Category Archives: Recipes

detailed results of my kitchen experiments

Barefoot Contessa Book Signing, 10/27

If you’re a fan of Ina Garten, TV’s Barefoot Contessa, then the title of her new book should come as no surprise: How Easy Is That? Even though her “How _____ is that?” catchphrase is easy to snark on, it’s often pretty true and as a devoted Barefoot Contessa fan, I find myself muttering it while in the kitchen every now and then. Especially when using her go-to recipe for Roast Chicken again and again. Not that roast chicken is terribly difficult, but the thought of it can be really daunting until you see how easy it is to make–it’s also easy to mess up, but few things aren’t!

Still, the recipes on her show do range from simple to complex and at times she does suffer from what I call “Martha Stewart Syndrome” where she will say a recipe is “simple” and then call for ingredients or devices that you simply can’t get at your local store or even on a weekend errand run. Not that I mind buying hard-to-get items online, but waiting 2-7 days for something to arrive so I can make a dish isn’t all that fun. She’s also not afraid of cooking with butter or alcohol, though it’s the former that sends most people running… that and her penchant for heavy cream! But most of her dishes are designed to feed at least 4 people and we can always determine our own healthy-sized portions, right?

Of course, if you hit this entry, you don’t need me telling you what you likely already know, so here’s the important news: Ina is currently on a signing tour with the new book and she’ll be at Sur La Table at Pentagon Row in Arlington, VA tomorrow October 27 from noon to 2pm. (If you’re anything like me, you had a little *SQUEE!* moment when you first heard about this.) I’m hoping to arrange a little food-lover group of signing buddies to go, but if you can’t make it, I believe they will let you call ahead–703-414-3580–and purchase a signed book or possibly order one through their website.

I’ll be honest though, I’m mainly going to meet Ina and make this year one where I meet two of my food idols. And I sort of have this fantasy that she’ll sweep me up in her magical button-down oxford shirt to The Hamptons and make me one of her gays… but that can’t happen without eye contact! If you’re into her recipes and not bothered about an autographed copy, some online retailers have her new book for nearly 50% of the list price. But she has signings scheduled through the end of the year, so if you’re not in the DC area, there’s still a chance to see her.

Admittedly, I’m no book reviewer, just a huge fan so if you’re not yet sold on the idea of the cookbook, here are some excerpts & recipes that might help make up your mind:

Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts (Serves 8 to 10)

Recipe: Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts

  • vegetable oil
  • 3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews
  • 2 cups whole walnut halves
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 12 cup whole almonds
  • 13 cup pure maple syrup
  • 14 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tsp ground chipotle powder
  • 4 tbsp minced rosemary leaves, divided
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°

Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. Combine the cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, the maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of the rosemary and 2 teaspoons of the salt and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast the nuts for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula, until the nuts are glazed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 2 more tablespoons of rosemary. Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking as they cool. Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers at room temperature.

If you’re planning on going, leave a comment or drop me a note! Because just like with Sara Moulton, I want to get a picture of me with Ina Garten. And let’s face it: The Urban Bohemian and The Barefoot Contessa? How perfect is that?

Baked Maryland-Style Crab Cakes

No one can really explain cravings. When you have one, you either acknowledge it and move on or you give in completely and indulge. Yesterday’s craving? Crabs, or more specifically crab meat because I wasn’t about to try starting a crab boil last night.

Not that I’m opposed to a good crab boil, mind you. When I was a kid visiting my grandparents in Savannah–during that typical childhood exile where your parents gladly get rid of you for a few weeks–my grandfather would wake us up at dark o’clock to go crabbing. I’d start out with a bucket shaped crab pot, but once I got good at it I could dip a single weighted line with bits of chicken on it and slowly draw up one crab after another. Even if we initially argued at getting up so early in the morning to spend it out on a boat, we couldn’t argue with the results and headed home with quite a haul to be boiled, seasoned, cracked and devoured. It was a family event and since then, it isn’t really fun for me unless you’re sitting around a newspaper-covered table and gabbing away while picking sometimes the tiniest amount of meat out of the shells.

Still, the craving demanded attention, so I did the next best thing and planned on a trip to the market for crab meat. I was just going to steam it in some Old Bay and snack on it with clarified butter, but after a few minutes searching I found a recipe for Baked Maryland Lump Crab Cakes. I’m certainly not anti-fried foods, but in my own house I am pretty anti-frying, so any recipe that produces a good “oven-fried” result works for me. And with this recipe, the results weren’t so bad!

If I’d been thinking, I would have pan-seared the crab cakes before popping them in the oven to bake, but they still turned out nicely cooked and browned. And ignoring my photo efforts, this recipe isn’t time-sensitive. While it’s nice to have everything out and ready to dump in the bowl, this is a “dump it in the bowl” recipe. Mix wet stuff, fold in crab meat, mix dry stuff, fold it in, form cakes.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay™ or seafood seasoning of choice
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup cholesterol-free egg product
  • 1 pound lump crab meat

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a baking sheet.
  2. Combine bread crumbs, baking powder, parsley, mustard powder, pepper, and seafood seasoning; set aside. Stir together mayonnaise, butter, Worcestershire, and egg product until smooth. Fold in crab meat, then fold in bread crumb mixture until well blended.
  3. Shape mixture into 12 crab cakes, about 3/4 inch thick, and place onto prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the crab cakes over, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until nicely browned.

My modifications were using claw meat instead of lump as it was less than half the price but needed a bit more flaking with a fork to separate the meat before adding it in. I used a 1/3 cup measuring spoon to form my cakes so only ended up with about 6 large cakes, not 12. After the first flip, I raised the oven to 400° F because they were looking a little pale. They browned up much better at the higher temperature.

I wasn’t really thinking what to serve them with or atop them when I was shopping, but I tossed together a tablespoon of mayo with one or two minced (then crushed/pulverized) cloves of garlic, some Old Bay and a sprinkle of paprika for color as a quick accompaniment. The way these spread out while baking would make them great for crab cake sandwiches as well.

I’d definitely make these again, and they look as though they would travel well either pre- or post-baking. Since crab meat is usually sold ready-to-eat, the only concern is getting the egg (product) cooked and they’re yummy fresh out of the oven or as a later Nigella-style fridge snack. These won’t replace some of the best crab cakes around DC or even the best I’ve ever had at Stoney’s, but it’s a good (and easy) recipe to have under my belt. However I’m betting there are some other good crab cake recipes out there too. Feel free to share them in the comments. Enjoy!

The “Best” Sangria

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve posted an improved version of this recipe. It’s time to trade up!

We have tons of recipes for items that are a little past their prime. Whether it’s making bread pudding or french toast from day old/stale bread or using those browning bananas for banana bread, there’s always something that can be done with most leftover food. But when it comes to drinks, the field is pretty scarce, but Sangria is easily at the top of the list. While it’s mostly made with unopened wines, it’s also a perfect recipe for throwing together the leftover wines from the previous evening. Unless, of course, you’re like me and have to ask, “What’s leftover wine?”

My go-to recipe is pretty simple, but it’s not mine save for the odd alteration. This is “The Best Sangria” as determined by America’s Test Kitchen and the recipe’s been up on my other blog for a while now, but there’s nothing wrong with rehashing a classic, especially now that Summer is here. This really is the perfect beverage for a backyard cookout, a rooftop party or anytime it gets a little too hot and you’ve had time to prepare a cool beverage.

Ingredients

  • 2 large oranges, washed (one sliced, one juiced)
  • 1 large lemon, washed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle inexpensive fruity medium-bodied red wine


Directions

  1. Add sliced orange, lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in orange juice, triple sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours.
  3. Before serving, add ice and stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

And it’s just that simple. A large orange produces about a 1/2 cup of juice in case you don’t have enough fruit around the house and I may change up the liqueur used, substituting out pear for orange or just adding it in to make it more potent. It will need at least 6 hours before serving to give the wine time to mellow out, so I usually make it the night before, or in the wee hours of the morning. If you won’t be enjoying it for a while, take the fruit out after about 8-10 hours and strain it to be stirred back in later.

As this is a “leftover” dish, it’s not meant for your finest wines unless you’re really into that. I usually opt for Fish Eye Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot because it 1: comes in screwtop bottles, which are great for transporting the sangria once made, and 2: it’s cheap. It costs $4.50 a bottle when you buy it as a 6-pack from Safeway. This recipe scales upwards nearly equally, so you’ll likely need a bucket when making a bigger batch, but I find that people appreciate that just as much.

As a special reward for yourself, you’ll find that, for example, making 3 bottles of wine into sangria results in about 4 bottles worth of sangria. So you can keep a bit for yourself at home in case you didn’t get enough of your own concoction at the party. But if–like me–you’re not proud, carting the sangria around in a bucket is just fine too and a lot easier. With the added potential of making new friends on the metro when they see what’s in the bag! And if you need a creative gift, buy some nicer bottles or make your own labels to slap on some screwtop bottles. This recipe keeps in the fridge for up to a week before it starts to go through a bit of fermentation which, while making it more potent, also turns it bitter faster. So it’s not something to keep around forever like regular wine.


If you can find it on the cheap, or happen to be gifted some Spanish wines, a Tempranillo or Grenache would be great or a big fruity French Beaujolais, but those are definitely bottles you’d use for next-day Sangria. This isn’t a drink to spend either too much money or time on. That latter because it goes fast. If you fear you haven’t made enough, be sure to fill each person’s glass with plenty of ice & fruit and as a last “stretching” resort, top each glass with ginger ale. In my experience, however, this won’t work for long but by the time it’s all gone people will be feeling pretty good anyway.

Now that my “secret” is out, I may have to start bringing actual food to potlucks and cookouts… the horror!

Microwave Iced Tea

When we saw Sara Moulton at Hill’s Kitchen a while back, one of the things she said was she didn’t care for the microwave because she didn’t think that “pushing buttons is cooking.” She’s clearly not a fan of The Jetsons. I do agree with her, for the most part, as I mainly use the microwave to help prepare ingredients or make items specifically designed to be cooked using that method. As I’ve never owned a tea kettle, one of my primary uses for the microwave has always been to heat/boil water for beverages. This led me to one of my standby “kitchen hack” recipes: microwave iced tea.

Of course, having been raised in the South, this probably has my ancestors up in arms because it isn’t “proper” brewed iced tea. But my ancestors didn’t have microwave ovens! I derive “kitchen hack” from life hack, in that it’s a trick to produce a satisfying result, even if not by the “standard” method.

When I first moved to Washington DC, it was Spring, which is a lovely time to be in DC. The temperatures are nice, flowers are blooming everywhere, there’s the occasional rainstorm to wash away the pollen… it’s great! Unfortunately, it’s followed by Summer, which is not a fun time to be in DC, an even less fun time to be in my first group house experience with no central air-conditioning. Our fridge was filled (and re-filled) with gallon jugs of water at all times and we’d spend a lot of time out front on the porch swing because at least there was sometimes a hint of a breeze. It was easy enough to make sun tea, but that took hours, so I would head into the kitchen and walk out 10 minutes later with a tray of iced tea for everyone. The housemates never asked how I did it–gift horse and all–and attributed it to a little Southern kitchen magic.

I tell you now, it will take you longer to read this recipe than it will ever take you to make this recipe.

Microwave Iced Tea

  • 4 cups water
  • 8 tea bags (or 2 family size tea bags or 3 tablespoons loose tea)*
  • 3/4 cups sugar, or to taste (naturally sweeter or fruit-flavored teas may need less sugar to your own taste)
  1. Add tea (bags or loose) to microwaveable measuring cup with 4 cups cold water.  Set for 5 or 6 minutes, bringing just to a boil.
  2. Stir and press tea bags gently against sides to release until tea is darker looking. With loose tea–it usually completely sinks or floats–remove from microwave with 1 minute cooking time left, stir and replace for the final minute.
  3. Pour sugar into a gallon (4 quart) pitcher.  Add tea, straining bags or loose tea as you pour.
  4. Stir, fill with water/ice and refrigerate or serve over ice.

* You can mix and match bags and styles of tea, but the key for a gallon is 8 teaspoons. I often temper 4 bags of strong tea with 1 family-size bag of green tea, or add loose mint tea to orange pekoe black for a sweet southern mint tea.

And you’ve got iced tea! Like I said, it’s a no-brainer but it surprises me how many people I tell this to that have never thought of it before. Adventures in Shaw was most appreciative when I showed it to her.

I’ve used this method with all sorts of teas: pre-bagged, white, green, black and red. The Strawberry Garden white tea from Zen Tara Tea works quite well and doesn’t even need that much sugar. It’s easy to adjust to your personal tastes and with Summer temps going into the 90s, I like having a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge at all times.

I’m sure we all have kitchen hacks that we’re proud–or sometimes ashamed–of, it’s all good. I wouldn’t necessarily stand this up against sun tea, but it works for me and my housemates never complained. Enjoy!

Sara Moulton at Hill’s Kitchen

Just over a week ago, I was fortunate enough to meet one of my food idols. I’d already planned to make it a “food excursion day” with some friends, grabbing a bite on the Hill and heading up to Bethesda to check out a tea shop when we saw that Hill’s Kitchen was hosting Sara Moulton for a cooking demonstration and book signing. You never saw plans change so fast!

If you’ve ever seen her shows Cooking Live or Sara’s Secrets, she is just as friendly and engaging in person. She reminds you of the friendly neighbor that might stop by to borrow a cup of sugar and then come back with a share of the cookies or brownies she baked with it.

Watching her talk about Food Network, Gourmet Magazine, her family, her recipes and the new book was like seeing her on TV all over again. One of the things she practices and stresses is that cooking shouldn’t be a burden. Many people resort to fast food or dining out because they see cooking as a chore, especially when they have families to take care of. The recipes in her latest book, Everyday Family Dinners are the cure for that. The longest “total preparation time” I’ve seen in the book is 2 hours and 30 minutes and that was for “quick” kimchi, most of the “hands on” times are 15-30 minutes. She even starts the book off with a “How to Use This Book” section explaining cooking terms, where to find ingredients mentioned, the difference in weight between box grated and microplane grated cheese and most importantly the equivalent between chopped fresh herbs and dried herbs–1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried. For most people, this is common knowledge, but it’s something that used to confound me when I started cooking, especially when finding fresh herbs wasn’t easy if you didn’t have a garden.

For the demo, she showed us how to make her Polenta Lasagna and Warm Chocolate Cheesecake (recipe below) and sent samples around the room for tasting. Chantal cookware is sponsoring her book tour, so she used their wares and was happy to show off its capabilities, but it didn’t feel like a sales pitch. Leah did make sure, however, to let us know that the items Sara was using were all available for purchase at Hill’s Kitchen!

When she was finished cooking, she answered our questions–about anything, not just food–and then the book signing began. Thankfully my friends were knowledgeable in the ways of book signings and explained the Post-It note thing to me. During her discussion, she admitted that she steered us wrong when she had her cooking show and never had a chance to correct herself. One of the classic cooking teachings is that when you oversalt something, you can add a potato to correct it… well this is a myth, and I now have her signed say-so! However, she did say that there are two things while cooking that you can’t undo if you mess them up: burning things and mashed potatoes.

I’m not a giant, she really is that adorably tiny in person. And when she found out my friend and I were food bloggers, she asked for our cards! Sara Moulton asked for my card! Believe me, I was buzzed off of that for days! It was a fun morning and simply amazing to meet her. There are few food celebrities/personalities that I consider must-see, and Sara is easily at the top of that list. Take a look at her book if you see it while out and about and Amazon has a Kindle edition for 1/2 price. This one won’t be collecting dust on my shelves for a while!

Warm Chocolate Cheesecake

  • One 3.5-ounce bar bittersweet chocolate
  • 
8 ounces full-fat or 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 1/2-cup ramekins and place them on a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and melt it in the top of a double 
boiler or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. 
Combine the chocolate with the cream cheese and vanilla in the 
bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process 
until well blended.
  3. Stir together the sugar and flour, add it to the processor, and 
blend it into the chocolate mixture. Add the egg and pulse until 
smooth. Divide the batter among the ramekins.
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the centers are set. Transfer to cooling rack to cool slightly before serving.

Dry Rubbed Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

It’s funny how things come full circle. Just over a year ago, I was starting to discover and connect with the DC foodie scene. My cooking posts were tossed in with the other things I wrote about in DC and if you’d mentioned a “food blog” to me, I would have laughed in your face. And well… here we are!

When I got my first crock pot, my inbox and IM windows were flooded with recipes to try and one that worked out well for me was a pulled meat style barbecue. It was ridiculously simple, put meat in the crock pot with a bottle of your chosen barbecue sauce and set on Low for six hours, shredding it at the seventh hour and simmering in the developed sauce. I shared the technique with a friend and ended up getting a mention as a “foodie friend” in her post on Pulled Pork. After looking back at that recipe, I decided to give it a try with a pork shoulder I recently picked up at the supermarket. Instead of a wet sauce, it uses a dry rub and relies on a bit of water and the pork’s fat to develop a sauce as it slowly cooks.

The dry-rub recipe is a “classic” from Cook’s Illustrated and the method is pure crock-pot with just a little bit of fiddling. You normally can leave things in the crock pot and walk away, but this requires some turning early on and obviously some shredding in the later hours:

  • one 6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup water (optional, depending on how much sauce you want to form)
  • spice rub
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
      (2 tsp if you like it spicy, I substituted chipotle pepper to trade heat for smokiness)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
    • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons salt

  1. Mix together the spice rub in a large ziploc/oven bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.
  2. Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours/overnight. The longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be.

Crammed into the crock!

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the bag and place it in the crock pot. Discard any leftover spice that didn’t “cling” to the meat.

  1. Add the 1/4 cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.
  2. Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for 1 hour.
  3. After an hour, turn the pork shoulder over and continue to cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another 4 hours.
  5. Check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize. If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs–or bear paws!) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during cooking.
  6. Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your crock pot and the desired flavor/texture.

Shredded and ready to serve

If your pork shoulder is closer to 8 pounds, you may need a longer cooking time and vice versa for smaller cuts of meat. Because of the fattiness of pork, it’s hard to mess this one up. Please note, this recipe makes a lot. It would be great made in advance of a picnic or party, but if you’re making this for just yourself, plan on a lot of leftovers!

To appease the BBQ purists out there, I admit that this isn’t barbecue. It was slow cooked using a steamed/simmering method, not slow-roasted over low heat on a grill/smoker. Some people like the charred bits that barbecue brings and if you feel that’s missing from this recipe, I advise that you remove the pork shoulder at about hour 5 or 6, place it on a baking or roasting pan and set it under the broiler for a few minutes per side to crisp up the edges before returning it to the crock pot for shredding. Just be careful moving the pork shoulder around at this stage as it’s quite ready to fall apart.

Even if it isn’t traditional barbecue, it will do for me in a pinch. Especially if I see that a planned cookout might be rained out, this wouldn’t be bad to have in the fridge as a backup dish. And while a sandwich is certainly the most satisfying serving method for the pork, I could also see it going over couscous or steamed rice, rolled up in a wrap with chopped veggies or even tossed with some cheese into an omelette for brunch. As I said, you’re going to have a lot of it, so if you and your guests aren’t feeling piggy–pun intended–when it’s first served up, plan ahead to freeze some or make some unique dishes with the leftovers. Enjoy!

AGAINN Spring Menu

Spring Luncheon Menu from AGAINN

Earlier this month, I was invited along with other local food bloggers and writers to AGAINN–pronounced ‘aguinn’ [a-g-uin]–to sample their Spring Menu. As I am a blogger and this is more or less going to be a review, let me make some things clear up front:

  1. I have been to AGAINN before, for happy hour with friends and a food blogger happy hour, so I am familiar with their food and drink. The promise of new menu items was the main draw.
  2. So that there are no misunderstandings, this lunch was free. There has been a lot of buzz about full disclosure on the part of bloggers to allay any suspicions of bias. As I said, I have been to AGAINN before and paid for food and drink, just not this time.

Head Bartender Rachel Sergi

That said, it was a wonderful time. They took us on a menu tour, for lack of a better term. Beverage Director Caterina Abbruzzetti allowed us to sample amazing cocktails and some unique and hard-to-find libations–wine, beer and scotch–unless you visit AGAINN, of course.

Lady MacBeth cocktail Head Bartender Rachel Sergi served up one of my favorite cocktails from their bar, the Lady MacBeth. Made with vodka or gin, it has lemon, elderflower liqueur, rosewater and egg white. The latter ingredient giving it an amazing cloud-like quality on the tongue while the former conspire to give it an intense floral bouquet, pun intended. It’s a foamy, flowery delight that is as much a joy to watch being made as it is to drink. If you’re a one-drink limit sort of person, consider this one for happy hour or as an apéritif.

My only amendment to that recommendation is if it’s near a holiday or other special event as their bartenders love to experiment. We also got a taste of a cocktail called The Saint created after the Superbowl in honor of the New Orleans Saints. Containing dark lager, gin and sweet vermouth, it was layered perfectly to appear black and gold, naturally. During my previous visits, I’ve been offered a taste of something that the bartenders were working on. Not everything was to my liking, but that’s the fun of playing around with cocktails and they’re willing to work at it to zero in on worthy drink menu additions.

Vichyssoise with Goat Cheese on Toast

Following the warm-up cocktail, our lunch started with a chilled Vichyssoise accompanied by goat cheese on toast. Aside from the occasional Gazpacho, I don’t normally enjoy cold soups, but this one was very yummy. It had a drizzle of just barely fragrant olive oil on top and with the toast made for a great starter. Though I’ll say that they could just offer the goat cheese on toast as an option on its own and I’d love it.

Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon

Next up was Pan-Seared Scottish Salmon atop a mix of peas, bacon and lemon. Executive Chef Wes Morton was on-hand to walk us through the dishes and answer our questions including being able to tell us about the salmon farm where AGAINN buys their fish.

A little taste of scotch The salmon entrée was delicious, but there isn’t anything mysterious about the method of preparation. Simple is always good, but as someone that cooks, you don’t always want to go out to eat for something you could easily prepare at home. The peas tasted very fresh, like shelling them yourself after harvest fresh and mixed well with the house made bacon but they were firm. Some of my dining companions thought they could have used a little more cooking to achieve a more tender texture.

Palette cleanser, Radishes and Butter After the salmon, they brought out trays with radishes and what looked like cheese sprinkled with chives. This was a palette cleanser and the “cheese” was actually butter, unsalted and very thick. I was dubious, but not only did the two go very well together, it really did completely wipe out the taste of the salmon and we were quite ready to enjoy dessert.

Pastry Chef Genevieve So walked us through the dessert, a Rhubarb Syllabub specifically designed to counteract the usual concept of overly-sweet British desserts. The bitterness of the rhubarb seemed enhanced by Campari and made an interesting contrast to the creamy-pillowy base.

Rhubarb Syllabub with Black Pepper Shortbread Cookies

Did I mention the Black Pepper Shortbread Cookies? Amazing, and while the Syllabub wasn’t really to my taste, I would swiped the cookies from the plates of those seated next to me had they not already vanished. If you’re a rhubarb purist, however, you’ll love this dessert as it doesn’t try to overpower the plant’s less-sweet taste as most recipes do.

It was a great lunch and their other lunch and dinner offerings should not disappoint. I enjoyed how knowledgeable the chefs and bartenders were about their wares and if you’re a diner that needs to know exactly where your food came from, this is the place to go. Based on their menu, our 3-course lunch would have cost around $30 or so not including drinks. Depending on your job, a leisurely lunch isn’t always an option, so most are more likely to spend less for lunch on food, at least.

Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves from Againn As things were coming to a close, Pastry Chef So sent us off with some homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Preserve including the recipe!

Strawberry Rhubarb Preserve

  • 2 lbs. (fresh local) strawberries, quartered
  • 2 lbs. rhubarb
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 packet natural pectin
  1. Cut rhubarb into half-inch pieces and combine with 3 cups sugar. Let marinate for 1-2 hours.
  2. Mix remaining sugar with pectin and vanilla bean, and reserve.
  3. Cook marinated rhubarb over stove until pieces are soft and broken, about 15 minutes.
  4. Add strawberries and sugar/pectin/vanilla mix into pot and continue to cook down and reduce, constantly stirring for about 15 minutes.
  5. Deposit hot jam into sterilized hot jars, seal and turn upside down to cool.

I’m not much of a jam maker, but even I could be convinced with a tasty result like this one! AGAINN does right by the term Gastropub with a warm atmosphere, accessible menu and great food!

Links
AGAINN (DC): Twitter & Facebook
OpenTable
Yelp
Urbanspoon
Againn Gastropub on Urbanspoon

The Sweet Clementini

Of course, anytime is cocktail time. One might argue that the classic cocktail party is more appreciated during the colder months when people gather together to keep warm. And like cookies, cocktails are a sometimes treat. I won’t deny that I enjoy a good drink, but I won’t condone them becoming a bad habit.

That said, I present the Sweet Clementini. An easy-to-sip martini, sweet and tart with a hint of citrus and the color of a lazy Southern sunset. It came about as part of my experiments with sweet tea and vodka–not sweet tea vodka.

I believe sweet tea vodka is a brilliant invention, however sweet/iced tea is a very sensitive subject depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on. I was born just north of it, but raised well south of it and my experience of iced tea varies from overbrewed and over-sweetened to sun-brewed and flavorful. My father, bless his heart, likes his tea to taste like brown sugar water. I prefer to be able to detect the flavor of the leaves used, but I do like it pretty sweet, using the ice to temper the sweetness. Still, most sweet tea vodkas ride a middle level, focusing on sweet, almost candy-like alcoholic liquid. I figured, since one can easily make sweet iced tea (I’ll reveal my secret method for fast-brewed iced tea at a later date) and a proper drinks cabinet should always have vodka on-hand, why couldn’t I just add one to the other to suit my own tastes or the tastes of the drink I was crafting?

Sweet Clementini [neé Unnamed 'tini #6]

It’s a very simple recipe and owes more to classic mixed drink than martini proportions:

  • 2 parts clementine flavored vodka
  • 3 parts sweet (southern style) iced tea
  • 3 parts cranberry juice (100% juice–not cocktail–used)

Shake over ice and strain into a martini glass, or make in larger portions and serve over ice. But as you can see, it’s a much more pleasing presentation in a martini glass, especially with the right lighting! The name was given by the folks over at Madtini who host a constant Mad Men-inspired cocktail party on their blog and twitter. There is only one company I know of making clementine flavored vodka, but any citrus–sweet, not grapefruit or lemon–vodka should work, or you could buffer it with an orange flavored liqueur.

Because of the lower alcohol to mixer ratio, this one will not get you instantly hammered, and it probably will raise the ire of martini purists. If you want a more boozy cocktail (or potential shot), change the proportions to equal parts of all three ingredients, but I suspect this is middle of the road enough to be enjoyed by both your lightweight and seasoned drinking buddies. On a warm Spring or Summer day, when you’re hanging around in your apartment with the windows open, or on a roofdeck with friends overlooking the city, I guarantee that a round of these will fit the bill perfectly. I’m going on record now and calling it my signature cocktail for the season.

… though I’m certain that it won’t be the last.

Chopper’s Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

We all have our standby recipes that are, first and foremost, easy. They may also be impressive, but like a well-known commercial illustrates, they really aren’t any trouble at all. And then there are those recipes that may happen to be easy, but are also chosen clearly to knock people’s socks off.

Parchment off, ready to travel

I first made this cake nearly 4 years ago when some friends were getting together for a cooking night. I’d never tried making any sort of mousse before, let alone into a cake, so I was pretty nervous about it. Mostly I was nervous about dealing with egg whites as I’d heard so many horror stories about how easy it is to screw up trying to whip them! Armed with that experience though, I was able to triumph this time around with no problems at all. I even decided to add a little snowflake effect to the top of the cake as a symbolic way to say goodbye to DCs snowy season–one hopes.

The recipe is not mine, but comes from Belly Timber, where Chef “Chopper Dave” adapted some recipes to develop a chocolate/hazelnut cake base, a chocolate mousse center layer and a chocolate ganache top. Since this is proper baking, a scale is best, but I was able to make adequate conversions to survive without one. And as the recipe is in three distinct parts, you’re not rushed to make sure everything is happening at once and I had time to make and eat dinner between the mousse setting in the freezer for a while and whipping together the ganache.

I wouldn’t say this is easy for the absolute beginner, but if you’re looking for a recipe with impressive results that draws on basic techniques, this is a great recipe for you. Plus, if you’re serving it to chocolate lovers, it won’t have to be perfect anyway!

Smoked Turkey Legs

It still feels weird to open up the browser to write for this blog when the devastation in Haiti continues. Adventures in Shaw wrote about some local venues and restaurants making donations and the Washingtonian has an updated listing of benefit events still taking place.

Help for Haiti: Learn What You Can Do

One of my Christmas presents to myself was a Camerons stovetop smoker and while I’ve been enjoying trying a few different dishes prepared with it, the main thing I was looking forward to was smoked turkey legs! These tender salty & seasoned treats are often the only reason I go to Renaissance Faires anymore. Those are usually the only places that one feels perfectly at home walking around gnawing on a humongous bird leg. So after a bit of research online for tips and methods, I cobbled together a fairly good recipe to try them on my own. I will note that nowhere online was an “official” recipe. I doubt it’s a trade secret, but it’s more likely that home cooks just don’t have the right equipment and supermarkets don’t have the right supply of legs prepared for “easy” cooking.

While these don’t have the look of legs from the fair, they certainly had the right flavor! The stovetop smoker mainly acts as an enclosed oven with smoke. It uses the heating element (gas or electric) to smolder wood chips while the body heats/cooks the food. Some smoke escapes during cooking, but that just makes the kitchen smell great and is never enough to trip the smoke alarm. Stovetop smokers don’t seem to be made for “slow & low” cooking as some standalone smokers can accomplish, but it does a good job of thorough cooking while imparting a nice smoky flavor to meat, veggies… even cheese and nuts!

Preparation is simple, but not quick as it requires brining overnight and up to 24 hours:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar (optional: brown sugar)
  • 1 gallon water
  1. You can also add any other seasoning you like to the brine. I added garlic powder, but some recipes have suggested cayenne, onion powder, paprika for color, etc.
  2. After dissolving the spices in hot water, let it get cold in the fridge while you prepare the legs–basically pricking them with a fork in spots to help the brine penetrate. But if you plan to soak them longer than 8 hours, that step isn’t really necessary.
  3. Before cooking, rinse the legs, pat them dry and let them come to room temperature. While they come to temp, prepare your smoker–or oven-smoking method. I used a combination of cherry and alder wood chips
  4. Lightly season the legs with salt and pepper (mostly for appearance) or a dry rub of your choice. I used Cavender’s Greek Seasoning. You won’t need to use much because of the brine.
  5. My smoker has the wood chips in the base, a drip tray atop that and then a rack for the food. Arrange the legs with some space around each one, turn the heat to medium and at the first sign of a wisp of smoke, place the cover on. My cover wouldn’t easily slide over the legs, so I made one out of heavy duty foil for the first stage of cooking.
  6. Most recipes for smoked turkey legs will call for low steady heat for about 4-6 hours, but the stovetop smoker isn’t really about low and slow. I let it cook for 1 hr 15 min and checked the meat. It had reached the right internal temperature and cooked down enough for the proper cover to be used. I turned the heat off and let them continue to cook/smoke for another 15 minutes before removing the legs.

As I said, they don’t have the look of fair legs, but the taste was excellent. The meat was tender and slid right off the bone–with the exception of the brine prep, they were done in under 2 hours which is a passable (though not optimal) cooking time for a nightly meal. So far I’ve used the smoker for poultry and pork chops, but am looking forward to trying out some fish and sausage in it as well. I don’t advocate that anyone become as much of a kitchen gadget person as I am, but I’m happy with this purchase and it allows to recreate some flavors and methods at home that I’d normally have to go out–sometimes to the country–for.

If anyone out there has some great smoker recipes, let me know! I admit to a bit of puppy love with the smoker right now, but I’m sure it’ll pass soon… right?