April 2009

cake-topIt’s time to break out the cake topper and celebrate: Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of our first post here at Capital Spice!

In the past year, we’ve had some surprising firsts:

-Our first shout-out in a national publication (thanks, Whitney!)
-Our first threatened lawsuit
-Our first (and second) experiences buying food from the backs of vehicles
-Our first official freelance gig

We’ve also found a very welcoming and supportive community of fellow foodbloggers and reporters throughout the DC metro area (as well as in Denver and Minneapolis).  You can find most of our favorites among the links to the right – if you haven’t checked them out already, take a look!

In honor of our one year anniversary, we’ve gone back through our archives to figure out what has really caught your attention over the past year.  Not surprisingly, Top Chefs and the Next Food Network Star dominate our top five, and some of our more adventurous cooking experiences round out the top ten.

The Top Ten Most Viewed Posts of the Past Year:

10. Ray’s Hell Burger – When it comes to DC’s burger wars, Washingtonian’s recent brackets were rocked by the early departure of Michael Landrum’s 10-ounce offerings.  We couldn’t even wait a week before checking them out for ourselves last July.

9. Pulled Pork on the Big Green Egg – The Big Green Egg is a unique smoker/cooker, and it has a fiercely loyal following.  Each of our attempts at cooking on the Egg have been well-received, but our pulled pork shoulder has been the biggest hit to date.

8. Watching Top Chef with Carla Hall at Good Stuff Eatery – What an amazing experience!  Not only were we sitting a few seats away from Carla as she watched the judges’ feedback on her great performance in the Top Chef All-Stars challenge, we also got to watch her surprise her husband with her prize – a pair of tickets to the Big Game for him and her stepson!  Reason #75 why we love Carla (and we bet you do, too).

7. Homemade Half-Sour Pickles – You hear a lot about  people with a Sweet Tooth, but it seems like plenty of people with Sour and Salty Teeth have found our attempt at homemade quick pickles using a recipe we found on the internets.  With pickling becoming increasingly popular, our post has been a resource for quite a few do-it-yourselfers.

6. Smoked vs. Roasted Turkey – Our ‘Fakesgiving’ feast gave us a chance to pit two halves of the same brined turkey against one another to see which resulted in the better bird.  By smoking one half on the Big Green Egg and roasting the other, we had two options that all of our guests eagerly tore into.  The winner?  Elizabeth’s butternut squash turnovers, a huge hit at the party and among readers.

5. Winter Restaurant Week 2009 – Sure, there are plenty of places to go to find the list of establishments participating in Restaurant Week.  And DC Foodies have definitely established themselves as the go-to source for participating restaurants’ offerings.  But we’ve carved out a niche as the people willing to take the time to plot out all of the participants on a Google Map, providing another useful resource as you plan your attack.

4. Granville Moore’s Teddy Folkman on Throwdown! with Bobby Flay – We’ve admitted it on more than one occasion…we’re total Teddy fans.  The telegenic chef with the tiny kitchen earned plenty of props for his moules frites last year, and now he’s poised to win more than just the title of “DC’s Most Crushable Chef” when he competes on The Next Food Network Star starting in June.

3. Inauguration Hours – There was plenty of interest surrounding the City Council’s plan to allow restaurants, bars and nightclubs to maintain extended hours during inauguration weekend, but there weren’t a lot of places for hard information on which establishments would be participating.  A quick call to ABRA and another one of our signature Google Maps later, and Capital Spice became the go-to source with links from the City Paper, the Washington Post, and NBC4.  Score one for the nerds!

2. Top Chef’s Spike Comes to DC – Posted the week of the Season 4 finale, our interview with Spike Mendelsohn and Mike Colletti got plenty of traffic from Top Chef fans who were still eager to learn more about the ‘bad boy’ chef even after he had been eliminated.  The advance buzz surrounding Good Stuff Eatery didn’t hurt, either.

1. Our Pre-Season Interview with Top Chef Finalist Carla Hall – She was sweet, local and just a bit sassy.  How could we not root for her as Top Chef Season Five got underway?  Even so, we couldn’t help but get even more excited as she started to really turn it on in the home stretch…and with each new victory, Top Chef fans came to check out our interview to learn more about the woman who made “Hootie-Hoo!” a national catch phrase.  Truth be told, we’re still rooting for Carla!

Thanks to everyone who’s come to check us out over the past year – and please keep coming back!

I don’t think we could have hand-picked a better night to try Evening Star Cafe for the first time than Monday. The img_7536air was warm with a cool breeze, the Del Ray residents and their dogs were in full neighborly force on the sidewalk and there was a two-seater actually available on the patio when we arrived. We’d put our dinner fate in the hands of the Twitterverse that afternoon when trying to settle on a Del Ray dinner location, and it was paying off in spades. 

The Evening Star Cafe has been a low key Del Ray favorite since 1997, praised for its wholesome American dishes and relaxed atmosphere. It’s no mystery why: Evening Star Cafe is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, a restuarant organization that has cracked the code on homey places where everyone can feel like a regular. Their roster also includes Tallula, Vermillion, Buzz Bakery, and Rustico.

Food experiences and a top contender for the world’s best comfort dish after the jump. (more…)

asparagus-ramps-and-shallotsLast time we worked on a “Favorite Five” with Counter Intelligence’s Melissa McCart, I ended up chasing yuzu all over the metro area before finding the juice at Hana Market.  This time, thankfully, our mission involved a list of ingredients that would make even the most ardent locavore smile.  The biggest challenge would be showing off the wonderful spring flavors to their best advantages.

When Melissa emailed us the list of ingredients that chef Barry Koslow of Tallula selected, we knew we wanted to participate again.  Koslow’s five were a veritable all-star list of the early spring farmer’s market:

1. Ramps
2. Asparagus
3. Spring Lamb
4. Morels
5. Fava Beans

salad-and-entreeSince we’d been eagerly awaiting most of these ingredients ourselves, it would be super-easy to work them into a dinner for the challenge.

As it turns out, three of the ingredients on the list – ramps, morels and asparagus – figure prominently in “Think Like a Chef,” Tom Colicchio’s cookbook that has yet to steer me wrong.  They are a “trilogy” whose flavors and seasonality naturally complement one another.  Colicchio provides several recipes that make use of this interplay, and I’ve been eager for the opportunity to try one of his more ambitious recipes as the second in my series of Restaurant Quality Dishes that I’m attempting as my Foodie Resolution for the year.

My efforts at asparagus soup with morel custard, fava bean and pecorino salad with prosciutto, and broiled lamb loin chops after the jump. (more…)

While in California recently, we had plenty of opportunities to eat and drink really well.  San Francisco is DEFINITELY a city for foodies, and our experiences barely begin to scratch the surface.  We’ve already shared Tartine, Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen – some of the all-stars from San Francisco and Healdsburg.  Here are a few of our other favorites from the trip:

San Francisco

img_7074The Slanted Door
The concept of Asian fusion – blending classic techniques with local ingredients – is still out there.  But it seems to have gotten lost in a sea of Tex-Mex eggrolls and lemongrass pizzas while spreading across the country.  Thankfully, chef Charles Phan’s hugely popular Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building continues to show what fusion can mean when it’s done right.  Elizabeth’s pho bo, that most traditional Vietnamese beef and noodle soup, was an absolute star – due in no small part to the local Prather Ranch london broil credited on the menu.  Slanted Door spring rolls, which offered both pork and shrimp inside their delicate rice-paper wrappers, were succulent and savory.  The only miss of our meal was a special of dungeness crab over rice noodles, which I was drawn to because we kept hearing about the amazing crabs that were just coming into season during our visit.  Unfortunately, the presentation overwhelmed the delicate sweetness of the crab with a heavy oiliness that seemed decidedly out of place among the other dishes we enjoyed.  With a sleek bar and a huge space, you’d think there would be plenty of open tables during an average weekday luch.  Guess again.  Without our reservation, we probably wouldn’t have gotten in – and the food we enjoyed provides a pretty compelling reason why.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
Slanted Door on Urbanspoon

There is a driving desire among all relocated urbanites to become someplace’s regular – be it a coffeehouse, a dark meat market, or just a laidback place that offers an alternate view than the one from your couch. Blame Friends, or Cheers, or How I Met Your Mother or any number of other faux urban sitcoms for planting this idea, but I can’t think of a nicer neighborhood restaurant to be a regular than Pesce in Russian Hill. This tiny Italian spot focuses on small-plate seafood dishes perfect for a single diner or a communal table. On a recent visit with friends, Mr. and Mrs. Badoit, we managed to score a last-minute table and enjoyed a mix of cocktails, seafood and swine based dishes in an cozy (read: tiny!) atmosphere. Nearby diners had clearly already passed the I’m-a-regular threshold and spent their meal running into neighbors and being greeted warmly by the staff. I watched them, sipped my cocktail, and went insane with envy.  

2227 Polk St
San Francisco, CA 94109
Pesce Seafood Bar on Urbanspoon 

img_1999Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
Two words: Artisanal Microroasting.  Three letters: WTF?   As soon as we arrived in San Francisco, we started hearing about Blue Bottle Coffee, a “can’t miss” coffee spot outside the Ferry Building, a little stand where you can find some of the richest and most flavorful coffee you are likely to ever experience.  We may not be java junkies, but we were already headed toward the foodie heaven that is the Ferry Building (Cowgirl Creamery, Acme Bread, Boccalone Salumeria, Scharffen Berger Chocolate, McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil…should I go on?) so we decided to check it out.  This is a group that takes their coffee SERIOUSLY.  If you’ve ever been to Peregrine Espresso, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about here: single cup pour-over brewing, small batches of beans bagged no more than 4 hours after roasting.  It was an experience, but I can’t say it ruined me for other coffees (which is probably an indication of just what a coffee novice I actually am).

Blue Bottle Coffee
Outside the Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA  94111

Cha Cha Cha
Cha Cha Cha, a Caribbean institution on Haight Street, is probably the world’s most perfect place for a first date. It is fun but casual. The food is good but unpretentious. The crowd – and there is always a crowd – keeps the mood upbeat and is the perfect white noise to mask any awkward pauses in conversation. Don’t have a reservation and need to wait for a table? No problem, head down the block to Amobea and check out your date’s taste in music. Once seated, you must MUST order a pitcher the sangria. I’ve yet to meet a drink that loosens people up more quickly. The tapas theme means you can further break the ice by ordering together and sharing plates. Personal favorites are the fried calamari, new potatoes, sauteed mushrooms and Cajun shrimp. If you’re a little hungier, or just don’t like sharing with others, go for the higher end entree items like bistek encebollado. But really, you need to order that sangria.

Cha Cha Cha
1801 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Cha Cha Cha on Urbanspoon

When we made our plans to head out to San Francisco, we reached out to a couple of friends who’ve made the move out there from Washington (yeah…we’re jealous, too).  We put ourselves in their hands and asked them to pick a restaurant that they’d been eager to try.  Their unanimous choice: House, an Asian-influenced restaurant in the North Beach neighborhood best known for Italian stalwarts like the Stinking Rose.  Our friends sure know how to pick ’em…and how to enjoy a restaurant foodie-style.  Everyone made it a point to order unique appetizers and entrees, and dishes were passed so that everyone could get a taste.  The verdict?  House is nothing like home, but the skill with which Eastern flavors are brought to bear on dishes like steamed mussels and ribeye steak is truly impressive.  Perhaps the most talked about dish of the evening was a broiled unagi (eel) that was covered in tempura flakes so fresh out of the fryer that they were still shaking when they arrived at the table.  The visual effect got us talking, and the deep flavor of the eel kept the conversation going.

1230 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
House on Urbanspoon

El Balazo
San Francisco is known for burritos. There are countless taquerias in the city and each resident will lead you to a new interiorone, swearing up and down that it is the best – the best – burrito you’ll find. For me, the search ends at El Balazo on Haight Street. This is what a burrito joint should be. Ingredients doled out assembly line style (carne asada! barbacoa! I’ve missed you!) with rice, a choice of beans and toppings and size options ranging from bigger-than-your-head to weighs-as-much-as-a-toddler. Aguas frescas are also available to quench your thirst as you dive into your giant meal. As an added dining bonus, not only is El Balazo delicious and cheap, it is gorgeous: hammered copper walls meet up with bright blue ceilings, Aztec imagery and murals. I have never enjoyed a cheap meal in a more vibrant setting.

El Balazo
1654 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
El Balazo on Urbanspoon

Crepes on Cole 
Some places, in their simplicy, sneak up on your senses. Crepes on Cole is one of those. Glancing around, there is nothing notable img_1991about this corner shop in Cole Valley but every time I’m in town I’m drawn back. Perhaps it is the simple menu of sweet and savory crepes (I always go sweet – I’m pretty much Nutella’s bitch) and a hot cup of coffee in a sturdy white mug. Perhaps it is the fantastic people watching from their broad windows, ranging from UCSF med students to hipsters to the joggers with their dogs. Or the N Judah rail line that runs just past the restaurant on Carl Street. Or maybe its all of the above that makes this a great hideaway in San Francisco, where you can have a casual meal and watch the city life go by.

Crepes on Cole
100 Carl St
San Francisco, CA  94117
Crepes on Cole on Urbanspoon

…. And a few San Francisco bars for the drinkers in the crowd

Hobson’s Choice
The Haight area may have once been known for the Summer of Love but these days its known for upscale boutiques. img_7008Mike learned this the hard way during our recent visit. After several hours of extreme husbandly patience, I treated him to serveral rounds at Hobson’s Choice. Walk by Hobson’s Choice too quickly and you may assume it’s a cozy coffee shop. It’s easy to be mislead – the red velvet curtains and cushy seating inside don’t exactly scream bar. Hobson’s Choice is a Victorian punch house with an overwhelming selection of rums. You’re welcome to order from their substantial cocktail menu, select from one of the monthly special cocktails or share a punch bowl with friends for an afternoon nearly guaranteed to end with a burrito from El Balazo.

Hobson’s Choice
1601 Clayton
San Francisco, CA 94117
Hobson's Choice on Urbanspoon

Bourbon & Branch
Named after a classic cocktail (two parts bourbon to four parts spring or “branch” water), Bourbon & Branch is San Francisco’s best known speakeasy.  As at PX and the Gibson, the secrecy of the space takes a backseat to good, old-fashioned bartending.  Make a reservation, and you receive instructions directing you to a corner of Jones Street featuring a sign for the “Anti-Saloon League.”  Ring the bell, give the password, and you’re ushered into a dimly-lit space that is dark and sexy, with secret doors and hidden rooms.

Your server doubles as your guide to the lengthy cocktail menu.  Are you a fan of gin?  The classic ‘Aviator’ beckons.  Looking for something a little different than your typical Maker’s Mark on the rocks?  Allow the bartender to whip up a “Black Manhattan,” which adds amaro Averna (in place of vermouth) to the typical concoction’s bourbon, bitters, and a cherry.  The cocktails here run from the classic to the creative, with the common theme being a commitment to fresh ingredients and craftsmanship.  The “Afternoon Tea” made with vodka or gin (we opted for vodka) was a definite favorite, blending all of the light flavors you might associate with the name into one satisfyingly smooth libation.

Bourbon & Branch
501 Jones St.
San Francisco, CA  94102
Bourbon & Branch on Urbanspoon

There is nothing like meeting up with old friends from college to make you feel your years. Luckily, there is nothing like Alembic to make you feel like a college student again – only with a better budget. The crowded bar exudes energy made for a Friday night – crowded, jovial and with a hint of restlessness. Alembic employs one of my favorite new trends in bars – get a seat or wait outside. No more sharp elbows and pleading for a beer (Bistrot du Coin, I’m looking at you). No no, here you can grab a seat and get a stiff drink like a civilized but savvy adult you are. My friends Mai and Sunny arrived about 20 minutes late (some things never change) but I was more than happy to pass the time at a bar with so many bourbon and whiskey options.  Next time I’m in town, I plan to give the impressive looking small-plates menu a test drive.

1725 Haight St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Alembic on Urbanspoon 

After wandering around SOMA for a while, we found ourselves in that wonderful timeframe between lunch and dinner when most folks are still at work and those who aren’t are ready to start the evening’s festivities (no wonder they call it Happy Hour!).  Rather than stopping into one of the more tourist-friendly bars that surround the convention center, we walked down Natoma and found ourselves facing Zebulon.  From the exterior, we couldn’t quite tell if it was an art gallery, a restaurant, or something else entirely…so we asked.  As it turns out, Zebulon is both of these and more, a very laid-back neighborhood venue that brings in live music and other artists while serving an Asian-inflected menu and cocktails made from fresh-squeezed juices.  In Washington, that kind of pedigree tends to come with a reservations-only policy and a $12 price tag.  But here we were able to enjoy drinks like the Jeremiah (St. Germain, chambord, champagne and a twist) for only $8 each.  Reason #812 we love San Francisco.

Zebulon Restaurant and Bar
83 Natoma St
San Francisco, CA  94105
Zebulon Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon


Lee’s Garden Restaurant
The trip to Monterey and Carmel was a bit of a bust. The rain never let up and it’s hard to enjoy the quirky coastal town charms and scenic beach view when you’re dashing for cover. By the end of the day, we wanted something substantial and definitely not touristy. Yes, we decided, this was a perfect night for Chinese food. We asked the two teenagers manning the hotel’s front desk for their recommendation. “Lee’s!” they answered, almost in unison, with the gusto only teenage boys can master. “Definitely Lee’s is your spot.” 

And their recommendation didn’t disappoint.  With gray skies above and a ittle bit of a chill in the air, the substantial won ton soup and the spring rolls we enjoyed helped to warm us up and lift our spirits.  Frankly, the portions were big enough that we could have ended the meal there.  Instead, we each ordered an entree and found ourselves bringing at least half of what we got back to the hotel room with us.  It was exactly the kind of atmosphere we had been craving, and the steady stream of carryout orders that passed through while we were eating served to reinforce our belief that we had chosen wisely for our low-key meal.

Lee’s Garden
215 Reservation Road
Marina, CA 93933

Healdsburg (Sonoma County)

We only spent two days there but Healdsburg quickly became my dream small town. It has it all – beautiful setting, a town square, artsy shops and fantastic restaurants. We’ve given the full court press to Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen, but wanted to give a shout out to one more little shop we enjoyed during our stay:

Healdsburg Charcuterie and Cafe
We ducked into this cozy cafe on our first day in Healdsburg, after making a few rounds at the wine tasting bars and img_1955realizing we ought to put down a base of actual food before we got too carried away. We found the Healdsburg Charcuterie and Cafe to be a homey little spot and a perfect place to escape the rain. It feels like a small town diner, where the sleeve-tattooed waitresses know everyone and just how they take their coffee. We grabbed a corner table and eyed the menu. I couldn’t resist the white bean soup but Mike took one for the team and ordered the charcuterie plate with pate, salami, brie, and olives. We were both pleased with our orders, switching plates back and forth for variety. The only disappointment came when our server informed us, rather proudly in fact, that the charcuterie was flown in from France. We were baffled at the import in the middle considering the number of farms we passed on the drive up. Could there possibly be no local sources? Hopefully this will be rectified by our next visit.

Healdsburg Charcuterie and Cafe
335 Healdsburg Ave
Healdsburg, CA 95488
Healdsburg Charcuterie and Cafe on Urbanspoon

It’s officially spring! Ramps are in the markets, asparagus is sprouting and crabs are available at Quarterdeck. Life is good. 

Young and Houngry scored a major scoop with the news that Citronelle may close up shop on M Street once Michel Richard moves his efforts to Tyson’s Corner.

The chef for Law and Order: Criminal Intent spills the beans on what life is like on set. 

Time to get to Sova for their new wine selection and cocktails from Derek Brown of Gibson!

Saveur restaurants select 12 “restaurants that matter.” Sadly, no DC eateries made the cut.

Daniel Boulud discusses make-at-home spring lamb.

WSJ gives us a peek into the shifting world of cocktail trends and gives a shout out to Todd Thrasher of PX and Restaurant Eve.  
Check out Metrocurean’s round up of eco chic kitchen materials. 
Kellogg is removing the note on boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats that the cereal is “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%” as the FTC has ruled it false and in violation of federal law

An interesting article about how Hooters develops new menu items.  Oh and fun fact: They like to offer seafood items in the springtime for Lent. I’m not anti-Hooters prude but how many people who go to Hooters for food on Friday night during Lent are like “oh no, thanks. Passing on the red meat.” The article also gives us this gem: “Looking at consumer trends, you hear terms like ciabatta rolls and artisan breads. Yet some Hooters girls may not have heard of ciabatta bread. I will work with training to come up with easy quality identifiers they can relate to.” 
McDonald’s tests a $4 angus burger in select markets. 
Despite the recession, large food businesses continue to seek out sustainable practices.  

El Bulli in Spain is named the best restaurant in the world again.  Per Se and Alinea make the top 10.
A research report recommends retirement for four beer brands whose perceptions are so negative they aren’t considered worth salvaging: Ice House, Keystone, Busch, and Milwaukee’s Best. Oh what, so Natty Lite makes the cut?   
Brian Boitano is getting a show on the Food Network called What Would Brian Boitano Make?  really?
Cravings blog reviews three sparkling wines.  
The annual Grilled Cheese Invitational is this weekend in LA.

I had my first taste of gougeres when Central first opened. Everyone was raving about this crazy cone basket of cheesy bread that you just had to order as an appetizer. We quickly discovered gougeres are made of magic. How else could they possibly disappear in an instant? 

We encountered the almighty gougere again at Tartine in San Francisco, this time in a tennis-ball size serving with some spicy pepper. Yep, still heavenly. But surely difficult. Delicious, flavorful bread doesn’t come out of the oven easily. I’m sure there are special tools, craftsmanship and unique ingredients necessary.  Pete Bakes finally inspired me to give the at-home gougere a try. He wrote up a fantastic recipe and wow, it might actually be doable in a mere mortal’s kitchen. 

Pete, as usual, was right. Don’t tell anyone this but gougeres are surprisingly easy. They are one of those dinner party secret weapons:  A dish that tastes complex but can actually be completed with minimal fanfare. It’s perfect for impressing guests and then passing off as no big deal. “Oh these? I just whipped them up with ingredients we had around the kitchen. You know how it is.”* You can even make the batter ahead of time and pipe them onto the baking sheet and into the oven 30 minutes before guests arrive. If you time it right you are taking golden, cheesy perfection out of the oven just as they arrive with no evidence in sight of a sticky mess. You are a host(ess) extraordinaire! But I’m getting ahead of myself…  

Additionally gougere flavors are pliant. Most recipes will recommend using gruyere cheese and perhaps a certain herb, but you can mix it up: switch gruyere for chedder, pecorino or Swiss and it will still taste great. I made my second batch with some gouda completely by accident and they still turned out beautifully. The same rule applies to herbs: gougeres can handle change as long as you keep the salty/savory balance in mind. 

Using the recipe from Tartine’s cookbook, I started off by making a choux which is the same paste that forms the base of cream puffs and profiterole shells. This starts off by combining nonfat milk (the book is quite clear that whole milk won’t work – it causes the puffs to deflate), butter and salt in a heavy pan until the butter has melted and the mixture comes to a “full boil.” In practice, I brought mine to a general simmer and moved on after having to skin the milk more than once. Once it is boiling (ahem, simmering), add all the flour at once and stir quickly until it is combined. This will become a sticky mass that tends to clump into one piece. Good news: That is what it is supposed to do.

Now you officially have your paste. Transfer it to a large (heat resistant!) mixing bowl.  If you are using a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed adding eggs on at a time. The paste will turn from sticky to downtright shiny and gelatinous. This felt incredibly wrong to me – how could this sticky mess every become a fluffy gougere? – but that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Remove the sticky-shiny-mess from the mixer and stir in cheese and black pepper and herbs, mixing with a spatula. 

So now you’ll have a sticky, flavored mess on your hands. Transfer it to a pastry bag, which is a fancy phrase for large ziploc bag with the corner cut off.  Pipe the sticky-flavored-mess onto a prepared baking sheet, making 1″ mounds. Space an inch to an inch and a half apart. You can also use a spoon to make 1″ mounds but I don’t recommend it. This dough is really sticky; even using a bag it got really messy. I had gougere-dough dots and fingerprints across half the kitchen. Once piped, sprinkle additional grated cheese on top of the dough mounds.**

Place the pastries in a 350-degree oven immediately. Bake until they are puffed (about 30% larger than their original size) and golden brown. The directions suggested 25 minutes but I found 30 minutes worked better in our oven. Once browned, remove from the tray and serve, trying not to eat all of them by accident. Word on the street is gougeres are delicious served piping hot or room temperature. I have never, ever seen them stick around a table long enough to find out if the latter is true. I think it’s an urban pastry myth.

1 and 1/4 cup nonfat milk
10 Tb unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs
3/4 gruyere cheese + more for grating
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tb fresh tyme, minced

*This only works if you don’t, for example, have a blog your friends read. In that case, honesty is the best policy.
**The cookbook includes directions on an egg glaze topping, which I totally skipped and did not miss.

Not really Tim Carman, but you get the idea

Not really Tim Carman, but you get the idea

If you were following the Washington City Paper’s blogs on Thursday, February 19th, you were treated to “an average day in the city” – including food writer Tim Carman’s rundown of a day spent with Joe Englert.  Apparently it was a hit, because they’ve decided to take another bite at the apple today.

This time, the City Paper’s staff has taken an entirely food-focused approach.  You can expect to see photo sets highlighting the contents of their refrigerators (you know you’re curious), street cart serenades, and even an investigative piece into the District’s edible waste (read: a salute to dumpster-diving).

best-of-dcWill it be The Best of DC?  Probably not.  After all, the point of the effort is to look at food and dining from average, unsung angles…checking in with line cooks instead of executive chefs, for example. 

There’s certainly no shortage of subject matter, but we want to be helpful in case some of the writers get stuck.  So here’s an “average day for food” at Capital Spice:

Breakfast: a homemade cappuccino, made with illy espresso and topped with milk frothed using our aerolatte.
Lunch: a salad with Loudoun lettuce from Endless Summer Harvest and roasted chicken from Capitol Hill Poultry in Eastern Market
Dinner: Sushi at Momoyama (Boston roll, bulgogi roll, iguana roll)

Throw in a blog post and a few food-focused press-releases sent our way, and that’s about the extent of it…as long as our willpower holds out and we can refrain from mid-day snacking.

Hmmm…not exactly exciting, but definitely average.

What would an average day for food mean for you?  Bonus points if it actually involves you working with food in some capacity!

blog-for-the-bayIn honor of Earth Day, local bloggers FoodieTots and Arugula Files have organized something they’re calling “Blog for the Bay.”  It’s an effort to support clean water in the Chesapeake and to urge the EPA to move forward on Bay clean-up efforts.  They’re also encouraging anyone who’s interested to sign the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s petition.

As part of the project, we here at Capital Spice are happy to share one of our favorite things about the Chesapeake: Chris’ Marketplace and their delicious crabcakes!

If you’ve ever walked through the Dupont Circle or the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market, chances are you’ve been drawn to Chris Hoge’s stand.  It’s a simple setup – just a few tables and coolers with a pair of butane stoves and a dry-erase board – but it’s been known to draw lines of people queued up to enjoy some of Chris’ delicious seafood specialties.  Chief among them are his jumbo lump crab cakes, made from Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

It should come as no surprise that Hoge knows what he’s doing: he captained a commercial fishing boat for a time before settling into his current role as a vendor of “value added seafood products.”  With his connections to top-quality wholesalers and his knack for bringing out the natural flavors of his raw materials, his crabcakes (not to mention his shrimp refresco and his empanadas) put the competition to shame.

Details on where and when to find Chris – and what makes his crabcakes and other seafood dishes so damn addictive – after the jump. (more…)

courtyardThere is a beating heart of Europe slapped in the middle of Georgetown: outdoor drinking, light entrees and elegant pastries are yours for the taking if you just know when to turn off M Street and head down a stone flight of stairs. 

The most tantalizing offering from Leopold’s Kafe is also the first thing you see: a lovely, sun-drenched courtyard. Dotted with friendly orange umbrellas, the stone courtyard is just far enough away from M Street’s hustle and bustle to feel like a real escape. The Austrian restuarant is hugged on three sides by Cady’s Alley, bordering a side street melange that only enhances the continental flavor with its upscale home design shops whose names require additional apostrophes.

I skipped down the stairs from M St on a recent visit to find the courtyard full of merrymakers on a sunny post-work spring afternoon. The most notable table, perhaps, was the boisterous crowd of preppy Spanish speakers (staffers from nearby embassy?)  who were clearly several rounds in to the happy hour. The inside of Leopold’s is crisp, modern and fairly uncomfortable looking. Luckily my friend Jean made arrived a few minutes early and snagged a coveted seat on the patio with the Spanish revelers.

More photos and food reviews after the jump. (more…)

hook-and-ladderGenerally speaking, alcoholic beverages and putting out fires are a bad combination when attempted simultaneously.  But volunteer firefighter Rich Fleischer’s Hook & Ladder Brewing Company has found a much safer way to blend the two.  Based in Silver Spring, the craft brewer and his team (including his brother and business partner, Matt) are turning out kegs and cases of beers with names like Backdraft Brown, Ember Amber and Lighter while supporting burn treatment facilities in the areas where their beers are sold.

I had the opportunity to sample all of the above beers, as well as the Hook & Ladder Golden Lager, at our local Harris Teeter while shopping for Super Bowl supplies earlier this year.  Although I may not be able to tell you the difference between cascade hops and two-row malt, I can certainly tell you that these craft brews made an impression.  And when I heard about their “Penny in Every Pint” program, I was sold.  Since then, I’ve picked up a six pack of the Backdraft Brown on several occasions, and it’s been a hit every time.

Descriptions of the Hook & Ladder brews, where to find them, and how they give back after the jump. (more…)

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