Cooking at Home

Some things are just meant to be.  The stars line up, you find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you’re handed something you didn’t even know you were looking for.  It can be a job opportunity, or a romantic connection, or something even deeper than those.

For us, it was bacon.

On January 26th, Mike read Bonnie Benwick’s profile of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s tandem charcuterial endeavor and everything just fell into place.  We were just gearing up to start another one of our Cookbook Challenges – an attempt to winnow our ever-growing collection of cookbooks by attempting a new recipe from each one to make sure we still found the books helpful.  In fact, one of the first books Elizabeth reached for was Mike’s copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s “Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.”  Although he had received it a little over a year earlier, he had yet to attempt any feats of cured meat.

Enter “Charcutepalooza.”  The article made it sound tasty and fun all at the same time, and anyone who has read at least a few of our posts knows our love of all things brined, cured or smoked.  So we reached out to Mrs. Wheelbarrow through her website and decided to throw ourselves into the challenge along with the hundreds of other bloggers who have signed on.  A contest with some killer prizes has no doubt piqued the interest of some, but most seem genuinely motivated by the spirit that inspired the ladies to begin with.

The process seemed easy enough.  Each month a new pair of challenges is announced, with one for novices and one for those seeking a more intense assignment.  We all agree to work on the challenges ourselves and blog about our results on the 15th of each month.  We’ll continue like this throughout 2011, having cooked our way through a dozen recipes (more if you try both challenges in any given month) by the time we’re through.

So why am I up at 11:30 on a Monday night (Valentine’s Day, no less) waiting for my homemade bacon to reach an internal 150 degrees Fahrenheit?  My delicious, unintentional procrastination after the jump. (more…)

Posting this just in time to, well, either make you feel smug or feel annoyed that you only got a regular ole frozen organic turkey.

Amalah shares her experience buying her turkey directly from the farm in MD.

And by direct from the farm, I mean pointing at a currently living turkey in a very Julius Caesar bring-me-the-head-of-that-one-it-displeases-me kind of way and having it sent to The Barn.

Doesn’t get fresher than that! Gobble gobble!


amalah . com: Turkey Run.

Interesting primer on the benefits of hunted and farmed game meat.  A co-worker of mine is married to a hunter and he actually hunts bear (!!). But this isn’t about a fancy rug for the cabin: he brings the meat home and she freezes it to feed the family in the winter. Apparently her bear lasagna is pretty tasty!

Trying out game meat.

Here at Capital Spice HQ, we like to wade knee-deep in the season’s bounty and use it to guide or recipes.  Mint growing out of control? Oh tragedy, looks like mojitos are on deck. Have a case of the basil overload? Sounds like the perfect excuse to go crazy with caprese and pesto. And I don’t need any recipe to tell me how to eat cherries, which are perfect just the way nature delivers them.

When Mike’s parents drove down from New Jersey this week, we knew we had another summer harvest in spades: fresh blueberries. Much like pinkie rings and fist-pumping, you just don’t F around with New Jersey when it comes to blueberries. Once these little antioxidant bombs come into season, those in the know hightail it to pick-your-own farms where thimble-sized berries can be had for a song. We knew immediately that a bounty of Jersey blueberries were headed for our front door. But what to do with the plethora?

Blueberry soup is perhaps not the first thing I’d think of when considering a blueberry-based recipe. I don’t know that it would even make the top ten (although 6 out of those ten would probably be variations on some kind of cocktail, so that list is pretty skewed). Mike and I came across the recipe when thumbing through From the Earth to the Table, one of our never-fail cookbooks.  It looked healthy and easy – critical criteria for us these days. We were intrigued.

Commonly found in the cuisine of those strapping Scandinavians (or, Scandi Candy), fruit-based soups provide a light meal in the dead heat of summer. The trick to preparing them is balance. In many cases, the natural sugars from the fruit – especially if the fruit is cooked – can deliver an over the top sweetness more appropriate to dessert. With this soup, the blueberries require some additional sweetness to overcome their natural tart flavors.  Chef Ash brings natural sugars with honey to sweeten the berries but keeps the flavors complex with earthy cloves, red wine, cinnamon, and herbs. The original recipe paired the soup with lavender, but Mike’s allergy to the herb led us to rosemary instead.

Recipe after the jump! (more…)

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the official (unofficial?) start to summer.  If you’re like us, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be grilling and barbecuing more than a few times over the next few months.  Of course you know the difference…right?

I’ll admit, I had to learn the hard way.   Growing up in New Jersey, I always referred to any situation where meat was being cooked outside as a barbecuing.  Burgers, hot dogs, whatever…if it was being cooked over propane or coals, you were barbecuing.

But step outside the northeast, and you’re likely to be met with funny looks if you talk about barbecuing a burger.  Barbecue is low-and-slow cooking that involves smoke, low temperatures and tough cuts of meat that combine to form something magically delicious.  And although you can call any old cookout a barbecue, you can’t call just any cooked meat barbecue.

Need more insight into the different styles of barbecue?  Check out this video that Tim Carman dug up over at the City Paper.

Now that we’ve established the difference between grilling and barbecue, I wanted to share a recipe for homemade barbecue sauce that I used for a community potluck earlier this month.  When word got out that I’ve got some experience with barbecue, I was asked to smoke some up for our new neighborhood.  So I cooked up forty pounds of pork shoulder in a neighbor’s bullet-style smoker, and I decided to go one step further and cook up my own barbecue sauce to go with it.

A while back, I found a barbecue sauce recipe at, a site I’ve used on a couple of occasions as I’ve learned the ins and outs of good homemade ‘cue.  I tried it and found it tasty but not quite what I’d grown accustomed to as I’ve tasted my way around Kansas City.  There were a few flavors that seemed to be missing, most notably tomato, celery seed and cumin.

So I worked with it a bit and came up with the version you can find after the jump. (more…)

If you’ve got a special someone to impress, Valentine’s Day really does take things to a whole new level.  Sure, we all talk a good game about what a made-up, commercialized holiday it is, and how we really don’t even understand what all the fuss is about in the first place.  But even couples who make a pact to ignore the day are loath to tempt the fates and skip the romance altogether.

Seems like a perfect opportunity to celebrate with a nice meal, right?  Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day ranks right up there with New Year’s Eve on the Capital Spice “worst times to dine out” list.  Prix fixe menus (often at inflated prices), crowds of diners and a general lack of inventiveness mean your meal is unlikely to deliver the romantic message you wanted it to.

A better – if not always safer – option is to take what you know about your Valentine’s likes and translate them into a home-cooked meal.  This year , I took the chance to cook up a three-course dinner for Elizabeth, with the goal of putting together a restaurant-quality meal in our new kitchen.

Along the way, I came across a couple of recipes that are likely to make future appearances in my cooking repertoire – a bright, citrus salad from Jose Andres, a savory duck breast/pear combination and a pie that would bring tears to Mrs. Fields’ eyes.

Colors, flavors and peanut butter cookie pie after the jump.


Whether you’re calling it Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, or just tweeting about it with #snOMG, there’s some no-joke snow coming down outside in Washington.  If you’re planning to drive anywhere…don’t.  Mike just helped push a cop car out of drifted snow in our alley.

If you can walk to your nearest coffee shop, kitchen goods store or watering hole, DO IT (just be smart and call ahead to make sure they’re open).  As the police were getting ready to take off, they even asked “So…you guys drinking yet?”

We may not be drinking yet, but we did take a walk down to Eastern Market with Capital Spice mascot Murphy.  He loves to bound through waist-high snowdrifts, but the accumulation is getting to be a bit much even for him this time around.

When we came home, our neighbors had a real treat for us – an old family recipe for something called “Snow Cream.”  We’d never heard of snow cream before, but the bowl that was handed to us looked delicious and we were eager to dig in.  We took it upstairs and broke out some spoons.

Snow cream, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is an ice cream-like dessert made from freshly fallen snow.  It uses all the old familiar ingredients – milk (or cream), sugar, vanilla and egg.  In Broadway Beth’s case, the recipe comes from her Southern great-grandmother, but I’m sure there are families all over the country with their own versions of the treat.

According to tradition, you shouldn’t make snow cream from the first snowfall of the year (that’s when all the pollutants come down, dontchaknow?).  Thank goodness we had snow last weekend – even if it didn’t amount to anything – because we’ve got plenty of raw materials to work with today!

Did you stock up on milk and eggs like everyone else yesterday?  Interested in making some snow cream of your own?  It’s actually pretty easy, though the fact that this is an old family recipe means that measurements are largely abandoned in favor of tradition.

Snow Cream

Freshly fallen snow
1 cup milk (whole is preferable, but use what you’ve got), plus more for desired consistency
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Once the snow has been falling for a while (check!), place a large bowl mixing bowl outside and let it collect your base.  Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved – do not heat.

When you’ve gathered enough snow, bring the bowl back inside and pour the cream mixture over the top.  Stir to combine, adding additional milk until you’ve gotten everything to the consistency you’d like.

Enjoy right away, or put it in the freezer to firm up a bit.

And if you feel compelled to go all foodie on this classic, feel free to jazz it up with any of your typical ice cream blend-ins (we’ll probably hold off on the roquefort and honey for now).

Sometimes the best traditions around Thanksgiving aren’t just the food, but what happens around the table once the food has been cleared away.

In my family, the means an insanely competitive game of Spoons among the cousins. Spoons is a card game that is kind of like musical chairs. Start with one deck of cards. Everyone gets four cards.

Put spoons in the middle of the table, using one less spoon that the number of people playing.





Start passing cards one at a time. The first person to get four of a kind grabs the first spoon.











Once the first spoon is claimed, everyone else has their chance to grab a spoon.  Chaos ensues.  Polite families take one and get out of the way. My family? We scatter them to the four winds. Thrown under the table, into other rooms, into the laps of competitors. Its much more fun that way.

The odd person out who does not get a spoon  – because you put down one less than the number of people playing – gets a letter by their name to spell out S-P-O-O-N or J-A-C-K-A-S-S or whatever you want.  But teasing the loser isn’t the fun part. The fun part is watching people completely panic trying to get the last spoon.

We are not above trying to steal them out of someone else’s hand.                                                                                                      










WARNING: This has led to several scars and lost feeling in my pinky for a few days. I got that damn spoon, though.










Photos courtesy of Katie Barnes, my insanely talented cousin. She wisely decides to record, rather than play, Spoons. Her hands are remarkably scar-free.

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want"

Whether you’ve decided to roast, grill, smoke or fry your turkey, the final step can make or break your presentation.  Even the most beautiful bird, with a crisp and golden skin, can end up looking like a pile of hacked-up meat on the plate if you don’t carve it properly.  A well-carved turkey, on the other hand, allows guests to fully appreciate the quality of your cooking.

On Wednesday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the second class in Jason Tesauro’s “Modern Gentleman” series at the Morrison House.  Titled “Birds & Brews,” the evening was dedicated to two subjects: craft beers and turkey dinners.  While the Dogfish Head beers that Devin Arloski shared with us were delicious, the real education of the evening was a freezer-to-plate walk-through of how to brine, cook and serve a traditional Thanksgiving turkey by Chef Dennis Marron.

With Chef Marron’s guidance, even a first-time carver can quickly dispatch a holiday bird.  And if you think you’re the only one who doesn’t know how to do it…think again.  It was a matter of moments between Marron’s honing his knife-edge and all of us gathering tightly around him to make sure we didn’t miss a step.

A chef’s step-by-step guide to carving – and the recipe for his turkey brine – after the jump. (more…)

Sometimes there’s just too much to ‘splain to contain it all in one place.  Especially when it comes to Thanksgiving.

For those of you who remember our experience with a smoked turkey on “Fakesgiving” last year, check out Endless Simmer’s inaugural podcast today.  Mike shares airtime with Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani, Elizabeth Karmel from Hill Country Barbecue and championship barbecuer Clint Cantwell.  They’re all talking turkey and sharing different techniques to step up your Thanksgiving game.  Check out the podcast and then vote for your favorite preparation style (hint: smoke it out!).

If you’re pressed for time and looking for step-savers, Mike put together a list of local restaurants that can help with some (or all) of the turkey day preparations.  Check it out over at DC Foodies, where Mike regularly posts the “Foodie To-Do List” of upcoming events.

And keep your eye on this space for some turkey carving tips and tricks courtesy of the Morrison House’s Chef Dennis Marron.  We’ll be learning from the chef at tonight’s “Modern Gentleman” program and bringing back what we learn to share it with you.

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