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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.

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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Mar 11, 2011

Red-Eye Gravy: Because It's That Kind Of Morning

DSCN5902 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.

DSCN5897 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.

Red-Eye Gravy
(makes 4 servings)

2 slices of country ham
2 cups of coffee, black
2 tbs. of unsalted butter (or more to taste)
Grits

DSCN5906 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). 

Categories: Breakfast, Brunch, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Pork, Recipes, Southern
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Jan 31, 2011

Oven Roasted Bone Marrow: Decadence On The Cheap

57100015
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).

57100023 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.

57100012 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)

57100020 1 package of marrow bones (figure two to three bones per serving)
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 head of garlic, roasted (optional)
Kosher salt
Olive oil
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.)

Categories: Beer, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Food and Drink, Recipes
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Oct 28, 2010

Autumn Menu: Grilled Tenderloin and Fall Hash

DSCN5705
Whoever decided that Labor Day marks the end of the "grilling season" has never stood in front of a warm Weber on a crisp fall afternoon. Between the football and the drop in temperatures, fall is a fantastic time of year to cook outdoors.

The change in seasons also changes what I like to grill. The fish, shrimp and seafood that grill in the summer is replaced by lamb, pork and heartier cuts of meat. Roasted tomatoes and young garlic are replaced by sauteed brussel sprouts, and roasted turnips and potatoes. Despite the fact that my house has central heat, I plan meals like I have to stay warm in a yurt.

Much of this is due to the fact that vegetables like tomatoes are no longer in season, while brussel sprouts are just coming on. But I can get either product all year. No, the real reason is the trigger the weather flips. I no more want shepherd's pie in August as I want ceviche in February. 

That being said, pork tenderloin is my meat of all seasons. It's easy to cook, flavorful as hell and a relatively cheap cut of meat. A few years ago, when my wife and I lived in North Carolina, a lot of pork tenderloin moved through our little Chapel Hill apartment. She was going to grad school and I was working a couple jobs to help make that happen, so a four pound tenderloin that could feed us for several days was a household favorite.

DSCN5692 Now that we're into the fall, I like to pair the tenderloin with a seasonal hash of carrots, apples, onions and potatoes. You could even swap out the potatoes for squash or pumpkin, or just add it to the mix. I also add a bit of bacon to punch up the flavor and because I like bacon. A poached egg works real well, too.

To go with the dish, I like brown ales and dark beers. Honestly though, any fall seasonal would work. We've moved from the light, refreshing pilsners and pale lagers of summer to the darker, richer beers better suited for fall and winter.

In fact, I've been sitting on the bottle of Autumn Maple from The Bruery that I picked up in August. I bought it with this post in mind, but it was also just too damn hot at the time. Who wants a sweet, malty high alcohol (10.5%) beer when it's 96 degrees outside? Screw that and pass the hefeweizen.

To make this Belgian-style dark ale, the Placentia, Ca., brewery uses yams - lots of yams - molasses and spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The result is deeply rich, spicy ale that's just a bit sour and more than a bit sweet.

DSCN5717 If you can't find a bottle of Autumn Maple or just want to try something else, grab a six pack of Sierra Nevada's Tumbler brown ale. The craft brewing community has gone wild for big, hoppy India Pale Ales during the past few years, but Tumbler shows that the heavy weights of craft beer do other styles of beer just as well (that said, Sierra Nevada's Tornado Extra India Pale Ale is an outstanding hoppy beer).

So grab a coat and get outside, there's grilling to be done.

Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Fall Hash
(Makes six servings)

DSCN5681 1 4-5 pound pork tenderloin
1 apple, Granny Smith or similarly crisp apple, diced
4 carrots, pealed and diced
6 potatoes, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 red onions, pealed and diced
3 strips of bacon, fried and diced
1 lemon, halved
1 egg, poached (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Generously season the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the grill. For this recipe, you'll need two zones - one hot, one cool - so you can sear the tenderloin before allowing it to cook slowly for 90 minutes.

When the grill is ready, sear all sides of the meat until brown and then place the tenderloin on the cool side of the grill with the fat cap up and close the lid.

As the pork cooks, prep the rest of the ingredients, making sure the apples, carrots, potatoes and onions are diced the same size so they cook at the same rate. The dice should also be small, so it cooks fairly quickly.

After the pork has been on for an hour, place a pan on the sideburner or on the grill and fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the pan and add the diced carrots, potatoes, garlic and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Sautee for 20 minutes or until the potato browns and softens (as an alternative, you can sautee the vegetables for 10 minutes and then stick the pan on the grill for 10 minutes). Add the diced bacon and apple, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove everything from the pan so the apples don't overcook.

DSCN5696 (If you want to add a poached or fried egg - and you do - now is the time to cook the egg.)

After an hour and 20 minutes, the pork should be about ready to come off the grill. Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 165 degrees. If it's fully cooked, allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Before serving, squeeze a little lemon on the pork.

And if you haven't already, pop open the beer and enjoy.

Categories: Apples, Beer, Belgian, DCFoodies Cooks, Food and Drink, Grilling, Pork, Recipes, Seasonal
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Oct 04, 2010

The Manhattan, A Great Cocktail However You Make It

DSCN5554
The Manhattan is one of our most popular, if not most beloved, cocktails. References to the drink date back more than a hundred years, meaning it survived Prohibition and countless cocktail trends that had people consuming all manner of drinks (Buttery Nipple, anyone?).

The strength of the Manhattan lies in the brevity of the ingredient list and how well they play together. After all, it doesn't get much simpler than bourbon and sweet vermouth.

Or is that rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters? Wait, maybe it's Canadian Whisky, orange bitters and equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. What about the garnish? Should it be a maraschino cherry or twist of lemon? And which of these versions is "perfect?" (Is there an imperfect Manhattan?)

Google "Manhattan cocktail recipe" and you'll get a more than 2.8 million (mostly porn) results, and I would venture nearly as many unique takes on the classic drink.

Some Manhattans I've ordered were simple affairs: bourbon and sweet vermouth. A nice enough drink, but technically the lack of bitters makes it a sling, not a cocktail. I think it also makes for a cheap bar.

More often than not, though, I come across Manhattans that are made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters and garnished with a frighteningly red cherry. Although this drink looks and (more or less) tastes like a Manhattan, it's not quite.

To help figure out what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan, I e-mailed noted cocktail expert and proprietor of The Passenger and Columbia Room, Derek Brown.

"A Manhattan is a cocktail with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters," he wrote. "Often, Bourbon is substituted for rye. The varying proportions are important dinstinctions(sp) but don't necessarily constitute a separate category."

So while the ingredients are important, they don't have to be in the traditional amounts of two parts whiskey, one part vermouth and three dashes of bitters. Brown cited the reverse Manhattan, which is two parts sweet vermouth and one part whiskey.

While Brown noted that bourbon can be substituted for rye, in parts of the Midwest, there's no substitute for brandy.

My wife's family and part of mine come from the great state of Wisconsin. Order a Manhattan in Mosinee and no one will bat an eye. Order it with bourbon or rye and they'll know you're not local.

For many Midwesterners, the typical Manhattan also uses equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, which is commonly known as the perfect Manhattan.

Whenever I get together with my father-in-law, the day ends with a Manhattan. He grew up on them in central Wisconsin and seems to enjoy my take on the drink (or the fact that I'm making them).

Of course, my recipe is different. Both recipes, actually.

With all these variations of the drink, what makes a true Manhattan and what doesn't?

When I posed this question to Brown, he sought counsel.

"Former judge and judicial scholar Robert Bork had this to say about martinis in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2005," Brown wrote, "which was his response to an article by Eric Felten: 'What counts in mixology is the 'original understanding' of the martini's essence by those who first consumed it. The essence remains unaltered but allows proportions to evolve as circumstances change. Mr. Felten's 'near-perfect martini' is the same in principle as the 'original-understanding martini' and therefore its legitimate descendant. Such latter-day travesties as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini, on the other hand, are the work of activist bartenders.' Hope that helps."

It does.

It seems that fans of the Manhattan are attracted to the spirit of the drink - the rich, sweet amber whiskey (or whisky) cocktail - not necessarily the specifics of the ingredient list. While one man's Manhattan might be technically different than another's, when it comes down to it, we're all enjoying the same great cocktail.

The "Perfect Manhattan" and Little Italy

Perfect Manhattan

2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky bourbon)
1 ounce of sweet vermouth (Dolin if you can find it.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin again.)
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 brandied cherry (Les Parisiennes or similar brand)

DSCN5555 When I make a Manhattan, I always use dry vermouth. It balances out the sweetness of the sweet vermouth and richness of the bourbon.

In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats the walls of the glass (a process known as rinsing), and then discard the rest into the sink or drink it like I do. (If you like your Manhattan on the rocks, pour the dry vermouth over the ice, swirl and remove the rest. This way, the ice will be nicely coated.) Add the cherry to the glass.

(A quick word on the cherry. It's time to graduate from the candy-red cherry you're used to using. A couple years ago, I picked up a jar of Les Parisiennes brandied cherries and haven't looked back. These cherries are sweet, but not cloying, and a little boozy, which is appropriate for, well, booze.)

Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, vermouth and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.

Little Italy

If you find the Manhattan a bit too sweet, this might be the drink for you. I replace the sweet vermouth with amaro, a bitter Italian liquor. It's sweet enough to stand in place of the sweet vermouth, but the added bitter levels things out. I also like to use Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters instead of Angostura for the caramel and nutmeg flavors they bring to this drink.

2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon (Wild Turkey 101-Proof Rye or Early Times Kentucky Bourbon)
1 ounce of amaro (I like Ramazzotti.)
1/2 ounce of dry vermouth (Dolin once again.)
4 dashes of Fee Brothers' Whiskey Barrel Aged bitters
1 brandied cherry

In a cocktail shaker, combine the whiskey, amaro, bitters and stir. Add the dry vermouth to the cocktail glass and gently swirl so the vermouth coats to walls of the glass, and then discard the rest. Add the cherry.

Fill the shaker half way with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds or until the whiskey, amaro and bitters are thoroughly combined. Strain the ingredients into the cocktail glass and enjoy.

Categories: Cocktails, Liquor, Recipes
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Sep 27, 2010

Grilled Lamb Sandwiches: Upgrading From The Same Old Tailgating Grub

DSCN5640 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.

DSCN5605 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.

DSCN5644 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.

DSCN5628Hot-Pressed Grilled Lamb Sandwiches
(Makes 6 generous servings)

Half a lamb leg, butterflied
8 oz. brie, cut into slices
8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
Arugula
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)
olive oil
8 tbs. mayonnaise
Kosher salt and black pepper
Sandwich rolls (ciabatta bread works, as does crusty French bread)
Aluminum foil
2 bricks
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.

DSCN5601 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.

DSCN5634 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.

Categories: Beer, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Grilling, Lamb, Recipes, Sandwiches, Sports
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Aug 27, 2010

Escape the Heat: Mediterranean Salad

Therm We're gonna cheat a little on the no-cook mandate, but the weather is cooling down, so can you handle about 15 minutes of stove work?  You can even prepare the ingredients in advance on a cool day or at night and store them in the fridge until later.

I can't expound the benefits of this salad enough.  While I have a healthy love for brown sugar Pop Tarts, a juicy NY strip, cheese of any kind and bacon, this recipe is my redemption.  It takes advantage of all the fresh tomatoes and basil in the markets right now and can serve as a complete, guilt-free meal.  It's also ultra-nutritious:  pack a container for lunch and I promise it will carry you through the mid-afternoon doldrums and give you the energy to get to the gym.

Lentils

Try to find French green lentils, also called lentilles de Puy and not to be confused with those bags of light Lentilsgreen lentils in the super.  This variety of lentil holds its shape when cooking, but if you have to use the light green ones, subtract a couple minutes cooking time and aim for al dente or you'll end up with a mushy salad.  I've had a difficult time finding them lately, but I refused to believe there was an area-wide run on French lentils, so a random stop at Rodman's turned up 17.5-oz. boxes of Roland Green Lentils.  (Can I take this moment here to express my love for all things Roland?  This company single-handedly provides a fix for multiple food addictions, many of them olive-related.  And also Rodman's, while I'm at it.  They are a foodie's version of a methadone clinic.)

How much do you use?  Simmer a cup of dry lentils for about 15-20 minutes.  Drain, cool for a few minutes and season them with a tablespoon of vinegar (white, red wine or balsamic...your pick, depending on your palate), salt and pepper.

Couscous

Use whole wheat couscous if you'd like to increase the healthfulness, regular couscous if it doesn't matter to you (or if that's all you can find).  About one cup, prepared according to directions.  You can cook this at the same time as the lentils.

By the way, you can find all the ingredients for this in Rodman's or Trader Joe's.  TJ's doesn't have French green lentils, but they do sell bags of pre-cooked black Beluga lentils, which can be subbed in with no problem (and no cooking!).TJ lentils

Dressing

Mash a garlic clove** with 1/4 tablespoon salt.  Whisk this with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar, about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, stir together this dressing with the lentils and couscous.  **If raw garlic is too powerful, toast the clove in a dry pan on a medium-heat stove for a minute or two until lightly browned to tone down the flavor.

Additions

Tomatoes:  two cups of halved cherries, pears or grapes, or seeded and diced Romas, heirlooms or any garden variety tomato you can find.

Cheese, glorious cheese:  feta is the traditional choice.  I prefer goat feta because I like its tanginess but I've also used regular goat cheese (one that is on the firmer side).  Chop a 4-oz. chunk and add.

Greens:  basil, definitely, at least a cup.  Spinach and/or arugula are fantastic in this salad, too, and increase its nutritional value tremendously -- try a chopped cup of each or 2 cups of one.  Arugula_300 You could probably add mint, too, but there are so many strong flavors competing in this already that it might be overkill.

Pignolis, or pine nuts:  totally optional, but if you have them on hand, add a quarter cup.   Toast them first (with the garlic!) for a nuttier flavor, but watch carefully as they can turn from brown to burnt in a heartbeat.

Give everything a stir and let it chill for an hour or more.  It will last several days in your fridge...if you can keep it around that long.  Enjoy it as a side dish with any grilled protein or as a complete meal by itself.  Bring it to a potluck and you will be asked for the recipe.

Again, this recipe is highly customizable.  It's also a good vehicle for testing your palate, so taste frequently and adjust according to your own preferences, regardless of the amounts I provided, which are really just guidelines.  However, be cautious with salt, as the cheese will add its own, and with this recipe it's hard to undo the damage of too much salt.

Enjoy!

Categories: Mediterranean, Recipes, Seasonal, Summer
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Aug 23, 2010

Grilled Quail and Beer by Ferran Adria (hint: one is better than the other)

DSCN5521
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.

DSCN5522 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.

DSCN5525 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.

DSCN5515 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)

DSCN5505 8 semi-boneless quail, two per person
1 lemon, halved
4 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Pita bread
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.

DSCN5514 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.

Categories: Beer, Belgian, DCFoodies Cooks, Do It Yourself, Eastern Market, Grilling, Mediterranean, Recipes, Spanish
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Aug 17, 2010

Escape the Heat: Ceviche

Therm People can be squeamish about fish.  I used to work in the seafood department of a supermarket and frequently fielded such head-shaking questions as, "Does it smell like fish?" or my favorite, from a woman standing in front of a tank of lively rainbow trout, "Are they fresh?"

Don't fear the fish.

The truth is fish are among the most versatile, healthy and easy to cook proteins available to us.  Grill it, fry it, poach it, flash-cook it -- it's quite hard to screw it up.  Hell, you can even stick it in the oven still frozen and have it turn out great.  But it's hot, it's humid, and it's DC, so we're all about no-heat meals right now.  Which brings us to the next Escape the Heat recipe:  Ceviche.

Technically, ceviche is not cooked, per se, because the process doesn't use heat.  But the citric acid marinade denatures the proteins in the fish enough to change the texture and appearance.  Read this for a brief but more comprehensive explanation of this process, along with some alternatives if you're still a little undecided about raw fish.  If you'd like to try ceviche professionally prepared before attempting it on your own, I highly recommend Oyamel, which serves some fantastic varieties.

Your basic components are fish, acid and seasonings:

Fish 

Use a firm fin- or shellfish, the freshest you can find.  Tuna, mahi mahi, snapper, grouper.  I like wild salmon, such as sockeye, sliced thin.  For shellfish, scallops, shrimp and crab all work well.  Or any combination of these.

Cut or slice the fish in bite-size pieces.  If the shrimp are small, shell and tail them and leave them whole.  Scallops may be sliced or chopped.  If you use a combination of fish, just make sure they're uniform in size, since they're all "cooking" together. Ceviche

Acid

Lime juice is key.  (Again with the limes!  I can't say it enough:  a well-stocked summer kitchen needs a lot of limes!)  Some people also use lemon and/or orange juice, or a combination of the three.  How much?  For about a pound of fish, you'll need at least a 1/4 cup of juice, maybe a little more.

Seasonings

Onions:  usually red, maybe shallots, too, if you like. One onion should do it.

Cilantro:  a good-sized handful, chopped, with stems.  Then add some more.

Jalapenos, one or two, minced, with the pith and seeds if you like heat, without if you don't.

Sea salt, to taste.

Other options:  tomatoes or tropical juicy fruit like pineapple, mango, papaya.  It's really hard to screw up the ratios, so if you feel like being more liberal with the onions or jalapenos, go for it.  The only ingredient you need to make sure you have enough of is the citrus juice.

Method

Mix the lime juice with the seasonings , or grind the seasonings first in a mortar and pestle (or my version:  a Pyrex measuring cup and the handle-end of a citrus reamer) if you want to really bring out the flavors before mixing them into the juice.  Spoon a little of the mixture in the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish (i.e. glass, ceramic or Pyrex), layer the fish on top and add the rest of the juice/seasonings.  If you're using a small dish, layer it like lasagna, alternating between fish and juice.  The fish does not need to be swimming in the marinade, or even completely covered, although you will need to turn it partway through the cooking time to ensure all fish has contact with the juice.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and store it in your fridge. 

So how long do you let it marinate?  It depends on the size of the fish, but a couple of hours will do it.  You'll notice a whitening of the fish as it "cooks," or in the case of already-white fish, an opaqueness will develop.

Do not let it sit for too long, however, because it is possible to overcook it, which renders it tough and chewy, just like if you used too much heat.

Serve it up!

Ceviche2The easiest method is to simply serve it in a bowl.  If you want to be authentic, toss in a handful of popped popcorn.   But ceviche also makes great tacos:  fill a corn taco shell with a little shredded cabbage or lettuce, sliced avocado, maybe some fresh corn, too?

Provide your version in the comments:  what's your favorite fish?  What ingredients do you use?  How do you like to serve it?

Categories: Ceviche, Recipes, Seasonal, Summer
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Jul 21, 2010

Escape the Heat: Bean Salad

Therm Last winter (sigh...remember then?), my household was treated to my weekly experiments in bread-baking...not just the end results, but the wonderful aroma and the blissful heat emanating from a 475° oven.

No can do now.  Forgive me a little whining about the heat, but I'm not genetically built for this climate and I have no idea how people lived in pre-A/C DC .  Now, the thought of turning on the oven or the stove (or even running the dishwasher**) inspires a hearty, "Hell no!"

We who love to create in the kitchen still have a lot of options though that (a) don't require heat, (b) take advantage of summer produce and (c) are incredibly healthy.  In the coming weeks, I'll share some ideas I rely on for when it's too hot to cook.  (Indoors, that is.  Drew will still have you covered on the grill side of things.)

The following is one of my go-to, summertime, "eff this DC heat" recipes:  Bean Salad. I really hate to call it that, though, because it brings to mind the old picnic standby of 3 bean salad, fresh from the can.  Gross.

My version is based on the following simple ingredients:  beans, vegetables, fruits, seasonings.  It's inspired by Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express and his 101 Series from the New York Times (truly, the man is a god), whose philosophy is that you really learn how to cook after you throw away the recipes and start experimenting.  So use whatever you have that might work and however much of it you'd like.  Taste frequently and ask yourself, "What's missing?  What does this need?"  You'll know when to stop.

Depending on what you add, this can be either a main dish or a simple side.  At the minimum, however, use one bean, two veg, one fruit and a cilantro/lime/S&P seasoning mix.

Beans

I start with 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained, as a base.  Use whichever beans you like. Black-beans

Vegetable

Fresh corn, 2 or 3 ears.  Remove the husks and silk, chop off the stalks, stand the ears in a shallow bowl (a pho bowl is perfect) and shave off the kernels with a sharp knife.

Onion:  dice one medium or large red or yellow.  Or slice a bunch of scallions or a few shallots.

Sweet peppers?  Sure, why not, dice one up.  When I have them, I use red, orange or yellow, purely for their color.

Also consider:  celery, cucumber, yellow squash.

Fruit

This is where it can get interesting.  Tomatoes are a standby option:  3 or 4 seeded and diced romas or a handful of halved cherries.  But if you really want to make this stand out, skip the tomatoes and go right to the juicy fruits of summer:  mangoes, peaches, nectarines.  I've never tried berries, but I don't see why they won't work.  Watermelon?  Mmm...

Seasoning

Cilantro Cilantro:  a necessity, and in my case, about three times as much as the average person would use.  Did you know the stems contain as much flavor as the leaves?  Chop 'em up and throw 'em in. 

Lime:  add the juice of one or two.  Only have lemons?  Oh boy -- you should always have limes handy in the summer!  How are you going to make margaritas??  Run to your nearest bodega and buy a bag (what chain supermarkets charge for limes is a crime).  But if not, use a lemon instead.

Salt and pepper, natch.

Vinegar.  Toss in a tablespoon or two for depth if you feel it needs it.  I use champagne vinegar but if you want a bolder taste, use a red vinegar.  Too much vinegar or acidity:  balance it with sugar to taste.

Like it hot?  Mince a couple jalapenos (or other hot peppers) and throw them in.  Or use cayenne pepper, chipotle powder, sriracha or Tabasco.

Chives?  Okay.  Garlic?  Mince it up.

Mix

Throw everything in a bowl, toss and let it sit for the flavors to blend...or not.

If you noticed, this is a fat-free, vegan recipe (so far).  All that ends here, though.  If you want to provide a little body or binding, add olive oil by the tablespoon until you find the right consistency.  Want to bump up its belly-filler ability?  Add a semi-solid cheese with a cool, mild flavor:  3 or 4 ounces of crumbled goat cheese, cotija or queso fresco (but don't add salt until you see how much the cheese provides).   Avocado Top it with a dollop of sour cream or sliced avocado. Or both.

If you have other customizations, write them in the comments!  Or a better name?  Write that too!

**Solution to the dishwasher dilemma, run it when you go to bed.  The kitchen will be cooled off by morning.


Categories: Recipes
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