., from New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) will also work nicely.

Note: if you choose to play with a Sancerre AND a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc (there's a thought!), you will undoubtedly observe the stylistic differences between the two Worlds (subtle, lean and minerally vs. in-your-face and fruit-forward).

Champagne and popcorn/sea salt potato chips/triple cream brie

Don't worry if buying caviar is out of your reach; there are plenty of other fantastic and inexpensive ways to enjoy a sparkler. Pair French Champagne or another sparkler (Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, Alsatian Cremant d'Alsace, etc. ) with popcorn, sea salt potato chips, and a decadent triple-cream brie (such as Brillat-Saverin or Pierre Robert from Fromagerie Rouzaire, Rouge et Noir from Marin in California, or perhaps a Canadian Goat Triple Cream from Woolwich Dairy). Goat BrieYou can typically find those at a Whole Foods store; or better yet, look for them at a nice specialty cheese shop such as Cheesetique in Old Town Alexandria, or Arrowine in Arlington (I highly recommend either one).

Italian Barbera with oven roasted tomatoes

Vertical tartletSlice cherry tomatoes in half, and roast in the oven for 10 minutes (line a baking dish with foil, pre-heat the oven to 400F, season with olive oil, salt and pepper). They are perfect for making super fast canapes by piling the tomatoes into phyllo cups (I prefer Athens Mini Fillo Shells), with a little bit of good quality feta (French, Bulgarian,Greek, etc.), and popping them into a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, right before you are ready to serve.

The bright acidity in Barbera -- the quintessential red grape of northern Italy -- is just one of the things that I love about it. Its natural acidity, combined with its ripe red and berry fruit flavors, gives it a wonderful versatility, and makes it a great match for the bright, tangy flavors in our appetizer.

Pinot Noir with mushrooms

I love mushrooms as much as I love Pinot Noir-- it's an earthy match made in heaven!

Here is a great opportunity to put those phyllo cups to work once again. This time, we will fill them with mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of thyme and sour cream. I really like the deluxe "exotic" mushroom packs that you can buy at Whole Foods (crimini mushrooms, or baby bellas, would work just fine). Grate a bit of Pecorino sheep's milk cheese on top (I prefer "genuine" Sini Fulvi DOP Pecorino Romano, from Italy's Lazio region). It is salty, intense, and pleasantly briny, and just like phyllo cups, it's a staple in my kitchen. A couple of minutes in the toaster oven, and they are ready to be served. The pairing works, first of all, because of their shared earthiness, as it always translates directly into food and wine pairing affinity. On top of that, the acidity in the Pinot Noir cuts the richness of sour cream like a knife, and is complimented nicely by the saltiness in the Pecorino.

Buon appetito!

 

   
Categories: Advice, Cheese, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Experiences, Wine
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Jan 20, 2012

Hello! My Name Is Pinot Noir

Posted by Natasha Shulinina, Jan 20, 2012

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be a little bit less afraid of wine, this post is for you. You should also keep reading if you are stuck in a rut, afraid of leaving your cozy oenophilic comfort zone. Do you always find yourself asking for a glass of California Cab (or Zinfandel, or Pinot Grigio - insert your default choice here)? There is an amazing world out there waiting to be explored!

A big part of the fun is getting to know the grape personalities. Spicy, brooding, animalistic Syrah; juicy, fun Grenache; flowery, sensual Viognier… I am personally very fond of Pinot Noir, - the fickle, elegant grape with fantastic food affinity and beguiling aromatics, which comes to the pinnacle of its expression in Burgundy, France.

Old vinesJust like with learning a new language, there are some basics that you need to get out of the way first, such as the framework for explaining what you like or do not like about a certain wine. Even more importantly for foodies, you will need it to understand and describe the relationship between food and wine. Let’s take a look at a couple of those concepts.

Acidity

Washington-20120116-00676I think of acidity as a flavor sparkplug. Ever thought about why you put lime and lemon juice on your food and even in your beer? It is the so-called “strategic” use of acidity: it makes food taste better, more focused. That is precisely why restauranteurs love crisp, clean, acidic wines. Acidity in wine helps to stimulate your appetite by setting your digestion into motion and it also helps to break down the fattiness in the food you eat (the same way we use the acidity in vinegar or citrus to marinate different foods). It creates a magic chain reaction of wanting a little more food, then a little more wine, then a little more food… you get the idea. It is useful to remember that higher acidity is typically found in wines that come from a cooler climate, as grapes do not get physiologically mature as quickly and do not get as ripe as in the warmer parts of the world.

New World vs. Old World

The term "New World" wine is used, quite literally, to describe wines from New World wine producing countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, etc. If we look at the statistics of what people are drinking in this country, we will see that sales of reds are dominated by bigger, fruit-forward wines that taste of sweet oak and ripe fruit. Whites include plush Chardonnays and other wines that tend to have a touch of sweetness to them. In general, the New World is dominated by international varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.).

Old-World wine-making has a different philosophy: it is about subtle, earthy, mineral flavors that make one focus more on the place where the wine was made, and less on the grape. Terroir is a word that gets thrown around a lot (and also happens to be the name of my favorite wine bar in NYC :-)); it is used to describe the unmistakable sense of “placeness”, unique soil composition, climate, etc. of the wine’s birthplace.

There are definitely proponents of both styles out there as demonstrated by global wine sales. Neither one is necessarily more valid than the other; it is a matter of individual taste. I personally have a preference for European wines for several reasons. First, because I like my wines “lean and mean” (as opposed to the “friendly”, easy-to-quaff wines of the New World). Second, because I find a great deal more values in the $12-20 price range among European wines (which is what I typically spend on a bottle of wine, and I always look for more flavor bang for my buck). And last but not least, because oaky, alcoholic, and fruity New World wines are on average less food-friendly and versatile; it is hard for them to stand up to the more zingy, complex flavors I enjoy so much. On the other hand, I find that earthy, highly acidic Old-World wines set me up for a high pleasure payoff with a wider variety of foods.

Resources

Depending on your personality, feel free to dive in and enjoy the wild ride, or build a solid wine foundation step by step:

  • You should consider taking a class at the Capital Wine School.Too few people know that they have the expertise of Master of Wine Jay Youmans right here in DC (Master Sommelier and Master of Wine are the two highest and most recognized certifications in the world. The "Wine Basics" and the "Essential Wine Tasting Skills" classes are perfect if you are looking for "the big picture" perspective. Jay's classes are fun, informal, and unpretentious.
  • Most quality restaurants understand that the dining experience is incomplete without wine, and work hard to create food & wine pairing “magic moments”. Part of that process is putting together an exciting but reasonably priced wine list and training the staff to be able to pass the excitement on to the consumer. Cork, Grapeseed, and Dino are just a few of my local favorites that boast nice by-the-glass programs (and offer other formats such as flights, 3oz pours, wine madness) that make it easy for anyone to try something new without taking out a second mortgage.
  • For “do-it-yourselfers”, I recommend two of my favorite wine books written by women who are incredibly passionate about wine and equally passionate about sharing their wine knowledge. “Wine Bible” by Karen McNeal is a collection of compelling stories about grapes, winemakers, and terroirs. “Great Tastes Made Simple” by Andrea Immer contains practical advice on how to get started with food & wine tastings at home. Both were extremely inspirational for me, as I was getting started in the wine world, and I had the privilege of meeting both of them in person at Saveur Magazine events. (Actually, one of the biggest inspirations was Andrea Immer’s son Lucas who asked his Mom for smoked duck for his 8th birthday :-)).

My last piece of advice to you: whatever mode of exploration you end up choosing, remember not to take wine too seriously. Cheers!

WineP.S. Be sure to check out Magic Moments 101 for some food & wine tasting ideas!

   
Categories: DC, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Foodie Gifts, Recipes, Shopping, Wine, Wine Bar
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Dec 22, 2011

White Chocolate Filled Macaroons

Posted by Saskia Chanoine, Dec 22, 2011

Thanks to the holiday season I had a massive desire to eat macaroons. I think it's due to the time when I lived in Paris. It also could be that I wanted to reward myself with macaroons after overcoming the nine circles of hell of holiday shopping. Macaroons make lovely gifts and are a good substitute for holiday cookies. They're very simple to make and only require 5 ingredients:

1 cup of confectioner's sugar
3/4 cup of almond flour
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup of superfine sugar
A pinch of cream tartar

For the best results remember to take the eggs out a few hours before cooking, so that the eggs are at at room temperature. (Room temperature eggs result in the best whipped whites. If possible use fresh eggs that have not been refrigerated.)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and prepare your your baking sheets with butter.

Start off by pulsing in a blender the almond flour and the confectioner's sugar. Almond flower is available in grocery stores, but you can also make your own by purchasing almonds and grinding them up in a food processor until they are very fine. If you decide to make your own almond flour, be patient, because the almonds need to be ground to a dust like texture. Pulse for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then sift the mixture twice.

IMG_0072Before whisking the egg whites, sift the superfine sugar twice. Then take the egg whites and whisk them in a mixer or by hand (if you have the wrist strength). Whisk the eggs until they begin to foam. Add the pinch of cream tartar, and continue to whisk until peaks begin to form and the texture thickens.

Add the sifted sugar to the egg whites. Continue whisking for about 10 minutes. The mixture will become creamy and form stiff peaks. Then slowly sift the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour mixture on top of the egg whites, and keep folding until the flour is fully absorbed into the mixture.

IMG_0075Now for the tricky part, if you have a pastry bag, great, but if you do not, create your own by using either a zip lock bag or plastic grocery bag. Put the final mixture in your bag; make sure to concentrate the mixture towards a tip, and cut off a really small portion of the tip, enough to squeeze out a stream of paste the width of your pinky. It is very difficult to squeeze out a perfect circle from a pastry bag. Practice makes perfect. Angle your bag at 45 degrees; do not squeeze from the top down, but begin from the side and twist your bag clockwise. Make your portions as close to 1.5 inches to 2 inches in width and one inch apart from each other.

Before placing the macaroons in the over, decrease your oven to 325 degrees. Bake one cooking sheet at a time. Place your baking sheet in the oven and allow it to bake for about 10 minutes. Make sure to monitor your macaroons. You want your macaroons to be firm on the outside but soft on the inside. After taking them out of the oven, allow the macaroons to cool for 2 to 3 minutes minimally.

While the macaroons are cooking, in a pot over the stove top, melt the white chocolate on low heat, and continue stirring it, so it remains smooth, and does not become chunky and burn.

IMG_0076When the macaroons have cooled off, take two macaroons, and spread some melted white chocolate on one side and put the other macaroon on top. And voila, you have white chocolate filled macaroons.

Tip: You can make any flavor of macaroon from rose to peppermint, just substitute the other flavoring for the equal measure of almond flour. For pistachio flavored macaroons, use ground pistachios, or baking chocolate for chocolate macaroons, etc. Also it is fun to mix and match the fillings with the macaroons. Get creative!

   
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Nov 23, 2011

Cranberry Sauce for Grown Ups

Posted by Jason, Nov 23, 2011

IMG_1304Most people probably see cranberry sauce as a simple condement. And for such a simple condement, why should you spend a lot of time making it from scratch, when you can buy it for $2 a can? Why, you ask? Because the real thing is worlds better than anything you can get out of the can.

While I always liked cranberry sauce, I never felt like I could be bothered with the extra effort. The turkey, quite franky, was much more important and more worthy of my effort than some simple cranberry sauce. Boy was I wrong.

Last year at Thanksgiving, I made fresh cranberry sauce for the first time and I couldn't believe the difference. It was a simple recipe, with just cranberries, water, sugar, and a little orange rind. But it make such a big difference in our meal that I vowed never to eat cranberry sauce out of the can again.

This year, I decided to take the cranberry sauce to another level. We're having some friends over for Thankgiving this year and one of them is a big bourbon fan. So to kick up the cranberry sauce, I decided to use bourbon in the recipe. There isn't much guidance out there about adding Bourbon to cranberry sauce, but I did find a recipe on Epicurious about Cosmopolitan Cranberry Sauce

This gave me an idea, maybe I can use a bourbon drink recipe as inspiration my cranberry sauce. So I looked for good bourbon and cranberry drink recipes until I came across this blog post about reinventing the Bardstown Sling (which I had never had before). 

IMG_1325I improvised the recipe a little. I started with a basic cranberry sauce recipe and added any alcohol after the cooking cranberry sauce and letting it cool. In a short 20 minutes, during which I also made my boys lunch and changed a diaper, I had sweet, homemade cranberry sauce. The brilliant thing about cranberry sauce is you can make a lot of it in a short time and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Whatever is leftover, you can freeze and bring out for any meal in the future.

So here is my Cranberry Sauce for Grown Ups recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Bourbon Orange Cranberry Sauce

16 oz. fresh whole cranberries
1/2 cup water 
1 cup sugar (use less if you like you cranberry sauce more on the tart side, you can also use honey or maple sugar)
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Cointreau
1/4 cup Bourbon

IMG_1312In a medium sauce pan, mix sugar, water, lime juice, and cranberries and bring to a boil. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes until the cranberry sauce has your desired texture and thickness.

IMG_1319Remove the sauce from the saucepan and transfer to a mixing bowl until it is cool. (This would be the time to separate out the cranberry sauce for the kids from the adults.) Once cooled, mix in the Cointreau and Bourbon. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

 

   
Categories: Cranberry Saunce, Thanksgiving
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Nov 21, 2011

Bacon-Sausage-Prune Infused Stuffing

Posted by Saskia Chanoine, Nov 21, 2011

This was my first attempt at cooking stuffing. This Thanksgiving I plan on cooking everything from scratch, and even though it is a big task to take on, I am very excited.

Last weekend I decided to do a test run for the stuffing that I will make for Thanksgiving day, because to me, stuffing is more important than the Turkey. I love stuffing and, in my opinion, having poor-tasting stuffing on the big day can ruin the whole meal.

The first thing I did to prepare for my big cooking day was to peruse the internet for stuffing recipes. I looked at the MarthaStewart website, where I got the idea to use bacon. I read Simplyrecipes, where I got the idea for using French bread. And then I read a myriad of other blogs to get the basics for cooking stuffing. I decided to make a medley of the different recipes and to make my stuffing with prunes, sausage, bacon, and french baguette besides the regular ingredients such as celery, chicken stock, onions and butter.

I woke up on Sunday morning and went to the Bethesda Central Farmers Market, and walked around to see which ingredients I could purchase. I try to prepare most of dishes with organic ingredients when I can. I stopped by the Meat Crafters stand and purchased some Kielbasa sausage. (Apparently their recipe is a traditional recipe made of fresh pork, garlic, marjoram, and black pepper.) Then I walked over to the Bending Bridge Farm stand and purchased some onions. They grow their produce with care and patience and offer a myriad of fresh, organic produce.

Beside sausage and onions, I was not able to purchase any of the other ingredients I needed, so I went to my local supermarket where I was able to find the remaining ingredients. I headed home and immediately began cooking.

Bacon-Sausage-Prune infused Stuffing:

1 whole wheat French baguette
1 cup prunes (cut the prunes in half)
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/4 cup of chicken stock
6 tbsp of butter
4 or 5 strips of bacon
2 keilbasa sausages chopped
2 tbsp of sage
1/2 tbsp of rosemary
1/2 tbsp of thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

I tore up the French bread into small pieces, and since it was not a day old, it was still very fresh, a good trick, I learned, is to put the bread in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until it dries out. Then place the bread in a medium sized saute pan over medium heat, cover the bread with 3 tablespoons of butter and let the bread brown but not burn. In a different pan saute the onions, celery, and sausage in 3 tablespoons of butter. Let the sausage fully brown then add the bacon. After the bacon has been completely fried and become crispy add the sauteed bread from the other pan, all of the chicken stock, sage, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Then cover the mixture and allow to simmer on a low heat for an hour. Every 15 minutes check on the mixture to make sure it has not become too mushy and is not sticking to the pan.

Bacon-Sausage-Prune StuffingIf I may say so myself, the stuffing tuned out well. It had the perfect balance of flavors and it was not too salty (I feared this because of the chicken stock). This stuffing was very easy to make and did not take a lot of prep time. Perhaps the one thing I will add for Thanksgiving day are some chestnuts. I find chestnuts to be a very fall/wintery ingredient and should add some texture to the stuffing.

Voila. You have a delicious organic easy to make stuffing for your turkey on the big day.

   
Categories: Seasonal, Stuffing, Thanksgiving
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Nov 11, 2011

Food and Friends' Slice of Life

Posted by Jason, Nov 11, 2011

FafsolEvery year, Food and Friends runs a pie sale called Slice of Life. Anyone can purchase a Thanksgiving pie and at the same time make an impact in the lives of thousands in need in the DC Metro region. Anyone can buy pies for themselves, as gifts for friends, or for Food and Friends to deliver to their clients on Thanksgiving Day. The great thing is that each pie purchased provides one full day of meals for a neighbor in need!

You can buy any one of the following delicious pies:

Picture Perfect Pumpkin Pie - $25

Harvest Apple Crumb Pie - $25

Oh So Sweet Potato Pie - $25

Southern Pecan Pie - $25

US Airways Sky Pie: Creamy Chocolate Covered Cheesecake - $40
(Each pie purchased enters you to win a $1200 US Airways gift card)

Pie for a Food & Friends Client - $25
(We'll deliver it to their door with a full holiday meal on Thanksgiving Day)

More information on the pies that can be purchased and their ingredients is available on the web site. After purchasing, you can pick up your pie at many area pick up locations on Tuesday, November 22nd from 11am to 8pm. Hurry up and buy your pies while you can. Sales close next Thursday, November 17th at midnight!

 

   
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Sep 20, 2011

PS 7's Is Cooking With The Spirit Of Gin

Posted by Drew Long, Sep 20, 2011

DSC_0100
Certain things have their place. Pots and pans in the kitchen, gin behind the bar.

That said, it's hardly uncommon for ingredients to meander from the bar to the kitchen and back again. But gin has stayed put. Cooks have incorporated beer, wine and liquor into their cooking for a millennia, or whenever the French started cooking, but for all their efforts, gin has been left out of the mix, presumably for good reason.

When you consider the sheer popularity of the spirit, it's surprising that it's been stuck behind the bar, while fellow heavy weight spirits, such as bourbon, tequila and rum, are regularly worked into dishes.

Not that I'm complaining. Gin is the base ingredient for the greatest cocktail man has ever made: the dry martini (lemon twist, no olives, thanks). The ubiquitous gin and tonic, and underappreciated Tom Collins aren't bad either.

DSC_0122 So I've been happy with gin's role in the world. Peter Smith hasn't.

The chef owner of PS 7's has brought gin into the kitchen and brought out everything for gin poached halibut to gin cured charcuterie, which age in a backroom of his Penn Quarter restaurant. Smith has figured out the key to cooking with gin is to not cook with gin at all -- he cooks with the botanicals.

Philosophical differences aside, what separates gin from vodka is potpourri. Essentially, gin begins its life as vodka, a highly distilled clear spirit. At the end of the distillation process, however, vodka is stuck into a Kettle One bottle, while gin makers add a mixture of botanicals -- principally juniper, orris root and orange peal -- to give gin its signature flavor and aroma.

Although Smith has put together dishes that play off the flavors in gin, it's only recently that he started working with the botanicals. The main problem with working with gin, Smith said, is the alcohol. It's tough to mask the alcohol and if you cook it off, you're not left with much gin flavor. His solution was to eschew the alcohol and work directly with the ingredients that make gin gin.

DSC_0085Smith came up with the idea during a visit to Philadelphia's Blue Coat Distillery. He noticed that the distillery typically tosses the botanicals once it's done steeping in the gin. Unlike the left over grain from beer making, which is often given to farmers to use as feed, animals can't eat the spent botanicals. So it gets dumped. Although the Blue Coat staff was a little confused by his request (and wary -- gin makers are notoriously secretive about their botanical mixtures), they agreed to send Smith 30 pounds of the spent botanicals, which the chef turned into salts, oils, powders and foams.

Smith said the idea developed from the food and spirit pairings he's done at PS 7's, including a dinner that revolved around the exceptional gin, Plymouth. The key to a proper pairing, he said, is not to have the spirit working into every dish you serve, but rather to have flavors in the dish complement flavors in the spirit or cocktail. Smith thought using the botanicals would help him weave in the gin flavors more effectively without overwhelming his food.

"You never really get the flavors you want out of the liquor," Smith said, "but you do with the botanicals."

DSC_0129 Since that bucket of botanicals showed up six months ago, the gin & tonic halibut (left) and gin-cured carpaccio (below) have become permanent fixtures on PS 7's menu, and the gin-flavored meats, including "ginola" (breseola) and "gin belly" (pancetta), make their way to the charcuterie plate as often as they're ready. He's even built tasting menus around the botanicals.

Though he still works with Blue Coat, Smith found another botanical provider closer to the District. A few months ago, a Catoctin Creek rep came into PS7's to sell them their rye. Smith tried the Loudon County distillery's gin instead and has used their botanicals since.

DSC_0112 As Smith continues to experiment with the botanicals, expect to see more dishes seasoned or infused with gin flavors. New tasting menus are likely on the way, as are powders and oils based on a mixture of the Blue Coat and Catoctin Creek botanicals. He's also considering building dishes around ingredients local to the Philadelphia and Purcellville, Va., distilleries, and imbuing them with the respective gins.

Smith admits that he's that he's still figuring out how to work with the gin botanicals, but he's already hunting for new discoveries. Maybe an absinth-flavored bacon or venison rubbed with salt made from fernet. At this point, who knows? The only thing that's certain is if it's behind the bar, it could end up in Smith's kitchen. 

   
Categories: Chinatown/MCI Center/Verizon Center, DC, Loudon County, Penn Quarter, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Aug 23, 2011

Church! The Best Places To Watch Football

Posted by Drew Long, Aug 23, 2011

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At approximately 6 p.m. on Thursday, September 1, Casey Brockman will walk to the line. The Murray State quarterback will look across the field to find Louisville’s stud linebacker Dexter Heyman, hoping to God the Cardinals’ won’t blitz on first. The 6’2’’ junior will lean over center Brock Rydeck, ignore the jeers of the Cardinals’ crowd, and demand the ball.

In all likelihood, it will be a bad day for Casey, Brock and the Murray State Racers, but an excellent day for the rest of us. Because on that day, when Rydeck snaps that ball and Heyman drives Brockman into the field of Cardinal’s Stadium, football will once again be with us (this NFL preseason crap doesn't count).

It’s been said that this game of grace and violence is our national religion. If that’s the case, then the sports bar is our house of worship. Being a fan of far-away teams (South Florida, Buccaneers), it took me a while to find a few decent bars and restaurants in the D.C. area to watch football. The region may be inundated with sports bars, but few offer the trifecta of great beer, good food and the promise of your team on the screen (unless you’re a Skins fan, in which case any Chili’s will do).

Well, friends, I’m here to help. Below are my top five bars and restaurants in the DMV to watch the faux-pros on Saturday and Pro Bowlers on Sunday. 

1. The Black Squirrel: The Black Squirrel has three floors, 49 taps and 11 TVs (and if you call ahead, the third floor can be your private sports bar). Owner Amy Bowman keeps this Best Beer Bar stocked with a top tier line-up of craft beers, while the talented Gene Sohn runs the kitchen (order the burger). Is it a coincidence that on game days all the TVs are tuned in? Nope, The Black Squirrel was co-founded by former sports columnist Tom Knott. (Disclosure: I’m friends with Amy and Tom. Still, The Black Squirrel is a great place to watch football.) 

2. Iron Horse Taproom: If the Iron Horse Taproom opened at noon on weekends it would be the best place in D.C. to watch football. The multi-level bar is big, filled with TVs, has a great selection of craft beers, and features the best menu in town -- by not featuring a menu at all. The Penn Quarter tavern (pictured above) doesn’t have a kitchen, so it allows patrons to bring in food or have it delivered. Want to dig into some Texas barbecue while watching the Lone Star Showdown? No problemo. Grab a pound of brisket from Hill Country or better yet, a burrito from Capital Q and head to the Iron Horse. How about some lamb vindaloo while you watch the John Beck/Rex Grossman quarterback controversy unfold this season? Mehak is just down the street. Just make sure your game doesn’t start before 5 p.m. If it does, you’ll need to head elsewhere. 

3. Frisco Tap House: What’s more American than football? Excess. The Frisco Tap House has 50 taps, a beer engine, a table where you can pour your own draft beer, an extensive bottle and can list, great burritos and eight giant flat screen TVs (with more coming this fall). Sure, the Columbia, Md., bar is a hike if you live in Logan Circle. But if you live in Maryland, you have one hell of a place to watch football.

4. Capitol Lounge: This is where it started for me. When I moved from Tampa to D.C. in the late 90s, Cap Lounge was the only place in town I could reliably catch Bucs games. It helped that one of the bartenders was a Bucs fan and wanted to watch the games, too. The Capitol Hill bar continues to be a great spot to catch a game, with a mess of TVs tucked and hung throughout the two-floor restaurant, and a stellar selection of craft beers on draft and in bottles and cans.  

41380020 5. Rustico: These days, it’s tough to write a story about beer without mentioning ChurchKey and its downstairs sister, Birch & Barley. But before there was CKBB there was Rustico, owner Michael Babin’s first crack at a craft beer establishment. While ChurchKey is unabashedly a beer bar, a fine one at that, Babin makes sure his two Rustico restaurants remain casual neighborhood spots, which makes them ideal for watching the game. Greg Engert oversaw the beer program at the original Rustico in Alexandria before heading over to ChurchKey, and continues to curate the draft and bottle lists for his original restaurant and the newer Ballston location. Although neither will be mistaken for a sports bar, the Rusticos have just enough TVs to catch most of the marquee games. And if the beer list and full menu aren’t enough to attract you, they’re offering beer specials as well. Beginning September 10, both Rustico locations will offer $3.50 cans of craft beer, including G’Knight, Dale’s Pale Ale, Old Chub and Ten Fidy (they clearly have a thing for Oskar Blues’ beers), and $2.50 cans of college beer (because you or your buddy don’t know better) during games. 

   
Categories: Adams Morgan, Alexandria, Arlington, Bar/Club, Beer, Capitol Hill, Chinatown/MCI Center/Verizon Center, DC, Food and Drink, Gallery Place, Games, Maryland, MCI Center, Penn Quarter, Sports, Television, Top 5, Virginia, Washington, DC
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Aug 03, 2011

DC Beer Week's Top Five Events (hint: they all involve beer)

Posted by Drew Long, Aug 03, 2011

DCBeerWeek Ladies and gentlemen, get your livers ready, DC Beer Week will be kicking off on Aug. 14.

As we reported, this week-long celebration of beer (especially local beer!) will include events at the District's best beer bars. The complete list of events can be found on the DC Beer Week site (in partnership with the folks over at the DC Beer.com) and it's quite a list. To help you pick some of the best events for the week (though all look promising) here are my top five:

1. Founders Beer Dinner with Co-Founder Dave Engbers at Birch & Barley - Monday at 7 pm
Birch & Barley- 1337 14th Street NW, www.birchandbarley.com

Founders Brewing Company co-founder Dave Engbers will host a food and beer experience, casting light on his fantastic ales. Beer Director Greg Engert will speak to the pairings of these great brews with a menu crafted by Birch & Barley Executive Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac. This is a 5 course tasting menu that will be paired with 9 different Founders hand-crafted ales. Details of the menu are on the way and will be posted here when available. The dinner will be $75 exclusive of tax and gratuity. Call Birch & Barley for reservations. 202-567-2576. 

2. Casks and firkins: All of them! (multiple events, multiple locations)

There are few things in life better than fresh, cask-conditioned beer. During DC Beer Week, there will be a lot of it. Rather than try and pick one event, I'm recommending all of them. Beginning Monday, Aug. 15, the Pour House will be tapping firkins through Saturday from Rhode Island’s Trinity Brewhouse, as well as great local beers from, Oliver Breweries, Evolution Craft Brewing, Heavy Seas, Old Dominion and Fordham. On Tuesday, ChurchKey will turn over all five of its beer engines to Heavy Seas. Because five cask ales is not enough, a sixth real ale will be served directly from a wood barrel previously used to mature bourbon. I tried a variety of Heavy Seas cask ales a few months ago at the brewery's Beer and Barbecue event. They were some of the best beers I've tasted from the Baltimore brewery. And on Thursday, District ChopHouse will be hosting local brewers and their cask ales. The lineup includes the ChopHouse, Capitol City Brewing Company, Rock Bottom Bethesda, Gordon Biersch DC, DuClaw, Franklin’s, Olivers/Pratt St Ale House and Sweetwater. Tickets are $35 and only 80 will be sold.

3. Rye Beer and Spirits with Jack Rose and 3 Stars Brewing – Tuesday at 6pm
Jack Rose Dining Saloon – 2007 18th Street NW, www.jackrosediningsaloon.com

Few things go better with beer than whiskey. This event pairs a flight of rye whiskeys hand-picked by the Jack Rose staff with the B.W. Rye ale, a collaboration beer from D.C. brewers 3 Stars Brewing Company and Steve Jones of Baltimore's Oliver Breweries. Meet the brewers and enjoy a guided tasting highlighting flavor profiles and key characteristics of the spicy and flavorful rye grain, which is in so many great beers and whiskeys. The price for this will be around $20-25.

4. Trinity Brewhouse Beer Dinner at Granville Moore’s – Wednesday at 6:30pm
Granville Moore’s – 1238 H Street NE, www.granvillemoore’s.com

Granville Moore's Chef Maria Evans teamed up with Trinity Brewmaster Sean Larkin and Granville Moore's chef and co-owner Teddy Folkman to put together a five-course dinner featuring one of the beers she and Folkman brewed at the Trinity in July. Look for Evans' classic New England dishes, including sepia with milled malt and sorachi hop oil, a whole pig, and a bunch of other surprises, all with a Granville’s twist. Tickets are $70 per person. Reservations and more info at 202-399-2546 or www.granvillemoores.com.

5. DC Homebrewers Association Homebrew Competition at Red Palace – Saturday at 4pm
The Red Palace – 1212 H Street NE, www.redpalacedc.com

Full disclosure: I'm a homebrewer and member of the DC Homebrewers club. I've tried a lot of these guys' and gals' handiwork, and let me tell you, they make good beer. If you don't believe me, come give them a try. The $10 ticket gets you entry into this homebrew competition at the Red Palace. There will be a DJ and the opportunity to taste beers from homebrewers all across the city.

   
Categories: Beer, DC, Events, Top 5, Washington, DC
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