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Friday, April 8, 2016

Feta & Dill Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette - Greek - Dinner 4

This is a simple,fresh salad, perfect to accompany nearly any meal or style of cuisine. The floral and fragrant dill is the star of show, enhanced by the rich and salty feta cheese. The crunchy romaine, shaved perfectly thin, plays perfectly with the peppery arugula. It’s all pulled together with the simple, citrusy and bright, lemon vinaigrette. This can be served as a main course by adding a protein like Shrimp or grilled calamari, or as a salad course as described in this recipe. This base is one of my go-to’s for everything from sit-down dinner parties, to large outdoor get-togethers, easy and appealing to the masses, what more is there to want in a salad? Enjoy!

Ingredients:
6 oz Baby Arugula
3 Hearts of Romaine
6 oz Crumbled Feta Cheese
8 oz Fresh Dill (one bunch)
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice (or the juice of two lemons)
2 Tablespoons EVOO
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation:

With a good, sharp chef’s knife, shave the romaine very thin. The sharper the knife the better to avoid bruising the greens, this will allow the romaine to retain its crunch which achieving the small, easy to eat, pieces of lettuce. Combine with arugula and feta in a large bowl. Using your hands, remove the fronds from the stems of the dill. Give it a rough chop to achieve a consistent size. Toss in with the romaine mixture and incorporate evenly. When ready to serve, whisk together the lemon, vinegar, and evoo in a small bowl. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over romaine mix and toss gently until evening coated, serve immediately. 

Chocolate & Ricotta Phyllo Pies - Mediterranean - Dessert 1

So I am really not the best at dessert. I don’t love sweets and I refuse to measure for the most part which does not lend itself to success in baking (which is essentially chemistry if you ask me). That being said, what dinner party is complete without a sweet ending? I mean, I would normally be fine with cheese, a piece of chocolate or a fortified wine, but convention holds the meal should end with dessert. I recently cooked a dinner party for a group in the host’s home. I had prepared a varied meal drawing on culinary traditions from the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa, and was faced with the challenge of preparing dessert, and somehow remaining consistent in cultural context. I toyed with the idea of several more complicated desserts I had seen in magazines, using pomegranates or apricots whipped with cream cheeses and the like, but as the meal came together those ideas seemed a bit much. I decided to keep it simple, and using the buttery and delicious phyllo dough that is common in cuisine of those regions, I had a contextual base that would work. I found some beautiful berries in the market and decided I would do chocolate and ricotta stuffed phyllo pies, served them with a blackberry, pepper and red wine reduction. The preparation was harrowing (phyllo is much more delicate and prone to drying than I remembered) and involved a LOT of butter. There were some tense moments during baking when I just wasn’t seeing the golden hue or crispy ends and started to panic. In the end I took some deep breathes and like magic it all came together. The phyllo emerged a glowing gold, with the perfect airy crunch in perfect juxtaposition to the creamy, chocolately filling. The red-wine berry reduction was equal parts sweet, tart, tannic and rich, and with the hint of spice from the black pepper, an apt finishing touch. Even as someone who does not enjoy dessert (especially making it), I have to admit they were unexpectedly delicious. With this recipe I can confidently say I am getting (incrementally) better and more comfortable with preparing dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Package Frozen Phyllo dough
  • 2 Bars Baking Chocolate (I used 1 dark and 1 semi-sweet)
  • 10 oz Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 Stick of Salted Butter (unsalted is fine too) - melted
  • 6 oz Blackberris (1 normal grocery package)
  • 1 ½ cups red wine
  • ½ cup sugar (plus more to taste)
  • 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper


Preparation:


Remove dough from refrigerator a few hours before you plan to use it to allow it to defrost. You will want to keep a damp clean cloth on hand to cover the sheets of dough you are not using so as to avoid letting them dry out. Pre-heat oven to 400F.  Lay 2-3 sheets out and fold the sides in long ways, essentially tripling the thickness creating a long strip. Place 2 pieces of chocolate, and a large dollop of ricotta about 1 ½ inches from the bottom corner of the strip. Fold that corner up and across to the opposite side, so now the edge of the dough is a 45 degree angle. Take the opposite corner up and across to the other side in the same manner. Repeat like you are folding a flag until you have created a tri-angular pie. Place on a baking sheet and brush both sides with the melted butter. Repeat until you have used all your dough or all your filling, or both. Make sure they are evening spaced on a baking sheets and well coated with butter. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Meanwhile, in a small sauce-pan cook the blackberries, smashing with a fork, until they begin to reduce. Add the red wine, sugar, and pepper and cook down until it is a syrupy consistency. You can add sugar or wine as you go along according to taste. Drizzle the sauce over the top of the pies and serve immediately while the pie-filling is still warm.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Another Khachapuri Please - A Review of Compass Rose DC

So a few months ago Mark and I were in DC and wandering around the Guppie (Gay-yuppie) wonderland that is the 14th Street corridor in NW DC. Mark marveled at how much the area had changed; no longer a waste land punctuated by the Black Cat and the Elizabeth Taylor Center for Gay Men, but instead a posh and bustling pedestrian boulevard, replete with myriad dining and shopping options. As he gawked, I kept my eyes peeled for an acceptable brunch spot where we could enjoy the scene and a little sunshine. The over-abundance of choice was obviously making me crazy, as was the fear that as every second ticked by the likelihood of scoring an outdoor table was becoming slimmer and slimmer, so I was nearing meltdown by the time we approached the corner of 14th and T. 

We had almost resigned ourselves to brunch at a pizza chain when Mark spotted Compass Rose, tucked away in a brick town home, half in shadow a few hundred feet from the corner. He reminded me of his personal connection to the place, a colleague’s cousin opened the spot early in 2014, and he’d been wanting to check it out but wasn’t quite sure if they served brunch. Decision made we approached eagerly only to find out not only did they serve brunch, but this day was actually the inaugural service. We happily took a spot outside, and enjoyed one of the best, most interesting brunches we’d had together. I nearly licked the bowl on my Jok, a porridge based dish from Thailand featuring meat balls and snow peas, flavored with traditional fish sauce and soy, and finished with a runny quail egg, breakfast perfection. Mark, not normally the breakfast food type, made quick work of his Chivito, essentially a chimmichurri cheese-steak sandwich that is known as the national dish of Uruguay. We rounded out the meal with warm, delicate, and melt in your mouth Italian Zeppole, fried dough balls filled with ricotta and finished with cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla-lime syrup - literally finger-licking good. Despite a few service hiccups (which we forgave in the name of first brunch service ever) we soon realized this place was going to be a new favorite. The menu is a diverse array of authentic dishes from around the world. Inspired by the owner’s experiences traveling with her husband while he was a foreign correspondent for a national media organization (30 countries in 3 years according to her count), it offers up truly the best of global street-food derived cuisine in a straight forward and genuine manner. There is 0 affectation in the description and execution of the dishes and cross referencing my own travel experiences, I can say those of which I am personally familiar, are truly representative of the culinary traditions from which they come, so I have to believe the principle extends across the global menu.  We left raving and instagramming about the experience, determined to go back as soon as possible for dinner and the full Compass Rose experience.

We returned to DC one weekend recently and once again, due to the generosity of a good friend, found ourselves staying on 14th street. We checked out a few museums and reconnected with  several friends during the day, eventually making dinner plans with a college friend of Mark’s, and based on her mutual love of the place, decided this was the perfect opportunity for us to return to Compass Rose. Now, Compass Rose’s popularity and renown has continued to grow since our first brunch experience. Burgeoning coolness aside, it was a Saturday night and they do not take reservations, so I fully expected that getting a table might present a challenge. Due to this potential we planned to eat a little earlier than we might usually, and arrived at the restaurant at 6:15pm.

The place was a zoo, borderline chaotic. The door was slammed and the bar was no respite. The scene was somehow good, however, regulars planning on enjoying dinner at the bar and others simply happy to wait for their tables and enjoy the famous cocktails despite the clamor. Despite the good energy, my patience didn't last long. I was getting hangry and don’t generally have an appetite for waiting (just ask Mark). I tried my usual tricks of being pushy with the hostess and trying to trip her up by getting her to make impossible promises about seating order, but she was a professional and did not break, despite my best and most underhanded efforts. Truth be told, there was no injustice occurring, the place was legitimately packed. I have to give some credit to the kitchen, because it was apparent they were managing to turn tables quickly despite the lingering nature the foodie illuminati are prone to in places like these. Ultimately, the wait was over an hour and was excruciating, not just for me, but for those who had to deal with me, so consider this my apology. During the wait we’d called around and stopped in various nearby places, but as the hour had approached 7 and prime dining time, the other waits were even more abysmal. Eventually a large table got up, and our moment had come. As we took our seats, the question loomed; "Would it be worth the wait?".

By this time I was sufficiently buzzed, really just an attempt to prevent wait-rage, so I was eager to begin the feeding frenzy. I ordered a light red from Italy, a craft cocktail would have been lost on me by that point and any additional hard liquor on my empty stomach would have spelled disaster for Mark and my other company. The wine was good (I do not recall the maker or varietal), easy drinking, perfect for what was to be wide variety of dishes and flavors.

Once seated, the ambient noise level suddenly felt more tolerable (or maybe it was the promise of food to come). The restaurant’s aesthetic is at one time both part Bedouin tent and another part Parisian apartment. There are touches of metals and textiles that evoke the far reaching locales from which the menu comes, yet somehow it avoids the bohemian cliché. It’s not stunningly beautiful or breathtakingly unique, it’s pretty, comfortable and I imagine it’s evocative of the owner’s experiences living and collecting items from around the world. Perhaps it’s a cliché just to say it, but it feels authentic, there is no Pier 1 chintz factor or heavy handed design theme, it's sexy, understated and relaxed. The space, the lighting, it’s a nod to the true star of the show, the food and the culinary traditions from which it comes.

We ordered dinner in several rounds, wanting to explore as much as what the small plates driven menu had to offer. Drawing on market-place and street-food traditions the world over, the selection is wildly diverse yet cohesive in inspiration. While waiting, we had seen several tables get the dish that Compass Rose has become famous for, serving over 10,000 in their first year by some accounts. What we witnessed is essentially a Georgian cheese pizza, a staple in the cuisine of former Soviet republic country nestled between the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea, that goes by name of “Khachapuri”. By our initial observations we gathered that it is a shallow bread boat filled bubbling cheese and topped with an egg. We HAD to have it. When we ordered, however, the server suggested he bring it out last, as it tends to be heavy and he didn’t want to ruin our appetite. Now I appreciate the consideration, and his commercial interest in ensuring he didn’t temper his future sales potential, but this guy clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with. We thanked him for his concern and his implication of our delicacy as diners, but assured him it would be a non-issue and in fact the bread boat should come to the table as soon as possible. He obliged, and the table was soon full of half a dozen fragrant and enticing dishes. 

I’ll come back to the Khachapuri don’t worry, but for now on to the rest of the food. One of the first plates to hit the table was the grilled duck hearts in a Peruvian preparation called Anticuchos – essentially heart kabobs or brochette if you’re fancy. These were accompanied by Huacaina, boiled potatoes in a creamy sauce, a simple yet satisfying accouterments. The hearts, on the other hand, were intense and gamey in flavor, and perfectly cooked, no small feat, I must note, considering the potentially tough nature of the organ. Now I am a bit biased in that I love organ meat categorically. But this dish played on the qualities I prize in wonderful ways. The flavor was deep and “livery”, brought about through the char of the grill and a deliberate lack of seasoning. I could have snacked on those little tickers all night.

Another favorite dish was the Chincharron. Prevalent in many Latin American culinary traditions, and one of my favorite street foods and taco fillings from my time in Mexico, I had high expectations. As was becoming the trend at Compass Rose I would not be disappointed. These slabs of friend pork belly were melt in your mouth delicious, buttery fat layers and crispy skin heaven. They were served with fried yucca, a favorite amongst Mark and our friends, so clearly this dish didn’t last long in the table. Continuing the Latin theme, we also ordered some lamb Arepas. The masa base was a little soggier than I like, and that would be my ONLY criticism. The meat was tender and had a delicious, almost herbaceous, depth of flavor I didn't expect but found quite pleasing. I am not sure where they get their cotija chees, but it must have a high moisture or fat content, because it lent an incredible creamy mouth feel in additional to the savory flavor the cheese is known for. Needless to say, we ended up ordering several plates of these. In additional to our Central and South American inspired selections, we also enjoyed a fresh and bracing Fattoush salad punctuated by mint and a pomegranate-sumac vinaigrette, a welcome change among the richer dishes.

For the second round started with lip-smacking Korean ribs. They were straightforward, well seasoned and as someone who doesn’t typically love ribs, I'll admit I enjoyed them thoroughly. The smoky glaze was perfectly balanced, not too tart or sweet as this preparation can tend to be, and the berkshire pork ribs themselves were generously meaty. We tried a bright and citrusy squid salad that spoke perfectly to the seafood of the eastern Mediterranean, and like the earlier Fattoush, served as a refreshing interlude for the palette. We ordered their take on Currywurst, and to me this was the dish that fell most flat. Currywurst is the ubiquitous dish of Berlin, but it’s admittedly rather basic. Sausage served with ketchup infused with curry, decent foundation yes, but Compass Rose’s take didn’t accentuate or heighten the dish and it ended up just feeling very, well, basic. The twist, if you can call it one, was that the Flying Dog IPA brats were tossed in the curry ketchup, thereby forcing the incorporation of flavors. I am not sure what I expected, but I wanted something more, maybe some unexpected heat or a particularly flavorful wurst, but this was neither. They didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, just do it well and I was underwhelmed with what tasted like hot dogs in ketchup that smelled like curry - very concession standesque. That might be harsh, but sausage is one of my favorite things so I had high expectations and was disappointed.

What didn’t disappoint, however, was the Jamaican Goat curry. Served with rice and shado beni, an herb reminiscent of cilantro and a traditional ingredient in Caribbean cooking, the meat was once again perfectly cooked and fall apart tender. The best part was the incorporation of scotch bonnet peppers. This very hot variety could have easily overwhelmed the dish, but instead the heat was exactly what was needed to punctuate the dish and allow the curry and the gamey qualities of the goat shine through. I would love to try to make a version as a soup.

And now, the coup de gras, the Khachapuri. So picture an oblong pizza with the ends twisted into points and the sides rolled up slightly, making a kind of pizza boat. Then fill it with butter, feta, (mozzarella and ricotta I suspect), herbs and finish with a fresh farm egg. Baked until bubbling hot, then all the filling scrambled together and allowed to congeal just slightly once it hits the table. I don’t know if I am wooing you or not, but one bite and you lusting for more. The egg and butter takes the richness of the cheese to new heights (right up there with my cholesterol) and the edges of the crust have just the right chew and char to balance out the texture. Cut in into strips, the cheese is just dripping off the crust as you raise it to your mouth, it’s almost an erotic experience, the sexiest version of pizza I have ever had. Now, despite the server’s warnings, we made quick work of our Khachapuri and you guessed it….ordered two.

By the time we’d finished the smorgasbord we had perused nearly half the menu, leaving a few dishes to entice us to go back, but had absolutely no ability to attempt dessert. We were totally sated, service had been seamless, informative and un-intrusive. In the end we all decided dinner had been well worth the wait.

In writing this review I did take a moment to reflect on the overall experience and this is what I will say; Compass Rose is outstanding. The dining experience is satisfying, exciting, and intriguing, each bite leaving you wanting more and yet wanting to see what is to yet to come left to explore. The dishes themselves recreate that feeling during travel, that moment when you taste or see something new, unexpected, maybe even transcendent, something that imprints itself on your memory and you carry it with you for years to come. It is as if the proprietors and chef want to create that "best thing I ever tasted" moment, over and over and over again, recalling and sharing the experiences through the authentic interpretations of the global cuisine, a travelogue in food. In this, Compass Rose succeeds brilliantly. I left wanting to cook, to travel, and come back again next week to explore more of the menu and savor my new found favorites.

With an ever changing menu, and an uncharted dessert list, we are definitely looking forward to going back. In the mean time I will be recommending Compass Rose to anyone and everyone I deem worthy of such an epicurean adventure, the long wait notwithstanding.

Logistics:
Dinner: 5PM - 7 Days (til’ 11 MON-SAT, 10pm Sun)
Bar: 5pm- 2am 7 days
Brunch: YASSSS (Sunday only 11 – 3pm)
Price Point: With drinks ran about $55 with tax/tip (no dessert), most items between $8 and $20, small plates to share (2-3 per person)
Reservations: No reservations – Got busy on a Saturday around 6

Notes:
You can eat at the bar and I would recommend it
Lots of gluten free options
Recently began offering a private dining menu in their garden courtyard called “The Bedouin Tent” – can someone please have a birthday dinner there?!?

Location: 1346 T STREET
NW WASHINGTON, DC 20009


Contact: INFO@COMPASSROSEDC.COM - Compassrosedc.com – 202-506-4765

Photo copyright Tim Robison from Food & Wine: http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/fw-photo-tour-washington-dc

Za’atar Spiced Eggplant Napoleon with Roasted Garlic Infused Yogurt -Eastern Med/Middle East - Dinner 3

This dish was the first course to a recent dinner party I prepared. I love eggplant, and especially love it fried and crispy. My first thought was to make a Napoleon – rounds of fried eggplant stacked in a tower form with layers of some dairy component and a sauce.  It gives a nice combination of flavors and textures with visually appealing plating, perfect for entertaining. Typically I would prepare this dish with an Italian spin; ricotta cheese, tomato sauce and fresh herbs like basil and oregano. For this version, I decided to give it a more eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern spin. I decided the main flavor profile would be Za’atar. This is an ancient and incredibly fragrant spice blend with Arabic origins and is so versatile it is perfect for anything from flavoring grilled meats to accenting baked goods. This blend is typically based in marjoram and thyme, but often includes herbs like sumac or oregano. Za’atar almost invariably contains sesame seeds which lend a perfect nuttiness to the woodsy notes of the herbs. I thought it would be the perfect complement to the enigmatic and herbaceous quality of the eggplant. I also decided to ditch the cheese and opted for a rich and creamy, garlic infused strained yogurt to serve as the layering ingredient. This offered a tangy and savory contrast to layers the earthy and aromatic eggplant. This recipe can be adapted with different seasonings in the flour, by marinating the eggplant, or by trying other creamy cheese or sauce options.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Large or 2 Medium Eggplants
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 2 + 1 Tablespoons  Za’atar Spice (separated)
  • Sea Salt
  • 2 Cups Canola Oil (or any high heat combination)
  • 4 Eggs
  • 12 oz Greek Yogurt
  • 1 Head of Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Cut the top off the head of garlic and place in a small baking dish. Pour the evoo over top to coat the now exposed cloves. Place in oven and roast for the duration of your preparation until brown and the cloves are buttery soft.

Cut the eggplant in ¼” to ½” thick rounds. Score each side in cross hatching pattern. Salt generously and place on a drying rack to allow the excess moisture to “sweat” out  - 20 minutes.
Lightly beat the eggs, add a little milk if you like to create an egg wash. Combine the flour and 2 tablespoons Za’atar spice in a large shallow bowl.  Heat canola oil in a large, wide sauté pan until it sizzles when you toss test pinch of flour in.

Once the eggplant have sufficiently “sweated” brush the excess salt off and season with 1 tablespoon Za’atar. Dip in the egg wash, and then generously coat each side in the seasoned flour mixture. Drop carefully in the hot oil and fry until crispy and gold brown, flipping as needed to ensure even cooking. Place back on the drying rack to allow excess oil to drain.

While eggplant is frying, remove the roasting garlic from the oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Using a fork, remove the soft cloves and add them to the Greek yogurt in a medium mixing bowl. Using the same fork, smash and incorporate evenly into the yogurt.

Once eggplant is fried and drained – 5 mins – you can begin plating. Using a spoon, smear a very small amount of yogurt onto your cold or room temperature plate. Place the largest of your eggplant rounds onto the smear, this will hold it in place. Repeat with as many plates as you are making. Then add a thick layer of the yogurt on top of bottom round. Place the next largest round on top. Repeat layers of yogurt and eggplant until you have desired height or run out of eggplant. Top with a final dollop of the yogurt and perhaps a fresh herb like chives. Serve immediately; this recipe should make 4 medium Napoleon towers.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Syracuse Salt Potato Salad - American - Sides 4

Salt Potatoes are a dish synonymous with Syracuse, NY and is a staple of the region's summer time and cookout cuisine. Born out of the lunch-time tradition of the many salt-workers that supported the salt industry from the springs and marshes along Onondaga Lake, their appeal eventually extended beyond the industrial water front centers and became a favorite across Central New York by the early 1900's and remain so today. So much so in fact, that they are a permanent resident on the menu of Dinosaur BBQ restaurants, which is now one of the city's best known modern day exports with locations opening up as far south as our very Baltimore. This is where I first tasted, and fell in love with the savory fluffy (never water-logged) Salt Potato.

I've been exploring options for side dishes and snacks that can be taken for lunch, the typical fare of carrots and hummus or tuna salad just aren't cutting it anymore. I picked some red skin potatoes recently and figured I would try to put a spin on one of Mark's Syracuse favorites. This would serve a dual purpose in that I am also developing recipes for our upcoming engagement party, for which I am determined to prepare all the food for the "Maryland meets Syracuse" themed affair.

Typically the salt potato is boiled in briny water, then tossed in or otherwise infused with a bit of garlic. I decided I wanted to steep the potatoes in a combination of garlic and fresh herbs in additional to the salt. I used black pepper, dried thyme, garlic powder and lots of fresh whole rosemary springs to create the fragrant brine. It filled my kitchen with the most delicious savory steam as the potatoes boiled and my mouth was watering by the time I was done. I carefully removed the potatoes once fork tender, so as to retain the cooking solution. I had decided, as the scent intoxicated me (OK maybe it was wine), that I would reserve the liquid and use it to brine for chicken to be used at some later date. I patted myself on the back for my ingenuity and resourcefulness.

Once the potatoes had cooled a but, I plucked 2 or 3 springs of fresh rosemary and gave the leaves a fine chop. I did the same to 2 stalks of crunchy celery, and combined it all with about a 1/2 cup of mayo in the potato bowl. Before I mixed it all together, I took some sweet and tender roasted garlic I had made a week earlier and had been keeping in my fridge and added it to the salad-to-be. The cloves were super fragrant and buttery soft, so when i began to toss the mixture together then combined smoothly with the other ingredients.

What resulted was savory, herbaceous, with a subtle crunch that lent a refreshing aspect to the typical potato salad. At an elemental level the dish was incredibly straightforward, at least on paper, but it was elevated by the adoption of the "Salt Potato" preparation, technical success! It was absolutely delicious, eliciting a far more positive response from Mark than I could have hoped for. This is one side that will have a permanent place in my repertoire, despite the fact it wasn't the most photogenic dish...

Syracuse Salt Potato Salad

Ingredients:

  • 6 Large Red Skin potatoes - halved
  • 3 Tablespoons salt
  • 6 Sprigs of fresh rosemary (3 plucked and leaves finely chopped)
  • 2 Stalks celery - chopped
  • 1 Table spoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 Head of garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


Preparation:

Place potatoes in a large pot. (Note: traditional Salt Potatoes were made from young, or smaller potatoes - As I was planning on chopping and quasi-mashing into a potato salad, I used a normal sized spuds, recipe works either way_. Add 3 rosemary springs, and the other spices and herbs. Fill with water until the potatoes are covered. Bring to a boil on medium heat until potatoes are fork tender. Meanwhile, if you do not already have roasted garlic on hand, out the oven on 400F, cut the top off of a garlic head place a head of garlic in a small baking vessel, drizzle with the evoo, and roast for the duration of your potato process. When the potatoes are done, carefully remove them from the cooking liquid, and place in a large mixing bowl. Save the liquid to use for a meat brine (chicken or pork would be perfect). Add the chopped celery, chopped rosemary, mayonnaise, and several cloves of the soft roasted garlic. Combine until evening mixed, serve chilled with a rosemary sprig.

Enjoy




Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When Life Gives You Cabbage...A St. Paddy's Day Tale - Irish - Sides 3

ISt. Paddy's Day is apparently a big deal here in Baltimore, but as one who really doesn't drink beer (green, Guinness or otherwise) and fares very poorly when day drinking, it's never been a major holiday in my book. I turn up my nose at the idea of raucous bar crowds, because you know, I am too old for that and well we're not actually IN Ireland, and up until this year rather loathed the day.

My fiance, while better at day drinking, is similarly aligned on his opinion of the traditional form of celebration. However, growing up in a 50% Irish Catholic household, he has a much stronger association with the holiday. He spent his youth in Syracuse NY, and all of his family members at one point or another, worked at Coleman's - at one point dubbed "Most Authentic Irish Bar in America" and an iconic Syracuse institution ubiquitous to the Irish Americans of the city. Located in the predominantly Irish-American community of Tipperary Hill, replete with upside down stoplight (explained here), Coleman's is home to a large and exuberant St. Paddy's Day parade and played host to many community events about which Mark and his family share countless hilarious and heartwarming stories. So, it's no surprise that Mark has developed his own tradition, having moved away from Syracuse, to mark the day and conjure up those fond memories. Each year he prepares the traditional Irish feast of Corned Beef & Cabbage and shares it with those with whom he lives. 2015 was my first experience, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So when March began and the shamrocks started to appear in Baltimore bar windows, I was excited for the return of Mark's yearly culinary event.

It must be said, while I am the main cook in the house, Mark is not merely a culinary side kick, in fact he has a broad repertoire, good instincts and I should note, brought at least 25 cooks books to our newly combined household. If you know me, however, the idea of standing by and letting another person take the lead on a meal in my house...well that's a recipe for disaster (pun intended)...

We decided to shop together, bad idea. Had I been the chef, I would have researched best cuts, creative alternatives and fancy spins on staple ingredients, essentially bucking tradition in favor of making it all my own. So naturally, as we strolled the aisles of Harris Teeter one Saturday afternoon, I let my creative juices flow, and to my chagrin my ideas were shot down left and right. Potential moments of culinary brilliance reduced short lived flights of fancy, I was stewing.

It all came to a head at the butcher case. The mere mention of preseasoned beef elicited an awful sneer that I had difficulty removing from my face. That, combined with the condescension that came over my entire being proved to be the tipping point. I was sternly reprimanded, and definitely removed from the project, fired from St. Paddy's Day dinner. I trolled the store in dramatic forlorn fashion for the remainder of the shopping list, clearly moping in my relegation to lowly guest. Fortunately, my resolve or perhaps attention faltered, and dismay was forgotten as soon as we departed for home.

Over the weekend prior, we'd decided to invite our neighbors with whom we have GFD (Gay Family Dinner) as well as another close friend who doesn't live far, and title it as such in honor of our weekly tradition. I could have allowed the naming to add insult to the injury of my non-producing role, but I was honestly happy to be taking a back seat, or really no seat at all. On Thursday morning, while I ironed our shirts, Mark kicked off his process of chopping the various ingredients. He quickly learned our eyes had been bigger than our Crockpot, and we needed to go to the basement for back up. By 8am we had two crock pots full of pickling spice, brisket, cabbage, carrots, the works... And I was only asked my advice a smattering of times (I obviously obliged with the most genuine sweetness).

The beef cooked for 8 hours, and I came home to a house that smelled like..well..St. Paddy's Day, we'll leave it at that. When we pulled the meat out, the last vestiges of bitterness faded, as I could see we were going to be in for a treat. The meat was perfectly cooked, just on the edge of completely falling apart. The vegetables mysteriously treading the line between firm and too tender, and the cabbage, just right. Mark engaged me to do the cutting and I took the liberty of heading up the plating, he knew better than to trust himself with my Instagram subject.

The meal featured Uveja Blanca, a delicious dry Muscat from central Spain with Gewurztraminer traits, that stood up beautifully to the salt and fat that both punctuates and premeates this meal. It was followed by what I think was a Rioja (the label is blurry in my memory) and then to a Bota box, if we're being honest (might explain why I can't remember the name of the other red). In typical GFD fashion we laughed a lot, told questionable stories, and recounted memories from dinners and holidays of the past, all of the things that make GFD such an important part of our lives. I managed to stay awake to see our guests out the door (a challenge for me occasionally) and apparently to promise to do ALL the clean-up, at least that is what Mark tells me...

Ultimately I realized this dinner had been yet another of what will be many undocumented tests in the journey of our relationship, and in its success we had passed a coupledom threshold with flying colors. Despite my near meltdown in HT, and my initial dismay at giving up the dinner reigns, I ended up enjoying observing Mark's pride in his process and in his ability to year over year deliver his own tradition and honor memories of the St. Paddy's days of his youth. I may never don a green tuxedo or down a pint of Guinness in the morning, toasting the most famous of Irish saints, but I am happy to have this new tradition to look forward to for many years to come.

I am not going to share a recipe, it belongs to Mark. While I am happy to partake in this tradition as his partner, it is still his to share not mine to appropriate. I'll simply say he did a wonderful job, and honestly elevated what is typically a very basic dish to new heights of richness and flavor. The process, the preparation, the buttery tender result, they were all his own, traditional yet unique in their own right. He deserves all the credit for making the dinner a mouthwatering success.

Don't worry, there is still a recipe coming... As I mentioned, our eyes were bigger than our crock pot, and even after expanding to employing two such appliances in the cooking process, we were left with a (huge) half a head of cabbage. Normally, I'll admit, something like this would sit in the back of my fridge for weeks, I'd glance at it and pretend to be thinking of a good recipe for which to use it, until it started to turn rancid and then I would dispose of it as soon as it started to smell. Food waste at it's worst.

Fortunately, Mark is what I would term a cole slaw aficionado. Without exception, if there is even a chance a restaurant we visit serves cole slaw, Mark is going to ask, and if available will order it as a side. He LOVES cole slaw about as much as he HATES bacon, so you know it's serious. This fondness offered the perfect to solution to the cabbage food waste dilemma, and I decided to make a slaw from the leftovers. I was even able to incorporate the remnants from several other ingredients from St. Paddy's Day dinner to compound my food utilization success. Inspired by a Saveur.com posting in September of 2015 (the original recipe is actually from 2011) on cookout favorites like baked beans and slaw, I decided to heighten the typical mayonnaise base with the addition of cider vinegar and whole grain mustard (apparently a technique with roots in Tennessee cooking). I added shaved radishes for bite and color, and then grated carrots for their sweetness and ability to mellow the more bracing preceding ingredients. It was delicious fresh and just mixed, but even better the following morning once the dressing had been able to break down the cabbage and the flavors had married. Next time you have left over cabbage, or are in the mood for a delicious slaw, I hope you enjoy!

Tennessee Style Mustardy Cole Slaw:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 head of Green Cabbage - Sliced very thin (or to your slaw texture preference)
  • 4 Medium Carrots - grated on the large side of a cheese grater
  • 4 Large Red Radishes - halved and then sliced very thin
  • 1/4 cup Whole Grain Mustard
  • 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey


Preparation:

Combine all vegetables in a large bowl, toss until evenly distributed. Add the vinegar first and toss. Combine mayo, mustard and honey in a small bowl, whisk together. Add to the vegetable and vinegar mix and toss well until evenly coated. Add more mayo or mustard to your taste. Cover with plastic and chill overnight before serving.



Friday, March 4, 2016

Bubbly Brussels with Blue & Brie - American - Sides 2

Bubbly Brussels with Blue and Brie

This is just a simple side dish that can really hit the spot when you’re craving something rich and cheesy, or just some alliteration (you’re welcome Mom). The fact it’s primarily Brussels sprouts is why you don’t have to feel terrible about eating it. A coworker recently overshopped the cheese counter for a special event she was doing, and knowing my cheese problem, generously gave me a hunk of Stilton and a double crème Brie that she didn’t end up needing. Short of simply chowing down on the blocks, cheese in one hand wine in the other, I was trying to think of a creative way to use the two. One night, while Mark was stuck at a work function and I was thus left to my own devices for dinner, I figured it was time to put them to use. Partially intended as a way to prevent me from ordering a pizza delivered, and therefore hating myself for another week, and partially because I really like them, I picked up a bag of Brussels sprouts on the way home from work. I figured, sprouts are strongly flavored and delicious when roasted. They would stand up well to the tangy blue cheese, and I would be able to melt the brie to a drool worthy, pour all over yourself and lick off, consistency in the oven. Sorry for the carnal imagery, I just really like cheese. Having sufficiently deluded myself into thinking this vegetable studded cheese melt was somehow on my imaginary diet, I launched in what would be an easy prep. I decided to keep it simple and season with just white pepper, a pinch of salt and finish with fresh ground pepper. I baked it in a pair of extra cute white corning ware casseroles, but it would have been equally as rustic-chic and aesthetically appealing in a pair of mini cast iron pans that I have, so I clearly agonized over the choice. Despite being torn about presentation, early on there was no doubt I would end up eating both casseroles, my best laid plans of portion control were out the window with the first whiff of the baking brie. Cheese chastity just isn’t my thing. I didn’t serve this with any protein, as I was just cooking for myself, but in the end I now have an easy go-to side dish whenever my main requires something sinfully rich and unctuous on the side. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
  • 1 bag Brussels sprouts (1lb) – washed, trimmed and halved
  • 3 oz Royal Blue Stilton - small pieces
  • 3 oz Reny Picot Double Crème Brie -  small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon evoo
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 450F. Toss the Brussels sprouts in evoo. Place half in the chicest little baking vessels you own. Layer in half of your cheeses. Place remaining sprouts in the pans. Top with remaining cheese, finish with salt and black pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until sprouts are tender and the cheeses are