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EDITOR’S NOTE: We received a review copy of The New Jewish Table and were impressed with the way Chef Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray had successfully updated so many of the traditional dishes we recognized in ways that incorporated lighter, fresher flavors.  When they followed it up with an invitation to observe the Passover Seder with them, we wanted to make sure that we were able to truly compare charoset to charoset, so we asked our friends and frequent Capital Spice contributors to attend and let us know how the Grays’ Passover compared with the ones they’ve observed with their families over the years.

Monday night, the Bacon Terrorist and Itty Bitty Betty attended a special Passover Seder hosted by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray at their Equinox restaurant to celebrate the launch of their cookbook, The New Jewish Table. The night highlighted three items from the book’s suggested Passover menu encapsulating the Grays’ seasonality-first philosophy as they bring treasured Jewish classics into the twenty-first century.

Why was this night’s dinner different from all other Seders?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

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We’ve been meaning to taste Bryan Voltaggio’s cooking for years now. Even before his turn on Top Chef, we were hearing rave reviews about the techniques and the ingredients on display at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland.  But it’s just far enough from DC that we didn’t want to take on a tasting menu and then have to drive home after an evening of food and drink.

Although VOLT still holds a place on our “must visit” list, it has become much easier for Washingtonians to have a Voltaggio experience.  His new restaurant, Range, is Metro accessible (Friendship Heights station on the Red Line) and serving up brunch, lunch and dinner throughout the week.

Earlier this week, Tom Sietsema published his three-star review of Range based on four impressive dinner visits.  That kind of scrutiny can be tough on a restaurant, but we put them to a different kind of stress test: a Saturday brunch with a toddler in tow.  Would their reputation for service and attention show through mid-day Saturday?

Find out after the jump. (more…)

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When you think about DC’s food scene, what comes to mind?  High-end restaurants like Komi and minibar? Burgers and cupcakes as far as the eye can see?  Food trucks?

Whatever your answer, there’s a pretty good bet it wasn’t “hot dog vendors.”  Though you can still find them on many street corners downtown, the once ubiquitous metal carts/stands are having a hard time competing in an age of creative, mobile cuisine.  For their owners, the situation is growing increasingly dire.

This is the world that Laura Waters Hinson and Kasey Kirby found in 2009 when they began filming for “Dog Days,” a documentary focused on one man’s attempt to bring flavor and variety to the stagnant cart scene.  Over the past four years, they have followed Coite Manuel of Food Chain DC as he tried to offer creative food products like jerk chicken to stationary cart vendors for sale alongside their traditional hot dogs and half smokes.  Now, four years later, the story is just about ready to be told.

There’s only one problem: the duo is looking at significant costs for post-production and they have already financed the project out of their own pockets up to this point.  So they’ve turned to Kickstarter to raise the $30-$70,000 necessary to complete the documentary and begin the process of getting it into theaters and film festivals.  And that means you can help.

Find out how to get involved (and what’s in it for you) after the jump.

(more…)

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It’s that time again – for the fourth straight year, Meat Week beckons DC’s barbecue lovers with eight great reasons to celebrate low-and-slow cooking.  And this year, our host restaurants have come up with some of the biggest and best specials we’ve ever seen.  I can’t even begin to imagine someone making it to all eight this year…and I don’t know that I want to see the results if anyone does!

If you’ve joined us over the past three years, you know that your DC Meat Week Team is committed to bringing something new to the picnic table each year.  We’ve rotated our leadership again – David Gootzit  (the Bacon Terrorist) is now our Captain, and Jenelle Dennis (Babeque) joins me as First Mate.  This year, we’ve expanded Meat Week in TWO big ways – adding a Food Truck Face-Off to determine which of four local food trucks serves the best barbecue in town and helping one of our hosts introduce a new extreme eating challenge.

Let’s start with that second bit of news. As they have in the past, Pork Barrel BBQ is using Meat Week to launch something new.  This year, it’s the “High on the Hog” Eating Challenge.  Entrants have 45 minutes to eat ALL of the following:

  • 1 Smackin’ Big Daddy Sandwich (the Smackin’ Big Daddy is an oversized sandwich with ½ pound of pulled pork and a Texas Brisket Sausage, topped with Monster Cheese Sauce, Cole Slaw and BBQ Sauce.
  • 1 Slab of Ribs
  • 2 Texas Brisket Sausages
  • 1 Side of Monster Mac & Cheese
  • 1 Side of Baked Beans
  • 1 Side of Cole Slaw

Finish them all in time, and you will be covered with glory (and barbecue sauce).  You will receive a t-shirt, a $50 Pork Barrel BBQ gift card, and your name in the “High on the Hog Challenge” Hall of Fame.  Fall short, and you’re on the hook for $49.95.  The guys at Pork Barrel have said that they’ll open the challenge to as many people as want to try it on Thursday, January 31, but they need everyone’s name no later than Tuesday, January 29 to make sure they prepare enough food.  Email us or contact the restaurant directly if interested.

Generally speaking, Meat Week is meant to be a casual, come-as-you-are festival that will take place this year from Sunday, January 27th to Sunday, February 3rd.  Want to see what we’re doing each day?  Check out the calendar after the jump.
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Gather round, children, and listen to a tale of a forgotten age.  In those days, young professionals who wanted to expand their circles of friends beyond their former classmates and coworkers had few choices.  From this confusion emerged a few enterprising souls who attempted to bring order: operating list-servs that provided a rundown of upcoming activities, turning to the Style section and its blogs for a calendar of events, even going so far as to create websites and companies dedicated to organizing activities and events that individuals and small groups could attend.

With the opening of LivingSocial’s new space at 918 F Street, NW, those dark days are all but a thing of the past.  Want to impress a date with a multi-course dinner from one of the hottest chefs in town? Check.  Looking for a chill night out with some friends, some wine, and some art? Check again.  Want to expand your wardrobe with a one-off sample sale or a local merchants’ showcase? Yeah, they’ve got those, too.

Full Disclosure: We were invited to check out a recent pop-up beer pairing dinner from the team at Birch & Barley as an opportunity to see 918 F Street for ourselves.

While there, we got a quick tour of the space and a media kit from Communications Director Maire Griffin.  All of the images used in this post (with the exception of the pop-up menu) come from that kit, which was stored on the world’s smallest USB drive.

Take a look around the 120 year-old space with us and watch your calendar fill up after the jump. (more…)

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<<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!

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If you’ve ever left one of the Eat Good Food Group’s Alexandria restaurants wishing you could replicate what you just ate at home, consider yourself one step closer.  Tomorrow at 6 PM, Society Fair opens its doors to the public, offering many of the ingredients used at Restaurant Eve, the Majestic, Eamonn’s, PX and Virtue Feed & Grain.  Get ready to raid Chef Cathal Armstrong’s pantries.

We had an opportunity to take a look around as Rob Shinn and his team were getting ready for this week’s opening, and we were like kids in a candy store as we moved from butcher’s counter to coffee station to bakery racks.  Goods we’d only read about before (being unable to find them at local grocers) were all around us.  Where’s Julie Andrews to sing about “favorite things” when you need her?

Lots of pictures and your plan of attack after the jump. (more…)

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If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping yet, you don’t need us to remind you that you’re running out of time.  Hanukkah begins at sunset next Tuesday, and Christmas Day is just a few days behind that.  Unless you’re willing to pay for express shipping, most online retailers won’t guarantee delivery in time for the holidays at this point.

Fortunately, you’ve still got plenty of time to shop if you Think Local First.  We’ll save the pitches about supporting the local economy and encouraging eclectic and diverse retail options for another time…right now, all you need to think about is the fact that you can buy your last-minute gifts right up until the Night Before Christmas if you shop in-store.

Stumped for gift ideas?  If you’re shopping for someone who loves cooking, eating or drinking in the Washington area, we’re here to help.  From now until Christmas Day we’ll be offering twelve of our favorites – some old, some new, all tasty.  We’re starting off with a delicious source for sweet treats on Barracks Row:

On the first day ’til Christmas, my true love gave to me…a Caramelized Pear and Goat Cheese macaron from the Sweet Lobby!

The siblings, originally from Trinidad, are both graduates of MIT with degrees in engineering…not your average patissier‘s background.    Winnette fell in love with macarons and French pastry while in Paris, and she has been applying her scientific training to perfecting her recipes ever since.  When the opportunity came to open their own shop on Barracks Row, these Hill-dwellers jumped at the chance.

While their technique and attention to detail are traditional, some of the flavors that the Sweet Lobby works into their macarons are anything but ordinary.  Think black sesame pumpkin, hazelnut praline salted caramel (yes, all those tastes are in one macron) and chili-spiked chocolate.  The little treats are sold individually or in stylish orange-and-cocoa boxes of 4, 16 or even 40!

Despite (or possibly because of) their delicate texture and air of refinement, it’s highly unlikely that macarons will ever supplant cupcakes as DC’s go-to sugar fix.  Thankfully, the Sweet Lobby has you covered on the cakier front, as well.  With buttercream frosting (on most) and cake that is moist and dense, they’ll go toe-to-toe with almost any DC cupcake contender.

Since opening in June, the Sweet Lobby has been establishing a reputation as a go-to source for some of the most delicious macarons this side of the Seine.  The complex little pastries, with their brittle shells and near-liquid interiors, demand a perfectionist’s touch.  Fortunately for us, the Sweet Lobby has Winnette and Timothy McIntosh.

And as if the cupcakes and the macarons weren’t enough for such a small space, the McIntosh siblings sell madeleines and shortbread in several flavors.  They’ve also created Steep, a line of custom blended loose-leaf teas.  Work with the Sweet Lobby staff and you’ll be sure to find a gift combination that works for your loved one.

The flavors of both the macarons and the cupcakes change daily, so you’ll want to check in with them via Facebook or Twitter to get the latest update. Prices are better than many competitors’, with cupcakes selling for $2.75 and macarons go for $1.75 each.

The Sweet Lobby
404 8th St., SE
Washington, DC
The Sweet Lobby on Urbanspoon

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