The first time we sat down with our friends the Bacon Terrorist and Boozy Betty to rate pumpkin beers, they were still something of a novelty to us.  We gathered 13, largely the most widely available brands, and we had no trouble crowning Southern Tier’s Pumking the winner.  What a difference three years make…

Since then, it’s become much easier to locate all kinds of small-batch labels around the area.  And it seems like almost every brewer out there has jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon.  Out in Seattle last weekend, Elysian Brewing Company hosted their “Great Pumpkin Beer Festival,” where they sampled 60 pumpkin beers – including 13 different offerings of their own!

We knew it was time to sit down and revisit our ratings.  Would Pumking reign uncontested?  Or would one of the new crop rise to claim the throne?

To find out, we gathered as many different pumpkin beers as we could over the span of a month.  Many of our finds came from Total Wine & More in Alexandria (where almost every beer they sell is available in singles as well as six-packs) and Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, though a few others were collected here and there along the way.  We also found a second pair of willing tasters, our friends KentuckyFrench and the Yankee Sipper.

A rundown of all the competitors with tasting notes after the jump. (more…)


<<EDIT 2/13/12 11:30 AM – Voting is now live for the DC Lamb Pro-Am.  Check out all of the entries here (DO NOT do this on an empty stomach) and then vote for your favorite.  Or for us, if we’re not your favorite.  Either way, thanks for your support!>>

Foodie pop quiz.  What’s the first word that comes to mind when I say “lamb?”  If you’re a Fan of Lamb, the answer is likely to be something like “tender,” “medium-rare” or just plain “delicious.”

If you had asked us just a few years ago, our answer would probably have been “intimidating.”  Restaurant presentations of lamb tend toward the more impressive: racks and chops, slices from the leg and loin, often served with rich sauces.  That frame of reference, coupled with the price tag, was enough to make us hesitant to try it at home.

As is often the case, Trader Joe’s provided us with the impetus to give it a go.  We bought a frozen, seasoned leg section for a dinner party and roasted it.  Served with a simple wine reduction, it was a revelation of bold, meaty flavor without the chew of similarly intense cuts of beef.  We’ve been Fans of Lamb ever since.

When the American Lamb Board invited us to compete with twelve other local bloggers for a chance to cook at their Lamb Pro-Am in March, we jumped at the chance.  We were told we’d be cooking a boneless leg of lamb, supplied by local rancher Craig Rogers of Border Springs Farm – even better!  But we couldn’t just do a traditional leg presentation.  We needed to get creative.

…And that’s where we ran into problems.

Our first inclination, as you can probably guess if you’re a regular reader, was to smoke the lamb on our Big Green Egg.  The low temperatures are great for coaxing out maximal flavor while maintaining a tender bite.  There’s just one problem: the smoke is lost on the lamb.  Even after hours in a BGE with aggressive woods like hickory and mesquite, lamb pretty much just tastes like lamb (not that that’s a BAD thing).

…So our first trick was a no-go.

Then we thought back to our short-lived run as a Charcutepalooza participant.  In working our way through Michael Ruhlman’s “Charcuterie” cookbook, we were intrigued by a recipe for merguez, a spicy lamb sausage.  Why not use some of the lamb to make sausage as part of our dish?

We decided to incorporate homemade merguez into a lamb chili that has become a family favorite.  The dish calls for chorizo, but we tweaked the spice profile to complement the flavors of the substitute sausage.  The addition of roasted red peppers and black beans (chili sacrilege, we know), completed the transformation.

…Remember those problems we mentioned?

As it turns out, we probably shouldn’t have used this contest as our first attempt at sausage-making.  Pork back fat, which Ruhlman calls for in his merguez recipe, is not the same as pork fatback, which we found packaged and sold salted and skin-on in the grocery store.  Needless to say, this was not an ingredient that fed easily (or at all) through our KitchenAid’s sausage-making attachment.  Our dreams of “Chili with Lamb Two Ways” were ground up while the sausage components remained untouched.

Thankfully, we had already planned to incorporate the spices from the merguez into our chili, so we were able to pick out the pork fat and use the cut-up lamb – we couldn’t stand the thought of letting it go to waste!  We made an emergency grocery run for Mexican-style chorizo from local producer Logan’s Sausages and got to work on a re-revised version of our chili.

This is where we make you drool with a description of the lamb.  The leg we received from Border Springs was beautiful – lots of deep purple-red muscle with some creamy white fat around the exterior.  We’ve worked with our share of inferior lamb in the past, fighting our way past large pockets of hard, nasty fat and silverskin.  In this case, we had to do almost no work to get it ready for cooking.

We began by rendering some of the fat from the chorizo and then cooking onions, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano and red pepper flakes in that oil to get the ball rolling.  To that delicious combination we added the chorizo and a chili paste made from chicken stock and chipotle peppers in adobo.  We turned the heat up to high and added the black beans (which we had soaked overnight) and the cubed lamb.

At this point we turned down the heat and let the whole mixture simmer for an hour.  The beans softened up nicely and the lamb took on that firm tender feeling that we always love.  We rinsed golden hominy and added it to the pot with some more roasted red peppers, and we let things cook for 15 more minutes.  That’s when we turned the heat off altogether and let the chili rest for about 5 minutes (we couldn’t stand to wait any longer).

The chili was wonderful all by itself – the lamb picked up the cumin and the paprika while still retaining its own assertive flavor.  Taken together, this gave what could have been a one-note dish a complex, Middle Eastern accent.  But this is a contest, so we wanted to make sure we made it more camera-ready.  We garnished the dish with shredded cheese, sour cream and cilantro.  It may not have been the duo of lamb we originally envisioned, but the final result was a testament to the quality and versatility of the lamb.

Capital Spicy Lamb Chili

1 lb merguez sausage (or Mexican chorizo in a pinch) removed from casings, if any
1 red onion, diced
10 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
5 chipotle chiles in adobo (roughly 1 small can)
2 cups chicken stock
1 pound dried black beans, soaked overnight and drained
4 pounds lamb (preferably leg or shoulder), cut into 1” cubes
2 cans hominy (golden or white), rinsed
1 red pepper, roasted and peeled

Garnishes to taste: sour cream, shredded cheese, diced raw onion, cilantro

  1. In a small saucepan, cook chipotle chiles in chicken stock for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, then pulse mixture in a blender until thoroughly combined.
  2. Sautee the sausage in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat for 10 minutes or until it gives up a slick of oil
  3. Remove sausage from pot and set aside.  Add onions, garlic, cumin, paprika and red pepper flakes and cook for 5 minutes or until onions soften.
  4. Return chorizo to pot and add chipotle-chicken stock paste.  Cook for 5 minutes.
  5. Add cubed lamb and black beans.  Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  6. Simmer covered for one hour.
  7. Taste beans and lamb.  If cooked to taste, add hominy and diced roasted red pepper.  Simmer uncovered for an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and allow to rest for five minutes.
  9. Serve with garnish of your choice.

As we mentioned at the top, this post is our entry into the Lamb Pro-Am bloggers’ challenge.  When voting opens up, we’ll be sure to provide you with a link.  Take a look at all of the competitors, and then we’d love it if you could help us make it into the finals by voting for your favorite!


Workday lunch.  Sandwiches and salads.  Ho-hum, right?

For our friends near Farragut Square, there’s a new option that’s likely to make you rethink that assessment.  And for everyone else…they’re Metro accessible!

Welcome BONMi, a quick-service shop offering up sandwiches, salads, and summer rolls with flavors inspired by those of traditional Vietnamese banh mi.  A trip to Vietnam convinced Lynne Jacoby and her partners that the satisfying street food could be the next big thing, and then they took it one step further.  They kept the flavors the same but upgraded their offerings to incorporate modern prep techniques and presentations to appeal to health-conscious diners.

We had a chance to take a look around BONMi late last week as they were putting the finishing touches on the interior, and then we were back there at lunchtime today to taste one of the first sandwiches to come off their cafeteria-style prep line.  What we saw (and tasted) has us hungry for more.  And if it does the same to you, we’ve got TEN FREE LUNCHES to give away to Capital Spice readers.

Join us after the jump a look at the interior and the food as well as details on how you can win one of the ten free lunches. (more…)


First, the good news.  Congratulations to Jessica, who won $10 worth of veggie treats at this weekend’s DC VegFest!  We selected her comment using’s integer generator to select a number between 1 and 43 (the number of comments we received by the deadline).  We’re hoping Jessica will come back after the festival and let us know what she spent the VegFest bucks on!

Now on to the bad news.  On Wednesday, Bravo announced the lineup for Season Nine of Top Chef.  Set throughout the Lone Star State, it is fittingly called “Top Chef: Texas.”  Normally, this would be the time when we here at Capital Spice would get all excited about rooting for another local chef.  After all, we’ve had a string of talented representatives stretching all the way back to Top Chef: Chicago in Season 4:

Chicago: Spike Mendelsohn
New York: Carla Hall
Vegas: Mike Isabella, Bryan Voltaggio
DC: Tamesha Warren
All-Stars: Spike, Carla and Mike, with Isabella going all the way to the finale

We’ve also had contestants in both seasons of Top Chef: Just Desserts – Heather Chittum in Season 1 and Matthew Peterson, who is still competing in Season 2.

All this to say, Washington has certainly been well-represented within the franchise over the past few years.  Until now.  And it’s worse than you think.

This time, Bravo’s press release didn’t just announce the finalists who will be competing for the title of Top Chef.  Instead, they announced a total of 29 “hopefuls” who will be pared down to 16 for the statewide competition.  So we didn’t just miss out on having at least one local representative among the 16 cheftestants…we missed out on even having one among the 29 aspiring cheftestants!

To be fair, Washington isn’t the only culinary destination without a hometown chef to root for: Philadelphia, Las Vegas and San Francisco were similarly shut out.  In all, 18 of the 29 chefs who will appear in the season premiere on November 2nd hail from four cities: Chicago (6, including 2 from the SAME RESTAURANT), New York/Brooklyn (4), Los Angeles (4)  and Seattle (4).

Because we’ve worked with the folks at Bravo to interview so many of the previous competitors, we reached out to ask about lack of geographic diversity among this season’s cast.  A spokesperson for Bravo told us location “simply isn’t a factor” when determining who the cheftestants will be.  “We don’t pick our chefs based on where they cook,” they went on to say.  “These twenty-nine chefs are the best of everyone we saw.”

That made us wonder about where Bravo and Magical Elves (Top Chef’s production company) went looking for chefs for Season 9.  We found this seemingly official image from Harlem World back in March announcing casting dates across the country.  Open calls were held in Chicago, New York, LA and Seattle…but they were also held in Philadelphia and Las Vegas.

So what do you think?  Were DC chefs passed over for this season of Top Chef?  Or did our top talent take a pass on this season’s auditions?


It’s a great time for democracy, especially among Washington-area food lovers.  You can vote for your favorite Neighborhood Gathering Place, Power Spot, Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene and Your Favorite Restaurant in the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s RAMMY awards over at the Washington City Paper from now until midnight on Wednesday, May 11th.  That last category is completely open – feel free to write in any place you like, as long as you include an address or a location.

And here at Capital Spice we’re whipping votes for another food-related contest.

Our very own Elizabeth is one of TEN NATIONWIDE FINALISTS in OpenTable’s “Mother of All Foodies” contest on Facebook.  Unbeknownst to her, I nominated her and included one of my favorite photos of Elizabeth with Baby Spice this past Halloween (Elizabeth was a diner waitress and Baby Spice was a DC half-smoke).

As with most Facebook contests, this one comes down to a straight-up popular vote.  So we’re reaching out to you, our regular readers, and asking for your help.

If you’re on Facebook, please vote for Elizabeth here.  You’ll be asked to accept the OpenTable “Mother of All Foodies” application in order to vote.  Once you’ve accepted it, you can take a look at the ten finalists and pick your favorite.  The contest runs until 8 PM tomorrow night, so please vote soon!

Sure, it’s a shameless plug for us…but wouldn’t it be nice to bring the title of “Mother of All Foodies” home to the DC area just in time for Mother’s Day?

Make your voices heard in the DC restaurant scene!  And thanks in advance for your help.


It’s still “tomorrow morning” somewhere, right?

Thanks for your patience as we set up a system to select our winners at random.  Each of these commenters will receive a copy of David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life in Paris,” and we’re going to take advantage of their culinary tweets to try out each recipe.  Watch for our results…on Twitter, of course!

And the winners are:

Molly: “Split best croissant, add dark choc square, marshmallow, pinch of fleur de sel in middle. Grill until melty. Parisian s’more!”

French Twist DC: “Oh, and a recipe of course. It’s an original perfected over years of making crepes.  Crepes: 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 6 eggs, 2 tbps vegetable oil, 1 1/2 cup of milk & 1 1/2 cup of lager beer. Combine & cook in pan!”

MagneticDynamo: “Toast baguette & spread w/brie. Chop up strawberries, then add balsmc vinegar, sugar and torn basil. Spread strawberry mix over bread.”

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the contest – we’ll be doing a few more of these in the near future so there will be more opportunities for those who didn’t win this time around.

And be sure to check back with us soon as we unlock the secrets of baking baguettes courtesy of the master bakers at Paul.


In the spirit of today’s extended tax deadline, we wanted to let everyone know that there are just a few short hours remaining to enter our contest to give away three paperback copies of David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris. We’ll be announcing the winners tomorrow morning, selecting them at random from all entries received by midnight tonight.

We made one of the recipes from the book, a delicious absinthe cake, for dessert last night and it met with rave reviews.  Not even Mike’s rookie failure to remove the cake from the pan after pulling it from the oven could ruin the deep sweetness.

You know you’re just dying to try it.

If you haven’t done so already, please enter by leaving a comment at the end of the original contest post.

Thanks, and bon chance to all!


About a year and a half ago, the Washington Post’s Joe Yonan wrote a profile of a former Chez Panisse pastry chef who dropped everything and moved to Paris in 2002.  We loved it, and it led us to David Lebovitz’s blog, twitter feed and dessert books.  When we broke out our ice cream maker that season, one of the recipes we tried was Lebovitz’s salty-sweet combination of Roquefort and honey – and the results were an unqualified success.

One of our dreams is to experience the sights and sounds (and smells and tastes) of the City of Lights via an extended stay.  Call it a crush – we’re enamored of what could be.  Now that Lebovitz has been in Paris for almost a decade, his relationship with the city is more like a tried and true marriage.  He can see the flaws of his adopted home, but he also appreciates it in ways that tourists never can.

We added his memoir, The Sweet Life in Paris, to our holiday wish list in 2009 and flew through it upon receipt.  Lebovitz’s dry humor makes for easy reading, and the anecdotes in the book provide a glimpse into the reality of Parisian life from an ex-pat perspective, from the painful to the sublime.  The Sweet Life in Paris is subtitled “Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City,” and that should give you an idea of Lebovitz’s loving tone.  And the recipes he shares throughout are likely to have you storing your copy with your cookbooks for easy access.

Now Broadway Books has come out with a paperback edition, and we’re proud to be able to offer three copies of The Sweet Life in Paris to our readers.  Whether you’ve never read the book, borrowed it and then grudgingly gave it back, or wore through your first copy from frequent use, all you need to do is leave a comment at the end of this post.  We’ll choose three winners at random, but you know we love to ask you to be creative with your contest entries.  In honor of David Lebovitz’s prolific tweeting and tasty desserts, give us your best 140-character, Parisian-inspired recipe.

An example: “Combine 1 egg yolk, 1 tsp H2O, 1 tsp lemon juice & 1/2 tsp salt. Whisk in 1 cup oil. Take your time!”  Et voila – mayonnaise.

We’ll still consider comments that don’t include a recipe, but we’re eager to see what you can come up with!