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March 2009

Beef and Mushroom Stew

Wide Market ShotLast Saturday I made my way to the Arlington Farmers Market, intent on finding some indication that Spring was around the corner.  However, the chill in the air and the sparse amount of produce were a huge reminder that although Spring may have arrived on the calendars, it's still not evident in DC.  There were the now familiar bins of tubers (sweet, Yukon and new), the onions (both yellow and red) and of course the many, many apples that are staples of Winter.  This, I thought to myself, was not turning out to be a successful Spring rejuvenation market trip.  I resigned myself to this fact and instead decided to make a good hearty beef roast (and hopefully for the last time this season) for the upcoming (and what turned out to be rainy) week. 

Crimini Mushrooms My first stop was the Mother Earth Organic Mushroom stand, where there was a sea of criminis, portabellas, shiitakes and white button mushrooms all competing for my attention.  I will freely admit I adore mushrooms:  their earthy taste, their woodsy smell and their almost meaty texture.  I shamelessly add mushrooms to dishes that usually don't call for them (I even made a mushroom gelato once before...we won't discuss the end result).  But I knew the flavors of crimini mushrooms would complement the beef for my roast, so I picked up a container.  While I was at the stand, I asked when morels would start showing up at the market and I was told within the next few weeks.  The lady at the stand laughed and said I was the tenth person that had asked her about morels this morning.  "I think we're all just anxiously awaiting the Spring crops," I said.  Her response? "Forget the crops, I want the Spring weather.  You try standing out in the cold for four and five hours at a time!"  I laughed and thanked her for my mushrooms and kept going. 

Lovely Rosemary I continued down the parking lot, in search of other ingredients for my roast.  I happened along a small stand with no sign on it.  Curious, I walked over to see what they were selling and was pleasantly surprised to find a small selection of herbs.  A young couple was operating the stand, while trying to stay warm with giant cups of coffee.  I asked them about their farming methods and was told during the Winter months, they grow their herbs in a greenhouse using a chemical free method.  Although not certified organic, they strictly adhere to organic farming practices but have yet to take the steps to become certified.  I picked up a sleeve of rosemary and the herb's lush aroma instantly hit my nose.  I happily paid for the rosemary, caught up in the haze of sniffing the fragrant leaves.  So much so, I forgot to ask the vendor's names. 

I figured I needed some vegetables to round out the beef roast, so I headed over to the Potomac Vegetable Farms stand to root through the bins.  As I was selecting my onions, an older couple came up to the potato bin beside me.  "So how many potatoes will we need," the older woman asked as she picked through the pile.  "Well, I think we'll need at least three pounds to make a decent potato salad," he responded, shaking his head.  "I'm still not sure why they're insisting on having a cook out; it's too cold to be standing outside cooking meat."  I laughed quietly to myself and the lady turned to me and said "It's his kin and he's asking why they're crazy enough to be eating outside when it's cold."  That pretty much sums up all of DC's mood right now: ready for Spring, even if Mother Nature isn't.  I got two large onions and four parsnips for the stew, adament that I would not be using potatoes for yet another week. 

My final stop for the day was, of course, for beef at Eco Friendly Foods.  In case you haven't been to Eco Friendly Foods lately, I feel it is my civic duty to inform you they now sells bacon...and it's delicious.  The bacon is straight from their humanely raised pigs and cured at a neighboring farm (the curing method involves only salt, brown sugar and water and absolutely no nitrates).  The difference between store bought bacon and Eco Friendly Foods' bacon is astounding to say the least.  Not only does the bacon cook up crispier than store bought, the flavors are uncluttered and pure pork goodness.  The hint of brown sugar adds a smoky depth to the bacon without leaving a sweet taste in your mouth.  It's quite frankly a bacon lover's dream.  I happily snapped up a package of their bacon along with a lovely chuck roast for my beef roast.

Finished Dish Mushroom and Beef Roast
3 to 4 pound boneless chuck roast
2 cups beef stock or broth
1 cup dry red wine
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon hone
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
3 teaspoons allspice
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
3 medium sized parsnips, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1 small container crimini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sprinkle the chuck roast with salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the beef, allowing it to brown on each side before removing it from the pot.  Add the onions and carrots, allowing them to cook for about four minutes.  Make sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and stir them into the onions.  Add the wine and allow it to come to a boil.  Add the beef stock, tomato paste, vinegar and honey and allow the liquids to boil together for about 30 seconds.  Add the mushrooms and the spices and then return the beef to the pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then remove it from the heat.  Cover with the lid and place the Dutch oven in the stove.  Roast the beef for 3 hours, turning it halfway through the cooking time. 

Weekly Blog Roundup

Heard around the DC foodie's blogosphere this week... At least for a short time, you can enjoy Barton Seaver's cooking from the kitchen of Sonoma in Capital Hill. The seafood-minded chef offered an arctic char that was "worthy of him", according to Banco at Don Rockwell. Rockwell speculated whether Sonoma was a temporary stop for Seaver until Blue Ridge opens.

"If the Best of D.C. issue would have been released next week, I would have selected another place as Best New Restaurant. Unfortunately, I dined at Eventide too late for deadline." This is what Tim Carman of Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry blog reported after enjoying dishes including the bison carpacio, rendered from Chef Vaden's capable kitchen. Carman later posted that he agreed with Don Rockwell's assessment; the bar and the lounge at Eventide are two separate entities and should be entered into with the expectation for two different dining experiences.

Chef Amy Brandwein of Fyve restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City would likely offer a Thai-centric menu if she were to open a restaurant with different cuisine. "So many interesting flavors!", Brandwein reported to The District Domestic earlier this week, as part of her From the Kitchen of:series. One of my favorite questions that TDD asks is "what is your biggest customer pet peeve?". Apparently for Brandwein, it's sauce on the side. Dippers beware!

DC Foodies would like to wish local food blogger Food Rockzman a speedy recovery after taking a spill off of his bike last week while riding in D.C. He'll be on hiatus as his broken right arm heals. Ouch! We'll be looking forward to FR's return to making great food, and taking great pictures.

Capital Spice gave readers a pre-opening peak inside Potenza, an Italian trattoria that opened in Downtown D.C. this week. CS described Chef Bryan Muscatello's menu as Rustic Italian, with options such as a raw bar as well as pies and flat breads cranked out of a 6000-pound pizza oven. Vaunted D.C. baker Mark Furstenberg will be overseeing the bakery, which will sell retail to customers.

Stoutridge Vineyards: "Slow Wine" in Upstate New York

WineryBig Last week I took a long-overdue pilgrimage to upstate New York to visit my parents. On Sunday, tired of the big-city bustle of beautiful Poughkeepsie (birthplace of Scrabble!), we took a ride across the river to the Shawnangunk Wine Trail.

Like Virginia, New York has a sizable wine industry — third in the country by volume, as a matter of fact. While the vast majority of the state's vineyards are concentrated in the Finger Lakes and Long Island regions, there are a good two-dozen wineries operating in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Most of the vineyards on the Shawnangunk are classified as farm wineries, and few produce more than a couple thousand cases per year. While familiar varietals like Merlot, Malbec and Chardonnay are gaining ground, a lot still focus on native American and hybrid varietals, which are better suited to the area's cold climate.

We visited several small vineyards over the course of the afternoon, many reminiscent of VA's Burnley Vineyards (one of my favorites, as I described here): quaint and rustic, offering up an assortment of sweet fruit wines and a few dry reds and whites. Our last stop of the day, Stoutridge Vineyards, was a different matter altogether.

The town of Marlboro, NY is one of those odd "developing" rural areas, where huge McMansions dominate the disused farmland, interspersed here and there with dilapidated double-wides and apple orchards. Stoutridge's facility matches even the biggest estate in the area. A 100 yard drive leads to a grand, Germanic looking structure of white plaster and gray stone, which houses the greenest winery on the east coast, if not the country.

Owners Stephen Osborn and Kimberly Wagner broke ground on Stoutridge in 2001, aiming to create the most natural wines possible, with almost no environmental impact. 3000 square feet of photovoltaic cells BarrelsStout provide for all of the facility's electricity needs, while feeding a good amount of juice back into the grid. The winery is completely gravity fed, a relatively new method of winery design whereby no pumping is employed — grapes are crushed and fermented on the top-most level, fed through a pipe to aging tanks on the next level, and then sent down to the bottling line in the basement. The theory is that juice and wine may be damaged by the pumps' suction; while this is debatable, there is no denying that a gravity system saves a bunch of electricity. In order to save on barrel consumption, Stoutridge employs the giant Hungarian oak casks pictured to the right. These neutral containers will mellow the wine gracefully, and have a much longer useful life than your average wine barrel. Where most wineries will heat and cold stabilize — two energy-heavy and additive-based processes, used to give the wine clarity — Stoutridge leaves the wine completely untreated before bottling, employing neither fining nor filtration.

100_0217Stoutbtl These processes, along with a commitment to local growers, sum up the Slow Wine movement. We were given a full tour, speech, and wine tasting from the owners, who are very enthusiastic about the project. But how is the wine, you may ask. Well, I think my mom summed it up best, when upon tasting the Quimby's Rose 2007, she exclaimed, "This tastes like the stuff the Italians would make in their basements when I was a kid!" Yes, the owners are going for local authenticity, and they got it — wines are grapey, musky, and funky, untreated and unadulterated, just like momma used to make.

Because of the fragility of this sort of wine, Stoutridge is not distributed, and is not likely to be any time soon. The winery will soon bring an all-natural distillery online — since liquor is inherently more durable than wine, I hope they decide to market their spirits to a wider audience. Though I can't exactly say I am a huge fan of these wines, I really dig what the owners are trying to do there, wish them the best in their endeavor, and hope that their success influences other producers around the country. If you find yourself in the New York area and consider yourself a fan of ecotourism, please give Stoutridge a visit.

Stoutridge Vineyards

10 Ann Kaley Lane
Marlboro, NY 12542
(845) 236-7620
[email protected]
Open Friday through Sunday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm

Exterior winery picture courtesy of Stoutridge Vineyards' website.
Bottle picture courtesy of my mom.

Foodie To-Do List: Upcoming Events

TodolistAs part of an ongoing effort to alert you, the readers of DC Foodies, to all of the really cool food-related events, classes and opportunities throughout the Washington Metropolitan area, we're going to be launching a new weekly "Foodie To-Do List."  Each Wednesday, we'll give you a heads-up on a few of the upcoming events that we think look particularly interesting.

And without further ado, the first list includes:

TasteDC's 3rd Annual Single Malt Scotch and Whisky Festival - Only 30 Tickets Remaining!

An opportunity to sample over 90 single malt scotches and whiskies from all parts of Scotland

Tomorrow (March 26th), 6:30 to 9:00 PM

The Whittemore House
1526 New Hampshire Ave., NW
(Just off Dupont Circle near Q St., Metro Red Line)

This is a terrific chance to taste and purchase some truly rare single malt scotches and whiskies and to purchase them afterwards at discounted rates.

$115 per person, inclusive of all tastings and a buffet dinner

To purchase tickets, click here

Cheesetique Cheese and Wine Bar Tasting Classses - Raw Milk Rules!

A learning and tasting event covering a wide range of raw milk cheeses, from soft to hard and with a variety of aging techniques

Sunday, March 29, 6:00 PM
Monday, March 30, 7:00 PM
Sunday, April 5, 6:00 PM
Monday, April 6, 7:00 PM
Sunday, April 12, 6:00 PM
Monday, April 13, 7:00 PM
Sunday, April 19, 6:00 PM
Monday, April 20, 7:00 PM

Cheesetique Cheese and Wine Bar
2411 Mount Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA

To broaden your cheese horizons and learn about what makes some raw milk cheeses acceptable and what leaves others out in the cold

$35 per person, inclusive of a tasting of roughly 10 or 12 cheeses and accompaniments

To purchase tickets, email [email protected] with your list of available dates

"Spanish Vanguard Cuisine and Its Influence on the United States and the World" - a Dialogue with Jose Andres and Wylie Dufresne

A conversation between two of the most creative chefs on the East Coast who are using techniques from Spanish Vanguard Cuisine (think El Bulli) to rave reviews

Tuesday, April 7th, 7:00-8:00 PM

National Museum of American History, Carmichael Auditorium

Part of the Preview Spain series of events taking place all across town this year, this is a great opportunity to hear about Ferran Adria's genius from the perspective of two of his best-known adherents


Though admission is free, you should plan to show up early to get a seat.  The doors open at 6:30.

Know of any big events that shouldn't be missed?  Please let us know so we can include them in a future Foodie To-Do List.  You can email me at [email protected] to let us know what else is going on.

Interview with Liz Falk of FreshFarm Markets

Flowers at the MarketYou all know I've been longing for Spring in a major way. So much so, I started looking around for information on the opening dates for farmers markets in the area.  I was excited to see that one of my favorite markets, the Penn Quarter Farmers Market, was opening on April 2nd and also curious to see if any new vendors would be added.  With this in mind, I reached out to Liz Falk, FRESHFARM’s DC Program Manager, to discuss what consumers can expect at the markets this season and about the history, mission and goals of the organization. 

Fans of farmers markets in the DC area are well aware of FRESHFARM Markets, the nonprofit responsible for the markets at Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter, H Street, Foggy Bottom and many others.  The original purpose behind FRESHFARM Markets was “to help support the small and medium sized farmers in the Chesapeake region by creating urban marketplaces for them to sell their products”, Liz said. The concept began as an idea presented to the American Farmland Trust board members and Bernadine “Bernie” Prince, then a development director at the organization, helped bring it to fruition.  Their first market opened in Dupont Circle in 1997 and there are now eight markets spanning the Chesapeake Bay region. 

Basil for Sale! When asked about how farmers are selected for the markets, Liz informed me there is an application process to become a FRESHFARM vendor. In order to be considered, applicants must be in the Chesapeake Bay region and grow the food they sell (as opposed to purchasing goods from another merchant and then selling it at the farmers market).  If a potential vendor wants to sell finished goods (for example, breads, pies or preserves), a certain percentage of the finished product must be made from local farm products.  In addition, a representative from the farm must be on hand during market hours.  There is a strict “no hormones or antibiotics” rule for all meat and dairy products and beef should come from grass fed cows.  Although organic farming practices are encouraged, they are not required for farmers who sell at FRESHFARM markets.  However, most of the farmers use organic methods (but opt not to go through the sometimes costly and convoluted certification process) or alternative, non-chemical pest management processes. 

The application is not the only part of the process, however.  Liz stressed that “once a [farmer or producer] applies to sell at one of our markets, we conduct farm visits to ensure they are in fact growing what they sell” and meet the requirements set forth by the market.  These visits also allow FRESHFARM to get to know the farmers and producers better and their farming and manufacturing process.  These visits (which occur at least once every two years -  even after a producer is accepted at a market) creates accountability for the producers and provides assurances to market shoppers that they are, in fact, buying directly from the farm.   

Radishes for Sale! In keeping with FRESHFARM’s goal of making local, fresh produce available to all regardless of socioeconomic status, FRESHFARM markets have several local programs aimed at lower income families and individuals.  According to Liz, both the EBT and WIC programs allow those who are not financially stable access to quality produce.  At both the H Street and Silver Spring markets, EBT/Food Stamp recipients can use their benefits to shop for food items from participating vendors at the market.  Senior citizens who are enrolled in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and those enrolled in WIC can also use their benefits to shop at participating vendors as well (there are restrictions on when these benefits can be used).  While participation in these programs is voluntary for farmers at the markets, Liz has been working in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Health nutrition program to get more to participate. 

FRESHFARM also participates in school programs to educate children about farming, gardening and cooking nutritious, healthy meals.  Called FoodPrints, the program allows FRESHFARM to work in conjunction with area schools to create a curriculum aimed at teaching school aged children about the joys and benefits of locally grown foods.  This school year FRESHFARM has been working with Watkins Elementary school, located in Southeast DC.  The curriculums include teaching the students about gardening and farming techniques, as well as actual hands on experience creating and maintaining a garden on school grounds. 

Veggies at Farm Stand The most exciting part of my conversation with Liz was discussing the upcoming market season.  When asked what FRESHFARM had in store for this year, Liz said Penn Quarter will have a new organic farmer, as well as a lamb vendor!  “We are looking into expanding some of our markets, to support more farmers and provide customers with more selection,” Liz said.  Although she couldn’t provide too many details about specific expansion plans, Liz did say FRESHFARM was working on projects that may result in larger markets and/or a more diverse group of producers. In addition, the popular Chef at Market program will be back in full force at the various markets, along with cooking demonstrations and “ask the gardener” sessions at the H Street market.  And the biggest event this year at FRESHFARM is their annual Farm Land feast.  Planning for the event, which includes a four course meal prepared by some of DC’s top chefs, began a month ago and is usually their biggest fundraiser.  As I thanked Liz for speaking with me, I thought to myself, “Great, now I really can’t wait for April!” 

For the opening dates of the FRESHFARM markets, visit their website.

Weekly Blog Roundup

White house garden large This week, news of Mark Slater's departure from Citronelle was first reported on Don Rockwell. "This evening, March 14th, 2009, marks the end of Mark Slater's illustrious tenure at Citronelle. The great sommelier, who accepted the national 2007 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Service, has chosen to take the next step in his long and storied career.", wrote Rockwell.

The next step for Slater is Director of Wine and Service at the Ray's family of restaurants. Michael Landrum, proprietor of Ray's, wrote "..first let me enthusiastically state how proud and happy I am to have the opportunity to work with one of the most accomplished, passionate and knowledgeable wine experts in the world, as well as one of the most gracious and most genuine individuals I know. Our goal is nothing less than to create the most radicalized and subversive wine program in the country".

Local foodies and gardening aficionados will be lining up to volunteer at the newly-announced White House garden. According the the New York Times, our children's nutrition has been prominent on Mrs. Obama's agenda, as she seeks to send a powerful message regarding eating healthy, fresh foods in an effort to combat our nation's childhood obesity problem.

The Slow Cook, local champion of urban gardens and educating children about food has urged the Obamas to adopt nearby school gardens. He pondered on his blog today, "Could it be that the White House was listening?"  Perhaps, as a cohort of fifth graders from nearby Bancroft Elementary School will help to dig the 1,100-square-foot garden, planting, harvesting and cooking the bounty that it will reap.

Is Roquefort getting a reprieve? Maybe, reports Counter Intelligence in her Wednesday "Five on Food" series. According to the LA Times, the 300% tariff, set to take effect on March 23, is being pushed back one month by the Federal Trade Commission as the Obama administration tries to negotiate a settlement that benefits our beef industry.

"Bring on the Butcher Shops" wrote Warren Rojas, on his Northern Virginia magazine blog, Gut Check. Rojas noted the relatively new infusion of butchers and charcuterie makers across the Potomac, including Nathan Anda, formerly of Tallulah/Eat Bar. Anda is shopping around for a storefront location for his Red Apron Butchery to sell his "homemade sauces, gourmet foodstuffs and exotic proteins", according to Rojas. Also mentioned is the soon-to-be-opening of The Butcher's Block, Robert Wiedmaier's shop which is situated next to Brabo in the Hotel Lorien and Spa. Included in TBB's inventory will be wild game. Kangaroo? perhaps not, but you can find the marsupial meat at Stephen Gatward's Let's Meat On The Avenue in Del Ray.

Finally, Metrocurean reported this week that Sunday Suppers are alive and well. Cases in point include a family style meal at West End Bistro for $29 per person, CommonWealth's Sunday roast for around $20 per person, and the Majestic, serving Nana's Sunday dinner that costs $78 for 4 people.

Recession Refreshment: Castillo de Monjardin Tintico

There was a time when the buyers at the shop I work at would never even consider carrying a seven dollar wine; we were too high class for that. Oh, sure, we had five dollar White Zin, and magnums of your usual Chilean Saturday-Night-Special, but these were de rigueur, things you had to have around for your run of the mill winos out there: serious wine drinkers need not apply. Fast forward to five years later, and even the consummate wine snob is looking for a pleasing, sub-$10 alternative. The numbers are in folks, and though growth might be down, the liquor industry is one of the few still posting an increase during these trying times, fueled mostly by greatly increased volume at the lower end.

While your established mass-market brands like Gallo, Almaden, Franzia and the like, will always dominate the "value wine" field, importers and distributors are increasingly looking to invade said market, and maybe even bridge the gap between first-growth Bordeaux and box "Chablis" drinkers. Importer/distributor Winebow deserves some big ups in this vein for recently introducing Castillo de Monjardin to East-Coast oenophiles.

Tintico Castillo de Monjardin occupies a 350+ acre estate in the region of Navarra in northeastern Spain, near the French border. Winemakers have migrated between here and the storied vineyards of Bordeaux for centuries, and as such, Navarra has a rich winemaking tradition. Castillo de Monjardin was planted in 1986 with an assortment of French and native Spanish varietals, producing its first bottling in 1991. Though the winery fields an impressive array of wines, its most impressive is also its most humble, the Tintico Tempranillo 2006. Made from a 200 acre block of the estate's prized Tempranillo grapes (one of the country's native gems), this wine gives an amazing amount of aroma and flavor for such a modest price.

Tempranillo is one of those grapes rarely seen outside of it's homeland. Like the Italian classic Sangiovese, this grape fairs poorly in the western hemisphere, but works wonders in its native soil. Being relatively neutral by nature, Spanish winemakers have taken various steps to make their Tempranillos sing. The Tintico is the purest expression of Tempranillo one is likely to find, being completely unoaked, and grown in the grape's historic heartland. On the nose, this wine give up copious amount of raspberry, plum, earth and herbs, along with a pleasing savory characteristic reminiscent of roasting meat. The front palate is dominated by the wine's more savory aspects, which quickly give way to a combination of black currant and black pepper, leading to a relatively lengthy, bitterly tannic, dirt accented finish.

My brief description really doesn't do this wine justice. To ameliorate that, let me just say that for the price, you are very unlikely to find a wine quite as much power and finesse at the same time. Normally, I would never advocate a $7 wine with steak, barbecue, or other hearty fair, but this one has the heft to stand up to almost any dish, without coming off awkward or overwrought in the process. In many ways, the Monjardin Tintico is the perfect Recession Refreshment for the upcoming barbecue season. The importer has been very effective in getting this one out there, so it should be readily available at most quality retail outlets. If you are a fan of big foods, but loath the heavy wines they call for, this wine is your savior. Conversely, if you really crave an expensive California Cab with your red meat, go ahead and give this one a shot; seven bucks really isn't that great a gamble, and I guarantee you will be disproportionately rewarded.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich I am from the South (Georgia to be exact) and in the South, we take our barbecue very seriously.  Each region within the South has their own take on barbecue and family feuds have begun on the simple premise of whose barbecue is better.  In North Carolina alone there are two main varieties of barbecue:  the Eastern Carolina vinegar based barbecue and the more ketchup based barbecue in the Western parts of the state.  I grew up on the ketchup based barbecue popular in Southern Georgia and could never really grow to like the Eastern Carolina style of barbecue I encountered when I lived in North Carolina.  The one thing all Southern barbecue has in common, however, is the slow roasting technique.   To get that tender, fall off the bone barbecue, the meat must cook for a long time over a low heat.  I have done this an endless amount of times in a smoker, in the oven and even on the stove in a Dutch oven.  However, it never occurred to me to use my crock pot to make any kind of barbecue…until now. 

When a fellow foodie friend of mine mentioned he had made slow cooked pork in his crock pot, I was struck.  Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?  The crock pot was invented for slow cooking and barbecue was the epitome of slow cooking.  It was easy enough to figure out the cooking time for a six pound pork shoulder, but I had a harder time deciding how exactly to cook it.  I was used to making a homemade ketchup based barbecue sauce and allowing the pork to cook in it for hours.  But while I was talking to a friend back home in Georgia, she told me to use a simple spice rub on the pork shoulder, let it sit overnight and then cook the pork in the crock pot.  She even assured me there would be no need for barbecue sauce if I cooked the pork as she suggested.  Uhmmm, what???? No need for barbecue sauce on BARBECUE?  I almost hung the phone up because of such blasphemy.  But my curiosity got the best of me and I jotted down the spices she rattled off for the rub. 

On Saturday, I headed out to the Falls Church farmers market with the idea for the pulled pork in the back of my head.  Since it was such a lovely day out, there were quite a few people were milling about the market.  Unlike my first visit, during one of the coldest days in January, I wasn’t in a rush to get back to the warmth of the car.  So I was able to meander around and visit just about every stand.  Sunnyside Farms had some lovely baby spinach heaped in big silver tubs and a mound of russet potatoes, both of which I needed for my lunch and dinner options for the week.  As I was picking up my now weekly container of Greek style yogurt from Blue Ridge Dairy, the vendor began talking about the market during the Spring and Summer seasons.  He mentioned that the Spring and Summer vendors start showing up around the first of April, pushing the market from one end of the parking lot to the other.  He also mentioned that a few of the prepared foods vendors left the market during the Spring and Summer, to be replaced by more produce vendors.  Although not as big as Dupont Circle’s farmers market, I thought the Falls Church farmers market was a nice sized market, especially considering the time of year.  To hear that the market grew even larger during the growing season only made me want April to come faster.  Feeling experimental, I picked up a container of Blue Ridge Dairy’s famous applewood smoked mozzarella for a flatbread pizza I had in mind. 

Pork Boston Butt @ Market I had previously bought a lovely pork butt from Valentine's Country Bakery and Meats, so it was only natural for me to get the pork shoulder from them as well.  I randomly picked an ice chest to open and right on the top was an almost 6 pound pork shoulder roast, patiently waiting for me to pick it up.  I also grabbed a slab of their bacon, curious to see if fresh bacon tasted any different than the natural stuff I buy from Whole Foods.  I finished up the rest of my weekly grocery shopping with some fruit and nut granola bars from Atwater’s, some fresh tagliatelle and pesto from Cavana Pasta, a gallon of milk from J. Wens Farms & Dairy and some crimini mushrooms from Mother Earth Organics.  And the cherry on top?  I completed my entire week’s grocery shopping at the farmers market and spent less than $80. 

Before I went to bed on Saturday (and right after I moved my clocks up an hour – thanks Spring for stealing that lovely hour away), I threw together the spice rub, slathered it over the pork shoulder and placed it in a large Ziploc bag.  I placed the now clay red pork shoulder in the refrigerator still a bit wary of my friend’s claims.  Doubts aside, on Sunday morning, I dutifully placed the pork in my crock pot and set it on low.  My doubts came back in full force when I checked on the pork after an hour.  The shoulder appeared to be cooking too fast and the meat wasn’t even in the same time zone as tender.  Great, I’ve ruined a beautiful cut of meat on an experiment, I thought to myself as I poked the meat in desperation.  I rotated the meat around a little and placed the lid back on the crock pot.  I repeated this process (panicked thoughts and all) about an hour later, still finding the shoulder to be a bit tough. 

But by hour four, the meat started to soften and a nice looking sauce started forming at the bottom of the crock pot from a combination of the spices and the small amount of water and fat from the pork.  By hour six the meat was so tender, it started falling apart on its own.  I didn’t even have to really shred the pork at all.  I stirred the shredded meat around in the lovely sauce and realized my friend had been absolutely right:  there was absolutely no need for barbecue sauce in this dish.  The spices were permanently imbedded in each shred of the pork, rendering the need for another sauce irrelevant.  When I called to tell my friend how well the pork turned out, I asked her where she got the recipe for the spice rub.  At first she tried to claim it was a family recipe, but considering the fact that I have had her mother’s cooking (and it’s scary to say the least), I wasn’t buying it.  She finally confessed she’d gotten it from Cook’s Illustrated, which considering we were Southern girls, seems almost wrong.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

1-6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
1/4 cup water (optional – depends on how much sauce you want to form)

For the spice rub (from Cook’s Illustrated):
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (or up to 2 tsp if you like it spicy)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Mix together the spice rub in a large Ziploc bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.  Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.  Place the bag with the pork shoulder in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (the longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be). 

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the Ziploc bag and place it in the crock pot.  Add the ¼ cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.  Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for an hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over after an hour and continue to cook for another hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another four hours.  After six hours, check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize.  If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during the slow roasting.  Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your crock pot).  You can serve the pulled pork by itself or with a barbecue sauce (but honestly, it's not necessary).

The Falls Church Farmers Market is open year round with Winter (January 3 through April 25) hours running from 9 am to noon.  The farmers market is located in the city hall parking lot at 300 Park Avenue.

Weekly Blog Roundup

Carrots 500Local farmers market fans are surely familiar with the name and face of Bev Eggleston, founder of EcoFriendly Foods. This week, Metrocurean wrote about "The Bev Effect" and how many of Eggleston's products are being featured on menus from the D.C. area to NYC. You can read more about Metrocurean's "Bev" at Momofuku in NYC and EcoFriendly's work in helping small family farmers get their meats to our Arlington and Dupont farmers markets here.

How does an evening of food from our area's finest restaurants, drinks from talented mixologists and even a chance to meet Top Chef contestant Carla Hall sound to you? Top it off with benefiting childhood hunger and you have the Spring 2009 Taste of the Nation. Brasserie Beck, Vermilion, CommonWealth, Founding Farmers, The Gibson, Central and James Beard award winning Chef Chair R.J. Cooper, will be among the participants in this gastronomic event, which is being held at the historic Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. For ticket and event information, check out the website.

Muffin tops are not just a sad fashion statement. According to The District Domestic, they are the best part of the oft sweet treat, so why eat the bottoms? Now, you don't have to with the Original Muffin Top Tin that conveniently cuts your muffin short. In a good way. If you're more into cupcakes. TDD recommends Elinor Klivan's Cupcake Kit, complete with colorful cupcake liners.

In this economy, frugality is essential. This week, Foodie Tots took inventory of her pantry, freezer and fridge to participate in the "Eating Down the Fridge" challenge. Her goal is to use up at least 10 of her food items in one week, and find inspiration along the way. Many of us could us a good spring cleaning, so thank you FT for inspiring us.

Yesterday, Dish-trict posted about Hank's Oyster Bar's second annual Oyster Fest, to be held April 18th, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person, and include oysters from the East and West coast, onion rings, fries, beer, and a chance to meet local oyster farmers. The event will be held at the D.C. and Alexandria locations.

To carb or not to carb, that is the question. D.C. blogger, The Slow Cook, is cutting carbs and documenting his weight loss and health changes to share with readers. With well-researched information, TSC is eating protein-rich, quality meals, including a breakfast of poached eggs, sausage and braised greens. He might be on to something, as he has lost 8 pounds in 8 days. Great job Ed. Please keep sharing your knowledge and experiences with us.

Finally, DC Foodies would like to welcome Lunching in the DMV to the blogroll. That's DMV, as in The Disctrict, Maryland and Virginia. This week, DMV reviewed The Great Sage, a vegetarian restaurant in Clarksville, Md. The Falafel Griddled Cakes were described as "crunchy" and "healthy", while the Sante Fe Salad with marinated tofu and cheddar cheese was proclaimed "delicious". On the Oaxacan Tamale, she wrote, "It was actually really good for having no meat in it because the mole and green chili sauce were very fragrant and tied the whole meal together." You can check out DMV's full review, along with photos here.

Spring Beers: March is the Cruelest Month

Hey everybody, Spring is here! No, I know, not literally, but it is really nice out, and in no time we'll be up to our eyeballs in robins and crocuses. In addition to marking a time of renewal and natural splendor, early Spring also marks the most dubious period on the brewing calender. Chalk it up to complacency, misunderstanding, or a matter of taste; any way you cut it, early Spring sees the release of what are widely considered the worst seasonal beers of the year. I mean it, too; go ask your beer geek friend, and see if he doesn't agree.

Unlike winter beers, which are generally spiced ales, spring beers lack a cohesive theme  some are white ales, some are fruit flavored, some are just easy drinking pale ales. By and large, they are a huge letdown after the cornucopia of Winter delights, and are quickly replaced by a more interesting selection of Summer beers. But, as a dedicated and ethical beverage journalist, I cannot in good conscience cast aspersions without having tasted this year's crop. Here is my review of five of the most widely available Spring beers, all of them already on the market.

Samwhite Sam Adams White Ale

Spiced Witbier

Abv: 5.2%

Appearance: Slightly hazy pale-gold, with long lived white head.

Aroma: Mildly-fruity, yeasty nose, with a minor spice note.

Flavor: Spicy and slightly soapy on the front palate, with a pleasant tingle. Flat and oddly sweet on the middle, with a grainy, slightly salty finish.

Nestled between the decent Winter Lager and the delicious Summer Ale, the Sam Adams Spring White Ale is always, and remains, a huge disappointment. Though promising on the front, the beer drops off completely, leaving you confused and un-refreshed. Thankfully, the release period for this beer is blessedly short, as Sam Adams releases their Summer Ale in, like, April.

HIPA Magic Hat HI.P.A.

American IPA

Abv: 6.8%

Appearance: Slightly hazy gold, with a short lived, off white head.

Aroma: Skunky, vaguely hoppy aromas with a bit of grainy malt.

Flavor: Sharp and hop-bitter on the front palate, with zesty citrus notes in the middle. Medium length finish, featuring more floral, dry hops.

Though not as lame as I'd remembered, the Magic Hat Hi P.A. is one dimensional, having little to offer but bitter hops. There are numerous IPAs that work this style much more satisfactorily, and a good English Bitter will also serve you better.

Risingmoon Blue Moon "Rising Moon"

American Amber brewed with Kieffer Lime Leaves and Peels

Abv: 5.6%

Appearance: Copper/gold with a short, white head

Aroma: Mild malty notes with a bit of a green, vegetal note.

Flavor: Aggressive carbonation gives way to a bit of dry lime on the front. Mid palate is non-existent, leading to a surprisingly dry, short lived, slightly fruity finish.

Coors has expanded its Blue Moon line the past three years to include a number of seasonal beers, all of them pretty lackluster. This particular beer has almost nothing to speak for it, offering little flavor of any kind, much less anything reminiscent of lime. 

Sierraesb Sierra Nevada ESB ("Early Spring Beer")

Strong Bitter (ESB)

Abv: 5.9%

Appearance: Copper-gold with short, white head

Aroma: Intense hops with a hint of grapefruit, and a salty edge.

Flavor: Heavy bitter hops lead this beer to a dry, malty middle and a lingering, bitter finish. Elements of grapefruit and lemon persist throughout.

While most of Sierra Nevada's offerings offer an ample hop element, this one takes it to a slightly higher level. At the same time, this beer stays true to its British namesake, the once ubiquitous ESB, making it a great, easy drinking "session beer."

Aprihop Dogfish Head Aprihop

Flavored American IPA

Abv: 7.0%

Appearance: Red-gold with a short, off-white head.

Aroma: Sweet fruit with a slight hop character

Flavor: Sweet tangy apricot flavor on the front of the palate, with a malty, bitter middle. Sour dried apricot on the finish, which lingers for several seconds. 

The Aprihop, belying its suggestive name and relatively high Abv, is actually a very well balanced beer. The sweet-to-sour profile is really interesting, and the hop presence is just enough to provide backbone without dominating the beer. A great beer to enjoy as an aperitif, or with a cheese plate before the main course.

Well, who'd have guessed? Three dogs and two winners: not a bad percentage for the category! Perhaps this bodes well for the coming months, following what we may all agree was a rather rough winter. In any case, if any of these beers sound appealing, drink up, as the Spring beer season is a short one, and you won't see them for long!