The Laurel Park

May 5, 2011

As we slug through one of the hottest summers in memory, Washingtonians have been seeking creative ways to have fun and cool down.

A clever and inventive antidote can be found at Art and Soul on Capital Hill, where the latest rage is their uplifting and invigorating Sno-Cone cocktails. Your childhood favorite is back, but with a decidedly adult twist.

Art and Soul, a welcoming lounge located in the Liaison Hotel, offers a menu of four icy cocktails designed by general manager Jay Poblador. These treats feature crushed ice layered with seasonal fruits and vegetables, mixed with liquor and served in cone-shaped glasses. The resulting tipples are light, stimulating and absolutely refreshing.

Jay, who recently moved to DC from New York, is experiencing his first Capital summer. “I didn’t realize it was so hot and humid here,” he said. “I designed these cocktails to be refreshing and appeal to your childlike primal urges.”

Bartender Heejin Shubbuck mixed up four frosty selections – the Laurel Park, the Rehoboth, the Savannah and the Washington Bite.
Perhaps the most visually appealing is the Laurel Park, which arrives looking like a beautiful rainbow of ice and fruit including the pinkish hue of strawberries and cool green cucumbers. The layers are doused with gin and Saint Germaine elderflower liqueur before being topped off with rose sparkling wine.

Jay designed the Laurel Park to showcase a wide range of flavors including fruitiness, sweetness and bitterness. “All around it’s a nice flavor profile,” he said. “The flavor of St Germaine is so nuanced, and gin provides a perfect pairing .”

As I sipped my cocktail and the ice melted I noted how the flavor changed and evolved. When I reached the bottom of my glass, I enjoyed spearing the now frozen (and alcohol infused) fruits.

The Rehoboth Sno-Cone proved to be equally as complex. This treat is built from pineapple soaked with cachaca, a Brazilian sugar cane rum. It’s garnished with fresh spearmint for a rejuvenating effect. Jay rims the glass with a smoked sea salt rim, which enhances the subtle smoky flavor of the cachaca.

The Savannah, forged from fresh peaches, is the sweetest of the bunch. It starts with a full and luscious flavor, but finishes light and spicy thanks to vodka infused with African black nectar tea. “The tea imparts a bit of bitterness and nice tannins on the back of your tongue,” Jay says.

The final frozen concoction highlights the exotic flavor of Yuzu, a Japanese juice that tastes like a concentrated mixture of lemon, lime and orange. It imparts a tart flavor with no lingering aftertaste. It is rimmed with a cinnamon, sugar and cayenne for a sweet and spicy essence.
These delightful coolers are a seasonal offering at Art and Soul, so hurry before the temperature drops. Sno-Cone cocktails are half price during happy hour- Monday –Thursday, 4-7 pm.

The Laurel Park
1.5 oz Hendricks Gin
.5 oz St Germaine
.25 oz Simple Syrup
Splash Sparkling Brut Rose
1 oz diced Strawberries
1 oz diced cucumbers
Shaved or Crushed Ice

Assemble a martini glass with layers of ice, cucumber, and strawberries, placing layers of ice in between the fruit for color contrast. Shake Gin, St Germaine and Simple Syrup. Pour over ice and fruit. Top off with sparkling rose.

Ingredients to make the Laurel Park may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. Readers may sample this cocktail at Art and Soul at 415 New Jersey Ave.

Cocktail of the Week

May 4, 2011

As Cinco de Mayo rolls around, many will celebrate the holiday by hoisting margaritas. However, these two traditions, the party and the cocktail, may actually be more American than Mexican.

Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for the fifth of May) commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the French-Mexican War. According to National Geographic, the anniversary of the victory is celebrated only sporadically in Mexico, mainly in the southern town of Puebla and in a few larger cities. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and ancestry, similar to the way that St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest celebrate the Irish and German heritage.

While the margarita is the #1 requested tequila cocktail in the U.S, the paloma is more popular in Mexico. Spanish for “dove,” the paloma is a refreshing highball made with tequila and grapefruit soda. According to Brown-Forman, which markets the El Jimador and Herradura tequila brands, 100,000 palomas are consumed each hour in Mexico.

While colas dominate the soft drink market in the United States, tropical fruit-flavored sodas are popular in Mexico. These preferred refreshments are believed to have evolved from agua fresca, or fruit waters, sold by street vendors throughout Latin America.

Mexican soft drinks differ from domestic sodas in two main ways. They are sweetened with natural sugar instead of corn syrup, which gives them a brighter flavor. They also tend to taste more like juice than the highly carbonated drinks favored in the U.S.

Squirt is a well-known brand of grapefruit soda in the States, however it has more of a lemon-lime flavor than the Squirt sold in Mexico. Jarritos, a popular Mexican soft drink brand, is available in many unique flavors, including Toronja or grapefruit. It can be found in Latin American markets.

Knowing these differences, one could make a paloma with Squirt or Jarritos, but for deliciously brisk version, I recommend using freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juices topped with soda for a bit of fizz.

Just like a margarita, the paloma may be served with or without salt on the rim. The salt adds an additional layer of flavor: sweet, sour, and salty, with just a pinch of bitterness.

The paloma can be found at a few Washington Mexican restaurants including Oyamel and Rosa Mexicana. Chief mixologist Jon Arroyo at Founding Farmers in Foggy Bottom offers a different take, with an added kick most don’t have.

Arroyo uses house-made chipotle syrup to add seasoning and the drink is topped off with a mescal floater to give it an extra agave punch. These smoky elements provide one more level of complexity.

“I’m a big supporter of spice mixed with fruits,” Arroyo says. “I like the balance.” Arroyo’s cocktail starts out crisp and refreshing, then it hits you with spicy smack.

Founding Farmers is a perfect place to try the paloma on Cinco De Mayo if you want to avoid the rush at area Mexican restaurants. Or if you prefer to dine-in, try this easy-make paloma at home.

The Paloma

1/2 oz fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
3 oz fresh grapefruit juice
2 oz tequila
1/2 oz agave nectar (or simple syrup)

Rim a Collins glass with salt. Mix first four ingredients and pour over ice into glass. Top with club soda or grapefruit soda.

Dixie Liquor in Georgetown will host a tequila tasting on May 5, from 5-8 pm.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

“Other than shad roe,” said Ris, as we walked around the farmers market on a windy Saturday afternoon, “asparagus is just the harbinger of spring.” Looking around, every vendor had buckets of the fat, twiggy vegetables, rubber-banded in bunches with their spiky pompadours pointed toward the sky. And everyone at the market that day seemed to be there just for the occasion with baggies, satchels and Radio Flyers overflowing with springtime’s most famous green.

With their celebrated six-week lifespan, asparagus is like a revered culinary house guest that restaurants gear up to accommodate every season for their brief, glorious visit. On the first warm days of each year, anticipation for them is immediate and stifling; in a draft of last month’s column, I prematurely alluded to the crunchy spearheads, caught up in simultaneous thoughts of spring afternoons and their companionable treat. Ris had to hold me back, imploring me not to let loose a wave of untimely kitchen references.

“But it’s true,” she says. “There is something about being able to just eat asparagus fresh, right out of the ground that screams spring, freshness, growth. It’s revitalizing. They are such stunning, beautiful vegetables, and so much brighter than produce you see in the winter, that it awakens a certain spirit within us, and a desire for seasonal produce.”

Whether grilled, sautéed, steamed, roasted or fried, asparagus’ distinct flavor, crispness and seasonality have made it a delicacy for millennia. It was cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who also dried it out for use during the winter months. There is a recipe for asparagus in the oldest surviving cookbook from the third century AD, and a rendering of the spears even grace an ancient Egyptian frieze dating back to 3000 BCE.

“And it lends itself so well to so many flavor sensations,” says Ris. Asian cuisine uses it frequently in stir-fry, Italians wrap it in prosciutto, the French steam it and drizzle it with Hollandaise sauce, the Greek grill it with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Shave it with a potato peeler and mix it with salad greens, throw it in eggs or add it to almost anything for a fresh twist on classic dishes.

As for Ris, she has her own ways of dealing with this springtime herald. Her favorite, simple method of cooking asparagus is a quick pan roast. She puts a skillet on the burner until its quite hot, making sure the pan heats evenly and all the way through. She drizzles some oil in the pan, a couple tablespoons at the most, and as soon as it heats up she throws in the asparagus, tosses it around and covers it with a lid. Ris lets the asparagus sit for three to five minutes, unconcerned with unevenly browning the spears. “It adds character,” she says. “This steam/sear method gives the asparagus a great texture while allowing it to largely retain its moisture and flavor without being diluted.”

She then lifts the lid, adds salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon, and flips them. “I wait for the asparagus to cook a bit before adding the salt and pepper because it needs to soften up and release some water before the outer skin can absorb other flavors.”

After another minute or two on the pan, she takes them off and plates them, adding a sprinkle more lemon, pine nuts, fresh croutons, chopped hardboiled egg, a shave of parmesan and some quality feta cheese. “The feta is a power house flavor that balances the strength of the asparagus,” she says.

This is too easy and too good of a dish not to try for yourself. Ris recommends picking up the feta from Lebanese Taverna, which according to her has the best around.

In the kitchen at RIS, however, asparagus gets more of a royal treatment. Her asparagus and grapefruit salad, a “combination of dishes that came together over the years,” is a customer favorite. “This is one of those dishes where people cry when we take it off the menu each season,” she says. “But what can you do? We put it on the menu when asparagus is in season, and you take it off when it’s gone.”

It is at once deceivingly simple and meticulous in its preparation. The asparagus is marinated in house-made miso vinaigrette, and the dish is topped with a ginger-lime glaze. Both are fairly elaborate, but worth the effort depending on the depth of your love for this world-class delicacy. “Asparagus, with its strong almost bitterness, mixes so well with acid and citrus from the grapefruit and dressings. The flavors temper each other and balance the palate.”

But the bottom line is: asparagus is now. Run to the farmers market and pick it up while you can. This weekend will also see the arrival of strawberries, Ris informs me. Perhaps a seared tuna steak with goat cheese, strawberries and fresh asparagus? What are you waiting for?

Asparagus and Gingered Grapefruit Salad
By Ris Lacoste

“Don’t be afraid of these ingredients. These are great, versatile dressings that work well with many salads and keep forever in the fridge. They’re well worth the effort.”

Serves 6
2 cups miso vinaigrette (see recipe below)
2 cups ginger glaze (see recipe below)
42 pieces of large asparagus
36 sections of pink grapefruit, 4-5 grapefruit
¼ cup mixed black and white sesame seeds
2 scallions, cut thinly at an angle

Make the miso vinaigrette and ginger glaze ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator. Ever so slightly peel each stem of asparagus to eliminate any stringy toughness and to ensure even cooking. Blanch in a large pot of boiling salted water until the stems just bend, 3-5 minutes. Remove immediately to an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve green color.

Remove from the water as soon as the asparagus is chilled and drain. Asparagus is much more flavorful if not served ice cold, so keep at room temperature if just before service. If not, refrigerate until 10-15 minutes before ready to use.

Section grapefruit into a strainer over a bowl. Squeeze out as much juice as you can from the remaining fruit pith. Make sure the sections are whole and cleaned of all pith. (It is best to buy a couple of extra grapefruit, to assure enough perfect sections.) Place the sections into a separate bowl and cover with ginger glaze. Drink the fresh squeezed juice.

To arrange the salad, cover the asparagus with a cup or so of the miso vinaigrette, saving enough to dress the bottom of each salad plate. Let the asparagus soak in the dressing for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, cover the bottom of each salad plate with a layer of the miso vinaigrette. Arrange a log pile of 7 asparagus spears in the center of each plate. Arrange 3 grapefruit sections fanned out on each side of the asparagus. Sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds.

Miso vinaigrette

Makes 3 cups
3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon miso
1 ½ tablespoons chile paste with garlic (essential ingredient, found in Asian markets)
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
3 ounces sherry
4 ounces rice vinegar
5 ounces fish sauce (nuac nam, also found in Asian markets)
2 ounces lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 ounce sesame oil
4 ounces peanut oil

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the sesame oil and peanut oil. Whisk in each oil one at a time. This dressing will last indefinitely, covered in the refrigerator.

Ginger Lime Glaze

Makes 2 cups
8” ginger, peeled and cut into very fine threads
zest of 4 limes
1 ½ cups tarragon vinegar
¾ cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a non reactive pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes to infuse flavors. Bring back to a boil and repeat process. Bring back to a boil for a third time. Set aside until cool enough to cover and refrigerate. The glaze will last indefinitely and makes a great iced or hot tea base.

The Latest Dish

April 20, 2011

In the continuing saga of Gifford’s Ice Cream and Candy Co., principal Neal Lieberman has seen the fruits of his efforts coming to blossom. He came to an agreement with Chevy Chase Land Company to re-open the Gifford’s in Chevy Chase in early April. Also, Gifford’s and ACKC (Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections) have formed a marketing partnership, so that all of the ACKC locations will be scooping Gifford’s ice cream. ACKC will manage the Gifford’s location in Chevy Chase. Still more news in the right direction: Gifford’s will now be carried in all three area Balducci’s markets, as well as the Balducci’s & Kings markets in New York and Connecticut, which makes 34 stores total, serving five Gifford’s pint flavors. As part of a continued expansion selling to area restaurants looking for local, all-natural ice cream, Gifford’s and BGR: The Burger Joint have teamed up to offer Gifford’s milkshakes at all of the Burger Joint restaurants in DC and Bethesda, as well as the new BGR locations in Springfield, Va., Clemson, SC, and coming soon to Cabin John, Md., Columbia, Md., Mobile, AL, and Miami, FL.

Zed Wondemu has sold her renowned Ethiopian restaurant, Zed’s Ethiopian, to an Ethiopian couple with a strong background in food and beverage, who plan to rename it Das Ethiopian. Das translates to “tent” in Ethiopian. The location will get a facelift as well as some new menu items. They will still be the first outdoor dining spot you come to on M Street on the west side of Georgetown.

A new American bistro called Sixth Engine will open in an historic former firehouse in the burgeoning NoMa area of the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Pioneer developer Douglas Jemal bought the landmarked property from D.C. in 2005 knowing a thing or two about up-and-coming areas. He signed a deal with Gavin Coleman of The Dubliner on Capitol Hill and partners Jeremy Carman, Paul Holder, Paul Madrid and Tim Walsh of Town Hall in Glover Park. They plan to open a 3,600 square-foot American tavern-style bar and restaurant. They will even restore the firehouse’s old pole — fill in the blank for crazy bar promos here.

Chef/Manager Update: The new exec chef at Central by Michel Richard in Penn Quarter is Jason Maddens, a former sous chef at the new Michel in The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner.

Pizzeria Orso’s new pizza chef is Chris Nye, a 30-year-old sous-chef from 2941 restaurant, owned by the same folks who own Orso.

Fabio Trabocchi, who is opening Fiola where La Paradou used to be in Penn Quarter, has hired Miles Vaden as executive chef. He was formerly of at Eventide in Arlington. Trabocchi refers to Vaden as his rising star. Adrian Reynolds, a former sommelier at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, will oversee the wine list. Jeff Faile, formerly of Palena in Cleveland Park, is the bartender supreme at Fiola. Jason Gehring, the former pastry chef at Cindy Wolf’s Charleston in Baltimore, takes over those duties at Fiola. Interesting tidbit: The restaurant was known as Bice in the mid-1990s, where Fabio first started cooking in the US and met his wife Maria.

NYC’s incomparable restaurant impresario, Shelly Fireman, plans to open Fiorella Pizzeria e Caffe in May at National Harbor. Everything is imported from Italy – even the workers, who are the only ones who can install the lighting fixtures from Milan. It is his second venture into National Harbor, as he opened Bond 45 in January 2010.

There’s more pork coming to DC – who didn’t know that? Actually, Alicart Restaurant Group, the NYC company who brought you Carmine’s, plans to open Virgil’s Real Barbecue, targeting Penn Quarter, since Carmine’s has done so well there. It may open by year’s end at the earliest.

We wrote about this awhile ago, but things are going into full gear now with Mike Anderson’s new three-pronged Del Ray project at 2312 Mount Vernon Ave. The barbecue concept, Pork Barrel BBQ, has the biggest space, complete with a long bar (always a good ROI). Then there’s the sushi and sake bar which Mike needs to name real fast – how about Mt V Sushi & Sake? The third part of the F&B triumvirate is Chop Chop, a fast-casual restaurant serving Asian dishes. All three spaces share a dishwashing and prep area, as well as storage.

If you like Dupont Circle’s Public Bar and Metro’s red line, a second Public Bar is planned for Tenleytown, where Dancing Crab used to be on Wisconsin Ave, NW. Co-owner Tony Hudgins of Public Group, says there will be more interactive games, like skeeball. Although the Tenleytown space is smaller, the kitchen area is larger so expect more food to come out of the kitchen there, especially with the team behind Founding Farmers helping to develop the menu. Public Group also operates Lupe Cantina in DC and Sushi Rock in Arlington.

Ashok Bajaj, Knightsbridge Management, with an impressive restaurant empire in DC –from Bombay Club serving Indian food to Bibiana Osteria Enoteca serving Italian cuisine, plans to open his eighth restaurant in the area, at the new 22 West Residences in the West End. Construction begins in late summer so it may not open until 2012.
Nancy Koide and Errol Lawrence of Sei and Oya plan to open Sax where Posh used to be on 11th Street, NW. Think gold and gilded and red velvet. Jonathan Seningen, most recently with Oya, will be the executive chef. Sax will offer contemporary French cuisine on small plates sans utensils. A May opening is planned.

Barry Berkowitz, the operator of The Melting Pot restaurants in this region plans to relocate his popular Reston fondue restaurant to Plaza America, off Reston Parkway. The current location on Wiehle Avenue will remain open through May so look for a June opening for the new spot, which will include an 80-seat patio and non-fondue bar and patio menu.

Linda Roth Conte is president of Linda Roth Associates, Inc (LRA) specializing in making creative connections through media relations, marketing initiatives, community outreach and special events for the hospitality industry. Contact Linda at 703-417-2700 or or visit her web site at

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

April 5, 2011

As spring blossoms poke through the chill and daylight begins to linger further into the evening, a certain festive anxiousness always seems to take hold. Our minds and mouths start racing prematurely toward the spring harvest, and we want to celebrate the warm weather, sitting outdoors at every opportunity with friends and family. And a Sunday brunch is like a foodie’s consecration of the spring season.

Brunch being a community affair, everyone brings some dish to the table and the meal usually becomes a wild smattering of tastes. Plates pile with salmon, toast, eggs, cheese, coffee cake, potatoes, cured meats, fruit, and as the sweets and salts fall into one another, the ungoverned flavors run wild and ravishing. I surely can’t be the only one who has noticed the gastronomic transcendence of ham in a puddle of maple syrup run off from the waffle.

Ris has certainly noticed. Just try her Croque Mademoiselle.

Her new brunch menu is filled with comforting, community-inspired dishes and the playful mix of flavors they bring out. And much of their depth is likely due to the way the dishes were created. Ris turned to her line cooks Ali and Leah to help design the Sunday brunch menu plates.

Circling the restaurant bar on a Saturday morning, they were huddled around two different versions of one dish. They had each made coddled eggs with tomato. Ris presided like a matriarch over the discussion and critique as they all tasted the two dishes and distinguished the strongest points of each. In the end, the recipe became a fusion of the two, combining their best elements.

“Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I want a dish to taste like, what I want to go in it,” says Ris, as if she were talking about colors in a painting. “Other times, I’m not as sure, and so I field opinions. I love to edit and refine dishes too, and so this process is a good way to teach them to develop a dish that is worthy of serving—the weaving of flavors, colors and textures, like a tapestry. And it’s also great for them to get their voices on the menu.”

The Croque Mademoiselle, Ris’ quirky cousin of the Croque Madame, was designed by Ali. To the traditional open-faced sandwich of grilled brioche with ham, a fried egg and Mornay sauce, she added a beer batter-fried onion ring. When Ris tasted it, she loved it, “but the yeastiness of the onion begged for a touch of sweetness…so I drizzled a bit maple syrup on top.” That little nip of sweetness is a flavor punch that unites the ingredients, adding that Sunday brunch punch of “anything goes.”

The meat Ris uses for the beef hash is the leftover braised short rib from the night before. The traditional, savory flavors are modest and full, with that certain rounded quality that only leftovers can bring. Using braising liquid as the gravy doesn’t hurt either.

Leah designed the breakfast pizza, piled high with Portuguese linguiça sausage and tomato fondu and topped with an egg. The pizza, loud, powerful and hearty, is a perfect pair to a Bloody Mary. Meanwhile, you can’t have brunch without pastries. Pastry Chef Chris’ blueberry cheese puffs have an ethereal quality and perfect texture, playing with subtle twangs of sour that bring out the baked blueberries and underscore the rich sweetness. They work well as a starter or desert.

This family-style collaboration is echoed in home kitchens across the country. If you don’t like something at your dinner table, you let the cook (mother) know to adjust it next time. Granted, the culinary discussion in Ris’ kitchen versus most family kitchens is like the difference between reading Fitzgerald and Beetle Bailey.

As I was getting ready to leave, satisfied to the point of incapacity, Rory, the pastry sous-chef, ran up to me with a tray of crispy, granular, golden donuts and told me to take one. He had just made them. It was the donut of the decade—a thick, rich, sweet O somewhere between a funnel cake and a coffee cake, with a crunchy crust and a thin, sweet glaze. I thanked him, and he went to Ris for approval. As I was walking out the door, I heard him shouting, “They’re going on the menu!”

Sure enough, they were on the menu the next day.

RIS Short Rib Hash by Alison Hartnett

Serves 4 – 6
We use leftover braised beef short ribs from Saturday’s “Date Night” special for our Sunday Brunch hash and we use the braising liquid, reduced with port for the sauce. Hash is for leftovers, so feel free to substitute roast chicken, beef, pork, fish or vegetables and their sauces for this recipe.

2 large Idaho potatoes (about 2 lb.)
Canola or peanut oil
1 large onion, diced
½ -1 lb. braised short rib, diced
1 cup sauce or gravy
Salt and pepper
Chopped fresh herbs
4 eggs
Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish

Bake the potatoes, skin on, until cooked through, 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Refrigerate whole until chilled. Peel and dice into ½ inch squares. In a skillet or frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. canola or peanut oil and pan fry the diced potatoes in single layer batches until crispy, a technique called “rissole.” Let each layer of potatoes get crispy on one side before turning. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper and any other spices of your choosing. Remove the cooked potatoes to paper towels to dry. Add a bit more oil to the pan and sauté the onions until caramelized, 3-5 minutes. Fold the diced beef in with the onions. Add the cooked potatoes, balancing the ratio of meat to potatoes to your taste. Add ¼ cup of the sauce or gravy. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add fresh herbs to taste.

Meanwhile, poach 4 eggs in a saucepot of simmering water with a dash of vinegar added to it. Crack each egg individually into a cup and gently pour into the simmering water. Room temperature large eggs take about 2½ minutes to soft poach where the yolks are runny and the whites are cooked through. Eggs directly out of the refrigerator will take a bit longer. Fresh market eggs are best.

To plate, arrange a portion of the hash on to each of 4 plates, mold in a ring if desired. Make a slight well in the center, pour a bit of the heated sauce over the hash and place an egg on top. Season the egg with a bit of salt and pepper, sprinkle with chopped parsley and drizzle with a bit of good extra virgin olive oil. Having hot biscuits on hand will make you a star.

RIS Blueberry Cheese Puffs by Chris Kujala

For the Dough:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
8 oz. unsalted butter (cold)
5 oz. sour cream

For the Filling:

8 oz. cream cheese
1 large egg
4 cups granulated sufar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

The dough: Dice the cold butter. Mix together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then mix the butter until it is incorporated and the flour has a texture like cornmeal. Mix in the sour cream until fully incorporated and smooth. Shape into a ball. Wrap with plastic and chill until firm, about 4 hours.

When ready to cook, process all the filling ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Remove the dough from the fridge, and let sit for about ten minutes. On a floured surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the pastry into 3-inch squares.

Place the squares into a 12-cup muffin pan. Press down on each cup to cover the sides and bottom. Spoon about 1 Tbsp. of filling into the shell and top with blueberries (just a few on each). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Across the Cutting Board with Ris

March 11, 2011

Since Ris first brought me into her kitchen, she has told me the tales of Bob Juliano. Powerhouse lobbyist for almost forty years and an unmistakable Chicago native, Bob has been following Ris around since her days at Kinkead’s. Call it a culinary crush. This is a man who has gone to bat with the big boys of Washington, including the Executive Branch, usually fighting for the rights of the working class; he once successfully represented a coal industry coalition on legislation that protected the health care benefits of some 120,000 retired miners. He calls Rahm Emanuel an “old friend.”

What Rahm probably doesn’t know is that Bob makes a mean marinara sauce.

But don’t call it marinara sauce in front of Bob. To him, that’s like wearing a White Sox hat to a Cubs game: supreme ignorance of his hometown culture. If you ask for sauce in a proper Chicago-Italian establishment, he tells me, “They’d ask you what the hell you were talking about.” In Chicago, marinara sauce is gravy. And his has plenty of tomatoes and plenty of vodka. This emphatic adhesion to culture, tradition and flavor is what we would call food culture.

Ris speaks endlessly about the food culture of Washington, and the challenges of defining the palette of a migratory population such as our own. We are a city filled with ambassadors, senators, commuters, news reporters and tourists. Every morning hoards of people flock into the District, and every evening just as many flock out. Even the President, the defining presence of the city, is only here for a few years before grabbing one last half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl and waving goodbye.

Establishing a local food culture is Ris’ enduring crusade, and one that she tackles daily in her kitchen. Her daily soup calendar, for instance, offers different soups every day, drawing inspiration from the regional cuisines of innumerable cultures, much like Washington itself. Come in one day for homestyle New England clam chowder, and go in the next for Thai duck soup. And Wednesday, just so you know, is Italian day.

It is clear that Ris has something of a soft spot for Italian food. Her specials every Wednesday are steeped in Italy’s culinary traditions, which she clearly takes quite seriously. Her gnudi, little dumplings of ricotta, are some of the best things I have ever eaten. She even has a resident pasta maker, Pinat, a native Italian, who is always churning out fresh, handmade cavatelli and spaghetti whenever I come visit the kitchen. The elegant simplicity of Italian cuisine brings out the best of local, fresh produce, and requires high quality, richly flavorful ingredients—all the things important to Ris and vital to a healthy food culture.

Ris had been anxious to consult with Bob, now an old friend, on her own gravy and meatballs. In a curious way, this is perhaps right on the pulse of Washington’s food culture. Start with a traditional recipe from the motherland. Bring it over to America through an immigrant family who hands it down to the son, who in turn grows up to work in government affairs, commuting between the nation’s capital and his hometown Chicago. The son meets a local chef in Washington and shares his family recipe with her. The chef introduces this recipe to the city, combining politics, commuting, immigration, migration and international cultural identity, melding tradition and progression to give the melting pot metaphor some literal and delicious grounding.

As he cooked, Bob kept his face nearly submerged in the pot, perpetually smelling, tasting and adjusting the seasoning of his gravy. A dash of vodka, a sprinkle of fennel, a pinch of sugar. This taste was inoperably engrained in his memory, and it was just a matter of striking the right balance of seasonings, waiting for his tongue to register their harmony. Ris, now the acquisitive student, would dive in with him occasionally, asking questions, offering praise and frankly just having a good time. “My friends said I was crazy, going to cook for one of the best chefs in the country,” Bob said. “But I figured she’s French Canadian and I’m Italian. So what’s the problem?”

Both Bob and Ris agreed that the key to great marinara/gravy is to let it sit and simmer for hours. And make sure to have leftovers. “As the flavors coalesce,” Ris said, “the gravy should get better every day.”

The sauce was surprisingly soft in flavor, the fennel and the vodka adding a beautiful depth to the sweetness of the tomatoes. The delicate flavor of the meatballs, a mixture of beef, pork and veal, showcased the rare versatility of meat in a more subtle, secondary role. Really it was about the tomatoes, the seasoning and the patient simmering. But most importantly, it was about the tradition.

Bob Juliano’s Gravy

I think the key to making good gravy, after watching Bob Juliano in my kitchen, is to never take your eyes off the pot. All of that love and energy directed to the sizzling of onions and garlic in olive oil, the asphyxiating aromas, a heavenly drug in itself….

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup onions, diced
Sprinkling of salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon fennel seed
½ Tablespoon red pepper flake
½ Tablespoon dried thyme
1 can, 35 ounce, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes
1 can, 28 ounce, crushed tomatoes
1 can, 6 ounce, Contadina tomato paste
4 ounces vodka
More salt and pepper
More fennel seed
1 Tablespoon sugar, or to taste

Warm a heavy-based sauce pot over medium heat. Add the oil and then the garlic and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When softened and the oil is flavored by the garlic, add the onions and keep stirring until onions are soft. Season with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Add the seasonings and stir some more. This initial cooking of the oil and aromatics takes about 15 minutes, with constant adoration. Stick your head in the pot on occasion to take in the splendor.

Add the plum tomatoes by hand crushing each one into the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well. Add the vodka and more salt and pepper. Taste and adjust to preference with more fennel seed, red pepper flake, thyme leaves, etc. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, with a stir and a whiff every now and then. Add the meatballs (or sausages/veal chops/pork ribs) to the gravy and let cook about 15-20 minutes longer until meatballs are just cooked through. Every tomato will vary in flavor and acidity. Adjust final seasoning with all of your spices and with some sugar and even a dash more vodka. Do know that the gravy will taste even better the next day.


Bob Juliano’s Meatballs

1 ½lb ground meat, freshly ground, if possible: mixture of 3 parts beef, 2 parts pork, 1 part veal = 12 ounces beef, 8 ounces pork, 4 ounces veal
2 whole eggs
¾ cup fresh chopped Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1 ¾ cup Italian bread crumbs
½ Tablsepoon dried oregano
½ cup grated parmesean reggiano
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients. Make a sample patty to taste for seasoning and cook in a sauté pan or in the oven if it is on. Adjust seasonings to taste. Form into twelve 2-ounce meatballs. Throw in the gravy and cook until done.

Bob Juliano’s Bolognese Sauce

1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup onions, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
½ Tablespoon dried thyme
2 pinches sugar
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 ½” ground meat, freshly ground, if possible
mixture of 3 parts beef, 2 parts pork, 1 part veal = 12 ounces beef, 8 ounces pork, 4 ounces veal
salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 Tablespoon fennel seed
I can, 35 ounce, whole San Marzano plum tomatoes
1 can, 28 ounce, crushed tomatoes
1 can, 6 ounce, Contadina tomato paste
More salt and pepper
More fennel seed
More dried thyme
½ Tablespoon red pepper flake
1 Tablespoon sugar, or to taste
Dash of vodka, why not?

Warm a heavy-based saucepot over medium heat. Add the oil and then the garlic and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When softened and the oil is flavored by the garlic, add the carrots, onions and celery and just keep stirring until onions are soft. Season with the oregano, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir and take it all in as above.

Add the ground meat. Stir to break into chunks and mix in with the cooked vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Add the fennel seed and cook, stirring often, never leaving the pot, breathe in the aromas, until the meat is browned.

Hand crush the whole tomatoes in to the pot and stir in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the seasonings, and let cook 30-40 minutes, gently simmering, until delicious. Stay with it. Stir and smell. Adjust seasoning at end. Again, save for tomorrow, if you can wait.

Cocktail of the Week

March 8, 2011

As St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, many folks will take part in activities they believe are inherently Irish such as watching parades, wearing green and hitting the pubs. But in actuality, these traditions stem from the U.S. rather than the Emerald Isle.
According to National Geographic, colonial New York City hosted the first official St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762, when Irish immigrants in the British colonial army marched down city streets. In contrast, Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is a little more than 75 years old.
In the States, it’s customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. But in Ireland, the color was long considered to be unlucky, says Bridget Haggerty, author of “The Traditional Irish Wedding” and the Irish Culture and Customs website.
And perhaps most surprising is that pubs in Ireland were closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day, a national religious holiday, as recently as the 1970s.
While many great brews, including Guinness, Murphy’s, Caffrey’s and Smithwicks hail from Ireland, the black and tan, a beer cocktail layered with a stout and ale, actually originated in England. Because it is made with Guinness, the black and tan is often considered an Irish elixir. However, the style is believed to have originated in Britain with drinkers ordering a mix of dark stout and draught bitter.
According to Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock, The black and tan – properly, a blend of Guinness Draught and Bass ale – dates from 19th century England. A few American brewers, including Yuengling, currently make bottled versions of the black and tan, yet they lack the visual appeal of a freshly poured pint.
But if you find yourself in a pub in Ireland, it’s best not to order a black and tan. Black and tans are the nickname given to the British paramilitary force formed to suppress the Irish Independence movement in 1920 and 1921. The name comes from the mixture of police uniforms and khaki that they wore.
If you wish to imbibe a Black and Tan in the states this holiday, go ahead, but make it an all-Irish combination by substituting Smithwick’s Irish Ale in place of the British-made Bass. Or try a half and half, a more highly contrasting version of the drink made by substituting Harp lager for ale.
The secret to making a perfectly layered pint is to pour the beer slowly using a spoon. Specially made black and tan spoons are available, but a regular kitchen spoon will also do the job. The spoon will keep the Guinness from mixing with the ale, allowing it to layer on top. You must use Guinness Draught, which comes with a nitrogen widget, otherwise the stout will not float properly.

All-Irish Black and Tan

1/2 pint(s) Guinness Draught
1/2 pint(s) Smithwicks Ale

From a chilled bottle, fill a clean pint glass just over halfway with Smithwick’s Ale. Open a chilled can of Guinness Draught. The head will rise. Prepare to pour. Place spoon face down on the rim of the glass and slowly pour your newly opened Guinness over it. Fill just short of the rim.

Cocktail of the Week

February 22, 2011

Bourbon Cobbler

Foggy Bottom’s Founding Farmers, along with its sister restaurant Farmers and Fishers, are already known as among the hottest spots in DC for handcrafted cocktails. The restaurants, both renowned for their farm-fresh produce, fine spirits, and homemade mixers and juices, sport an evolving drink menu designed by chief mixologist Chef Jon Arroyo.

New for spring at Founding Farmers is Arroyo’s customizable menu of juleps and cobblers. While most imbibers are familiar with juleps due to the popularity of mint juleps, the cobbler cocktail may be an unfamiliar concept for many casual drinkers.

The word cobbler conjures up visions of pastry dishes soaked with baked ripened fruits. Webster’s dictionary sports two edible definitions for cobbler.

1. A deep-dish fruit dessert with a thick top crust.

2. A tall sweetened iced drink of wine or liquor with fruit.

The original cobbler cocktail, according to Arroyo, was made with sherry. It was one of the most popular libations during the last half of the nineteenth century. Because cobblers were made with fresh fruit and sugar they were among the first cocktails to be shaken.

Early cobblers were very sweet and fancy cocktails. They were garnished beautifully with fresh berries. It became known as a ladies’ tipple, but in Arroyo’s opinion it is definitely not a ladies’ drink.

Perhaps the most exciting element of Founding Farmer’s new menu is the concept that the drinks will be customized for each customer—male or female—based on their spirits preference.

On the blistery Tuesday that I sat down with Arroyo, he asked me what type of liquor I was in the mood for. Feeling a bit chilled, I requested a bourbon drink. Off to work he went, preparing me a personalized cocktail.

All of the cobblers at Founding Farmers will start with some basic ingredients: muddled lemon, lime, orange, along with bitters and sugar. The remaining ingredients will take the direction of the spirit requested.

For the base spirit, Arroyo chose Knob Creek Bourbon. “There’s dryness to the Knob Creek which balances out the fruit,” Arroyo said. “I like it because it’s a big bourbon with a lot of spice. You’re going to know you’re drinking it.”

Arroyo’s first augmentation to my cocktail was the Angostura brand of bitters, but the flavor of bitters used in each cobbler will depend on the type of liquor. Next he added homemade ginger syrup, because he likes the spice that ginger adds to bourbon. In the spirit of tradition, he plopped in a bit of red wine Malbec, in lieu of sherry. But for me, the most curiously wonderful addition was the touch of absinthe

The finished cocktail was a taste explosion on my tongue. It had a robust fruit-forward flavor up front while the boldness of the bourbon warmed my mouth with an earthy goodness. While I was a bit hesitant about the Absinthe, it turned out to be a key ingredient. Its herbaceous quality tied the variety of fruity and spicy elements together in a delightful symphony.

While the drink was served in a pretty metal julep glass and garnished daintily with fresh berries and mint leaves, I agreed with Arroyo that it was decidedly not a ladies only drink. Its complexity and freshness provided many layers of flavor that any discerning drinker would enjoy. And yes, I could definitely taste the bourbon.

Arroyo’s spring cocktail menu debuted in February, and he assured me that all the bartenders at Founding Farmers will be well trained in making the customizable cocktails. “Depending on the spirit you choose,” he said “The bartender will choose the direction for the cocktail.”

The Cajun Experience

February 10, 2011

Tapas, fish, and sandwiches can sometimes get dull. Your taste buds are yearning for something new and exciting with a kick. Gumbo, jambalaya, and po-boys are delicious entrees that will make your mouth water and your taste buds thrilled.

Last month Bryan and Melissa Crosswhite, along with Dan Allen, added a third location to their restaurant repertoire right here in DC, The Cajun Experience, giving locals a taste of the Cajun south.

The Cajun Experience is located at 1825 18th Street, just four blocks north of DuPont Circle, next door to the ever-popular Louriol Plaza. The authenticity of Cajun Food, according to Brian, is less about academic techniques and more about your roots and how you were raised. It is important to Brian to provide the core of an authentic New Orleans experience, which includes the menu and atmosphere, and even the drinks.

The Cajun Experience offers live, New Orleans-style jazz every Friday and Saturday night. The drink menu features an array of New Orleans specialties, from hurricanes to hand grenades.

And just like the restaurant’s name, the food speaks for itself. Satisfied customers rave about the Crawfish Etouffee, easily the most popular dish on the menu. Brian’s Creole and Cajun seasoning blends, and the rest of the kitchen’s recipes have all been handed down from generation to generation, making these dishes spot on Cajun classics.

In the midst of a recession, Bryan and his partners took an opportunity to open the first “down home” Cajun restaurant in DC, following successful openings in Leesburg and Purcellville. Their mission is to draw customers in with their genuine techniques, fabulous drinks, southern ambiance, and of course, home cooked classics. The Cajun Experience is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.

Photos by Pat Ryan [gallery ids="99596,105019" nav="thumbs"]

Latte di Chocolate di Basil

February 9, 2011

The Italian language has a beautiful ring with lyrical words that dance with alliteration. When “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert decided to study Italian during the course of her divorce, she described “every word as a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle.” According to Gilbert, “Speaking these words made me feel sexy and happy.”

So it’s no surprise that many of Italy’s contributions to the seductive realm of cocktails boast monikers that roll off the tongue like romantic prose … Prosecco, Bellini, Campari, and Negroni.

The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) recently celebrated Italy’s contribution to the cocktail world with an event at the Occidental Grill.

Phil Greene,MOTAC founding member, kicked off the event by discussing the history behind the Bellini, a refreshing mix of peach and sparkling wine made famous at Harry’s bar in Venice and the Negroni, which is named after Count Camillo Negroni. World-renowned PS-7 bar chef Gina Chersevani, an Italian-American, continued the theme by sharing her family recipe for Limoncello and the Trieste Spritz. Attendees also learned about various brands of Italian liqueurs including Campari, Aperol, Fernet Branca and Luxardo.
The evening was capped off with Gina’s chocolate ice cream cocktail featuring Averna Amaro.

Amaro, meaning “bitter” in Italian, is an herbal liqueur, usually enjoyed after dinner. Amaro is produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark and citrus peels in alcohol, mixing them with sugar syrup, and allowing it to age in casks or bottles.

Averna is an Amaro produced on the island of Sicily, which is named after its inventor, Salvatore Averna, who developed his recipe in 1868. According to Gina, whose mom is from Sicily, this traditional liqueur is often served alone or with coffee.

Gina invented her Averna cocktail to pair with a chocolate basil cake at PS-7. She was trying to think of something to tie the two ingredients (chocolate and basil) together when it dawned on her to use Averna. “It has a certain herbaceous quality to it,” she says, “and rich overtones of nuts”

While Averna Amaro has been made in Italy for over 140 years, Gina said it disappeared from the US temporarily. Only in the last two or three years did it begin importing back into the US.

Gina told a delightful story about a family gathering at her aunt’s home, where the lady of the house presented Gina’s father with a bottle of Averna that they drank with coffee.

Gina told her father that the Avema makes a great chocolate milkshake, to which he replied, ”You know you mom doesn’t allow me to have milkshakes.”

But later that evening, alone at Gina’s house, her father coyly asked her to make him one of her Averno ice cream drinks. Her father loved the combination, and to this day he still enjoys his forbidden milkshake tipple in private.

Gina describes the recipe as “foolproof” and recommends using a good quality chocolate ice cream. This luscious cocktail would work well as either a drink or as a stand-alone dessert.

Latte di Chocolate di Basil

1.5 oz Averna Amaro
4 oz. whole milk
1 scoop chocolate ice cream
3 fresh basil leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Serve in a glass and garnish with a fresh basil leaf.

Averna Amaro may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown. For more information on cocktail seminars visit