Feb 13, 2012
Cooking with Truffles: Valentine’s Vegetarian Menu
For 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?
The 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.
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.
Fresh WholeFoods-brand asparagus & fontina ravioli served with truffles, truffle butter, and truffle sea salt.
Seared 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).
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
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Feb 01, 2012
Magic Moments 101
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
Simple but brilliant! The quickest "party trick" for this pairing involves stuffing golden pappadews straight out of the jar with fresh goat cheese.
You 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). You 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
Slice 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.
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Jan 20, 2012
Hello! My Name Is Pinot Noir
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.
Just 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.
I 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.
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!
P.S. Be sure to check out Magic Moments 101 for some food & wine tasting ideas!
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Mar 11, 2011
Red-Eye Gravy: Because It's That Kind Of Morning
Whoever came up with red-eye gravy was either very hungry or very hungover, maybe both. Afterall, coffee and salty pork fat don't exactly seem like a winning combination. But red-eye gravy is simple, it's Southern as cornbread (y'all), and more than anything, it's salty as hell.
Dietary guidelines be damned, some morning you just need an extra punch of salt - even if it's mixed with coffee and ladled over grits.
Red-eye gravy is basically two ingredients: salt-cured country ham and coffee. On it's own, it's rough. Think Vegemite via Montgomery, Ala. Just as Vegemite works better on buttered toast (I'm told), red-eye gravy is made to dress grits.
I love grits, but there's no getting around how bland they are. Add a good bit of butter, salt, pepper, cheese, even barbecued shrimp, and you transform the grainy porridge into a pretty nice dish. A little red-eye gravy does the trick, too.
The bitterness of the coffee works with the salt and cooked pork flavors from the country ham. A little butter adds a needed bit of richness to the gravy.
To make it, simply fry up a couple slices of country ham, deglaze the pan with black coffee and whisk in some butter. Now, the other night I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (I have no excuse for myself) as Guy Fieri tasted some Arizona cook's red-eye gravy. It was made with chicken stock and involved no ham or coffee. I don't know what they were doing, but they weren't making red-eye gravy. It's one thing to play with a recipe, but once you remove the primary ingredients it becomes a different dish.
And then I reminded myself I was watching Guy Fieri.
(makes 4 servings)
2 slices of country ham
2 cups of coffee, black
2 tbs. of unsalted butter (or more to taste)
Red-eye gravy is a very quick dish. If you're going to make it as part of a large breakfast (and you should), cook the ham first (about 3 minutes per side) and deglaze the pan with 1 to 2 cups of coffee (to taste), making sure to scrap up the stuck on pork bits. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter (or more to taste). The gravy doesn't reduce (please, don't reduce it), but it can be kept warm while you prepare the grits, eggs and whatever else you plan to have.
Once everything it ready, simply ladle on the red-eye gravy (y'all).
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Feb 23, 2011
Barrel Aging Whiskey At Home (Because You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands)
This post isn't for you. No, you're a right-thinking person with things to do. When you're hungry you eat. When you're thirsty you drink.
And when you want a cocktail, you don't wait four months for it. But that's what I'm doing. On my kitchen counter is a 2 liter wooden barrel that I filled with an equal mixture of corn liquor (think moonshine) from Finger Lakes Distilling and an equally un-aged Wasmund's Rye Spirit from Copper Fox. With any luck, the clear alcohol that went in the white oak vessel will - in time - exit it much more tan and much more flavorful.
In other words, I hope I have whiskey.
Sure, I could just go buy a couple bottles of whiskey and be done with it. It would cost me about the same (or less). But why do that when I can go through the trouble of preparing a barrel and waiting until June?
So I can say it's mine.
It's not the best reason in the world, but it's the best I've got. I'm also fascinated by the process of barrel aging - how the wood breathes, allowing the alcohol to leach into its charred interior and extract those beautiful caramel and vanilla flavors that make whiskey what it is.
Besides, as hobbies go, this is a pretty low key one. Once the barrel is prepped and filled there's not much to do other than wait. And when the whiskey is ready, you'll look like Jack Daniels pouring liquor out of your very own barrel (by your fourth high ball, you'll be telling people you're Jack Daniels).
Oddly enough, this isn't my first whiskey barrel.
Last year, I bought a 10 liter barrel for a homebrewing project and filled it with a finished whiskey, Early Times. The Kentucky whiskey is aged at least three years in oak barrels before it's bottled and sold. I gave it another seven and a half months in a new white oak barrel I got from Copper Fox (the smaller the barrel the less time the spirit needs to spend in it). The difference is dramatic.
In the photo, the glass on the left is regular Early Times, the glass on the right is the Early Times I aged. Now, I like Early Times. It may not be as well regarded as Buffalo Trace or Pappy Van Winkle, but it's a smooth, easy drinking whiskey. My 8 liters of extra aged Early Times, though, can give the big guys a run for their money. It's as complex and rich as any of them. The Brown-Forman Corporation may have made the whiskey that went into my barrel, but I take credit for the whiskey that came out.
By the way, did you notice 10 liters went in the barrel, but only 8 liters came out? That's typical. Distillers call that the "angel's share" and it's the result of evaporation and absorption by the wood (and the occasional quality control sample). That's much of the reason why a bottle of 20-year-old Scotch whisky costs so much more than a 12-year-old bottle - by the time that Scotch reaches its 20th year, there's a lot less of it in the barrel.
So if you've got too much time on your hands and not enough sense to just go buy a drink, I have a project for you. Here's what you need and what you need to do to barrel age your own liquor:
1 tub or sink large enough to accommodate the barrel
1 large pot of boiling water
1 spray bottle, filled with very warm water
New white oak barrels can be purchased from a number of sources, including Copper Fox Distillery, Thousand Oaks Barrel Company, or homebrew supply stores. Sizes range from 1 liter up to a full-sized 194 liter barrel (that's a lot of whiskey).
You can fill the barrel with either un-aged spirit, or add more flavor to a finished whiskey (or rum for that matter). The brand is up to you, but I've found Copper Fox's un-aged rye and whiskey locally at Central Liquor in Penn Quarter and Schneider's of Capitol Hill.
To prep the barrel, set it in a tub or sink, because it's going to get wet. Bring a pot of water to boil (boil more water than you need to fill the barrel), and then reduce to a simmer. You want to keep the water between 155 and 180 degrees. This will help the wood swell, closing off any leaks, and kill any bacteria that may be in the wood.
The barrel should come with a spout, bung and stand. Attach the spout and make sure it's opened. Insert the funnel into the bunghole (I know, I know) and, using a glass Pyrex measuring cup or similar heat-safe cup, carefully fill the barrel with the hot water. After a bit of the water has run through the spout, close it and finish filling. Once the barrel is full, insert the bung and spray the entire exterior of the barrel with the warm water.
For the next four hours, periodically spray the barrel with water (basically if it's dry, spray it down) and look for leaks. If you don't find any, drain the water and fill with booze.
The rule of thumb with aging is the smaller the barrel the less time you need to age the spirit. It has to do with the amount of contact the liquid has with the wood: smaller barrel equals more contact; bigger barrel equals less contact. So, if you buy the 194 liter barrel, you shouldn't bother checking the contents for a few years. But if you go with the 2 liter barrel, your newly aged beverage could be ready in a few months.
Categories: Do It Yourself
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Jan 31, 2011
Oven Roasted Bone Marrow: Decadence On The Cheap
Whole Foods isn't a place where I expect to find anything cheap. It's understood that you go to the high-end grocery store to find organic artichokes and expensive cheese (honestly, I'm usually there for the solid beer selection).
So I was surprised the other day when I came across a $9 package of beef marrow bones in the freezer section. Sure, you can find marrow bones cheaper, but paying $9 for a dish that will take you 20 minutes to make and bring you the kind of joy that only fatty marrow can really ain't too bad.
Traditionally, bone marrow is used to thicken stews and stocks, but in the past few years restaurants from St. John in London to Blue Duck Tavern in the West End have roasted bones and served the marrow as an appetizer. It makes sense. Slathering marrow across warm toast is about as decadent as it gets. And for the restaurant, it's a cheap and easy ingredient.
I really can't stress too much how easy bone marrow is to roast. Stick a few bones in a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. That's it. If you want toast, make toast. If you want to suck the marrow out with a straw, have at.
To pair with the marrow, I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada's new imperial India pale ale, Hoptimum. At 10.4 percent A.B.V. and 100 I.B.U.s, it's a very big, very hoppy beer. It's absolutely fantastic and, frankly, difficult to pair with food. Although the folks at Sierra Nevada did a nice job balancing the bitterness with a malty backbone, it's tough to find a food that won't be overwhelmed by the flavors of an IPA.
Rich, fatty bone marrow works, though.
The bitterness of the beer cuts right through the richness of the marrow, yet marrow has more than enough flavor to stand up to an IPA, even one as big as Hoptimum. It's a hell of a pairing, whether you dine in or dine out.
(A quick word about Sierra Nevada. Hoptimum is the latest in a long line of great beers that Sierra Nevada has made. The brewery's pale ale is one of the best examples of an American pale ale you'll find. And then there's the Torpedo Extra IPA, Porter, Tumbler brown ale, and Kellerweis, all of which are outstanding examples of their styles. Even their organic, feel good Estate Ale is one of the best IPAs I've had lately. When a brewery is big enough to show up in corner stores and super markets it's easy to forget how good their beer is, but Sierra Nevada is one of the best craft breweries in the country. It just happens to be one of the biggest, too.)
Oven Roasted Bone Marrow
(Makes 3 servings)
1 package of marrow bones (figure two to three bones per serving)
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 head of garlic, roasted (optional)
1 sheet of aluminum foil (for optional garlic)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange the marrow bones on a baking sheet, making sure they're standing up, not laying on their sides. Carefully place the tray in the oven and roast the bones for 20 minutes. Remove the bones from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes. Before you serve, drizzle them with a little olive oil and season with salt to taste.
(If you want to include roasted garlic -- and you do -- cook the garlic ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the top off the head of garlic and place in the middle of the sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with a couple teaspoons of olive oil and add a pinch of salt. Close the foil around the garlic, creating a tight pouch, and place the garlic in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove, open the pouch and allow to cool for a couple minutes. When the head of garlic is cool enough to touch, squeeze out the warm, soft garlic and spread on the toast with the marrow.)
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Sep 27, 2010
Grilled Lamb Sandwiches: Upgrading From The Same Old Tailgating Grub
When it comes to tailgate grilling, what do you think of? Burgers? Dogs? Maybe wings if you're feeling it?
All of these are great options ... that we have all the time.
So every now and then, it's good to change up the menu some. I'm not saying you have to drop the brats from the lineup, just consider a substitution. Consider a hot pressed, grilled lamb sandwich. It's a hell of a thing, and it can take less time to prepare than an Oscar-Mayer frank.
As much as I love grilling, when I'm at a tailgate party, I want to focus on football and beer drinking. Firing up the grill is part of the experience, I just don't want it to be the primary experience. Most of us, I suspect, are of the same mind.
However, there is that group of people out there who like to show up at the stadium parking lot hours before the game and cook elaborate meals. You can do that with this recipe, if you want. Or, you can prepare everything the day, or week, before and do the final steps within minutes. It's your tailgate, do what you want.
Sadly, I live nowhere near my college team (South Florida) or my pro team (the Bucs). So I spend most weekends planted on my couch. But to demonstrate that this recipe can be done at a tailgate, I broke out my tiny Weber grill - the same grill that I've taken to numerous tailgating events.
Basically, all you're doing is making a sandwich. But man, what a sandwich. I marinated half a butterflied lab leg in rosemary, garlic, oregano and basil overnight. Grilled it along with some onions, and then thin sliced the meat for the sandwich. Along with the lamb and onions, I added brie and blue cheese, arugula (I like some green on my sandwiches) and finished it with roasted garlic mayo.
Once the sandwich is assembled, I wrapped it in foil and pressed it on the grill using a brick. The cheese melts, the bread gets crusty and your tailgate meal gets exponentially better.
If someone handed you this sandwich and a beer at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday, you'd know your day was starting off right.
This is the point in the grilling post that I normally talk about what beer to pair with the meal. Not this time. When it comes to tailgating, you either drink whatever your buddy brought or you pick up a couple six packs of your favorite beer. Making sure the beer pairs well with the pre-game meal isn't (or shouldn't be) a consideration.
Instead, I'm going to discuss Abita's Save Our Shore, a big, unfiltered weizen pilsner that you'll feel good drinking, and not just because of the 7 percent A.B.V.
As it did after Hurricane Katrina, the brewery from Abita Springs, La., has produced a beer to raise money for a recovery effort. In 2005, Abita released Restoration Ale and for every six pack sold, the brewery donated a dollar to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation.
Following the BP oil spill in the Gulf (which has not magically disappeared), Abita produced Save Our Shore. For every one of the 22 ounce bottles sold, Abita will donate 75 cents to SOS, a charitable fund managed by the Northshore Community Foundation and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
It's a great cause and a great beer.
Hot-Pressed Grilled Lamb Sandwiches
(Makes 6 generous servings)
Half a lamb leg, butterflied
8 oz. brie, cut into slices
8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
2 large onions, cut into thick slices
5 whole pieces of fresh rosemary
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tbs. dried basil
3 heads of garlic, one chopped and two whole (the two whole heads are optional)
8 tbs. mayonnaise
Kosher salt and black pepper
Sandwich rolls (ciabatta bread works, as does crusty French bread)
Large sealable freezer bag
Like I said, you can do everything up to pressing the sandwiches the day before, or cook everything in the parking lot.
The day before you grill the lamb, place it in the freezer bag with the rosemary, oregano, basil, chopped garlic and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Seal the bag and rub the oil and spices on the lamb. Make sure all the air is out of the bag and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
If you want roasted garlic mayo for the sandwich (you do), chop the tops off the two remaining heads of garlic, place each in a sheet of aluminum foil, coat with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. Seal the foil and roast the garlic in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. When the garlic is done, allow the heads to cool, squeeze out the soft garlic cloves, mash and mix with your mayonnaise.
When you're ready to grill the lamb, make sure your grill is set up with a hot zone and a cool zone. Remove the lamb from the bag, discard the rosemary and wipe off the seasoning. Lightly coat the lamb with olive oil or vegetable oil and generously season with salt and pepper. Do the same with the slices of onion.
Place the lamb on the hottest part of the grill, fat-side down. Sear the lamb for 5 to 7 minutes, being careful to watch for flare-ups. Turn the lamb over and move to the cool side of the grill, close the lid and allow to cook for 50 minutes.
Remove the lid, place the onions on the grill, and close the lid. After 5 minutes, flip the onions.
Once the onions are cooked, everything can come off the grill. Allow the lamb to rest for 20 minutes before slicing it.
When slicing the lamb, keep in mind that it's more complicated than steak. The muscle fibers in a lamb leg are not nice and uniform like they are in beef. So, you'll have to cut the lamb into pieces, and then cut thin slices off those pieces, always cutting against the grain. Take your time, and as you slice the lamb, make sure the pieces are thin enough to be bitten through easily.
Now, assemble the sandwich and wrap in aluminum foil, making sure the whole thing is covered. If you're doing this the day before, you're done for now. If you've cooked everything at the tailgate, it's time to go back to the grill.
Place the wrapped sandwiches on the grill and set your bricks on top. If the sandwiches just came out of a cooler, they'll need about six minutes per side. If they're freshly made, give them about three minutes per side. Flip the sandwiches, put the bricks back on.
You'll know the sandwiches are done when you unwrap the foil and see nothing but melted cheese and crusty bread. Now go grab a beer, it's almost 11 a.m.
, DCFoodies Cooks
, Do It Yourself
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Aug 23, 2010
Grilled Quail and Beer by Ferran Adria (hint: one is better than the other)
There are a million recipes, but when it comes to weekend grilling, most of us fall back on the familiar: beef, chicken, pork and fish.
Even with the variety of ways to prepare these protean staples, they can get a little redundant. So every now and then it pays to branch out. In this case, I'm getting quail.
Unless you hunt, the only time most of us encounter quail is in white table cloth restaurants. They're a nice alternative to chicken, though due to the fact that they're all dark meat, quail are closer in flavor to duck (not quite as rich). What I especially like about quail, though, is that I don't have to share.
There's just something about devouring an entire animal (and its friend) in a sitting. Staring down at the pile of bits and bones, whether they be fish or fowl, it's pleasing in a primitive sort of way. If you must, you can eat quail with a knife and fork, but the birds are small enough to necessitate getting your fingers dirty.
That's when you're really in the spirit of things. Pulling the meat from the bone as warm fat, olive oil and lemon season your fingers, it's a moment more backyard than brasserie. And that's why I decided to pick up a few of the small birds from Market Poultry.
The diminutive size of the birds also means you're not going to be spending all afternoon at the grill. But because of the haute connection, it's a dish that impresses.
I don't want to spend a whole lot of time messing with the quail, so I dress them simply with olive oil and grilled lemon. Like I said, the bird is all dark meat, which is rich and flavorful. Why get in the way of that?
Keeping with the Mediterranean theme, I served the quail with warm pita and tabouli salad, both of which I bought. Seriously, I'm keeping it simple.
To accompany the meal, I picked up a bottle of Inedit, made by the Spanish brewery S.A. Damm for none other than famed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. Adrià put molecular gastronomy on the map and his restaurant el Bulli has produced such chefs as Denmark's René Redzepi and our very own José Andrés.
Despite Adrià's culinary success, I was skeptical about the beer. Adrià is known for his skill in the kitchen, his culinary vision and his very exclusive restaurant in Catalonia, Spain. The only thing he exports to the world is talented chefs. The beer seems like something dreamed up by marketers and accountants to take advantage of the popularity of craft beer. It's made by a brewery that's best known for its popular lager, Estrella, and partially owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a corporate behemoth better known for hostile takeovers than quality beer.
Frankly, Adrià's beer seems like a gimmick, but I don't know for what. Is it meant to draw attention to a restaurant none of us will visit or a chef that none of us will meet? If you visit Inedit's Website (yes, it has it's own Website), you can find tasting notes, instructions on how to serve it (thus the white wine glass), and a series of incredibly pretentious videos in multiple languages.
On the other hand, the 750 ml bottle of Inedit was $10 at Whole Foods, so the price alone makes it worth trying.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that the beer wasn't a traditional light lager. The Spanish love beer, but they primarily drink pale lagers. Inedit is more of a witbier, equally refreshing in hot climates like Spain, but more popular in Belgium and the U.S. According to the fancy booklet tied to the bottle, the beer is a lager/wheat blend. The 4.8 percent beer pours a cloudy straw color. It's crisp, a little sweet, with a faint orange peel flavor. For a $10 beer, it's good.
But that's the thing. It's just good. Why would one of the most respected chefs in the world go out of his way to put his name on a beer that's just ok? If it's a first step toward a few tapas joints in Barcelona, then I'm not sure I'd want such a pedestrian beer to be my flagship. In one of the promotional videos, Adrià says Inedit fills a need for a proper beer to accompany food. That's ridiculous, of course. The variety of traditional Eurpean and American craft beers being made today - including Belgian witte beers - more than fills whatever gap Adrià and S.A. Damm allege.
Don't get me wrong, it's a good beer. But when Ferran Adrià produces a beer, you expect something great. On the other hand, it's $10 a bottle, and that's the important thing. Ignore the self-important black and white photo on the dangling brochure, ignore the pedigree, and just enjoy a good beer at a good price. Because once you start thinking more about it, it only gets worse.
Grilled lemon quail
(Makes four servings)
8 semi-boneless quail, two per person
1 lemon, halved
4 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Tabouli salad (optional)
This is a very fast recipe. The birds take 10 minutes to cook, so you'll probably spend more time getting the grill ready.
As you're heating up your grill, pull the quail out of refrigerator and season both sides of the birds with salt and pepper and two tablespoons of olive oil. Grill the birds directly over the hottest part of grill for five minutes per side with the lid down. Grill the lemon halves for the full 10 minutes slightly off the hot spot.
Remove, dress with the hot lemon juice, remaining olive oil and balsamic, and eat ... with your hands.
, DCFoodies Cooks
, Do It Yourself
, Eastern Market
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Jun 29, 2010
Grilled Blue Cheese and Bacon Quesadillas, What a Great Idea
Can you steal an idea if part of it was yours?
If you can, then I've stolen the idea for this post from my friends Sarah and Andy (who you might remember from such posts as Smoking and Freezing). A few weeks ago, Sarah and I were talking about the grilled pizzas she was planning to make for some out-of-town friends. One of her favorite pies is a bacon and apple pizza covered with sharp cheddar cheese.
I told her it sounded fantastic ... and then suggested how to change it. (I do this a lot, which either makes me egotistical, condescending or kind of a dick. Probably all three.) Bacon and apple go great together, but why not pair them with blue cheese instead of cheddar? The tang of a good, creamy blue cheese is the ideal accompaniment to smoky bacon and tart, sweet apples. Cheddar, on the other hand, pairs great with, um, beef.
Giving my advice the consideration it deserves, Sarah went home and whipped up a bacon, apple and cheddar cheese pizza. Her guests loved it.
Still, I'm right. Like basil, tomato and mozzarella, blue cheese, apples and bacon are natural allies. I'm not breaking new ground, mind you. These ingredients have been brought together for years, especially in salads, but also in desserts, sandwiches and main courses.
Although the combination is classic, bringing them together in a quesadilla isn't.
I've been putting off doing a quesadilla post for a while. As much as I enjoy a warm, crusty quesadilla (it's like a hot taco!), it seemed too easy to bother with. Basically, it's two flour tortillas stuffed with something (including cheese) and heated until the contents melt together and the tortillas become golden brown and firm. Serve it with some guacamole and sour cream and you're good to go.
And then I noticed that Steven Raichlen included quesadilla recipes in a couple of his books. So game on.
Their simplicity is their beauty. You can go traditional and use queso blanco, beans and peppers, or you can play around with the ingredients and use, I don't know, blue cheese, bacon and apple. Instead of sour cream, you could use crème fraiche, which is similar, but has a milder, creamier flavor.
While I'm just talking about cheese, meat and fruit, the blue cheese, bacon and apple have a way of dressing up the quesadilla, or at least breathing some new life into the dish. And crème fraiche just sounds fancy.
More importantly, the ingredients are perfect for a quesadilla. The flour tortillas are unobtrusive and the strong flavors of the ingredients remain distinct even as the blue cheese, warmed by the heat of the grill, envelops the crunchy bacon and crisp pieces of apple.
To accompany the quesadilla, I picked up Schneider Weisse hefeweizen (Yup, a German wheat beer to go with my Latin quesadilla filled with blue cheese and apples.). Admittedly, the hefeweizen has more to do with the season than the meal, but it works well with the quesadilla. Just as cold winter evenings have me craving dark stouts and wee heavy Scotch ales, the sticky hot days of summer trigger a longing for the smooth, sweet flavors of a good German hefeweizen.
And when it comes to pairing a beer with a dish that has such strong flavors, the hefeweizen is a good match. The mild banana flavors compliment the quesadilla's sweet apple and tart cheese, and the unfiltered beer has enough body to stand up the rich blue cheese and salty bacon.
Besides, it's hot and I want a hefeweizen.
So I don't know if I stole the idea for the quesadilla from Sarah and Andy or a cheese plate I had at some point. Wherever the idea came from, it works. Is it better than a bacon, apple and cheddar cheese pizza? Who can say? (I can, and it is.)
Grilled Quesadilla with Blue Cheese, Bacon and Apple
(Makes four servings)
8 flour tortillas (two per quesadilla)
4 oz. of blue cheese, crumbled (I like Maytag)
1 package of thick cut bacon, or three strips of bacon per quesadilla, fried and diced into small pieces
1 Granny Smith or similar tart apple, diced into cubes or small pieces (squirt a little lemon juice on the apple pieces to prevent them from browning)
1 small container of crème fraiche
1/2 lb. of queso blanco, shredded
Quesadillas cook very quickly, so you need to have all your ingredients prepared beforehand. And if you're using a gas grill with flavorizor bars, take them off. The tortillas need direct exposure to the flame in order to brown and char properly. If you're using a charcoal grill, you're fine.
You'll notice I have queso blanco in the ingredient list. It's literally the glue that will hold the quesadilla together. The blue cheese will get nice and gooey, but not enough to bind the tortillas. And because the queso blanco has such a mild flavor, it won't get in the way of the much bolder flavors of the other ingredients.
When your grill is ready and all your ingredients are assembled next to it, start building the quesadilla by scattering some of the queso blanco on a tortilla, and then add the bacon, apple and blue cheese, and then add a little more queso blanco on top. Carefully slide or place the quesadilla on the grill, directly over the heat, and cover with the other tortilla.
Close the lid and let cook for two minutes. Open the lid and check the bottom tortilla. If it's starting to brown and char a bit, carefully flip the quesadilla. Grill for another two mintues or until the bottom tortilla browns and then remove from the heat.
Halve or quarter the quesadilla (or not, whatever), add a dollop of crème fraiche and enjoy.
, DCFoodies Cooks
, Do It Yourself
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May 25, 2010
Do It Yourself: A Tale of Two Beer Tastings
There is certainly no shortage of places to drink beer in the D.C. area. ChurchKey, Pizzeria Paradiso, the Galaxy Hut; the craft beer revolution has greatly improved our options all the way around.
But you don't have to go out to try great beer. You can do so at home, too. (Hold the "no shit" comments and stick with me.)
Hosting a wine tasting has been a favorite pastime of oenophiles for years, while beer tastings still seem to be limited to brewpubs and specialty beer bars. But the idea is the same -- a bunch of folks get together to experience their favorite beers or some new ones -- and the event can be just as interesting (if not more so). And if you do it right, you might just expose a few people to the revolution.
So in this post, I'll share a few tips on holding a successful beer tasting. Trust me, it ain't that hard.
There were no novices at the beer tasting I recently attended or held. A couple weeks ago, The Washington City Paper's Lagerheads -- Tammy Tuck and Bruce Falconer -- invited me and a couple other local bloggers (PJ Coleman of DC Beer and Eric Axelson of DCist) to their place for a beer tasting. A week later, I held a tasting with Tammy (Bruce was sick), as well as fellow DC Foodies writer Rob Rutledge, Franklin's brewer Mike Roy, and my wife Trish.
Tip 1. Have a theme. Even a loose one will help focus the event.
In this case, Tammy and Bruce based their tasting around Batch 19, a new "old" lager that Coors made from a recipe the company says it used prior to prohibition. The beer is being test marketed around the country, including in D.C. In turn, PJ brought Straub, an American-style lager out of Pennsylvania, Eric brought the Silver Bullet itself, Coors Light, and I contributed Anchor's Liberty Ale, the first modern American IPA (Yeah, it's not a lager. Yeah, I didn't read Tammy's instructions very thoroughly.).
The theme for my tasting was a little more loose. Some friends of mine from Tampa recently brought me a few bottles of Cigar City's Humidor Series IPA. As a homer who likes to spread the word about his hometown's craft brewers, I offered it up for the tasting. Everyone else was to bring something "interesting," too. Like I said, it was loose.
Tammy brought a bottle of Van Twee Belgian Ale (a 7.5 percent dark Belgian ale made with cherry juice), Rob brought a bottle of Lost Abbey's Avant Garde, and Mike contributed a growler of his Hop Zen, a hopped Scotch ale, and Old Salty Barleywine from 2004. With a tasting of such big, distinctive beers, preferences were all over the map.
Of the beers we "officially" tasted, I liked Mike's Hop Zen the most, followed by Cigar City's Humidor Series IPA. However, the beer that won the crowd was the J.W. Lees Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin Scotch whiskey casks, which Rob offered up after the tasting. It was a very good beer. (Yes, we had a post-tasting tasting. Technically, we also had a pre-tasting tasting of my homebrewed IPA.).
Tip 2. Organize the tastings.
For the Lagerhead's tasting, we did a traditional blind tasting. After talking about what we brought and posing for photos, Bruce took the beers into the kitchen and poured four tasting glasses. Without knowing what was what, the rest of us observed the color and body the beers, as well as the aromas, before tasting. Once the beers made their way around the table, we proffered our guesses and discussed the results (the Liberty Ale was easy to identify, Batch 19 was Ok, Coors Light had no flavor and Straub was surprisingly good).
Blind tastings are good when you're tasting the same or similar style of beer (like American lagers) because it allows you to taste the beer without the bias of knowing the beer.
For my tasting, I didn't bother doing it blind. All the beers were quite different, so there was nothing to be gained by not knowing the brewery when tasting. The intent was to try a new beer or a favorite of one of the participants. So I organized the tasting from malty to hoppy (I figured going from sweet to bitter would help preserve everyone's palette) with the Old Salty leading things off. From there we moved on to the Lost Abbey, the Van Twee, Hop Zen, and finally Cigar City.
Tip 3. Swallow, don't spit.
When you're tasting beer, you really should swallow. A lot of the flavors occur at the back of the tongue and in the throat. So if you spit -- as many people do with wine -- you're going to miss out. If you're worried about driving home afterward, have a designated driver or call a cab.
Tip 4. Have food.
Food will also help mitigate the drunkenness, as well as serve as a palette cleanser. How much food to provide is up to you. Bruce and Tammy provided crackers and spread. I set out snack mix and pretzels. No muss, no fuss at either tasting. If you want to make it a more involved event, provide some snacks during the tasting and then fire up the barbecue afterward (you can find plenty of recipes here). I just wouldn't eat a full meal before the tasting. If you do, you might not be as interested in trying a bunch of different beers.
Tip 5. Have something on hand when you wrap it up.
The tasting is going to last an hour or two, so unless you plan to kick everyone out once it's over, make sure to have a few beers on hand. Bruce and Tammy were nice enough to pop open a bottle of Lost Abbey's Red Barn Ale (it's good). Rob cracked open the J.W. Leeds, which became the hit beer of the night.
Once the bottles were empty and the conversations ran their course, everyone headed home. By then, all I had to do was load the recycling and fill the dishwasher. Easy, easy.
(Bonus!: There are a number of shops in the area that carry a number of great craft beers and imports, including Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits, Connecticut Avenue Wine and Spirits, Schneider's of Capitol Hill, D'Vines, Rodman's, and Whole Foods in D.C.; Westover Market, Whole Foods, Total Wine and Lost Dog Cafe in Virginia; and Gilly's, Franklin's and The Perfect Pour in Maryland.)
, Do It Yourself
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