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February 2008

Weekly Blog Round Up

Heard around the DC Foodie blogoshere this week....DCist reported this week that while Starbucks closed down for 3 hours for employee training, Capital Hill coffee lovers will be without recently shuttered Murkey Coffee for an undetermined period of time. At least until owner Nick Cho settles up with the tax man. Death and taxes. What are you gonna do?

Several  DC area foods vendors will be serving up their fare when the words "Play Ball' ring out for the first time in the new National's stadium. This week, the Washington Nationals announced the lineup of local eats, including Ben's Chili Bowl, Hard Times Cafe, Mayorga Coffee, Boardwalk Fries, Gifford's Ice Cream, Red Hot and Blue, Cantina Marina, and Noah's Pretzels. See Marc Fisher's column in the Washington Post for more on these vendors.

Small_apizza Don Rockwell broke some exciting news on the ever expanding DC region pizza front. Edan MacQuaid, the ex-pizzaiolo at Two Amys and RedRocks, will be partnering with the owners of 2941 restaurant to open a new pizza place in downtown (old town) Falls Church, VA. The yet unnamed restaurant may be serving up pizza with DOC status, as well as antipasti ,from an exhibition kitchen. Also soon to be opening is Pete's Apizza in Columbia Heights. Expect New Haven style pizza (ah-BEETS, according the the website). Check out Charles Sweeney's (aka: Busboy) post on eGullet for more about the owners, and the pizza.

In this week's Wednesday Washington Post Food section, food critic Tom Sietsema stirred up a bit of controversy over his piece on tasting menus entitled  Degustation Disinclination Just Too Much. Sietsema likens what can be a several-hour-ass-numbing experience to a test of endurance where small dishes of crudo, cauliflower panna cotta and ragout of root vegetables can be lost in a seemingly never ending parade of plates. To the palate fatigue rescue may be dessert, inspired by a designer fragrance, which is gently wafted under your nose. At least, Sietsema reports, that's what happened to him at the trendy Moo restaurant in Barcelona, Spain. Funny, that happens to me when I walk into Macy's. Hmm.

Last, if you're a fan of Girl Scout cookies (and who isn't?) and like Tagalongs, The District Domestic has a lower fat version that you can make at home.


A stroll through Old Town...

This past Sunday, being an unseasonably lovely day (what global warming?), my girlfriend Eliza and I decided to take a walk about Old Town Alexandria. I don't make it down to this area nearly as often as I'd like, so it was interesting to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

An interesting new addition to the Alexandria gourmet scene is Grape + Bean, a little shop right on South Royal Street just off of King. Ramona actually tipped me off to this place about a week ago, so when I spotted it out of the corner of my eye I thought I'd check it out.

Housed in a comfortable little space with a very 'Old Town' feel (wide-planked hardwood floors, exposed brick, etc), the Grape + Bean specializes in artisanal coffees and eclectic wines. Though the shop was full of browsers when I wandered in, I was immediately greeted by the barista (whom I assume is also the owner, given the nature of the business), who offered me a sample of several wines they were tasting at the time. Sipping on my Thorn Clarke Sparkler (which incidentally is a very nice, dry-finishing Australian bubbly, well worth the $15 price tag), I took a moment to peruse the shelves. The wine selection, while small, was actually very interesting: in a shop with maybe 50 facings, I was surprised to find such oenological oddballs as Lagrein rose, Rias Baixas Albarino, and various obscure wines from Iberia, all pretty reasonably priced. 

Amongst the wines were sprinkled a selection of high-end wine and food related knick-knacks— by and large the usual William Sonoma sort of affairs, though there was a fascinating looking salt well featuring a rainbow of colored rocks that reminded me how little I know about the mineral. The cold chest was a bit bare, but there were a some nice beers being offered such as Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA and Dale's Pale Ale out of Colorado, and amongst the several cheeses was Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog, one of my favorites.

The coffee menu featured about 5 or 6 coffees from Counter Culture, a well known roaster out of Durham, NC, dedicated to sustainability, fair trade, and really good java. The descriptions were ample and detailed. After a good amount of consideration, I ended up selecting an Ethiopian, single-village coffee called Harfusa. Coffees are made on a cup-by-cup basis using the shop's single Clover unit. While the system is much touted for making coffee in the freshest, most correct manner possible, one thing the Clover machine is not is fast. From ordering to service, my coffee took 10 minutes to arrive— I didn't mind, what with more wine to sample. At about $4.00 a 14 oz. cup, the price was a little steep, but the coffee was quite tasty. This being my first experience with this type of coffee maker, I wasn't sure what to expect— the flavors were indeed fresh, but the texture was unusual, a more evident suspension than your average cup of joe; you could actually feel the particles in the liquid, as in espresso, but with less intensity.  It was very unusual, but a must try for any coffee nerd out there.

After a refreshing cup of hot black coffee, I developed a hankering for seafood (obviously). Strolling a bit further towards the water, we stopped at one of those establishments that never seems to change: The Fish Market.

Ensconced in a 19th Century shipping warehouse constructed of old ballast stones, the Fish Market gives off a much "homier" vibe than many of the upscale eateries that have popped up on King over time. The dining room features the full complement of Neptune's bounty, in large portions, and you can "have it your way," broiled or fried. Homey, sad to say, does have its pitfalls. Those looking for a plethora of beer and wine choices to accompany innovative seafood dishes will be quite let down— the fare at The Fish Market is decidedly simple from both behind the bar and from the kitchen.

Fortunately, our tastes were leaning toward the simple side that day, craving nothing more than beer and oysters; in this department, the Market was unlikely to disappoint. What I wasn't prepared for was the bounties of happy hour (4 PM to 7 PM, Sunday thru Thursday). While nothing superb, the Market offers a small selection of 32 oz. beers for less than $8.00, and the wines are blah blah BLAH ... the oysters were 69 cents apiece!!! Normally $8.25 a half dozen, during happy hour that price is halved, making this the best shellfish deal I've come across, Ebbitt's and Hank's (blessed though they might be) be damned! And these Blue Points were huge, too, and perfectly sweet and briny even so late in the season (though to be fair, we did come across one gritty one in the dozen). The raw clams were similarly priced and also fresh, although the flavor did not make me a convert. Overall, I was truly impressed with the quality to price ratio. If you can find the time, make a point to swing by the Market before this best of all seasons runs dry. Trust me, Sam Adams tastes like ambrosia when paired with a dozen shucked oysters the size of your cellphone.

Grape & Bean
118 South Royal Street
Alexandria, VA
david@grapeandbean.com
http://www.grapeandbean.com

The Fish Market
105 & 107 King Street
Alexandria, VA
703.836.5676
fishmarket@starpower.net
http://www.fishmarketoldtown.com


Cheesetique

Img_4193For a lot of people in the Washington area, Cheesetique was a revelation when it first opened four years ago this month.  Even longtime devotees of Calvert-Woodley's La Cheeserie and Bower's Fancy Dairy Products in Eastern Market were thrilled to find an actual store whose main focus was CHEESE.

Located on Mount Vernon Avenue in picturesque Del Ray, Cheesetique got some great press early on and D.C. Foodies' word-of-mouth quickly made it a hit.  It probably didn't hurt that Jill Erber, the owner, proprietor and 'Cheese Lady,' has such a deep and obvious passion for what she does.  Despite the small space and the rather noticeable aroma (heavenly for cheese-lovers, but an acquired taste for sure), patrons would line up five and six deep to wait for the kind of attention usually only found at tailors' shops and other more personal establishments.  Jill (or one of her able assistants) takes the time to walk each customer through the myriad cheeses she has to offer, eliciting likes and dislikes, offering tastes as she goes and helping to arrive at the perfect choice. 

Img_4199_2 She can then help you match it with the perfect wine, or recommend some Fra'Mani salumi or some tupelo honey to serve alongside.  As Cheesetique's popularity continued to grow, Jill made it a point to bring in a wide range of foods and accessories to accompany the star of the show.  Arrangements with nearby bakeries and farms introduced fresh bread and organic meats to the inventory, and a schedule of wildly popular cheese tasting classes has helped to broaden even the most knowledgeable palettes.

Img_4197_2 With Cheesetique's loyal following and a desire to continue to offer more and more complementary products to go with her cheeses, it was only a matter of time before Jill felt the need to expand.  Thankfully, the opportunity presented itself toward the end of last year, and Jill announced that she would be moving a few doors down into a space almost THREE TIMES as large as the original.  On Saturday, the doors opened to this new and improved Cheesetique, and the response was impressive - even with added staff and increased floor space, lines were as long as I have ever seen them in the original store. 

Fans of Cheesetique would have been happy if the expansion were the only improvement, but there was even more good news: plans to integrate a full-service tasting bar into the new Cheesetique!

Img_4196_2 By next week, those plans should be a reality.  Tuesday through Saturday, from 5 PM to 9 PM, Cheesetique will offer a wine and cheese bar where guests can sample a range of products sold in the store.  The plan is to offer cheese plates and charcuterie, as well as fondues, panini and quiche from local producers.  The focus will be on small, artisanal purveyors and is likely to rotate.  In addition to the food offerings, wines will be available by the glass, so you can try before you buy.  When I stopped by on Saturday, the bar space was not yet open, so I can't offer any sneak-peeks, but I am definitely planning to check it out for myself sooner rather than later.

Img_4203_2In terms of selection, Cheesetique stocks a wider range of cheeses than most of their competitors because they have more space and do not limit themselves to artisanally-produced cheeses (like Cowgirl Creamery does).  So you can find Saint Andre brie side-by-side with Sweet Grass Dairy's "Green Hill" here, allowing for easy comparison.  Their prices are competitive, though I have found a few instances where they were on the higher-end of the scale compared to other cheese shops in the DC area.  Even so, I find myself drawn to Cheesetique for its warm, inviting atmosphere, its friendly staff and their ability to track my purchases so they can help me recall "that great melty goat cheese I bought last month" (it was the Monocacy Ash I wrote about a few months back).

Despite the inconvenience of its location in Del Ray (which is set back from Glebe Road and Route 1 and is not really served by the Metro), D.C. Foodies will have even more reason to check out Mount Vernon Avenue in the near future.  Img_4205_2 Jill informed me that the space formerly occupied by Cheesetique will now house a purveyor of grass-fed beef and other naturally-raised meats.  Run by an Australian butcher, it will be called "Let's Meat on the Avenue" and is likely to open within the next few months.  The new sign is already hanging out front, and it looks to have the same light-hearted approach to quality foods as its predecessor.

Cheesetique is closed on Mondays, but you owe it to yourself to pay a visit during the week if you've never been.  And if you are a real cheese-lover, you need only ask "What's good?" and give a few examples of what you enjoy to experience a new favorite you didn't even know existed.

Cheesetique
2403 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA  22301 (Nearest Metro is Braddock Road, which is not especially nearby)
703-706-5300
Tuesday through Friday: 11 AM - 7 PM
Saturdays: 10 AM - 7 PM
Sundays: 12 PM - 5 PM
Closed Mondays 


Bistro At Home-Potato Leek Soup

Potato_leek_soup_collage_copyNow that we have a bit more of winter left, a warm bowl of potato leek soup is still comforting and hearty. And, it's fairly easy to make. With a handful of inexpensive ingredients and store bought broth, potato leek soup can come together in under an hour. Served along with DC Foodies frise salad, only a rustic artisan bread would be needed to make this a meal for your family, or for entertaining company. Potato leek soup can also be served cold as Vichyssoise.

What I like about this soup is that the method of making it is more important than exact measurements. A bit less broth will yield a thicker soup, as would throwing in another potato. You can really make it rich and creamy by finishing it with heavy cream if you want. You want it chunky, not smooth? Why not!  It's all to your taste.

Potato Leek Soup

serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 leeks, white part only, washed thoroughly and sliced 1 inch wide
  • 2 shallots, peeled and rough chopped
  • 2 large russet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs.), peeled and cubed 1 inch thick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 peppercorns
  • 6-8 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3-4 strips bacon, cooked and chopped for garnish
  • 1-2 green onions, green part only sliced thin for garnish (or use fresh chives)
  • cheesecloth
  • kitchen string

Directions

While assembling your mis en place, make a bouquet garni with the bay leaf, thyme and peppercorns. In a piece of cheesecloth, place the aforementioned  3 ingredients and tie together with kitchen string. If you do not have cheesecloth, use 2 large leek leaves to hold the contents. Fold the ends of the leek leaves over towards the middle and tie like a package. If you do not have cheesecloth or kitchen string, just omit the peppercorns and add more fresh cracked pepper at the end of cooking. The bay leaf and fresh thyme can be fished out with tongs after cooking and before blending.

In a heavy bottom pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and leeks. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Continue to saute for another 2-3 minutes. To pot, add potatoes, chicken stock and bouqet garni.

Partially cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are completely tender.

Remove bouquet garni and carefully transfer soup to a blender and blend in batches until completely smooth. Be careful with the hot liquid. You can also use an immersion blender.

Return soup to pot and add the half and half. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve with bacon and green onion or chives to garnish.


Hook Restaurant

You might have read my initial review of Hook back in July when the restaurant first opened. If you did, and listened to my advice and gave it a try, then you' understand why I say that it's quickly becoming my favorite seafood restaurant in DC. Just about every time I've been to Hook, the menu is a little different, which means you can come back time and time again and never get bored. One of the reasons for this is that they maintain a menu of sustainable fish and seasonal, locally-produced ingredients, which at other restaurants can translate to inconsistent dining experiences, but at Hook, it's just the opposite. Hook is very consistent.

I've been to Hook a couple times in the last month, and both times, my meals were very impressive. The fish always comes out out perfectly cooked. The server doesn't ask how you want the fish cooked, it just comes out the way it should be cooked depending on the cut of meat. A sablefish (or black cod) is left a little rare so to not cook away all the oil in the fish that gives it its aroma and flavor, yet it's not served with a typical Asian inspired soy marinade. Instead, the fish is served with a cranberry-red wine sauce, braised chanterelle mushrooms, and smoked lentils, a nice combination of flavors that I would never dream of.

Any wood-grilled fish is worth ordering. Last time, I had the mahi mahi, and the time before that, the wahoo. Both came with ingredients that complimented the flavors of the fish, but don't hide the flavor of the fish. In the case of the mahi mahi, it came with a delicate squash risotto and with the wahoo came a salty squash and shell bean ragout.

But I jumped to the entrees too quickly and failed to mention the appetizers. The first section on the menu is called "Crudo". Each crudo comes with three slices of a certain king of raw fish, each slice is topped with a different light topping, and cost about $8 or $9. Some have criticized the size of these starters calling them little postage stamps of fish, and I've had similar criticisms, but on my last visit, they had an oyster crudo. I thought the oyster crudo was a pretty good value considering they were Stellar Bay oysters.

There's usually at least one soup menu and I've ordered it every time because they've just sounded so damn good. Recently, I had both chestnut soup with raw oyster and apple and roasted beet soup with yogurt. Both soups weren't overly creamy, but had just the right silky thickness in the broth and the flavors were subtle. Other than soups on a recent trip, I also had a delicious steel head trout tartar with just the right amount of mayo mixed with blood orange, red onion, and macadamia nuts. But, the reality is that there are so many dishes that sound amazing on the menu, that it's extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to a single appetizer and entree.

For desserts, you really can't go wrong. Heather Chittum is easily the best dessert chef in DC in my opinion. I was first introduced to her creations 4 years ago at Circle Bistro. Her heavenly Madelines with lavender honey were love at first bite. Now at Hook, she's coming up with her own version of moon pies and gingerbread which require no elaborate description except to say that either of these desserts are a perfect way to end a meal.

Hook
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
202.625.4488
hookdc.com

Hours:
See web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: There is no valet parking. I repeat, there is no valet parking despite what you may read elsewhere. Parking is not simple in Georgetown. If you can't find a spot on the street, just park in the Georgetown Mall lot across the street.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Reservations: Taken and recommended.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 diaper. I wish I could give it more but the atmosphere just isn't appropriate for a child.
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Very clean and kept up well. Of course the restaurant is still pretty new that that's expected.


Weekly Blog Round Up

Small_charcuterie Heard around the DC Foodie blogosphere this week.....If you read Tim Carman's column "Young and Hungry" in the Washington City Paper, you may have noticed a new writer this week. Melissa McCart of Counter Intelligence published her debut article "The Right Stuff", which highlights the skills of Restaurant Eve's young, but dedicated charcuterie maven Dan Fisher.

As DC Foodies reported last week, local baristas participated in a latte art competition. According to DCist, we had a strong showing.

Also reported in last week's Weekly Blog Round Up was the departure of Chef Amy Brandwein from Roberto Donna's Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City. Chef Brandwein's new venture in the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City will be called "Fyve" and is scheduled to open in March. Read about it here on Don Rockwell.

Speaking of openings, here is some news about Tom Powers' new location for his restaurant, Corduroy. Apparently, the talent who are helping to sculpt his vision are the muses behind such restaurants as Zatynia, Oyamel and Acadiana, according to Foodservice Monthly's Sauce on the Side.

In the most recent Wednesday WaPo TomChat, a chatter pondered whether or not it was worthwhile to jump through mayyyjah hoops secure the chef's table at Brasserie Beck with a deposit and signed contract. The last time I did this, I was getting married, not eating dinner. Also posited in Tom's chat was yet another word or phrase that puts the peeve in pet peeve. This week's winner was "gastropub" because gastro just wasn't appetizing to one poster. Last, what perks my ears is anything to do with hoagies subs. If you're wondering where to get a good one, chatters this week recommend Vace, The Italian Store, Mangialardo's and Deli City.

Do any DC Foodie readers have a favorite place to get a sub? A pet peeve to share?


Birreria Paradiso

The M Street drag in lower Georgetown has long been a bastion of the hip and cool in DC — yet somehow, certain establishments manage to fly just under the radar. Pizzeria Paradiso, a longtime Birreria1 institution is well known, and deservedly so, for the quality of its wood-fired pies. However, relatively few people know of the other great stuff that lurks down below.

The DC craft beer scene is a relatively new development compared to those in other major metropolitan areas. Yes, I know, we have the Brickskeller, which has held the world's record for most beers in one location for several years. But the 'Skeller, by its very nature (i.e., huge), is lumbering and static. Maintaining a list such as theirs, some 1000+ beers strong, necessitates that the status quo reigns; sure, there is bound to be the occasional change in the lineup, but when placed among its hundreds and hundreds of brethren, who is bound to notice the newbie?

To the Brickskeller's behemoth, Birreria Paradiso offers an elegant counterpoint. Small and dynamic, it represents the very quintessence of a proper latter day spirits program, so lacking in the District. Housed in the cozy downstairs area of the Georgetown location, the Birreria is a welcoming space, featuring a 10 seater bar, a fireplace lounge, and table seating for about 20.

Well, I guess calling the beer program "small" only works in comparison to the Guinness record holder.  In fact, the Birreria's selection is quite impressive, being some 80+ strong in the bottle department. Selections run the gamut from the $5.50 Austrian Pilsner to several $50 Belgian Bieres Brut (the closest thing any beer lover is going to find to the glories of vintage Champagne). The bottle menu is extremely well laid out, oriented by category with general descriptions, with each brew identified with its own pithy couple of lines. Given the specificity, you are very unlikely to end up with something unexpected. The selection features a wide array of both domestic and imported novelties; if you are a fan of rare bottle-conditioned ales, be aware that Paradiso is near the top of the allocation list, and you will find things there you may never see in any other bar or retail store. In addition they regularly stock the full compliment of Belgian Trappist beers (at least, those that are available) and local favorites from Dogfish Head and Victory.

Birreria2_2

While the bottle list is well appointed, it is in the draft department where I think the Birreria really shows its stuff. Their draught selections are constantly rotated, featuring some of the best and hardest-to-find beers in the country. Do not come here if you are looking for Miller Lite or Coors— if your idea of a complicated wheat beer is Blue Moon, you may be a bit put out. What you should expect is a full complement of beers you've never heard of, and assume that nearly all of their 16 taps will be different than the last time you'd visited. Paradiso is also one of the few venues in town where you can experience real cask ale: served unpasturized and unfiltered, unadulterated by CO2 or nitrogen, at room temperature, this stuff is the closest you will find to those served in the British pubs of yesteryear. If you’d like to know what you are getting into before you go, rest assured that the list on the website is kept very up to date despite the disclaimer.

Sampling the Paradiso draft lineup is a great way for both the expert and the neophyte to learn a thing or two. Bartenders are keen to let you taste new offerings, and Manager/Buyer Greg Jasgur, a one-man beer encyclopedia, is usually running in and out of the place. Tuesday and Wednesday the Birreria features half-priced drafts and pizza specials from 5 to 7 pm. This happy hour is easily one of the best in town, and as such the space becomes packed with in-the-know regulars. I heartily suggest you go, but expect to stand and have your personal space a bit encroached. Bartenders tend to be very competent, but given the crowds and the Birreria's commitment to serving their beers in the proper glassware, you may have to wait a bit for your next drink. Be patient, and don't rush: many of the beers on draft are 10% abv or higher, so resist the urge to get as many in as possible, especially if you are driving. If you can find a spare bit of flat space, have a pizza, too. Beer has the same food pairing potential as any beverage, wine included, and with the breadth of choices available you are sure to find a match for your favorite toppings.

Birreria Paradiso
3282 M Street NW, downstairs
Washington, DC
202.337.1245
eatyourpizza.com
Map
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Garage nearby. Street parking is hard to find.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn


Blue Ridge Dairy (and their Applewood Smoked Mozzarella)

Img_4142 Even in the dead of winter, the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market is a great source of locally-produced vegetables, pasture-raised buffalo meat, and artisan baked breads.  Not surprisingly, the selections are significantly limited compared to the bounty that can be found from late spring through the fall, but there is still quite a bit that can be found and enjoyed.  Just make sure you show up early: although the FreshFarm website lists the market's winter hours as 10-1, I have seen vendors breaking down as early as noon when there's a chill in the air.

The changing seasons and colder temperatures have less of an impact on dairy products than they do on produce, so it should come as no surprise that most of the local cheesemakers who sell at the Dupont Market are still going strong through the winter.  One of them, Blue Ridge Dairy, has been catching my eye from the first time I saw them set up at the Penn Quarter Market.  Their hand-chalked sign Img_4143advertising yogurt, cheese and creme fraiche from Jersey cows' milk caught my eye, and the samples on offer made the sale even before I had a chance to ask about them.

Since that first encounter, I have learned quite a bit about Blue Ridge Dairy through conversations with the sellers and the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.  Located in Leesburg, Blue Ridge turns out fresh cheese and cultured milk products using milk from Jersey cows.  Paul Stephan, who has been working at cheesemaking for almost a decade, cultures the milk at his facility and then stretches the curd by hand to make his fresh mozzarella, which is sold in 8-ounce balls for $6.  Other fresh cheeses are also hand-made, including a naturally low-fat small-curd ricotta and lightly sweet and creamy mascarpone.

Some of Stephan's most flavorful offerings, however, require a little more attention.  Feta is aged for two months before the 8-ounce squares are offered to the public, and their tangy bite is well worth the wait.  Slow-churned cultured butter is silky and rich, with a definite flavor and a higher fat content than what you'll find on most grocery shelves.  It is supposed to be excellent when used in baking, though I have not used it in that capacity myself.

Smoked And the most distinct of his offerings, for my money, is a smoked version of his fresh mozzarella.  Using applewood, which is popular with enthusiasts of barbecue, turkey and bacon for its deep, slightly sweet smoke, Stephan uses the "low and slow" method of bathing the mozzarella in wave after wave of applewood smoke until the finished product emerges with a latte-colored skin and an aroma more like bacon than anything else.  These smoked balls of mozzarella are sold dry in 8-ounce portions for $7, and a little goes a long way.  Unlike the fresh mozzarella, whose delicate taste and soft, moist texture encourage you to keep coming back for more, the strong smoky flavor is almost overwhelming when eaten by itself.  If you've ever tasted a packaged smoked mozzarella like the ones that can be found in Safeway and Giant (or even the ones that can be found pre-packaged at Trader Joe's), you will be hard-pressed to identify this as even remotely related...the taste is so distinct, the texture so much less rubbery.

It begs to be used in cooking, paired with caramelized onions or other semi-sweet flavors where it mellows into the taste equivalent of a deep bass rhythm.  Blue Ridge Dairy's applewood smoked mozzarella is wonderful on homemade pizzas, as well, where it can stand up to spicy ground sausage and sweet red peppers with equal aplomb.  It can be melted atop crostini or paired with fresh tomatoes and basil for a twist on a standard caprese.  Whatever you do with it, just make sure not to overdo it or you will find yourself overwhelmed by the smokiness to the detriment of your other ingredients.

Blue Ridge Dairy can be found year-round at the FreshFarm Markets in Dupont Circle, Courthouse and Penn Quarter (check the FreshFarm website for each market's hours and dates of operation).  They also sell some of their products through Whole Foods, but it's far more fun to walk up to Paul or one of his assistants at the market, take a taste, and get to know the people who make this delicious local cheese.


Italian Wedding Soup

Wedding_soup_collage_copy_2 Italian wedding soup, or just wedding soup, has become more familiar to Americans of late, particularly to those outside of major cities in the Northeastern region of the country (especially Western PA and Eastern OH) where large Italian-American communities exist. In fact, now you will likely find it in just about any supermarket, in the canned food section. 

The Italian name, minestra maritata, means "married  soup" and has been mistranslated to  "wedding soup". Originating in Southern Italy, minestra maritata referred to the fact that the flavors of meat and greens married, or went well with each other . While not traditionally used in wedding ceremonies, this soup, along with other vegetable soups generated in Roman times, were thought to stave off hunger and possess curative properties. The French verb"restaurer" means "restore" and thus, public restaurants were initially places where soup was served to restore the health of the customers. And fill their bellies, of course.

There are many versions of Italian wedding soup. Basic ingredients include meat (usually meatballs), greens and chicken broth.  Additions such as egg, cheese and pasta can be made. Greens can range from escarole, to spinach and kale or broccoli rabe. Here, I make a simple version using fresh, beautiful escarole from the Dupont Market along with tender meatballs made with pecorino romano cheese.

This recipe makes a lot of meatballs. It's hard to make just a handful! You can do what I did and make half of the meatballs small for the soup, and the other half regular (golf ball) size for later use. Leftover meatballs not being used immediately can be frozen on a lined baking sheet (topped with plastic wrap), then transferred to a sealed zipped baggie.

Italian Wedding Soup

serves 8

Ingredients

  • 8 cups low sodium chicken broth in box, or use homemade
  • 1 medium to large head escarole- green part only, cut into thin strips
  • 2 1/2 lbs. meatloaf mix (veal, pork and beef)*
  • 2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons half and half
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pinch nutmeg
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, place ground meat and remaining ingredients. Mix gently with hands until incorporated. Avoid over working the mixture as the meatballs will become tough.

Roll individual meatballs gently, by hand, into 1 inch balls and place them on a parchment lined pan(s), or on top of a non-stick sprayed broiler pan(s) to allow grease to drip down and away from the meatballs.

Place pan in oven on middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. While meatballs are baking, bring chicken broth to a simmer.

Remove meatballs and drain on paper towels. Blot tops of meatballs to remove excess grease.

Add meatballs to chicken stock, about 4-6 meatballs per person. Add escarole and bring soup back to a simmer. Cover and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with grated pecorino cheese.

Store remaining meatballs covered in the refrigerator for further use, or freeze as mentioned above.

*Meatloaf mix can often be found in supermarkets. If you can not find meatloaf mix, you can use ground beef (80/20 mix) or a mixture of ground beef and ground pork.


Weekly Blog Round Up

Small_latteart Heard around the D.C. Foodie blogoshere this week...Latte art experts from two area coffee houses will be competing this weekend at the Millrock Free Pour Latte Art Championship at the Washington Convention Center, according to Counter Intelligence.  Baristas from Murkey Coffee, in D.C and Arlington VA, and Cafe Pronto in Annapolis MD, will create their best hearts and tulips in this $5000 competition. Nick Cho, owner of Murkey Coffee, wrote on Don Rockwell that the competition is in conjunction with Coffeefest DC (a trade show) and viewing is free to the public. Finals are on Sunday.

Metrocurean dishes on the hottest rumors swirling about the ether. Apparently, hotel restaurants are hot, as in "that's so hot". It seems that Gordon Ramsey is "all but certain" to take over the kitchen at Maestro in the Ritz-Carlton Tyson's Corner. The f-bomb heard 'round the beltway was first reported by Todd Kliman in his weekly Tuesday chat. Another yet unnamed celebrity chef is rumored to be taking over the kitchen at the Donovan House in NW DC. Yes, Virginia D.C., there is a trend.

Get a peak inside new restaurants and shops opening in Alexandria's Old Town at The Houndstooth Gourmet. Read about a new Belgium-inspired creperie, Fontaine Caffe & Creperie on South Royal St. as well as Grape + Bean, a new wine, coffee and gourmet store which opened right across the street.

Want to know all about composting? (after all, where does all that garbage go?). Read about worms (yes, worms) and their superior fertilizing powers on The Slow Cook. While you're there, congratulate the author on his article about rhubarb published in the current Martha Stewart Living magazine!

Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City will be losing Roberto Donna's top toque, Amy Brandwein. With Donna's blessing and highest regard, Brandwein will be doing her own thing at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. Replacing Brandwein will be a close friend and colleague of Donna's, Claudio Sandri, the new Chef di Cuisine. Get the inside scoop here, at Don Rockwell.

If you are headed to one of our weekend farmers markets, pick up some mushrooms and try out this delicious sounding Mushroom Tart, by You Gonna Eat All That. Along with easy to follow recipes, she writes about her travels and dog, Sophie.

Finally, Apples and Bananas tells us about what the next "it" foods might be.  According to Good Magazine. Papusas, Dosas and Laska all should be making their way onto restaurant menus soon.