Cupcakes for the At-Home Connoisseur

July 26, 2011

Ooey, gooey, chewy cupcakes, creamy icing sliding off the tops, finger-licking, oh heck, paperliner-licking good, crumbs caught mid-air and time-warp flashbacks – a retro rewind to the innocent indulgence of old-fashioned cupcakes, where a kid’s eyeballs over-amp in megawatt lust and grown-ups get a tiny dessert sans guilt. Something for the whole family. Something to get us into the minivan and drive for miles only to stand in line…or maybe not.

In the midst of all the current cupcake hooplah Chef Matt Finarelli breaks away from the pack to say, “Let’s make sophisticated cupcakes and teach everyone how to bake them at home!”

Finarelli, who teaches several cooking classes a week at Open Kitchen in Falls Church, Virginia, in everything from tapas to tamales and pizza to pappardelle, demonstrates an astounding repertoire of international cookery coupled with a keen sense of humor and boyish charm. This month’s single session evening courses have included “Summer in St. Tropez”, featuring Julia Child’s salade niçoise, whole roasted branzino with lemon aioli (author’s weakness) and ratatouille. And for a light dessert, caramelized peaches with peach ice-cream and peach chocolate macaroons. How’s that for a foodcation to the South of France at home!

During an island-inspired night class called “Caribbean Dream,” participants learned how to prepare grilled lobster, seviche atop avocado, and flaming rummed-up bananas Foster with both pineapple and coconut. It’s no wonder his classes fill up quickly. You are both student and diner!

For his “Adult Cupcakes and Wine Pairing” Finarelli demoed and served six of his inspired recipes. Imagine, if you will, red velvet chocolate port cupcakes with vanilla port frosting paired with Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port from Amador County, CA and dark chocolate and chipotle cupcakes with candied orange peel paired with Banfi Rosa Regale from Strevi, Italy. A bride-to-be with friends in tow came for a bachelorette party and were enjoying a few extra purchased glasses of champagne and port. Yes, you can do that too. How civilized.

Andy Hoyle of Republic National Distributing described and poured for the class of 40 guests. “The cork pops here,” he quipped to an increasingly cheery group. Hoyle took a tricky menu-pairing complementing sweets with spirits. My favorite combination was a pretty prosecco and almond cupcake topped with rosewater and petite flowers. It was served with Kluge Estate Cru, a divine bubbly out of Charlottesville, VA. We heart our champers and this is a lovely one. Here’s your assignment while sipping:

Prosecco and Almond Cupcakes with Rosewater and Fresh Blossoms
Courtesy of Chef Matt Finarelli of Open Kitchen

Yield ~32 cupcakes

4 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
4 sticks butter – unsalted – softened
3 cups sugar
8 ea eggs
6 Tbsp milk
¼ cup Prosecco
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup slivered almonds – well chopped
1 recipe Rosewater Frosting
As needed Edible blossoms (e.g. pansies, marigolds, small roses, cone flowers, herb flowers, lilac, lavender – all pesticide free and well washed.)

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line cupcake pan with papers.
– Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
– Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
– Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
– With mixer on low speed beat in milk, Prosecco and vanilla until just combined.
– Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating until just combined after each addition.
– Fold in almonds gently.
– Bake until toothpick comes out clean – about 20 minutes. Cool and top with Rosewater Frosting and then edible blossoms.

Rosewater Frosting

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1¾ cups confectioner’s sugar
5 tsp rosewater

– Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth.
– Add confectioners sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated.
– Add lemon juice and rosewater and beat until smooth.

Open Kitchen wears many toques. It is a full-service caterer, a cooking school with hands-on and demo cooking classes, a flex-timeshare kitchen for local chefs to launch and grow their own business, and a bistro serving lunch Monday through Saturday, and dinner Thursday through Saturday.

To check class schedules, restaurant hours and timeshare availability visit: or call 703-942-8148.

For questions or comments on this article contact [gallery ids="99191,103315,103309,103312" nav="thumbs"]

Plates from the Park

Now in its eighth year, the Georgetown Farmers Market in Rose Park, sponsored by the Friends of Rose Park in cooperation with the D.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, is open from 3:00 until 7:00 p.m. every Wednesday (rain or shine) from mid-April until the last Wednesday in October at the corner of O and 26th Streets.

Each week the Friends of Rose Park suggest a recipe using ingredients in season and available at the farmer’s market. This week we are featuring a recipe for Peach Cobbler provided by Mary Carol Platt of the Friends of Rose Park whilst peaches are in season.

“This is an easy recipe to make – an old-fashioned recipe using simple ingredients and no fancy techniques. I have been using this recipe for two decades – every summer when the peaches are plentiful. The cobbler is delicious as is, just peaches, and even more wonderful with the addition of blackberries. Ice cream is optional but appreciated!”

Peach Cobbler
6 cups fresh peaches,
peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter 10×7 baking dish. Place peaches on bottom of dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice and extract. Sift together dry ingredients. Add egg and mix with fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over peaches. Drizzle with melted butter. Bake 35-40 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

(Note: To add more summer flavor, sprinkle a cup of blackberries over the peach slices before adding the crumbly topping.)

Plates From the Park

This week, the Friends of Rose Park feature a recipe for corn chowder, provided by Mary Carol Platt of the Friends of Rose Park while peaches are in season.

“This is an easy recipe to make – an old-fashioned recipe using simple ingredients and no fancy techniques,” Mary says. “I have been using this recipe for two decades – every summer when the corn is plentiful.”

Corn Chowder
4 ears corn, husks and silk removed
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup water
4 ounces think-cut bacon, diced into half-inch pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream

?Remove the kernels from each ear of corn using a small, sharp knife. Cut only the kernels, not the cob. Reserve both the cobs and the kernels.

?Break each shaved cob in half and put in a medium pot with the chicken stock/broth and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently.

?While the broth simmers, in a large pot over medium heat, fry the bacon pieces until brown but not crisp, about 5 minutes. Leave the bacon in the pot and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings. Add the onions, celery and pepper to the bacon and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften and brown, 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle the bacon and vegetables with flour. Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is completely incorporated, 1-2 minutes.

?Remove the cobs from the broth and discard. Measure the broth. If you have less than 3 cups, add water to measure 3 cups. Add the broth to the bacon and vegetables. Then add the corn kernels and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low so the soup barely boils. Cook until the potatoes are tender, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cream and set aside for 20 minutes. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.

Serves 6 (makes 7 1/2 – 8 cups)

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

Lewis Grizzard, American writer and humorist, said “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato,” and considering all the well-loved recipes which include them, one would be hard pressed not to agree. Often cooks think of tomatoes as an item to be served on the side or as an ingredient in a more complex dish, but with such beautifully plump and juicy tomatoes in season, why not serve them up as the entrée?

“Tomatoes are something to celebrate right now because they are here,” says Chef Ris Lacoste. “We wait for tomatoes and they always come mid-July. Finally they’ve arrived at the farmers markets. In celebrating the tomatoes, this is the time to serve them.”
Though when we think of tomatoes our thoughts typically go to a round, red fruit, there are actually countless varieties to choose from.

And just like with apples, it may become difficult to decide which breed you need. Green varieties are acidic so we use them in treats like Fried Green Tomatoes. Green tomatoes should be picked when they are under-ripe but still firm in order to cook them, otherwise they will shrivel up. However, green tomatoes are not to be confused with Green Zebras, which are fully ripe and just happen to be green. Green
Zebras almost have the tartness of an apple and their acidity allows them to go well with seafood.

A small variety, the Cherry tomato, is wonderfully versatile because there are so many different colors and tastes within this category. Cherry tomatoes have a sweetness that blends well in salads, while yellow cherry tomatoes have a lower acidity, giving them a softer, blander flavor which pairs with other fresh veggies very well.

No matter what variety you care to try, Ris suggests looking for Heirloom tomatoes. In recent years, big companies have taken a large market share of the tomato production. Most tomatoes are now mass produced and the seeds have been engineered. Hormonally engineered tomatoes make for larger more beautiful tomatoes and are readily available at any chain grocer, however they aren’t as tasty.
Heirloom tomatoes are natural and have valued flavors and colors, and are grown specifically for those characteristics.

But how do you know which variety you want and which ones are heirlooms? Ask your local grower. If you ask a grower at your local farmers market for a recommendation, they can usually point out which breeds are sweeter, or will hold up during baking, or which will breakdown for sauces, etc.

“The farmers will know about their tomatoes. They’re their babies,” says Ris.

The farmers also understand tomatoes are one of Mother Nature’s greatest phenomenons. Tomatoes are very sensitive to the weather, much more so than other types of produce. During seasons with a lot of rain, tomatoes tend to be soft, while during dry seasons, the tomatoes tough-skinned to lock in moister.

Once you’ve made your perfect tomato selection and you have them in hand, you need some ideas about what to do with them. Chef Ris has shown herself to be a culinary master, and she understands that cooking is a learning process and you have to do your research.

“I love classic recipes and I don’t want to mess with them. So I’ll research as many versions as I can. I look in books and see how they relate and what the different versions are just to get a good understanding of a dish that’s been around for the ages,” says Ris. “Sometimes I give my own special twist and hope it will be a Picasso, but I try to really hold true to the classic dishes.”

While it’s fun to put your own spin on a recipe, like Chef says, don’t neglect the classics. There are many tomato-y summer dishes you just can’t go wrong with.

“BLTs in the summer. I want thick cut tomato, white toast, mayonnaise bacon and lettuce. That’s just heaven. Go make a BLT right now,” says Ris.

Everything you need for Ratatouille: eggplant, summer squash, onions and, of course, juicy tomatoes are fresh on the shelves now. Try this dish as an elegant side to your Sunday omelet. Throw some tomatoes in the blender for a fresh Bloody Mary, and garnish with summer green beans. Make your own Panzanean salad with thick tomato cuts, cucumber, and feta or mozzarella cheese. Try Ris’ own perfected gazpacho recipe. The possibilities are endless.

And if you’re not in the mood to prepare one of Chef Ris’ recipes tonight, save it for tomorrow, but go cut yourself a thick slice. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and enjoy it right now, because now is the time for tomatoes.

Blue Goat Cheese Panzanella Salad

3 stalks celery, sliced
½ head radicchio, cut into roughly 1” squares
2 cups baby spinach, cleaned and dried
½ head romaine, cut into roughly 1” squares
6 radishes, sliced
48 cherry tomatoes, cut in ½, any or mixed colors
1 small red onion, cut into julienne

1 loaf raisin walnut bread, cut into ½” cubes for croutons
9 oz blue goat cheese, cut into ½” cubes

For the dressing:
Makes 5 cups, much more than you need
2 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
zest and juice of two oranges
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped oregano
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup Kalamata olive brine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup walnut oil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup peanut oil
freshly cracked black pepper

For the port glaze:
16 oz port
8 oz balsamic vinegar

To make the glaze, combine the port and balsamic vinegar in a heavy based non reactive pan and reduce to a thick syrup. The 3 cups of liquid should reduce to about 4 ounces. Let cool and keep covered in the refrigerator for as long as a month.

To make the vinaigrette, combine all of the ingredients except the oils in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the oils one at a time starting with the walnut oil followed by the olive oil and then the peanut oil. Vinegars and oils vary in strength and flavor. Each dressing is different. You may therefore not need to add all of the oil in this recipe.

Be sure to taste the vinaigrette before adding the last of the oil to check for desired level of acidity. Taste for seasoning and adjust. The vinaigrette can be made and kept covered in the refrigerator for up to a month. However, it is best served at room temperature.

Toss 1 ½ cups of the raisin walnut croutons in olive oil and toast in a 350 degree oven until golden.

To make the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, including the croutons but not the cheese. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Dress to your liking with the olive vinaigrette and divide the mix into 6 bowls. Stud each salad with about 1 ½ ounces of the blue goat cheese and drizzle with the port glaze. Delicious.

Book Hill Bistro

July 19, 2011

Stepping up from the street into Book Hill Bistro, guests ascend from the bustle of Wisconsin Avenue to an intimate and cozy nook where low lighting and soft jazzy chords ensconce passersby wandering in for a look at Georgetown’s new restaurant. The walls are colored in dusky reds and deep browns which immediately put you at ease. Book Hill’s comfortable seating has guests sinking into their chairs as they begin the anticipation of sinking their teeth into the menu’s dishes.

Once settled into the snuggly surroundings, guests are likely to be greeted by Chef Frank Petrello, arguably the heart and soul of Book Hill. Petrello brings an upscale touch and a New York attitude to his family’s long tradition of food service.

“I’ve been around a long time,” he says with a laugh.

Petrello’s menu consists of a variety of adventurous entrees. The lunch menu has a good mix of favorites, all altered slightly for more creative tastes. One such creation is the Book Hill Portobello Wrap, which comes with perfectly smoky and tender portabellas and complimenting floral vegetables. One guest described it as “tangy, yet sweet.”

For dinner, the evening specialties like the Grilled Marinated Duck Breast are sure to be a treat. The duck arrives on six succulent skewers and is presented with Petrello’s recipe for braised cabbage and potatoes au gratin. The duck breast, best served up medium rare, is a comforting treat just like the rest of the bistro.

“That’s how we do it here. This is a neighborhood place. In this economy, twice a month is a great customer. Our philosophy is if you come back a second time you’re a regular customer,” Petrello says.
Book Hill is growing from its infancy, opening just a few months ago, to hit its stride as one of Georgetown’s soon-to-be-premier dinner locations. And with a wine selection consisting of over 50 varieties and beer on tap, Book Hill is also great for the evening’s libation.

Though it doesn’t feel like it, cooler weather is just around the corner. Soon Book Hill’s beautiful patio area, glowing with lights and sweetened by the scents coming from Chef Petrello’s herb garden, will also be open for guests to enjoy. You’ll want to come by and to experience this cozy corner of Georgetown for yourself.

The Latest Dish

July 12, 2011

Germany-based Vapiano expects to have six restaurants in the metro area, with the recent opening of their newest store in Reston. This will be a corporate location, as are the ones in downtown D.C., Penn Quarter, Ballston, Dulles Town Center and Bethesda. With the openings of stores in Charlotte, Chicago and Miami, they will have 13 units in the U.S.A. by the end of the year. That does not include the international stores.

North Carolina-based Fuel Pizza will open at 600 F Street and 1606 K Street in the former Burger King space. The chain got its start in a space that was formerly a gas station, hence the name. Make no mistake, it’s New Yorkers (who know their pizza) that started Fuel Pizza.

A neighborhood pop-up taco stand called Del Rey is slated to open at 9 and U Streets, NW. Its beer garden and tacos theme is the creation of Ian and Eric Hilton, who also own Marvin and American Ice Company. They plan to open next spring.

Aman Ayoubi of Local 16 opened the Lost Society, a steakhouse, at 14 and U Streets, NW. He and his partners will offer sustainable seafood and local sourced beef from a local farm in the dining space, lounge and roof deck.

Teaism is slated to open a new location at the Moderno condo building at the corner of 12 and U Streets, NW. That gives Teaism its fourth location in D.C. They have stores in Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter, and the downtown D.C. Lafayette Park area.

Tom Power, chef and owner of Corduroy, will open a second restaurant in the town house next door on 9 Street, NW. He’s chosen a new fabric to name it after – Velour. Décor will be minimalist, showcasing brick, concrete floors, wood and steel, with a menu price point of $20 or less per item. A spring 2012 opening is planned.

Turkish QSR: Mehmet Yasar Cicek, along with partners Hosam Ramadan, his college roommate and Arshad Khan, a New York-based restaurant industry veteran, has signed a master franchise agreement for Mr. Kumpir, a Turkey-based franchise with nearly 50 locations worldwide. This triumvirate plans to open its first U.S. stores. Kumpir is a loaded baked potato, so it is a familiar comfort food item. They hope to open up to 30 locations over the next five to six years, with New York next in line. They are looking for sites ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. Mr. Kumpir will offer several varieties of the kumpir stuffed-potato dish as well as sandwiches, pasta salads and desserts.

Openings Update: Rabbit, the salad + protein concept from the folks who brought you TangySweet and Red Velvet Cupcakery, is expected to open this month in Clarendon. District Commons and Burger, Tap and Shake (from the folks who brought you D.C. Coast, Ceiba, Acadiana and the soon to shutter Ten Penh) slated to open in August. Ping Pong Dim Sum (now in Penn Quarter) slated to open its second location at end of August. Shaw’s Tavern to open this month on Florida Ave, NW. Redeye Grill from the Fireman Hospitality Group (Fiorella Pizzeria, Bond 45) slated to open at National Harbor by year’s end. Side note: If you have not seen Bacchus sitting atop the tortoise with floating mozzarella balls floating in the trough at Fiorella, that alone is worth the trip. Insurance issues abound for the restaurants at the flooded Washington Harbor on the Georgetown waterfront. Tony & Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill have their patios open – and have the grill out and the outdoor bar open. Clyde Restaurant Group’s new 35,000 square foot restaurant and music venue where Borders Books used to be on 4 Street NW, is slated to open by year’s end.

Quick Hits: Rogue States to reopen at Black and Orange (Baltimore Orioles fan?) Reynold Mendizabal plans to renovate Rogue States with better venting so it appeases neighbor’s issues. Philadelphia superstar restaurateur Stephen Starr plans to open his first restaurant in the ever popular 14 Street corridor. Penny and
Mike Willimann will open Olio (olive oil in Italian), an olive oil tasting room, in Old Town Alexandria. It will offer 30 to 35 varieties of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars for sale in a tasting room setting similar to a wine shop. Next year may bring a much anticipated new location to an established steakhouse in the suburbs. Starfish Café on Barracks Row on 8 St in the southeast will reopen as Lavagna Italian Cuisine.

Chef & GM Update: Umer Naim is the new general manager at Ping Pong Dim Sum in Penn Quarter. Previously, he was with Starr (as in Stephen) Restaurant Organization in Philadelphia. Brenton Balika is the new pastry chef at Bourbon Steak at the Four Season hotel. Salim Nahhas is the new pastry chef at Alexandria Pastry Shop. The native of Jordan represented his country in the World Pastry Cup in Paris.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

June 28, 2011

Soup tends to be associated with nourishing the soul, warm and hearty. In the dead of winter, a bowl of potato soup wards off a chill and during the weakest day of an illness, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of homemade chicken soup. While all this might be good for our heat-flattened soul, we are expecting a high of 88 degrees, and it’s just too hot. The heat continues to pummel the cobblestone streets of Georgetown in the familiar haze of humidity DC is famous for. Hungry and hot, locals and tourists alike drag themselves along sweltering sidewalks in search of an oasis, craving something cold, light, and refreshing.

“French Onion is everyone’s favorite, but I have to take if off the menu once the thermostat reads 70 degrees” says Ris Lacoste, at her namesake restaurant, RIS, on the corner of 23rd and L.

Luckily for her many soup fans however, Ris has a relatively simple solution to compliment her daring and creative menu: cold soups, the summer’s ready cousin to the wintery favorite.

Ris attributes her delicious soup creations to the not-so-secret concept of incorporating fresh local ingredients. We are fortunately returning to a locally grown society, appreciating the need for real food. Summer bears the fruits of local labor. By nature, summer’s bounty provides us with the perfect ingredients for cold soups – beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and potatoes.

“I was just at the Farmer’s Market and the bounty is here: fresh things from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. So now I can plan my summer menu,” Ris says.

Ris and her staff have been anticipating the bounty of summer since early spring. They’ve worked diligently to come up with soup ideas and turn them into reality. Ris is using simple logic to invent bold new combinations.

“Crops that are grown at the same time and in the same place should be paired with each other.” Ris says.

Pair foods that grow together; “If they grow together, they go together.”

Though I, like many people, claim to have a passion for food, Ris possesses a palpable intuition about her craft. She describes her love for food, her restaurant, and even the content of this column as being something more than just a simple enthusiasm about cuisine.

To create her summer soup calendar, Ris engendered variations on classic favorites and modern cold soups and experimentally perfected the flavor combinations. Ris mixed up five savory soups embodying everything from veggies to nuts to fruit to liqueur. She then let Jessica Buchanan, who consults Ris on recipes, work through the restaurant sized recipes to make smaller printable versions, so others can try them at home.

There is no wrong way to fashion a cold soup, chunky or smooth, nippy from the start or cooked and chilled. Try experimenting until something tastes precisely right. Skin the vegetables, or leave the skins on. Try adding a splash of your favorite dressings. Think of your favorite salad ingredients and imagine the flavors and textures in a liquid base.

Some tips from the chef: Freeze a portion of your soup into ice cubes and add them to the soup just before serving. Your soup will stay icy cold without being watered down. Chill your bowls. Make your cold soup enough time in advance that it will be very cold. A day in advance is great. They often taste better after the ingredients have had time to mingle together.

Garnish is the final step. To finish off your summery soup, embellish with crunch and texture, balancing acts to what is already in the soup.

“Love garnishing, just go crazy,” she says.

Cold Beet Coup
Yield: 6 cups

3 C. Red Beets (6 small red beets), roasted & coarsely chopped
½ Onion, sliced
3-4 Cloves Garlic, roasted
1 Small Fennel Bulb, coarsely chopped
(Save a few fennel fronds for garnish)
¼ C. Fresh Parsley
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
½ tsp. Ground Cumin
2 C. Vegetable Stock or Water
½ C. Orange juice (1 orange)
1 T. Pernod (or anise flavored liquor)
1 T. + 1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
6-8 Grinds Fresh Group Black pepper
1 tsp. Salt

¼ C. Pernod
1 T. Honey
½ C. Sour Cream
Fennel Fronds

Note: To roast beets & garlic, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim tops & bottoms of beets & cut the top off a bulb of garlic (so some flesh of the garlic is exposed). Season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a sheet pan, cover loosely with foil and roast for 30 minutes. Let cool before peeling skin and roughly chop. Squeeze roasted garlic out of skins into a bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

In a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté onion, fennel, roasted garlic, salt and pepper until slightly soft or translucent, about five to eight minutes. Add parsley, roasted beets, cumin and sauté for another three minutes. Add vegetable stock and simmer soup for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add orange juice, Pernod and vinegar. Let cool slightly. Puree soup until smooth, adding more vegetable stock if needed to thin out. Season with ground black pepper and salt. Chill immediately overnight.

Meanwhile, bring Pernod and honey to a simmer and reduce until it’s a light syrup, approximately 10 minutes. Cool syrup. Combine with sour cream, thinning out with a little water or milk until able to drizzle.

Serve cold beet soup with a drizzle of Pernod Cream and fennel fronds.

You can also garnish with a small crumble of goat cheese or feta, or just plain sour cream.

Cucumber & Yogurt Soup
Yields: 6 Cups

4 English/seedless cucumbers (approximately six cups), peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
2 scallions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

4 pieces of white bread

Puree all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste for salt, if needed. Chill immediately for four hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the crust off the bread and then piece into ¼ inch squares. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toast in the oven for eight to 10 minutes. Slice the cucumber and radish very thin or use a mandolin, and set aside.

For serving, garnish soup with a slice of cucumber, radish and a few croutons for crunch.

You can also substitute the dill for fresh cilantro and garnish with a Greek raita and toasted pita chips. Or try it with mint or parsley for a different twist on flavor.

Cocktail of the Week

In London, early July marks the finals of the grandest tennis event in the world: Wimbledon. For spectators watching the volleys and backhands from the outdoor seats, the traditional method of cooling down is sipping on a Pimm’s cocktail.

Like the mint julep and the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s and Wimbledon go hand-in-hand. The tipple is a mixture of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup liqueur and lemonade, garnished with strawberries, mint and cucumber.

Pimm’s is a mahogany-colored, gin-based spirit made from liqueur, fruit and spices. Like Coca-Cola, its exact formula is a closely guarded secret. According to the Pimm’s website,, the spirit dates back to 1823 and James Pimm’s London bar, where patrons swallowed oysters with the ‘house cup’ – a gin-based beverage containing quinine and a classified blend of spices. It was served in vessels known as “No. 1 Cups.”

The popularity of the drink grew until it was known across England. By 1851, the Pimm’s line expanded to No. 2 (Scotch) and No. 3 (brandy) cups. The collection eventually grew to six, including No. 4 (rum) No. 5 (rye whiskey) and No. 6. (vodka). These later versions did not have the staying power of the original, but a brandy version infused with spices and orange peel is marketed as Pimm’s Winter Cup.

The first Pimm’s bar opened at the 1971 Wimbledon tournament, and today over 80,000 pints of Pimm’s and lemonade are sold to spectators each year.

Pimm’s comes close to summer drink perfection; its citrusy herbal flavor tastes fresh and invigorating on a hot afternoon. At only 25 percent alcohol, it can be enjoyed early in the day without knocking you out by dinner.

I first sampled Pimm’s at the home of one of my colleagues from the Associated Press, Bob Meyers. His wife Mary Jane Stevens, a native Brit, served me one during a pool party. For a person who doesn’t enjoy overly-sweet drinks, Pimm’s was a delightful and refreshing discovery.

“My parents had a pub and my mother would make Pimms for customers during the summer season,” Mary Jane said. “She made it with Pimms and lemonade (the equivalent of 7-Up or Sprite in the U.S.)”

As Mary Jane pointed out, the lemonade used in the traditional British potable is different than the U.S.-version. The British mixer is clear and bubbly, similar to a soft drink. Many substitute ginger ale, or lemon juice and soda.

Originally Pimm’s was garnished with a blue-flowered herb called borage. Nowadays, it’s usually dressed with a sprig of mint or cucumber. At Wimbledon, where strawberries and cream are the food of choice, the red berry accessory is a must. Other popular additions include apples, oranges, lemons or cherries.

With such a long history, some consider Pimm’s a drink for the older generation. But according to Mary Jane, the drink is growing in popularity among the younger set, “When my daughters went off to university in the U.K., they told me that Pimms was their favorite drink at the pub,” she said. “I noticed that it was being served during the Royal Wedding celebrations.”

Whether you spend this weekend watching tennis on the telly or mingling at a holiday cookout, try a Pimm’s cocktail for a crisp and unique refresher.

Classic Pimm’s Cocktail
Take a jug or long drink glass and fill it with ice.
Mix 1 part Pimm’s with 3 parts chilled lemonade. ?Garnish with mint, cucumber, strawberry, or fruit. Sprite, 7-Up or ginger ale may be substituted for lemonade.
Pimm’s No. 1 Cup may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

The Latest Dish

June 13, 2011

Washington Harbor restaurants are slowly recovering. Sequoia, which was situated above the other restaurants and above flood level, is open. Tony & Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill opened their patios only, grilling outdoors when the weather allows. Cabanas and Farmers & Fishers are still closed. Rumor has it that Michel Richard was planning to open a small restaurant at Washington Harbor before the flood happened. By spring 2012, there may be new entertainment aspects of Washington Harbor to appeal to those who love to dine and enjoy the river view.

Award-winning chef Jose Andres has developed another partnership, this time on the federal level. He is making a bold new move – changing Café Atlantico in Penn Quarter into American Eats Tavern from June 10 through Jan. 3, 2012 to complement the nearby U.S. National Archives upcoming exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.” The first floor will offer more casual fare like hot dogs and cheesesteak (a signature item) and the second floor will be more formal, offering U.S. regional favorites. But one thing will not change. Jose plans to keep the six-seat mini bar operating during this time.

Chef & GM Update: Christopher Jakubiec was promoted to executive chef of Plume Restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown DC. He has been with the hotel since 2009, and previously worked at Quarter Kitchen in San Diego’s The Ivy Hotel and New York’s Ono restaurant. James Turner is the chef at Blue 44 on upper Connecticut Ave., NW, owned by Chris Nardelli, formerly of Café Ole in NW DC. Turner was formerly sous chef at Persimmon in Bethesda. Eddie Ishaq was named exec chef at Wildfire restaurant in Tysons Corner, owned by Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You . He has worked at other Wildfire restaurants in Illinois. Dave Dilullo is the new general manager at Morton’s, The Steakhouse in Georgetown. He was previously with Ruth’s Chris.

Jacques Haeringer followed his dream and has finally opened Jacques’ Brasserie below the more formal and legendary L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. This more casual 30-seat dining room and lounge is a bit more affordable for friends and neighbors who can stop by more often.

Shenandoah American Grill, a southern-influenced bar and restaurant, will open in Restaurant Park in Ashburn, VA, where Otani, a Japanese steakhouse, used to be. It will offer American cuisine with a southern influence, and some recipes come from the kitchens of the partners and their grandmothers. This includes Krispy Kreme bread pudding – good, home-style southern cooking. Co-owners Sean Lakos and Lance Smith worked for Carrabba’s Italian Grill and P.F. Chang’s. The rather large restaurant will include a cigar bar (can you still do that?) complemented by a selection of 30+ scotches. It seats up to 350, including its patio space.

Warren Thompson of Thompson Hospitality (TH) is in expediting mode. In addition to his new gourmet burger concept, BRB Burger, he plans to roll out a BRB Burger food truck. He plans to open an American Tap Room in Clarendon this July as the brand’s new flagship store in the space on Wilson Blvd, where Sette Bello used to be. He expanded the name of Austin Grill (now there are six) to Austin Grill & Tequila Bar, introducing a beverage-oriented menu and refined tequila selection. And, this fall, the first free-standing Austin Grill Express fast-casual restaurant will open in College Park.

James Sullivan Sr., who started Clover Investment Group with sons James Jr. and Brian, has gotten deeper into the business by buying Café Deluxe and Tortilla Coast. The group bought Cafe Deluxe’s three existing locations, and the Tex-Mex Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill, from founders Bo Marcus and John Breen. Clover will open a Tortilla Coast this fall on P St. NW, where McCormick Paints used to be. They plan to open a Cafe Deluxe in Gaithersburg’s Rio at Washington Center where Hamburger Hamlet used to be. They are also the creators of Tynan Coffee & Tea, with locations in Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights and Constitution Square. They expect to open additional locations in D.C. and Arlington.

Quick Hits
Mid-Town Café in Georgetown changed its name to Book Hill Café. Same owner; new chef. William Jeffrey’s Tavern is planning to open later this year at Siena Park on Columbia Pike in Arlington. It’s operated by Wilson Witney, Adam Lubar and Chris Lefbom of Rhodeside Tavern, Ragtime and Dogwood Tavern. Willy Koutroumpis, owner of Wild Willy’s Rock House & Sports Saloon in Annapolis, will open Kava in Annapolis.

Former Washington Bullet (from its only championship season) Kevin Grevey plans to open a FroZen Yo at 1900 M St., NW with FroZenYo founder and friend. Kevin also owns Grevey’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in Falls Church. TruOrleans, named for Louisiana native Tru Redding, is slated to open at 400 H St. NE in Atlas District. The executive chef is Andre Miller, previously at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. The Crystal City Marriott’s $6 million in renovations includes a new restaurant named BELL20 for its Bell and 20th streets location. It is an American tavern with more than 30 beers. It replaces CC Bistro.

Bobby Flay signed to open Bobby’s Burger Palace in September at The Varsity, a luxury student housing complex near the University of Maryland, College Park. The Varsity will also house a ChiDogO and an Austin Grill Express in the care of Papadopoulos Properties.

Jesse Yan and business partner Vanessa Lim bought a building on 8th St., SE on burgeoning Barrack’s Row, planning to open a Mediterranean restaurant on the first floor and Spices on the second floor. Jesse owns Spices and Nooshi.

John Kent Cooke has chosen fine wine over football. The former Redskins’ owner’s son, along with Sean Martin, has opened The Tasting Room at National Harbor, their fourth in the region. The premium red wines are from Boxwood Estate, which he also owns. John got into wine while living in California in the early ‘70s when his father, Jack Kent Cooke, owned the LA Lakers and Kings. When John bought the Boxwood Farm in 2001, he entered the wine business. Boxwood has a customized GPS system to monitor viticultural practices and a computer that can control the temperature of fermentation tanks. The winery produces only 3,000 cases a year and sells its three varieties at The Tasting Rooms in Chevy Chase, Reston, Middleburg, and National Harbor. All wine bars feature the Enoround, which can do a perfect one, three or five ounce pour for tastings, using a card insertion system.

Restaurateurs are gearing up for their annual Oscars of the DC restaurant scene: the RAMMY Awards. Some of the awards are voted on by the public, such as Power Spot, Hottest Bar Scene, Neighborhood Gathering Place, and a city-wide balloting campaign for Favorite Restaurant. Those Favorite Restaurant finalists are: matchbox (Penn Quarter), Ted’s Bulletin (Barracks Row DC), Chef Geoff’s (Tysons Corner), Carmine’s (Penn Quarter), and Lima Restaurant (Downtown). Although I am not proficient at “handicapping” this race, since matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin are owned by the same folks, they appear to be frontrunners. Of the restaurants up for Best New Restaurant, Ris is has been open the longest – a year and a half – as it missed the deadline last year by a week, so Ris has had more time to build loyal guests. Todd Gray has been serving fine food in DC longer than any of the Chef of the Year nominees, so Advantage: Todd. Winners will be announced at the gala on June 26 at the Marriott Wardman Park. The awards gala is produced by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. The annual black tie gala has a Carnevale theme, so masks are optional. I’ve already got mine.

Pickling with Ris

June 10, 2011

“This is an article about looking back and thinking ahead,” says Ris Lacoste, owner and executive chef of RIS in Foggy Bottom. “Pickling is such a great year-round practice, and now is the perfect time to start thinking about it. Think about everything that’s going to be coming your way—cucumbers, beans, okra, tomatoes, peppers, squash. You need to prep for it.”

Pickling, Ris explains, is something of a lost art. It wasn’t until around the time of WWII that processed and fast foods came about, and the practice of pickling, canning and preserving your own food became a peripheral afterthought of American home kitchens. “You used to just live on what was there,” she says. “You grew tomatoes and processed them for the winter in a root cellar. Canned food barely even existed at the market. But fast food and processing happened along with the expansion of the railroad system in the first third of the 20th century, and this age-old, wonderful art, born out of necessity, just dwindled.”

But as our food culture moves back toward tradition, and with consumers increasing demand for fresh ingredients, she sees hope for the future. “Everyone is trying to go back to what our grandmothers would recognized as real food,” she says. “And that is fabulous. But we’ve lost a little of the know-how, so we need to find our footing again.”

For those wanting to really get their hands dirty, Ris recommends the book “Putting Food By,” an old-world volume on canning, pickling, drying, curing, and preserving all types of foods, from vegetables and meats to jams and jellies.

But her personal go-to recipe for pickling is a quick process with simple ingredients, and it doesn’t take long. She brings to a boil equal parts cider vinegar, water and sugar, with some red pepper flakes, a bunch of tarragon and whole cloves of garlic for taste. After the mixture boils, she pours it over the vegetables (cucumbers and carrots are her favorites), adds a little salt and pepper, tightens the lid to the jar and puts it away.

“It’s ready in a few hours and lasts for months,” she says. In fact, it’s safe to say that pickling in general is quick and simple. And on top of everything else, it’s a great way to snack healthy.

You can preserve almost any vegetable or fruit, she says: cauliflower, radishes, beets, carrots, zucchinis, peppers and chilies, cucumbers, pearl onions, okra, mushrooms, asparagus, green tomatoes, corn, beans, and every sort of berry and crisp fruit—her kitchen has even pickled watermelon rind to use for dressing crab cakes, and it was delicious. And so many of these offerings are already here or approaching in the months ahead.

“There are going to be more pickles, beans, okra and tomatoes then you’ll know what to do with,” she says. “And if you can’t eat them today, think about how to process and store them for later.”

But pickling and jarring isn’t the only way to store food. Ris also recommends freezing, as long as it’s done right. If you freeze vegetables at its peak ripeness, for instance, they maintain their nutrients. “You can freeze tomatoes whole, you know. Or make a pasta sauce and freeze it for later. Dice peppers and freeze those. For berries, make sure to lay them flat and let them solidify separately in the freezer before you bag them together. It’s so great to be able to toss a handful of fresh, frozen raspberries in the microwave and mix them with yogurt for breakfast.”

Sarah Biglan, the head chef at RIS, walked me through the making of the kitchen’s signature pickled medley of cucumbers, red peppers and onions, which they serve on their burgers, sandwiches and chopped up in their Thousand Island dressing. The cucumbers are sliced thin, the red peppers and onions are julienned, and they’re put into a bath of ice water. “This hydrates them and helps them hold their crispness when you pour the hot liquid over them,” Sarah explains. It also neutralizes the pungency of the onions, which are by nature very sweet, and get their sharpness from oxidation. Hydrating them brings out their innate sweetness.

There are varying techniques for pickling different things, Sarah says. White onions and lighter colored vegetables should be pickled with champagne vinegar, a similarly colored liquid, while things like beets and red pearl onions go with red wine vinegar. With heartier vegetables like okra, carrots and string beans, a quick blanching would soften the vegetables and help them absorb the pickling liquid. Beets might even benefit from a light roasting in the oven, and mushrooms do well by a quick, light stir fry to bring out their flavors.

Removing the oxygen from the jar—called pressurizing—will prolong the shelf life whatever you pickle. Once you’ve added the pickles and the liquid to the jar, loosely tighten the lid and place it in a pot of shallow water on the stove. Turn the burner on and as the liquid heats up, the “button” on the top of the lid will be suctioned down.

The other great thing about pickling, says Ris, is that there’s no wrong way to flavor them. Boil up the mixture with rosemary, oregano or thyme, fennel seeds, cumin, mustard, anise or dill. Odds are, if you like the flavors, they’re going to taste great pickled.

“We’re just touching on a Pandora’s box of possibilities,” says Ris. “Ours is just one pickling method, but it’s absolutely something to think about as you approach the bounty of the season.”

That said, the house pickles at RIS are awfully good. I was eating them with a fork, and threw fresh cucumber slices into the leftover liquid for round two. Try this recipe to get you started.

Pickled Red Pearl Onion

1 bag (12-10 oz packs) of peeled Pearl Onions, red

Pickling Solution
2 qt water
2 qt red wine vinegar
2 qt sugar
½ cup Mustard Seed
2 Tbsp Coriander, whole
2 Tbsp Black peppercorn
6 whole cloves

Peel pearl onions and place in a large 2-gallon, plastic container. Combine all pickling ingredients in a large saucepot and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to dissolve all sugar. Remove from heat when mixture boils and immediately place pearl onions in hot liquid. Let simmer for five minutes, or until onions are tender. Refrigerate at least 24 hours before using.

RIS Bread and Butter Pickles

Pickling Solution
3 cups Champagne vinegar
3 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp celery seed
2 tTbsp mustard seed
1 ½ Tbsp salt

Pickled Vegetable
6 thin slices Cucumbers
1 julienned Red Bell Pepper
1 julienned White Onion

Slice and soak all vegetables to be pickled in ice water for at least 1 hour.
Strain vegetables and remove all ice (any ice will melt and weaken the pickling solution). Before straining vegetables, combine all solution ingredients in a pot and whisk to dissolve sugar. When simmering, and once all the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and pour over vegetables. Weight down pickles with 2 or 3 plates cover in plastic wrap so that they stay submerged in the pickling liquid, cool in the fridge. Once cool, distribute pickles into a jar or container.

Substitute thinly sliced watermelon rind for cucumber. Use on summer dishes like fish and crab cakes.