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October 2008

September 2008

Soft Pretzels

If you grew up close to Philadelphia, chances are you saw a drunken Mummer, got frost bite at a Thanksgiving Day parade, or booed the Eagles when Randall Cunningham’s pass was not completed (or when Santa Claus took the field. But I really think we’ve moved past that). And while you were doing these things, chances are you had a soft pretzel in your hand. The pretzel probably came from a concession stand at the Vet, a hot dog vendor near the art museum, or even from (and I’m disinfecting with hand sanitizer as I write this) a metal shopping cart on South Street.

Pretzel_1_2I relish those days of crazy fans, parades and soft pretzels. Sure, I love a good Philly cheese steak, but the soft pretzel holds a special place in my heart…right next to Rocky movies and water ice.

Making soft pretzels at home is easy. It takes basic ingredients and a little patience. I had both this weekend; I also have a spouse that worked at a popular pretzel shop (which will go unnamed) and he was able to share with me a roll-snap-cross-uncross-pinch technique to give the pretzels there shape, which no doubt made him very popular with certain mall-dwelling teenage girls in the nineties.

You know who you are.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons baking soda
kosher salt

Pretzel_2Directions
In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1/4 cup of warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over it, and let this stand for 10 minutes. If the mixture is separated, you can stir it a bit to dissolve the yeast.

Combine 1 1/2 cups warm water, flour, and salt in large bowl, then stir the yeast into the mixture in the large bowl.

Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and stretchy. If the dough is really sticking to your hands, you can add a little more flour. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel, and place the bowl on a warm surface, like on a rack in a warmed oven with the oven door open. (Or in an oven with the light on and the door closed.) The dough should rest for about an hour, and should be about twice its original size when it’s done.

Gently punch dough down and roll it into a log. Depending on how big you want your pretzels to be, separate the dough into portions. (This recipe will make as many as 12, but we like larger, puffier pretzels, so our dough made 6).

Roll each portion into an inch-thick rope (you can go as thin as 1/2 inch). Pick up the ends of the rope, then cross your hands so that your arms make an X. The dough will be in a circle. Then un-cross your arms (crossing the ends of the dough) and pull the ends of the rope down and pinch the ends to the bottom of the dough circle, making a pretzel shape. Place the pretzels on a greased baking sheet.

Mix together 2 cups of warm water and the baking soda. Dip each pretzel into the water completely, shake it off and place it back on the greased cookie sheet. Repeat with each pretzel, and then sprinkle with the kosher salt.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes. 


Weekly Blog Round Up

Lavender_moon_cupcakery Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...the cupcake wars continue this week with a Washington Post head to head comparison between Baked and Wired and Lavender Moon Cupcakery. Baked and Wired came out well ahead of Lavender Moon Cupcakery, both in terms of value (price per ounce), texture and flavor. B&W's cupcakes were at best "like a Snickers bar", while LMC garnered an " I could live with this" for their Triple Callebaut chocolate cupcake.

Lauren, of Capital Cooking, blogged this week"On our Crazy for Cupcakes episode, (coming soon) I will teach you how to make some fabulous cupcakes at home as well as exploring some of the best places to get cupcakes in the DC area."

Two of DC's food bloggers/website owners are getting their voices out over the airwaves. First, Nycee Nellis (The List Are You On It), along with her husband, David, will launch a radio show called "Dishing It Out" on Federal News Radio this Sunday. Jane Black of the Washington Post reports.

Metrocurean dished about fall food on XM's Broadminded this week, along with Andrew Stover of Chief Wino.

In DCists Drink in the Details new monthly column, writers Adam Bernbach (Bar Pilar) and Chantal Tseng (Tabard Inn) launched with a fascinating and entertaining article on Vermouth. Once consumed for its presumptive medicinal qualities, the columnists note that " Vermouth was relegated to a shelter for besotted fruit flies", and call for "vermouth to bring back the balance" to cocktails.

News of the departure of three chefs at Eric Ripert's West End Bistro was broken by Don Rockwell on his eponymous site last Saturday. The Going Out Guru's reported that Executive chef Leonardo Marino and at least one of his sous chefs were suspended last Friday amongst allegations of "behavioral problems". When contacted, Marino stated only that "I resigned today."

Rockwell went on to write "I will miss Leo Marino, Rob Berry, and Ricky King. They made Westend Bistro into a great kitchen by their own talents and merits, and without any help from New York.
The new chef is Joey Palma, who just came down from Le Bernardin. Welcome to Washington, Chef Palma, and we all wish you the best of luck. You have some big shoes to fill - three pairs to be exact."

Tom Sietsema, the food critic for the Washington Post, released "The review that you won't read in the Oct. 12 Washington Post Dining Guide: WESTEND BISTRO BY ERIC RIPERT (2 1/2 STARS)" at the begining of his Wednesday food chat this week.

Another Don Rockwell member, goldenticket, confirmed the closing of 100 King in Old Town Alexandria. The restaurant had been doing its best duck and weave (with live music and a menu change-up) to stay upright, but alas, could not avoid the TKO. 100 King's glass jaw may have been cost in its prime location, tourists patronage vs. becoming a "local's" restaurant, or food that never had people thinking passion, but only passable, when eating.

1905, a French-inspired bistro in the Old Grape Legs space had its soft opening this week. Daily Candy described the interior "From the looks of things, the dining room could well have been a bar car on the Orient-Express. Gothic chandeliers and eclectic furnishings (hello, repurposed locker room benches) fit perfectly in the intimate Victorian boho space."

Metrocurean describes the second-floor space as "comfortably worn-in, from the gold pressed tine ceiling to the aged copper bar and exposed brick." Jim responded regarding the soft opening "Limited wine list and menu, but both are good and offer good value. Good scene and should be a success."


American Pumpkin Ales; or, "It tastes like pie AND it'll get me drunk?!"

For this, the last of my Autumn Beer Series, I have saved my favorites: the pumpkin ales! These uniquely American ales combine differing degrees of roasted or canned pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and other seasonings to create some of the most fabulously smooth, malty, delicious beers of the year. The Oktoberfests are all well and good, but to me, no beer really evokes the feeling of fall's arrival like the pumpkin beers — the combination of pie spices and squashy goodness is as seasonally specific to me as the turning of the leaves. Of course, as with all beers, no two pumpkin beers are alike. Here are my thoughts on four of the most common in our area.

Harvest Blue Moon "Harvest Moon" Pumpkin Ale
Abv: 5.6%

Appearance: Deep copper red with a full, long lasting head

Aroma: Slightly sweet nutmeg spice with a yeasty note.

Flavor: Malty with a bit of cardboard on the front; dusty, dry wheat flavors persist on the mid-palate. The finish is dry and short.

Gourd Grade: Olive Garden's Fried Zucchini Sticks
Made by brewing giant Coors, this beer is probably the easiest pumpkin ale to find. Just as you don't go to Olive Garden for the authenticity, nor should you go to Harvest Moon for real Pumpkin Ale flavor — each is best when it is the only game in town. However, like OG's Fried Zucchini Sticks, the Harvest Moon is not badly made, just not all that authentic.

Postroad Post Road Pumpkin Ale
Abv: 5.0%

Appearance: Light Amber with brown hues. Head is full and lingering.

Aroma: Striking, intense clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, along with a very slight malty sweetness.

Flavor: Sharp clove and other spices on the front of the palate, and surprisingly dry throughout. The finish leaves a tannic sensation on the tongue (not unlike that which you would get from red wine), along with the lingering flavor of cinnamon.

Gourd Grade: McCormick Pumpkin Pie Spice
For lovers of pure spice, this beer is a dream — no other pumpkin ale out there is so spicy that you can FEEL it on your tongue. However, just as when taking a big heaping spoonful of pie spice, the flavors here are intense, and the actual pumpkin element is not to be found.

Dogfish1_2Dogfish Head Punkin Ale
Abv: 7.0%

Appearance: Golden Brown with a full, lingering head.

Aroma: Nutty, roasty notes with a hint of cinnamon and sugar.

Flavor: Malty sweet on the attack, with a slight note of allspice. Medium bodied and smooth, with persisting flavors of nuts, pumpkin, brown sugar and cloves.

Gourd Grade: Jack-O'-Lantern
Just as the Jack-O'-Lantern is the quintessential symbol of October, Dogfish Head Punkin is the quintessential pumpkin ale, combining beautifully the elements of spice, malt and pumpkin in a highly drinkable fashion. Year in, year out, of all the pumpkin beers on the market, this is my go-to for everyday enjoyment. 

Weyerbach Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale
Abv: 8.0%

Appearance: Dark Amber brown, with short lasting, brown tinged head.

Aroma: Subtle combination of sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin — like pumpkin pie filling, but balanced and understated.

Flavor: Nuances of cranberry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and roasted nuts on a very full, almost creamy body. The finish is slightly sweet and leaves the lingering flavors of pumpkin and spice.

Gourd Grade: The Great Pumpkin
This is the most well balanced and nuanced pumpkin ale in the patch. The relatively high alcohol content provides a luscious mouthfeel, on which is carried the perfect combination of sweetness and spice. Though not cheap ($20 $10/ 4 pack), this is a fantastic beer, and personally, I could spend a good hour just smelling it. Were Linus not a minor, I would assume this is what he was waiting up all night for.

If any of these sound appealing to you, make sure to grab them up sooner than later, as production runs on some of these beers are extremely short, and supply usually dries up well before Thanksgiving.


Wine Spectator Says "Cheese" in September 30th Issue

WinespectatorGenerally speaking, I'm not a Wine Spectator reader.  Though I appreciate its existence and someday aspire to have a need for detailed information on the best ways to stock my personal cellar, I just don't have the means (or the storage space) to truly take advantage of what it usually has to offer.

Their September 30th issue, however, practically leapt off the magazine rack when I passed it in the grocery store recently.  "100 Great Cheeses!" it trumpeted from its cover.  "Best Wine Matches!"  "Delicious Recipes!"  What can I say, I'm a sucker for that kind of talk.  I bought it without even opening to the table of contents.  The dozen or so glamour shots below the title probably didn't hurt, either.

When I got home and had a chance to look at the venerable wine magazine's coverage of their classic pairing partner, I was impressed.  Contributing Editor Sam Gugino first walks readers through "Cheese's Coming of Age," summing up Americans' evolving taste for cheese over the past decade and effectively whetting the reader's appetite.  From there, the magazine delivers on the promise of the cover: "100 Great Cheeses."  Note that title - this isn't a list of the 'best' cheeses, or even a comparison of the cheeses they do mention.  It is a collection of recommendations (or a checklist, if you're more ambitious like me) meant to expand the reader's horizons and to introduce a wide range of truly noteworthy cheeses. 

Cashel The entry for each cheese is concise but informative.  Graphics indicate the type(s) of milk that go into the cheese and a ballpark pricepoint.  A brief description of the cheese - with details on its origin, its characteristics, and a recommended wine pairing - follows. Alongside the list are a few recipes, some Q&A and more detailed examinations of five popular types of cheese (Alpine, Cheddar, Goat, Washed-Rind and Blue).  And it wouldn't be Wine Spectator without a couple of wine suggestions, so the feature closes with recommendations to pair four types of wine (white, red, sweet and port) with cheese plates featuring a variety of complementary cheeses.

All in all, this is actually a pretty impressive introduction to cheese and I would certainly encourage you to look for a copy if you're at all interested in learning more.  But it did leave a couple things to be desired from my perspective, most notably:

  • Organization.  The list was printed alphabetically by name of cheese.  Though this is very useful if you know exactly what cheese you're looking for, it tends to cause headaches if you try to use the list as a more comprehensive reference tool.  While the descriptions of the five popular categories I mentioned previously include the names of the relevant cheeses from the list, there is almost no way to determine which cheeses bear comparison to one another, or to seek out a particular style of cheese to see which listed cheeses fit the bill.
  • No Local Representation.  Because the article limited itself to cheeses that are readily available from online retailers, it's not overly surprising that none of our fantastic local cheeses (Meadow Creek's Grayson, Everona's Piedmont, Blue Ridge Dairy Mozzarella) made the list.  Even so, it's disappointing to be snubbed - especially when Grayson is available through Murray's and several other online retailers.

Have you read the articles yet?  If so, what did you think?  If not, does a list like this hold any interest whatsoever? 


An über brat for an über fest

Image020 Look at it.

Five beautiful feet of bratwurst sizzling on the grill. Maybe it's the German in me (probably the Freud), but that enormous sausage is downright pornographic.

Saturday, Sept. 20 was the official start of this year’s Oktoberfest, so grilling an über brat was a must. So too was the sauerkraut, the Oktoberfest beers and the German potato salad...with swine. God I love German food. I also love my butcher.

Image003_2Fact is, I could've ordered a whack of six-inch brats from the guys at Canales Quality Meats in Eastern Market. But why do that when they’ll make me a sausage as long as I want? So I e-mailed Carlos Canales and ordered up five feet of German sausage. It was ready the next day.

See, that's why we should patronize our local butchers and purveyors. The level of customer service is so much higher and the amount of knowledge they have about their products is so much richer than what you’ll find at your local chain grocery store. Besides, the quality and freshness of the products are far and away better than what you can get at Harris Teeter and Safeway. My sausage wasn’t trucked in, Canales made it. Quality, man.

Back to the meal. In addition to the brat, I put together a variation on my mother-in-law’s German potato salad. Ma Schmirler’s dish is a straightforward German potato salad with bacon in a vinegar dressing. In my version, I replaced the boiled red potatoes with grilled fingerlings, added grilled pearl onions and tossed it all in a mustard vinaigrette. I didn’t change a thing about the bacon.

Image046Keeping in the spirit of things, I served all of this with a couple Oktoberfest beers. Using Rob Rutledge’s great reviews of German and American Oktoberfest beers as a guide, I bought six-packs of Bell’s Octoberfest and Erdinger Oktoberfest.

Prost!

Canales Quality Meats
Eastern Market
306 7 St., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003
(202) 547-0542      
E-mail: CanalesQM@aol.com
(Tip: If you want to order your brat or brats from Canales Quality Meats, e-mail Carlos by the Tuesday before you need it.)

Bratwurst and grilled German potato salad
(Makes 5 hearty servings)
For the bratwurst

1 five-foot bratwurst (or 10 traditional six-inch brats)
German mustard
10 buns (optional)
1 lb. sauerkraut (never optional when grilling brats)

For the grilled German potato salad
2 ½ lbs. of fingerling potatoes
2 dozen red pearl onions, pealed and skewered
6 slices of black pepper bacon, cut into lardons (1 inch pieces)
1 clove of garlic, minced finely
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbs. stone ground mustard
6 tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. celery seeds
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. sugar
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Image015 To make the mustard vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, garlic, mustard, thyme, basil, celery seeds and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Slowly add the oil while whisking rapidly. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.

If you're using a charcoal grill, light it before starting on the potatoes. If you have a gas grill, boil the potatoes first. In either case, pull the bratwurst out of the refrigerator so it can lose some of its chill.

Place potatoes in a stock pot, cover with water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until a knife inserted comes out with some resistance. Drain well and let them cool enough to handle. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and set aside.

As the potatoes boil, fry the bacon and set aside.

Image023When the grill is ready, start cooking the potatoes and onions. Grill the potatoes meat side down for 3 minutes. When the potatoes have browned, remove. Pull the onions off with the last of the potatoes and chop coarsely.

While the potatoes are still hot, add them to a bowl with the bacon and onions, toss with the mustard vinaigrette, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Image025_2When the potato salad is done, you're ready to grill the bratwurst and start warming the sauerkraut. Place the sauerkraut in a pot and set it off to the side the grill. Put the brat on the hottest part of the grill. After 5 minutes, carefully flip the brat over and cook for another 5 minutes. Move to a cooler part of the grill and cook for a final 10 minutes. Remove the brat and sauerkraut from the grill. Let the brat rest for 5 minutes.

To serve, cut goodly portions of the brat, spoon out the potato salad, divvy up the warmed sauerkraut and pour the beer.


Oktoberfests, DC Style

In my last couple posts, I have advised you people as to how best enjoy Oktoberfest in the comfort of your own home: this week, against my better judgment, I suggest you leave the house, and actually socialize with your fellow man. After all, Oktoberfest, in its original incarnation, was about celebrating life with one's neighbors! Over these next few weeks, the DC area will be hosting a plethora of German-esque festivals hearkening the changing of the seasons. To my mind, these events fall into two distinct categories: kid friendly, carnival-style affairs (read: "Family Fun"), and beer-centric gorge-fests best left to the adults (read: "No, daddy is not sick! Now stop crying and keep your eyes on the road!"). Below is the full gamut of Teutonic tumults at your disposal: Choose wisely!

Fun for the Whole Family:

Barracks Row Oktoberfest

This six year old event has one thing going for it that I am certain no other festival can claim: The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders! In addition to gratuitous bouncing, the Barracks Row fest also features craft and food vendors, and all the benefits of the burgeoning local restaurant scene. Stick around and catch the Military Culinary Competition, which pits teams of chefs from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard in an Iron Chef-like competition of culinary skill!

September 27, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Barracks Row, 8th St. SE, Washington, DC
http://www.barracksrow.org/Ocktoberfest08.htm
Admission: Free!


Fort Belvoir Oktoberfest

The 13th Annual Fort Belvoir Oktoberfest features four days and nights of live music, food and fun. Unique to this event is the ominously named (but perfectly safe!) "Volksmarch," a 10 K hike through the wooded trails that surround the fort. Swing by, drop the kids off at the "Kinder Korner," and enjoy the musical stylings of Elbe-Musikaten and the Philadelphia German Brass Band.

October 2 - 5
Off of Rt. 1 in Fairfax, Virginia
http://www.belvoirmwr.com/special-events/oktoberfest2008/index.html
Admission: Free!


Frederick Oktoberfest

Though the food sounds a bit underwhelming on their website ("Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Pretzels," etc.), this is purported to be one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations in the area. Among those events on the docket are a yodeling contest, a strong man competition, and a polka-off! The modest $5 entrance fee goes to a charity for disabled persons; the fee is waved if you wear a Dirndl or Lederhosen!

September 27 - 28. Saturday: Noon - 10 p.m. Sunday: Noon - 6 p.m.
Frederick Fairgrounds, East Patrick St., Frederick, Maryland
http://www.frederickoktoberfest.com
Admission: $5, Children ages 11 and under are free.


Germantown Oktoberfest

The Germantown Oktoberfest is widely considered to be Montgomery County's premier Oktoberfest celebration (go figure), and is this year marking its 26th anniversary. This festival has all the usual attractions such as traditional dancers and fireworks, and tends to attract some of the best German food vendors in the area. This is another great one to bring the kids to, but as the Biergarten pours only Sam Adams Octoberfest and Miller Lite, don't go expecting great beer.

October 4, 11 a.m. to Dark
Ridge Road Park, Germantown, Maryland
http://www.germantownoktoberfest.org
Admission: Free!


Oktoberfest at Fort Meade

You Marylanders with children should be sure to check this one out. The quintessential carnival-with-a -German-theme, the Fort Meade Oktoberfest offers 24 rides, midway games, traditional food and drink, folk dancing, cooking demonstrations, and a Munich style keg tapping ceremony. Tickets are free, but the food and drink will cost ya.

September 17 - 21
Fort Meade Pavilion, Llewellyn Ave. Fort Meade, Maryland
http://www.ftmeademwr.com/events/Oktoberfest/index.htm
Admission: Free!


Drunken Debauchery:

Blocktoberfest at RFK Stadium

... will not be happening this year. According to their website, due to the "tremendous work involved," this ever-popular DC area event is now on a bi-yearly schedule. Rest assured, though: apparently next year's is supposed to totally "rock."

Fall, 2009
RFK Stadium, Washington, DC
http://www.blocktoberfest.com
Admission: To be determined.


Das Best Oktoberfest at National Harbor

Though this one does admit children, it sounds like a bit of a bacchanal. $30 at the door buys you admission to this festival featuring 75 beers, several dozen examples of German schnapps and wine, and, apparently, the St. Pauli Girls (Yeah, I didn't know there was more than one, either). The waterside venue has two stages, which will host a range of acts from Oom-pah and rock bands, to polka dancing, to biggest beer belly competitions. This event is rain or shine, with all the vendors covered with ample tent-age, making it the ideal pick if the weather's looking dodgy and you don't mind a wicked hangover.

September 27, Noon to 8 p.m.
137 National Plaza, National Harbor, Maryland
http://www.dasbestoktoberfest.com/washington-dc/show-info
Admission: $20 in advance, $30 at the door; Children ages 12 and under are free. Admission gets you 10 sample tokens, and additional tokens cost $1 apiece.


Oktoberfest at Capitol City Brewing Company

This 9th incarnation of Cap City's suburban celebration now features a children's area in front of the library — now parents can drop the kiddies off and indulge with a clear conscience, babysitter or no. About 30 breweries are signed up for this year's fracas, each doling out two or more beers in four-ounce samples, all you can drink. In addition to the booze, you can look forward to seven hours of traditional German music and the usual array of brat and pretzel vendors. Though I have never been myself, I have it from semi-reputable sources (i.e., my friends) that this event is a lot of fun, but you should expect long lines, and a lot drunken antics.

October 4, Noon to 7 p.m.
Shirlington Village, Arlington, Virginia
http://www.capcitybrew.com/octoberfest.php
Admission: $25 for unlimited samples; Free w/o samples.


Oktobeerfest at Rustico

This year, Alexandria's premier beer spot is getting into Oktoberfest with their cleverly named Oktobeerfest (har!). Held in the restaurant's parking lot, Oktoberfest will feature about 20 draft beers, live music, and a wide range of foods from other Neighborhood Restaurant Group enterprises such as Evening Star, Vermillion, and Tallula. The beer list looks pretty nifty, and the NRG is known for producing some fine snack foods — though this one may be low on the German culture, it looks like a winner for the food and beer lover, at least on paper.

September 27, starting at Noon
Rustico Restaurant — 827 Slaters Lane, Alexandria, Virginia
http://rusticorestaurant.com
Admission: Free! Food and beer tickets available — All tickets are $1 each and can be redeemed for food, drink or raffle tickets. Most food and drink items will be between 3 and 8 tickets.


Virginia Wine Festival

Okay, so its not really an Oktoberfest, but the timing is spot on, and the spirit is similar. This year celebrates the 33rd anniversary of the Virginia Wine Festival (making it the east coast's oldest such event), which now features more wines than ever before. Among those 54 wineries pouring are some of my personal favorites, including Barboursville, Blenheim, Breaux, Chrysalis, and dozens of others. Included in the price of admission is free access to numerous seminars and free concerts. If your tastes lend themselves more to the grape than the hops, check this one out an experience the best of the best of Virginia wine.

September 27 - 28, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Prince William County Fairgrounds — 10624 Dumfries Road, Manassas, Virginia
http://www.virginiawinefestival.org
Admission: $20 online, $25 at the gate —includes unlimited tasting and full seminar access. $15 designated driver ticket includes free non-alcoholic beverages and full seminar access.


Highfield Dairy at FreshFarm Markets - Eggs, Yogurt and Oh, Those Goat Cheese Pierogies!

HighfieldIf you've overlooked Highfield Dairy in your trips through the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, you're not alone.  Highfield doesn't set up a tent, and they don't have a banner to advertise their presence to the crowds.  Week after week, Dan Adams or one of his associates pulls into the market in an old blue pickup truck and sets up a few tables with large coolers full of eggs, yogurt and an array of products made with Highfield's fresh goat cheese.  Hand-lettered signs announce what's for sale and how much it costs.  It doesn't get much more farm-to-table than this.

Fresh_goat_cheeseThe star of the Highfield show is undoubtedly that fresh goat cheese.  With a herd of roughly 100 mixed-breed Nubian goats, John Marshall makes a goat cheese that is incredibly mild and creamy.  There is almost no trace of the usual tang (or the less pleasant earthy aftertaste) that tend to be the hallmarks of goat cheese.  Sold in 8-ounce and one-pound tubs ($6.50 or $12, respectively), the fresh chevre could easily be mistaken from cream cheese - even after the first taste!

But Highfield does us all a HUGE favor by taking their cheese to the next level and integrating it into a couple of addictive treats: goat cheese tarts and pierogies.  The tarts are a savory blend of eggs, peppers, tomatoes, herbs and goat cheese in a small pie crust.  They make a terrific breakfast on their own, though they can be paired with Cedarbrook Farm's pasture pure pork bacon or sausage for a really satisfying meal on a weekend morning.  The pierogies are a revelation.  Growing up in a Russian family, I've had my share of the traditional dough pockets filled with everything from mashed potatoes to prunes to sauerkraut...and I'm kind of a fan of the pork and chive filled dumplings from City Lights of China, as well.  Believe me when I tell you that Highfield's goat cheese-stuffed offerings (which are the size of an ice cream scoop, I might add) blow them all away.  They can be frozen, but be sure to thaw them completely before sauteeing in a little hot oil.  The cheese practically liquefies inside the dumplings and the dough crisps up to a beautiful texture.

Goat_cheese_and_raspberries As good as the pierogies are, I'm a sucker for fresh goat cheese by itself...especially when spread on a cracked pepper cracker.  There's something about the interplay between the creamy tang and the sharp bite of the pepper that works so well.  But I found myself trying something new with this cheese because of its exceptionally mild profile.  Instead of enjoying the cheese on its own, I topped it off with a few fresh raspberries from another market vendor.  The sweetness of the berries took it to a whole new level - it was great!  So simple to put together, but still something that I'd be willing to serve to guests as an easy appetizer.  I'm definitely filing this one away for future reference.

Highfield Dairy can be found at the Dupont Circle market on Sundays - look for them in the PNC Bank parking lot next to the mushroom stand.  Alternatively, you can find them at the H Street NE FreshFarm Market on Saturday mornings between 9 AM and noon.  This smaller market provides a far more relaxed shopping experience where you can still find products from Cedarbrook Farm, Keswick Creamery, Atwater's Bakery and a number of fresh and/or organic produce growers.  In either location, it's worth seeking out Dan for a taste of his creamy and delicious goat cheese.


Gnocchi

You know the old to-may-to, to-mah-to debate? I’d say gnocchi trumps it. Ask anyone who adores this pillowy pasta and you’re sure to get a different pronunciation.

There’s the classic (and I’ll even go out on a limb and say correct) pronunciation: nyoh-kee. There’s my husband’s favorite: noo-kee. And there’s my sweet old Italian grandmother’s way (and may I add this woman manages to butcher the name of every Italian meal she makes quite masterfully): ngaw-kee.

No matter how you say it, I think we can all agree that its taste is heaven. What you may not know about gnocchi (which means lump or knot) is rather easy to make. Time consuming, but easy.

So if you have 3 hours to kill and you’re in need of an interesting conversation piece at dinner (because inevitably, putting it on your table is bound to stir up debate about its pronunciation) give this a try:

Gnocchi (Adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano)

Ingredients:
3 pounds russet/Idaho potatoes (po-tah-toes)
2 cups unbleached flour
1 egg, extra large
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup canola or olive oil

Directions:
In a large pot, boil the potatoes until they’re soft (about 45 minutes). Remove them from the pot, and while they’re still pretty warm, remove the peels and discard. If you have a vegetable mill, pass the peeled potatoes through the mill and onto a clean surface. The benefit of the mill is that it allows the potato to get a little air in it, which makes the gnocchi fluffier.

If you don’t have a mill, just mash the potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Then, if you have a mixer, (I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer) mix up the mashed potatoes to get a little air in them. Make sure you get all the lumps out of the potatoes. If there’s any lumps that won’t mash completely, remove them and discard. Place potatoes on a clean surface.

Form the potatoes into a ball, and make a well in center. Sprinkle all over with 2 cups of flour, making sure to cover the potatoes and the surface around them. Crack an egg and put it and the salt in center of well. Using a fork, mix up the egg and salt, and then blend in the flour and potatoes. Start kneading the ingredients together to form dough, and continue until you’ve formed a ball. Once a ball is formed, knead the dough gently another 4 minutes. You can add more flour if you need to, but after 4 minutes, the ball should be pretty dry.

Divide the dough into six smaller balls. One at a time, take a ball and roll it into a long rope, about 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the rope into 1 inch-long pieces.

This step is optional, but if you’d like your gnocchi to have those trademark ridges (which are supposed to help hold sauce), take each piece and roll it along the prongs of a fork.

Boil 4 quarts of water to boil in a large spaghetti pot. Fill a large bowl with ice and cold water, and place a smaller bowl inside of it.  Place this near the boiling water.

Drop the 1 inch dough pieces into boiling water and cook them until they float. As they rise to the top of the water, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them in the small bowl (on top of the ice). Let them cool here while you roll, cut, and cook the rest of the gnocchi.

When all the gnocchi have been cooked and cooled, remove the small bowl from the ice water and toss the gnocchi with oil. Your gnocchi is ready to eat, or be stored in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. (It can also be frozen for up to 3 months…You’ll only need to cook it for about 6 to 7 minutes).

Gnocchi is fantastic served with a variety of sauces. We enjoy ours in a cream sauce, like this one. You may enjoy it on the little-less-decadent side, (if that’s possible with gnocchi) like gnocchi with tomato, basil and olives.


Weekly Blog Round Up

Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week...Back in the day (read-my day) we let our fingers do the walking. Now, they do the talking via boards, blogs, chats and Twitter. From noun to verb, as a plate went from something you ate your food on to artfully placing your food upon the plate, as Google is a search engine and the act of using said search engine, Twitter is at once a microblog and the act of microblogging. With Twitter, you can tell your readers what you are doing at every waking moment of the day. More and more, food lovers and food critics alike are using Twitter to note what they are eating and where they are eating it at.

This week, Adour, the new Alain Ducasse restaurant in the St. Regis Hotel, was Twittered about by Todd Kliman of the Washingtonian. Over the course of a 4-hour meal, Kliman gave a real-time restaurant review, tweeting "The baguette: thin, perfectly airy, with a great crumb" and "Gala apple souffle. A touch undercooked, with a wonderful vanilla ice cream".

You can read the bite by bite account of Kliman's dinner here, as did Ducasse himself. In real time, of course. We're curious what people think of this. Should one wait until the end of the meal to pass judgment, or is every thought as we're eating a meal relevant?

Once word spread about Michael Landrum's newest restaurant, Ray's The Heat, Don Rockwell members began posting in earnest with heightened anticipation. Landrum's newest restaurant, scheduled to open in Spring '09, will be located in a strip mall at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road in NE Washington DC. According to Landrum (as reported in the Washingtonian's chat this week), the menu will focus on "soulful" cooking with dishes such as Nashville Hot Chicken and Maryland Stuffed Ham on Sundays.

The District Domestic reported on her guest appearance on Emeril Green, episode: Lovin' Lamb. Filmed at the Whole Foods in Fairfax. Sarah learned how to turn her tough inedible lamb into a spectacular dish.

Busy blogger Where In DC continues to dish out recipes and restaurant visits. This week, WIDC tells readers that John, the Burrito Man at 15th and K is back in business. Via text, he tells WIDC "I will make (friends) the BEST and FRESHEST burrito they have ever had. Don't forget the GOOSE sauce!" Goose sauce?

Who knew there is a whole month to celebrate fungi? This week, Metrocurean gives us 7 ways to celebrate Mushroom Month, including PS 7's 5-course mushroom tasting menu (available all month) and the mushroom tasting trio during happy hour at Nage.

Finally, you can rate your "foodie-ness" according to Synesthesia and Capital Spice. How many of The Omnivore's Hundred have you eaten..or would you eat?


Oktoberfest 2: The Americans

Last week, in an effort to educate the masses and give myself an excuse to buy five different six-packs of beer, I did a piece outlining this year's crop of German Oktoberfest beers. This week, in the interest of patriotism and furthering my premature enjoyment of Autumn, I review a lineup domestic seasonal offerings.

Unlike German breweries, which are best known for their light-gold, sparkling lagers, American breweries have built their reputations on hefty, hoppy ales. During Oktoberfest, most American breweries mimic the traditional German Marzen style, taking a shot at this softer, more subtly flavored lager, with mixed results. Below are my pics for some of America's finest microbreweries' offerings for Fall 2008.

Bellsoctober Bell's Octoberfest Beer
Abv: 5.0%
Style: Marzen

Appearance: Light gold/orange with a full, foamy, long lasting head.

Aroma: Rather intense yeasty-sweet notes, not unlike fresh bread dough.

Flavor: Bitter on the front, with toasty malt qualities throughout. Quite dry and light bodied, with a slightly creamy quality. Finish persists with the same doughy sweetness, and just the briefest sensation of hops.

Overall: A bit of a letdown considering its pedigree. Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is known for producing some of the hoppiest ales and heaviest stouts in America. That said, a lager and an ale are two very different beers, and just because a brewery is really good at one doesn't mean it will do as well with the other. This beer is good and solidly made, don't get me wrong, but I don't see anything that separates it from the pack, particularly given its $11 per six-pack price tag.

Mendocinooctober Mendocino Oktoberfest
Abv: 6.1%
Style: Marzen

Appearance: Dark red/gold. Small bubbled, short lived head.

Aroma: Sweet malt and red fruit elements of grapes and apples.

Flavor: Quite sweet on the front, and the higher than average alcohol comes through with a full mouth feel. Finish is much drier, with a lingering spicy quality.

Overall: A departure from your typical Marzen lager, being overtly fruit driven and rather full. Some will find this beer charming; others, ham-fisted. Either way, this would make a great intro for people who love fruit beers (ie, Magic Hat #9), but want to examine the wider world of classic styles.

Samadmasoctober Samuel Adams Octoberfest
Abv: 5.7%
Style: Marzen

Appearance: Copper red with a short but lingering head.

Aroma: Dry, with a slight quality of spent matches along with a faint whiff of blackberries.

Flavor: More berries and slightly sweet on front. Medium bodied and slightly creamy with a dry, short finish.

Overall: Sam Adam's Octoberfest is probably the firm's most popular seasonal release. While I'll agree that it beats the hell out of their awful Spring White Ale, this beer is not without its flaws, and definitely doesn't have any particular qualities to speak for it over its contemporaries, availability notwithstanding.

Vicotryfest Victory Festbier
Abv: 5.6%
Style: Marzen

Appearance: Copper gold, with a short, fine bubbled head.

Aroma: Subtle, with notes of dried leaves and allspice.

Flavor: Hints of honey and citrus fruit on the front, along with the classic flavors of roasted nuts and malt. The finish is slightly sweet and crisp, with more of that dried leaf quality, and a bit of hops.

Overall: An elegant, well made variation on the classic German style. Unlike most of the breweries here (Samuel Adams excluded) Victory is a brewery that stakes its reputation on its lagers, and it shows. While still true to Marzen beer's classic style, the Festbier has a subtle hoppy quality that speaks to its American heritage, while still maintaining admirable balance. Though not for the hedonist, this beer has a lot to offer anyone looking for an easy drinking, yet complicated beer.

Weyerbacheroctober Weyerbacher Autumnfest
Abv: 6.1%
Style: American Amber Ale

Appearance:
Amber/Copper Red, with a foamy, lingering head.

Aroma: First whiff reveals an overwhelming aroma of spoiled milk and vegetation. This dissipates quickly, but not completely, giving way to cinnamon and caramel notes.

Flavor: Medium bodied and creamy, with malty flavors. The finish is surprisingly dry given the sweeter qualities of the nose.

Overall: Kinda boring and a bit flawed. The vegetal and milky notes that introduced the beer were hard to forget, despite the nice dry lift of the finish. Weyerbacher has a bit of a reputation of hits and misses, and I would have to characterize this beer as one of the latter.

Okay, so besides luxury automobiles and, arguably, sausage, there are other things the Germans do better than us. Bearing in mind that most of the beers reviewed today are a good deal more expensive than their similarly-styled Teutonic counterparts, it's hard for me to recommend them over several of the gems I reviewed last week. That said, there are now hundreds of American microbreweries out there, many of which offer some sort of fall seasonal — give them all a try, and for America's sake, prove me wrong!