Is the Price Right: Back to Basics

July 26, 2011

Grocery shopping when you forget your list is never fun, but at least you’ll always remember the five basics — bread, milk, eggs, orange juice and cereal. So this week for “Is the Price Right?” five area grocery stores — CVS, Giant, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods — went head to head as The Georgetowner team went back to the basics to explore the prices of the simplest grocery items.

Whole wheat bread can be found at a low price at Safeway with its name brand item for $1.49. It’s also fairly cheap at Giant for $1.99. Trader Joe’s charges $2.59 for a loaf of their name brand bread and CVS Nature’s Valley bread is $3.49. Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand is $2.99 a loaf.

Whether it’s to put in your cup of coffee or for the kid’s breakfast cereal, everyone needs a gallon of milk on hand in the morning. The cheapest place to find a gallon of 1 percent milk is your local Trader Joe’s for $3.29. Safeway, Giant and CVS are all relatively priced at $3.79, $3.99 and $3.89. Whole Foods is the most expensive for a gallon at $5.29.

Trader Joe’s and CVS have the best-priced eggs at one dozen for $1.99, while Giant sells eggs for $2.19. Safeway name brand eggs are $2.29 and Whole Foods’ eggs are $2.59.

Safeway advertises the lowest priced orange juice with their name brand 64-ounce container for $2.50. Giant and Trader Joe’s name brand juice costs $2.79 and $2.99 respectively. CVS Florida Orange Juice costs $2.89 and Whole Foods brand name orange juice is $3.99.

Corn flakes are an old favorite and Safeway’s 18-ounce box only costs $2.59 as opposed to products like CVS’ 12-ounce Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Trader Joe’s 12-ounce Oatmeal Flakes that cost over $4. Giant’s name brand 18-ounce corn flakes cost $2.59 while Whole Foods’ 18-ounce name brand cereal costs $2.59.

Visit our Web site at for a complete breakdown of prices. Make sure to check back next issue for more great shopping deals!

Stirred, Not Shaken

The steak and martini is a classic food and cocktail pairing. It’s something your grandfather would have ordered at an old boy’s club steakhouse, and it’s something you would feel comfortable ordering today with a cut of Japanese wagyu beef.

So it was no surprise that the martini and its various incarnations were highlighted during a recent mixology seminar at Georgetown’s Bourbon Steak restaurant. Bourbon Steak’s bartender Duane Sylvestre taught the class, in which guests received a primer on basic bar techniques, an overview of various spirits and the history behind many cocktails.

The martini, according to Sylvestre, is one of the most misunderstood cocktails. The classic martini consists of gin and dry vermouth, stirred and served with either olives or a lemon twist. But over the years, the drink has transformed into different things.

The vodka martini, in particular, has evolved from its original form. While a traditional vodka martini should be made with vermouth, Sylvestre says that most vodka drinkers prefer theirs without. However, many people mistakenly order an extra dry vodka martini, believing that the term means “no vermouth,” when it actually means the opposite.

A “dry” martini refers to the addition of dry vermouth. This term came into play years ago as a way to distinguish the martini from its forerunner, the Martinez, which was a gin and sweet vermouth mixture. Therefore, the term “dry” came to mean dry vermouth and extra dry came to signify extra vermouth.

Even though James Bond has dictated the martinis should be shaken, not stirred, Sylvestre is a stickler for stirring. His rule is that any cocktails containing only alcoholic ingredients, such as gin and vermouth, should always be stirred, while drinks that include non-alcoholic mixers should be shaken.
However, he makes an exception with vodka martinis. “Most vodka drinkers want their vodka cold and served straight up,” he says so he lets the market dictate how the drink is prepared.
After making a vodka martini for the crowd, Duane mixed a classic gin martini with a twist using Plymouth gin, which he calls a mild and agreeable gin. “It’s going to add complexity, depth and character,” he said, “without the gin taking over the cocktail.”

The choice of garnish — either an olive or lemon twist — is a simple matter of taste, unless you are ordering a dirty martini, which includes olive juice.

Duane taught the class how to make a lemon garnish by using a vegetable peeler. After cutting the peel from the fruit, he stretched the skin around the rim of the glass in order to extract the citrus oils before dropping it into the martini.

When I got a chance to sample the finished tipple I could see the citrus oils floating in the drink. The added hint of lemon provided a refreshing twang combined with the gin and vermouth. The timeless classic was an ideal balance of bitter, citrus, dry and sweet.

Gin Martini
2 ounces Plymouth gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Stir well. Serve in a martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or olives.

Readers may sample the martini at Bourbon Steak restaurant, located in the Four Seasons Hotel at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. Ingredients to make the martini may be purchased at Dixie Liquor, 3429 M St.

The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail

The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), along with and Giramondo Wines Adventures, recently sponsored a “Cocktail Class for Beginners” at the Embassy Hilton in Washington. The event, hosted by MOTAC founding member Phil Greene, started off with a lecture about the history of cocktails.

According to MOTAC, the word cocktail was first defined in 1806 in the Balance and Columbian Repository, a newspaper in upstate New York. The word cocktail was used in reference to an article about a recent election.

At that time, politicians on the campaign trail would spend lots of money on alcohol, essentially buying votes by having a really good party. The newspaper published a tongue-in-cheek article about how much a particular candidate spent, even though he lost. This was the first recorded use of the word “cocktail,” and after this article was published, the editor felt compelled to define the word as

“A stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters, it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout at the same time fuddles the head. It is said also to be of great use to a democratic candidate because a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”

For decades later, a cocktail was just that — a spirit and bitters diluted with water and sugar to take the edge off. This simple recipe may sound familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the cocktail known as the Old Fashioned.

Originally, the name “Old Fashioned” referred to any old–fashioned style cocktail such as a martini or Manhattan. Some people believe that Colonel James E. Pepper, a bourbon distiller and bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, created the Old Fashioned cocktail. What is more likely, according to Greene, was that the term “Old Fashioned” was applied to the drink known as a “Whiskey Cocktail.”

Next, Greene demonstrated the ease of making this primitive cocktail, which follows the same definition published in 1806 — liquor, sugar, water and Angostura bitters. While Phil used a muddler to ensure the sugar was fully dissolved, he also suggested substituting simple syrup. For an added flavor boost, Phil squeezed a lemon peel over the mixed drink, releasing its essential oils, before dropping it in as a garnish. He also noted that nowadays bartenders will sometimes muddle an orange slice or other fruit into the mixture.

While many modern drinkers may see this potable as downright “old-fashioned,” perhaps this granddaddy of cocktails deserves a second look. Its rudimentary formula has served as a building block for numerous contemporary drinks. The Old Fashioned’s straightforward composition and uncomplicated taste make it a refreshing alternative to many of the overly sweet and convoluted concoctions we see on so many restaurant menus today.

The Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon water
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces rye (or bourbon) whiskey

Muddle sugar, water and bitters together until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Fill glass with ice, then add whiskey. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

For more information about upcoming seminars go to or Ingredients to make the Old Fashioned cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor at 3429 M Street in Georgetown.

Hellacious Heat, Meet Delicious Treats

In the blistering heat of a summer’s day a battalion of gardeners in full purple T-shirted regalia toils beneath my window plying their weaponry against the unruly grass. They strive to conquer all they survey with baying mowers, droning blowers and edger wands with the ear-splitting sound of concrete on steel.

Adding to their fearsome cacophony are whining electric drills and triple-octave cicadas telegraphing for the perfect mate. The drills are the worst. Long after the landscapers have moved on and the bugs have cast off their brittle casings, homeowners, spurred by an overdose of do-it-yourself shows, will still be building, re-building, repairing, sanding, painting and patching up what seems like every wall and roof in the neighborhood. Did I mention the road crews?

Here in my cool cocoon, I have strategized my own military operation geared to thrash back the blistering temperatures with frosty ice cream treats and luscious fruit cobblers. I consider this an important mission.

A few summers ago Wheeler Del Toro, author of “The Vegan Scoop,” was serving up samples of his recipes at National Harbor’s Food and Wine Festival. Founder of the Boston-based Wheeler’s Frozen Dessert Company, Del Toro learned his craft at the posh Berthillon ice cream shop in Paris and turned his knowledge and skills into his own interpretation of the icy confection by using all-vegan ingredients.

Now I am most assuredly not vegan, but I do try to limit my consumption of dairy products when at all feasible. So this month I finally got around to trying out some recipes from the book. I started out with Del Toro’s cantaloupe, which was not rich enough. Then the strawberry, not luscious enough and the berries too chunky and hard. I was really excited about the red bean, hoping to replicate any one of the versions I enjoy in Japanese restaurants. Here I met with another failure when I inadvertently used a jar of a red bean paste called for in the recipe, but, alas, didn’t notice the second ingredient on the jar read salt! The whole horrid mess met the drain with a vengeance!

Feeling as though nothing worse could befall my amateur attempts, I hit upon my tour de force: quasi-vegan (since I used Nestle’s chocolate chips) coffee ice cream with bittersweet chocolate chunks and almonds. ‘Quasi’ … more convenient and economical and I didn’t want to have to jettison a cup of chopped Scharffen Berger if things didn’t go my way yet again.

I became convinced that substituting the arrowroot called for in the recipe for cornstarch was the clincher. The final product had a smoother mouth feel and more body. Just remember if you decide to try it my way the ratio is one part arrowroot to two parts cornstarch.

Dairy-Free Coffee Ice Cream
From “The Vegan Scoop,” adapted by Jordan Wright

1 cup (235 ml) plain soymilk (not the light variety), divided
2 tablespoons (16 g)
arrowroot powder (or 4 tablespoons corn starch)
2 cups (plain) soy creamer
3/4 cup (175 ml) fresh strong coffee (I use decaf)
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract (I use half vanilla, half almond)
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1 cup chopped skin-on whole almonds (raw or toasted)

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup soymilk with arrowroot. Set aside.

Mix soy creamer, remaining soymilk, coffee and sugar in a saucepan and cook over low heat. (This took me forever to heat up so I ratcheted it up to medium.) Once mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and add arrowroot cream. This will cause the liquid to thicken noticeably. Add vanilla extract.

Refrigerate mixture until chilled, approximately 2 to 3 hours. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. In the last two minutes, while the ice cream is still soft, stir in the chocolate and almonds.

Note: Since this product results in a firmer freeze, it is best to leave the ice cream on the counter for about a half an hour before serving.

Fruit Cobbler — Tried and True and Stunningly Simple

On weekly forays to the farmers’ market I often find myself lured by the bounty of locally grown produce and come home laden with baskets chock-a-block with far more than I can use up in a day or two. My winter-starved senses crave redemption from anemic supermarket fruit and I cave at the glorious sight of towering tables of berries, peaches, plums and nectarines bursting with vibrant color and flavor and the sweetly floral scent of just-picked fruit.

Lately I have turned my over-buying into a successful solution. At least once a week we are invited to a party or picnic where we are asked to bring a dish to aid our over-burdened hosts in filling out the menu for a large gathering. For years such an invitation has put me into a tailspin as I mentally review my hundreds of go-to recipes to arrive at the perfect offering.

Here are my typical requirements for a summer’s dish: not too fancy, not too complex and assuredly fail-proof. Won’t melt, easy to whip up with a minimum of on-hand ingredients, cooks up while taking shower, needs no additional on-site preparation, poses no challenge to most food allergies and is able to withstand brutal temperatures without poisoning the guests.

Notice to gracious hosts entertaining in July and August: You need not alphabetize me to determine sweet or savory. The following dish handed down by my husband’s mother, an 87-year veteran of every church, garden and civic club potluck dinner in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is what you can expect.

Grandma Fredia’s Fruit Cobbler
Adapted by Jordan Wright

1 cup self-rising flour (unsifted)
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
1 quart skin-on and sliced peaches (about 6 large), nectarines (about 8),
blueberries or blackberries or a combination of the above
1 stick of butter

Set oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together sugar and flour. Add buttermilk and vanilla to make a batter. Don’t overmix. Put stick of butter in glass or enamel casserole dish and place in oven until it begins to bubble, about 5 minutes, but keep checking till you get the hang of it. Do not leave the kitchen at this point, even to hunt for the sunscreen. Remove dish and place fruits evenly over the melted butter. Pour batter to cover all fruit. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes till nicely browned on top. Remove and set on rack to cool. Now would be the time to wrap the hostess gift.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, ice cream or crème fraiche.

Cupcakes for the At-Home Connoisseur

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)

The Stone Fence

What would you think if a man named Mr. Booze lived next door to you? Would you be concerned or curious? Or delighted, like the residents of Jerry Lenoir’s neighborhood? Jerry, along with his business partner Bill Flannery, is the man behind the super fun and retro-hip Mr-Booze Web site.

Jerry’s home has turned into the local gathering spot. “I love making cocktails and entertaining guests” he gleamed, “I know all my neighbors .”

The Mr-Booze Web site is a pleasant trip back in time when home bars were the norm and fashionable people enjoyed classic cocktails as soothing lounge music floated in the background. It pays tribute a time when martinis were martinis and drinks had names like the Old Fashioned and Singapore Sling.

Jerry has become quite an expert on entertaining over the years. “I fell in love with home bars when he was 8-years-old, watching “Bewitched.” Darren would come home and Samantha would make an ice-cold pitcher of martinis.”

His passion for cocktails continued throughout adulthood. “ In college while everyone else was drinking Natty Boh I was whipping up gin martinis,“ he recollected. “I found an apple crate and created a bar. Girls would come over. It was neat.”

The trend continued until he and his wife bought their current home. “I was getting depressed looking at houses, until I walked into the basement of one home and saw the built-in bar. I knew this was our house!”, along with the Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC), recently hosted a seminar at the Occidental Grill on how to set up a home bar. While Phil Greene, a founding member of MOTAC, covered the basics such as proper barware, liquors and mixers, Jerry focused how to make your personal watering hole into an enjoyable place to relax and socialize.

“Your home bar should be an oasis for you,” Jerry says, “a place where time stands still.” The Mr-Booze Web site is dedicated to teaching people how to create that classic cocktail vibe through décor, music, and lighting.

It features information about where to find bar accessories. Jerry recommends scouring eBay, antique shops, thrift stores and estate sales for items. His basement refuge is brimming with kitschy decorations, stemware, celebrity photos, cocktail menus and books. “Good cocktails lead to good conversation, Jerry says, “and good talk can often erupt from the bric-a-brac, souvenirs and what-nots that you have around your set-up.”

And because a drink enjoyed with a beautiful tune simply tastes better, Jerry’s Web site features reviews and recommendations for stimulating cocktail melodies. Most obviously, is overflowing recipes, from cocktail classics to updates on old favorites.

During the seminar, Jerry fixed one of his favorite tipples, the Stone Fence — a fruity mixture of apple brandy, cider and angostura bitters. Jerry discovered the drink in a 1912 recipe book and says it’s spiced apple flavor makes it a perfect elixir an for upcoming fall day. Mix one for yourself or make a large batch and invite your neighbors.

The Stone Fence
3 oz Lairds Applejack
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
Apple Cider

Fill tall glass or mug with ice, add Applejack and bitters and stir. Fill glass with cider. Dust with nutmeg and serve with a swizzle stick.

For more information visit or Ingredients to make the Stone Fence may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M St.) in Georgetown.

Cocktail of the Week

Root beer conjures up pleasant childhood memories for most people. Whether it’s thoughts of a simpler time and a tall frothy mug at a soda fountain café or a creamy root beer float on a hot summer day, many of these remembrances take us back to our younger days.

While liquor companies have tried to corner the adult market for root beer with sugary schnapps and cloying sweet vodkas, it wasn’t until recently that a truly mature twist on this youthful treat was available.

The same company who revolutionized the gin world with their multi-layered botanical rich Hendrick’s gin has created Root liqueur, which is based on the historical recipe for root beer.

According to Root’s website,, root beer can trace its origins back to the 1700’s. Back then it was called root tea, a folk recipe made with birch bark, wintergreen and other wild roots and herbs. The recipe was passed from the Native Americans to the colonial settlers. As the years went on, it grew in potency and complexity especially in Pennsylvania where the ingredients grew naturally in abundance.

Root beer did not become commercially successful until it was discovered by Charles Hires, a Philadelphia pharmacist, who tried root tea while on his honeymoon in New Jersey in 1875. Hires worked in his laboratory to improve the flavor and remove the alcohol, and then reduced it to a powdery concentrate that could be mixed in drug stores. He began serving his beverage cold, instead of hot.

Have you ever wondered have why root beer is called “beer?” According to Art in the Age, Hires called his beverage root “beer” so that hard working Pennsylvania coal miners and steel workers would enjoy the beverage in place of an alcoholic one.

Hires’ root beer made its debut at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, where it was touted as “the greatest health-giving beverage in the world.” Sales took off. By the 1890’s Hires began selling the concoction in pre-mixed bottles.

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.