Food & Wine
Gluten-Free Recipes from Sift: Baked Apple Cider Donuts
Food & Wine
The Latest Dish
Georgetowner • 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at LindaRothPR.com
Across the Cutting Board with Ris
Georgetowner • 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
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
Georgetowner • 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
Georgetowner • 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
Georgetowner • February 22, 2011
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
Georgetowner • 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
Georgetowner • 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 MuseumOfTheAmericanCocktail.org.
The Latest Dish
It’s official now. Mark Bucher plans to open Medium Rare, a less expensive steakhouse concept in Cleveland Park, featuring Michel Richard consulting on sauces and desserts. Mark is the guy who brought us BGR (the burger joint), so he knows how to appeal to our carnivore tastes. Brian Zipkin, formerly of Ray’s The Steaks, has been hired as the general manager of the 100-seat restaurant, which was designed by Adamstein & Demetriou. Medium Rare, where Yanni’s Greek Tavern used to be on Connecticut Avenue, may open this month.
Latest addition to the burger wars scene is BRGR Shack, a 1000-sq ft space that will offer five or six different grass-fed beef burgers, hand cut fries (sweet potato fries too) and milkshakes. The most noticeable addition is beer and wine. It just opened on Fairfax Drive in Ballston. The parent company is 24/7 Good Food Inc. Its name is dangerously close to Mark Bucher’s BGR: The Burger Joint or Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack. A garage-style front door can be lifted up to create a patio (more seating!) in warmer months. Of course they plan to expand.
The Fireman Group, which opened Bond 45 at National Harbor last year, plans to open Fiorella Pizzeria e Caffe this April, also at National Harbor, right on the waterfront below Rosa Mexicana. It’s all about the pizza, featuring 30 different varieties of the thinnest yeast-less crust.
Daisuke Utagawa, co-owner of Sushiko in Glover Park and Chevy Chase, has plans to open a ramen restaurant, specializing in bowls of Japanese noodles, as ramen is very close to Japanese hearts – and stomachs. The site on 6th Street, NW, behind the Verizon Center may not open for a year, as there is a lot to do to the building. It will share the neighborhood with Mike Isabella’s Graffiato. Daisuke is partnering with Yama Jewayni, the founder of 18th Street Lounge.
Piero’s Corner Italian, on Franklin Farm Road in Herndon, has signed a lease for a second location on Main Street in downtown Fairfax, where you’ll find Carlos O’Kelly’s. Chef/owner is Gian Piero Mazzi. The menu is Northern Italian, as that is where he hails from. His partner is Jon Soto. An April opening is planned.
The Cajun Experience, a Leesburg-based restaurant chain that has been hunting for a Washington-area location, has signed a lease at 1825 18th St. NW, the former Inti Peruvian Restaurant location, near Lauriol Plaza. Construction has already begun on the restaurant, according to co-owner Bryan Crosswhite. The restaurant will seat 70, with a 35-seat patio. The big advantage over the Leesburg location: a bar. Bryan plans to make it the official bar for New Orleans Saints fans. The plan is to open six Cajun Experience restaurants in the region.
The owners of Guajillo and Casa Oaxaca came to an agreement with Arlington County to manage the restaurant inside Artisphere, the county’s new cultural center. Expect a Mexican-influenced menu. The team takes over in February. The county spent several months looking for an operator.
We didn’t notice that Blue Banana, a new sports and rock n’ roll bar with live bands, opened in Petworth on Georgia Avenue. What the 100-seat place still does not have is food, as the kitchen is under construction. Expect bar food like nachos, wings and sliders. General manager Jamie Hess says a beer garden will open in the back in the spring.
Quick Hits: Sterling-based fast-casual Thai By Thai, owned by Eed Landon, has added a location in Fairfax on Fairfax Blvd. Customers order and pay at the counter, and their food is brought out to them. Pizza Autentica, which recently opened in Ballston, just signed another lease in downtown/West End DC at 2121 K St. NW. The Brickskeller’s new name is Bier Baron, not Rock Creek as previously reported
Chef Update: Robert Gadsby has been named Corporate Chef for Ridgewells and Haute Catering by Ridgewells. He previously worked with Robert Wiedmaier at Mussel Bar BY RW. Thomas Elder has been named Executive Chef of Härth, a new restaurant concept at the Hilton McLean/Tysons Corner. Chef Elder will source most of his products from the Shenandoah farms in the region, taking full advantage of the wood-fired grille that sparked the restaurant name. They plan to open by Cherry Blossom season. Neighborhood Restaurant Group has named Tiffany MacIsaac as executive pastry chef for the restaurant collection, which includes Tallula, EatBar, Vermillion, Rustico, Buzz, Birch & Barley and Churchkey.
Salt Lake City-based Cafe Rio Mexican Grill plans to open six stores in the DC metro region over the next two years. Virginia locations include Manassas, Falls Church, Chantilly and Alexandria. Cafe Rio has leased space in Sudley Manor Square Shopping Center in Manassas, planning to open by late spring. Cafe Rio is also expanding into Maryland with locations planned for Germantown and Olney.
Gillian Clark has signed a lease to open Kitchen On K Street at Third and K Streets NE (NoMa neighborhood) in the Loree Grand at Union Place. She is best known for Colorado Kitchen, a Brightwood restaurant that specialized in comfort food. Kitchen on K will bring a smile to those who loved the food at Colorado Kitchen. You may recall that Gillian opened The General Store in Silver Spring last year. She has another urn in the fire, with The Meeting House in the Petworth neighborhood.
Fairfax-based pizza chain, Paisano’s, is now in the concessions business. They signed a deal to be the exclusive pizza provider at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. Founder and owner Fouad Qreitem cut a deal that gets Paisano’s prominent placement within the venue, which holds 160 events a year. Paisano’s currently has six area locations, with deals signed for Crystal City and Tysons Corner.
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 Linda@LindaRothPR.com or visit her web site at LindaRothPR.com.
The Latest Dish
Georgetowner • January 12, 2011
Theater was always a part of Jose Andres’ aura. Now he has a presence at the newly renovated Arena Stage on DC’s southwest waterfront. Next Stage by José Andrés offers eclectic soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, some even themed to currently running shows. The café is located on a balcony facing Arena Stage’s glass-fronted entrance.
More lobster: Michael Landrum, owner/operator of RAY’S THE STEAKS and assorted other Ray’s-themed restaurants, will open The Lobster Pot, a seafood restaurant at 1650 Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn.
From the folks who brought you Grapeseed in Bethesda, comes a new lobster concept called FREDDIE’S LOBSTER. Lobster is not as expensive as it used to be, which may account for the new lobster outlets, from trucks to carryout. This is one white meat you cannot say tastes like chicken.
The BRICKSKELLER is planning a facelift and has changed its name to BIER BARON. Don’t worry, they will still serve more beers (1200) than any other place in town, as it always has. New owners Megan Merrifield and her husband are operators. They also own Windsor Inn, Embassy Inn and District Hotel. The reopening is planned for the early part of the new year.
THE ROOKERY, owned by Bo Blair, has re-opened as BAYOU, a New Orleans-style restaurant at 2519 Pennsylvania Ave., NW with Chef Rusty Holman at the helm. Look for New Orleans favorites — Po Boys, gumbo, shrimp and grits and live jazz during dinner.
Chef and Executive Update – MATCHBOX Chinatown has named Cliff Wharton as executive chef. Wharton once a striving rock star, joins matchbox from Ten Penh, where he became a culinary star.
Tom Meyer has been named president of CLYDE’S RESTAURANT GROUP. Tom had been executive vice president for CRG since 2002.
Natalie Vella has been named general manager of RIS, a promotion from her position as assistant GM.
Ramón Narváez is returning to Robert Wiedmaier’s restaurant empire (Brasserie Beck, Brabo, Mussel Bar by RW, Marcel’s) as wine and beverage director. Starting at Marcel’s in 2002, he left in 2008 to become the sommelier at Adour located at the St. Regis Hotel.
STELLA RESTAURANT is coming to the Traville Shopping Center in North Potomac where The Vyne Restaurant was, this month. Owners and brothers George and Stratton Liapis have owned and operated The Lunch Box Carry-Out Shoppes in downtown D.C. and Bullfeather’s of Capital Hill. Ray Niederhausen, a graduate of Stratford University, will be the executive chef. Stella will offer steakhouse steaks, chops, organic chicken, as well as full bar service, including a diverse wine list featuring wines from California, Italy, France, Argentina and Greece.
TERASOL, a French bistro with an artistic mix of food and artwork, has newly reopened at 5010 Connecticut Ave, NW after a nearly two-year hiatus. Owners Sabrina Ousmaal and Alan Moin offer a 400-square-foot art gallery with art, jewelry and pottery for sale, and a 1350-square-foot restaurant serving French cuisine.
SALT & PEPPER, a new breakfast spot, is slated to open in the Palisades neighborhood on the second floor of 5101 MacArthur Blvd, NW, above Bambu. Owners Sue Chen and Robert Golfman call it a modern twist on diner classics. They also plan to offer alcoholic beverages in addition to the diner menu.
Yes, it’s true. KEMBLE PARK TAVERN has closed.
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 email@example.com or visit her web site at www.lindarothpr.com
Across the Cutting Board with Ris: Thanksgiving Special
Georgetowner • November 17, 2010
To Ris Lacoste, Thanksgiving should be a simple affair. The dishes featured on her restaurant’s “To Go Sides and Pies” menu are effusive and original, yet comforting and familiar. The cuisine goes beyond unique spins on old favorites, recalling brilliant tastes or textures and producing them in an entirely new context. But Thanksgiving isn’t about reinventing the wheel, as she makes clear. To her, Thanksgiving is the raw, savory, unfettered beauty of the fall harvest and family. “I dedicate Thanksgiving dinner to my mother,” she says. “I still can’t do it like she can.”
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner in a cramped kitchen with an undersized oven and limited counter space, Ris’ mother had a graceful choreography and skill. Wielding casseroles, turkeys, stuffing, gravy, and everything in between, she singularly churned out unforgettable, steaming hot Thanksgiving dinners year after year for her large family. The love in Ris’ voice, as she recalls these moments, illuminates the role her mother surely played in her initial passion for cooking.
What makes this holiday Ris’ “absolutely favorite all time meal,” is the patience and warmth it instills within us all: a long preparation, the slow gathering of guests, the cooling effect of the fall weather and the brightness and energy it brings with it, and the football game whirring in the background. It is perhaps the only holiday not crowded by commercialism she says. It’s the calmest American holiday, where you’re free to sit back and “enjoy the tryptophan buzz.”
Now, this isn’t to say that it’s a cakewalk in the kitchen. While the food should be simple, rich, and balanced, a Thanksgiving dinner is a tremendous undertaking. When she ran 1789 Restaurant, Ris began Thanksgiving preparations ten days out for 700 guests, and through her years of experience, she punches one point above all others: Have your MISE EN PLACE. For those who don’t know, this effectively means to keep organized, be ahead of the game, and THINK. Dice all your vegetables, measure all your ingredients, get out your cooking tools, sharpen your knives, and have everything laid out before you begin cooking. “Everything you can do ahead of time,” says Ris, “do it.”
She advises to start prepping a week in advance. Get your turkey, which will probably need to thaw. “Thaw it outside on your back porch if you have to,” she suggests. The nighttime weather is perfect this time of year for thawing a bird. Get all your non-perishables: potatoes, cranberries, marshmallows, onions, and squash.
Think and plan ahead. Turkey, for example, takes a lot of oven time. So what to do about all those other dishes that need to be baked or broiled? If they are dishes that can be warmed up, like casserole or stuffing, make them a couple of days before and reheat them on Thanksgiving Day. “Work it out so all you have to do on Thanksgiving Day is cook the turkey, make the gravy, mash the potatoes, and cook the green vegetables,” she says.
Ris and I decided to focus on anything but the bird. Debates will always rage on the best method to cook a turkey. Some brine it. Others insist upon smoking it. Some stick a Budweiser in its back end and deep-fry it in an oil drum. All of these methods can be rather delicious, and all require different techniques and equipment.
But birds aside, a Thanksgiving meal should strive to find a perfect balance: the savory and the tart, the bitter and the sweet, the rich and the light. The brightness of Thanksgiving dinner is the interplay of its components, the harmony and orchestration of flavors, says Ris, “as if all the dishes grew up together and played in the sandbox and complemented each other, bringing out each other’s best.”
In our case, the dishes were bread stuffing with sausage and sage, sweet potato gratin, and cranberry sauce with vanilla, maple syrup, and cassis.
Stuffing, she tells me, can be loaded with any bread you want: crusty white, rye, pumpernickel, wheat, whatever. Cornbread, she says, is especially good. Oysters, Cajun spices, grains, and nuts all make nice additions. The possibilities are endless. Hers is fairly traditional, but as this recipe proves, a little goes a long way. A bit of cayenne brightens up the juices from the sausage, and the sage and thyme compliment the cranberry sauce brilliantly.
You’ll be eating the cranberry sauce straight with a spoon. The orange cuts the tartness, and the maple and cassis add a wonderful depth to what is usually a very plain sweetness. She showed me that the cranberry sauce doesn’t require much liquid. Cranberries are filled with a great deal of pectin, a natural gelatin that acts as a gelling agent, such as in jams and jellies. When cooking the cranberries, they begin to pop, and the pectin gets to work.
A refreshing spin on sweet potato casserole, the gratin would be a welcome addition to any Thanksgiving table. I watched her slice the sweet potatoes very thin, not much thicker than a water cracker. Thicker potatoes will slide around, she explains. They won’t stand up when plated, and the presentation will be sloppy. Thinner slices will bind better, as more of the starches will release and act as glue. “Like the mortar in between the bricks,” she said.
Thanksgiving, says Ris, is a true fall harvest, highlighting the season’s choice offerings: root vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, pumpkin, greens, herbs, and grains. As a cook, you should enrich the traditions by using as many fresh and locally grown ingredients as you can get your hands on. While some of the smaller farmers’ markets may have begun to close, Dupont Circle and Arlington’s markets are open year-round, and Whole Foods is always a good place to check for organic, local produce. Freshfarmmarkets.org is a helpful site if you’re looking for places to find local produce or fresh markets.
If you can’t find the time to prepare a complete Thanksgiving meal, these dishes and more will be available right from Ris’ kitchen for your table, including pies, sides, gravy, and cranberry orange bread. Call the restaurant as soon as possible to place your order or go to www.RisDC.com.
Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla, Maple Syrup & Cassis
(Yields about 4 cups)
6 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs.) fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and rinsed
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)
1/3 cup crème de cassis black-currant liqueur)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest (from 1 orange)
Half a vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cinnamon stick
Put 3 cups of the cranberries and all the remaining ingredients in a 4-qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have popped and broken down and the juices look slightly syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the remaining 3 cups cranberries and cook until these have popped, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, discard the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick, and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate if not serving right away.
The cranberry sauce can be made up to one week in advance if refrigerated.
Return to room temperature before serving.
Sweet Potato Gratin with Caramelized Onions
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter; more for the baking dish
2 lbs. yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper; more to taste
2 cups heavy cream
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 Tbs. freshly grated orange zest (from 1 orange)
1/2 tsp. cayenne
4 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 5 medium)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano
1 bag of marshmallows
1 cup (4 oz.) pecan halves, toasted and chopped
Heat the butter in a heavy-based 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it begins to foam. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Deglaze with the sherry and let cook until liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Season with the 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, put the heavy cream, thyme, orange zest, and cayenne in a 2- to 3-qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.
While the cream is steeping, peel and cut the sweet potatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and another rack directly below. Heat the oven to 350°F.
Lightly butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange about one-third of the sliced sweet potatoes in a double layer on the bottom of the dish, slightly overlapping the slices in each layer. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread half of the onions over the potatoes and drizzle about one-third of the cream (2/3 cup) over the onions. Sprinkle one-third of the grated parmesan cheese. Arrange another third of the potatoes in two more overlapping layers and season lightly with more salt and pepper Spread the remaining onions over the potatoes and drizzle another third of the cream over the onions. Sprinkle another third of the grated parmesan. Use the remaining sweet potato slices to make two final layers, pressing down with your hands to compact them. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and drizzle the remaining cream over the potatoes, trying to cover them as much as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining grated parmesan.
Put a foil-lined baking sheet on the lower rack to catch any drips. Cover the gratin tightly with foil and bake on the center rack until the potatoes are almost tender but still offer a little resistance when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake until the sweet potatoes are completely tender and the top is lightly browned and bubbly, 30 to 40 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 375°F. Cover the top of the gratin with a single tight layer of marshmallows and sprinkle with all of the chopped pecans. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake until the marshmallows are beautifully toasted to a golden brown, about 5 minutes or less. Keep an eye out not to burn them.
The onions can be made up to 3 days in advance, if refrigerated in a bowl covered with plastic.
The gratin can be baked up to 1 day ahead to the point of adding the marshmallow topping; reheat at 375°F until bubbling hot throughout, about 20 minutes, add the topping, then bake 5 minutes or less.
Heating the cream beforehand will speed up the gratin’s cooking time.
Sausage-Maple Bread Stuffing
2 lbs. dense, chewy bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 15 cups)
3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup chopped fresh thyme leaves (from about 1 oz. thyme sprigs)
1/3 cup chopped fresh sage leaves (from about 3/4 oz. sage sprigs)
3/4 tsp. poultry seasoning
3 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 medium)
3 cups medium-diced celery (6 large stalks)
7 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 smoked ham hock (about 1 lb.)
1 1/2 lbs. bulk pork breakfast sausage
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Lay the bread cubes in a single layer on two baking sheets. Leave out to dry completely at room temperature, tossing once or twice, for about two days.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.
In a heavy-based, 8-qt. stockpot or Dutch oven, melt 3 Tbs. of the butter over medium heat until it begins to foam. Adjust with more liquid or bread depending on desired texture. Stir in the thyme, sage, and poultry seasoning and cook just enough to coat the herbs and season the butter, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bay leaves, and ham hock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the liquid reduces by one-third, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the sausage on a rimmed baking sheet and break it into quarter-size chunks. Roast until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Let cool, and then chop the sausage into smaller bits.
Add the sausage to the broth and simmer just to allow the flavors to meld, about 5 minutes. Remove the ham hock and bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves and set the hock aside to cool. Stir the dried bread, several cups at a time, into the broth until all of the broth is absorbed and the bread cubes are well moistened. Stir in the maple syrup, pepper, and the remaining 3 Tbs. butter.
When the hock is cool enough to handle, pick off the meat, chop it into small pieces, and add to the stuffing. Season to taste with salt if necessary (depending on the sausage and ham hock, both of which are salty, there may already be enough).
Transfer the stuffing to a 9×13-inch baking dish and bake uncovered at 375°F until heated through and crisp on top, about 20 minutes if freshly made, or about 30 minutes if made ahead.
The bread can be dried weeks in advance, bagged, frozen, and then thawed when ready to use.
The stuffing can be made (but not baked) up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered.